- Council Changes
At this meeting, the Council recognized Mr. Aaron Martin, who has served as the US Fish & Wildlife Service Council member representative for several years, as the alternate for USFWS Regional Director Greg Siekaniec. He will be replaced by Mr. Jon Gerken, the USFWS Fisheries Branch Chief in the Anchorage Field Office. Jon has spent many years conducting fisheries management, population assessment, and habitat restoration efforts throughout much of the state. Thank you, Aaron, for your service on the Council, and welcome aboard Jon!
The Council also said goodbye to the Council’s long-time senior Administrative Assistant Peggy Kircher, who is retiring at the end of April. Peggy originally started working for the Council as a Secretary in September 1980 and stayed through May 1991. After a stint working in the private sector and raising three boys, she returned to work for the Council as an Administrative Assistant in 2004 and served as the secretary for the Advisory Panel through 2018. Peggy has been an integral to keeping the office and the meetings running smoothly, and she will be sorely missed. Best wishes on your retirement, Peggy!
- Call for Nominations for the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee
The Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC; formerly the Observer Advisory Committee) convenes industry members, agency representatives, observers, and observer/EM coverage providers to advise the Council on issues related to all types of monitoring in Alaskan fisheries. There is currently one vacant seat on the FMAC, for an industry representative of the pot catcher vessel sector. A nominations period to fill this vacancy is open until noon on May 31st. New membership will be announced at the June 2019 Council meeting, in Sitka. The new member is expected to begin attending FMAC meetings starting in September 2019, in Seattle.
Please submit a letter of interest and a resume to Council staff member Elizabeth Figus by noon on May 31st (firstname.lastname@example.org; 907-271-2801).
- GOA Groundfish FMP Amendment Summaries Now Available
Council staff has completed summaries of the Gulf of Alaska Groundfish FMP amendments. These summaries have been compiled into a comprehensive reference document to illustrate the evolution of the GOA Groundfish FMP. This volume is meant to serve as a research tool for anyone interested in understanding the development of the North Pacific’s federal fishery management program, and it illustrates how fisheries management in the Gulf of Alaska has adapted and changed over time. Each summary provides an overview of the purpose and need, analysis, regulation, and results of each action. This is a companion volume to a similar volume of amendment summaries that was prepared for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Groundfish FMP in May 2016. Both volumes (BSAI and GOA) can be found on the Council website under Publications > Summary Reports. If you are interested in obtaining a paper copy, please contact the Council office.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
- IFQ Medical Transfer and Beneficiary Designation
The Council took final action to modify the medical transfer and designated beneficiary transfer provisions of the halibut and sablefish IFQ program.
The recommended regulatory changes to IFQ transfer provisions are identical to those selected as a preliminary final determination of the preferred alternative at the Council’s February 2019 meeting. Proposed changes to the medical transfer provision included redefining a certified medical professional that may sign a medical transfer form. The proposed definition is broader than what is currently in regulation and includes health care providers that are authorized to practice medicine within their specialty by the state or country in which he or she practices. The new definition also allows a health care provider outside of the U.S. to sign a medical transfer form if he or she is operating within the medical specialty the provider is licensed to preform by their country. A second change would limit the number of times a QS holder could use the medical transfer provision to 3 of the 7 most recent years for any medical condition that prevents the QS holder from fishing that calendar year. This differs from the current regulations that limit use of the medical transfer to 2 of the 5 most recent years for the same medical condition.
The two changes to the designated beneficiary transfer provision that were selected as a preferred alternative were also part of the Council’s February 2019 preliminary final determination. The first would add “estate” to the list of persons who could hold QS for up to three years after the death of the QS holder. The second would define an immediate family member at 50 CFR 679 using the U.S. Office of Personnel Management definition.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
- Rockfish Fixed Retention for Fixed Gear CVs
At the April 2019 meeting, the Council took final action to require full retention of all rockfish species for fixed gear catcher vessels (CVs) in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The Council’s purpose in requiring full retention of rockfish was to improve identification of species catch composition when CVs are subject to electronic monitoring, improve data collection by providing more accurate estimates of total catch, reduce incentives to discard rockfish, may reduce waste, reduce overall enforcement burden, and provide more consistency in regulations.
