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Hearing set for disenfranchised halibut charters

Craig Medred

The judge who oversaw the trial, conviction and eventual reversal of corruption charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is set to review whether the U.S. government over-reached in putting an estimated one third of Alaska's charter halibut skippers out of business this year.

A hearing has been set for April 26 before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan to consider a request from the Charter Operators of Alaska for a preliminary injunction blocking the National Marine Fisheries Service from implementing the "Charter Halibut Limited Entry Program.'' The NMFS, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce, began that program on Feb. 1.

The first limited-entry program to be imposed on a sport fishery by the U.S. government put out of business 327 halibut charters -- primarily small, mom-and-pop businesses. Chapter Operators of Alaska formed as a nonprofit to fight the government plan. It wants Commerce to at least permit the businesses in existence at the end of the 2010 fishing season to continue working. Commerce contends it needs to reduce the number of halibut charters because catches by charter anglers could cut into the catch of Alaska's commercial halibut fishery, which now hauls in more than 80 percent of Alaska's halibut harvest.