Juneau charter fisherman appointed to ‘Supreme Court’ of halibut

Richard Yamata takes seat historically filled by commercial interests

Juneau charter fisherman appointed to ‘Supreme Court’ of halibut

A Juneau lodge owner and charter fisherman has been named to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, becoming the first charter fisherman to be seated on a body normally dominated by commercial fishing interests.

Richard Yamada, President of the Alaska Charter Association and owner of Shelter Lodge, on Friday received a State Department letter confirming his appointment as an alternate to the commission. He’ll join the six-member IPHC through January, helping to set annual catch limits in a treaty process for Alaska and Canada.

“It’s an honor to serve on this commission. … It’s the Supreme Court of halibut issues,” Yamada said.

Like the Pacific Salmon Commission does for Chinook salmon, the IPHC works with Canada to set catch limits for Pacific halibut — the maximum amount of halibut each country is able to harvest each year.

Commission decisions have been contentious this year. In January, the commission suggested a coastwide catch of 28.03 million pounds, a 10.7 million-pound reduction from the previous year. That decision came after IPHC surveys showed a decline in halibut populations in the Pacific over the last year, according to IPHC Assistant Director Stephen Keith.

The commissioners were unable to agree on regional catch allocations for 2018. It may be the first time they failed to agree since the oversight of stocks began in 1923. Both countries had to set their own regional catch limits under the maximum amount suggested by the commission.

Yamada said by phone Tuesday that he hopes that discord won’t happen during his time on the IPHC.

“For the health of the stock, I think we all need to agree on what’s a scientifically sustainable harvest,” he said. “If you can have countries that can harvest at their will, we’re not going to have a sustainable fishery.”

Yamada will take one of two seats vacated earlier this year. Commissioner Robert Alverson was also named an alternate commissioner, NOAA announced.

The confirmation process was due to end Sept. 1 and normally follows a route through the State Department and Department of Commerce to the president’s desk.

But that process has dragged on past its deadline.

In March, the National Marine Fisheries Service forwarded six names — four of them Alaskans — as nominations for two open IPHC seats. The secretaries of both the State Department and the Department of Commerce are tasked with selecting two names from that list and sending them to the president.

The president must then sign off on the selections, something that hasn’t happened yet, according to a bulletin posted Tuesday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Instead of leave those positions vacant passed the Sept. 1 deadline, the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 directs the Secretary of State to make alternate appointments to fulfill the seats until a new commissioner is named.

That’s how Yamada and Robert Alverson, of Washington, were nominated.

Keith said that the Seattle IPHC staff — the scientists and experts who inform the commission — hadn’t yet received a phone call or email from the State Department announcing Yamada and Alverson’s appointments.

It’s unclear where along the normal confirmation process has stalled.

Either way, Yamada and Alverson will fill the two seats at least through Jan. 31. Alverson, already a sitting commissioner, is general manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association in Seattle.

Another sitting commissioner, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association executive director Linda Behnken, of Sitka, was nominated for the open seat. Yamada said his understanding is that he will replace Behnken. Phone messages left for Behnken on Tuesday weren’t immediately returned.

Signed Letter to Yamada by Kevin Gullufsen on Scribd

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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