The Council’s preferred alternative would require full retention of rockfish species by all fixed gear CVs (hook-and-line, pot, and jig) in the BSAI and GOA. Also included as part of the preferred alternative are two options. The first option would require full retention of rockfish even if the rockfish species is on prohibited species status but would prohibit these retained rockfish from entering commerce. The second option would establish a maximum commerce allowance (MCA) of 15% for all rockfish except yelloweye rockfish which would be set 5%. The yelloweye rockfish MCA would be calculated within the overall 15% MCA. The intent of the lower yelloweye rockfish MCA is to limit incentives to target this species.
Under the preferred alternative, rockfish landed above the MCA cannot enter commerce with the exception of rockfish processed into fish meal. The purpose of the MCA is to constrain vessels from increasing rockfish incidental catch under a full retention regulation, while allowing vessel operators to sell most of the rockfish catch that is truly incidental. The Council included the fish meal exception in its preferred alternative to provide relief for shore processors that are restricted from disposing of rockfish in excess of the MCA. The Council also clarified that the fishmeal exception also applies to rockfish that are on prohibited species status.
Finally, the Council also clarified that the current regulations for demersal shelf rockfish retention in the Southeast Outside District of the GOA will remain unchanged by this preferred action.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- BSAI Trawl CV Pacific cod Mothership
The Council took final action on proposed changes that limit certain Amendment 80 and American Fisheries Act (AFA) catcher/processors from acting as motherships when receiving Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) non-community development quota (CDQ) Pacific cod deliveries from trawl catcher vessels. Based on the alternatives selected, two trawl catcher/processors will be allowed to act as a mothership for directed BSAI Pacific cod harvests by trawl catcher vessels. One of the trawl catcher/processors is a member of the Amendment 80 sector and the other is a member of the AFA catcher/processor sector. All other trawl catcher/processors in those two sectors will continue to be allowed to accept deliveries of Pacific cod harvested incidentally in other BSAI trawl catcher vessel target fisheries as long as it does not exceed the 20% maximum retainable amount (MRA).
The Council determined that because only two catcher/processors were allowed to participate in the directed BSAI Pacific cod fishery as a mothership, imposing a limit on the amount of directed Pacific cod they could accept was not necessary at this time. Representatives of both firms indicated in public testimony that they currently operate those vessels at close to capacity for catcher vessel deliveries of cod and they had limited ability to accept increased capacity. Not imposing a sideboard limit also reduced the complexity of the action.
Also included in the final motion was a provision that would prevent replaced Amendment 80 vessels from acting as a mothership in the BSAI or Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fisheries. This provision was included to close a potential loop-hole that would allow replaced vessels from reentering the Pacific cod fisheries and increasing offshore processing capacity. The provision does not apply to AFA replaced vessels because they are currently prohibited from reentering the fishery as a mothership under the AFA vessel replacement regulations.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
The Council reviewed the 2019 Alaska Weathervane Scallop SAFE report and specified scallop ABC for the 2019/2020 fishing year at 1.161 million pounds of shucked scallop meats, a level equivalent to 90% of the OFL (1.29 million pounds), based on the ABC control rule in the Scallop FMP. The specification of Scallop OFL and ABC applies to all waters off Alaska, and guideline harvest levels (GHLs) are established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for each of the State’s scallop registration areas and districts.
According to the Scallop SAFE, total harvest off Alaska in the 2017/18 season was 238,740 lb (108.3 t) of shucked scallop meats, and preliminary harvest for the 2018/19 season is 238,088 lb (108.0 t). These very consistent harvest levels are both about 21% of ABC (1.161 million lb; 527 t). Guideline harvest levels were achieved in roughly half of the State’s scallop districts, specifically Yakutat and District 16 in the Southeast Region, Prince William Sound in the Central Region, and Kodiak Shelikof, Kodiak Southwest, Unimak Bight, and Bering Sea Districts in the Westward Region. Some areas with low productivity were abandoned by the fleet before the GHL was harvested, and these included the Kodiak Northeast and Dutch Harbor districts.
Although recent statewide scallop production levels of 240k lbs. annually are half of what was harvested in the mid-2000s, scallop harvest and revenue has been stable for four years. Additionally, fishery CPUE has been trending up since 2015 driven by increasing catch rates of small scallops in the Yakutat district and the Shelikof, Northeast, and Southwest Kodiak districts. The stock status of Alaska weathervane scallops is not viewed as a conservation concern since scallops are distributed in many areas that have been closed to fishing to protect crab populations.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- Bering Sea Snow Crab PSC Data Report
In December 2018 the Council reviewed the Initial Review Draft of an EA/RIR/IRFA of an action to modify snow crab PSC calculations and limits in Bering Sea trawl groundfish fisheries, and requested additional information on the distribution of snow crab bycatch throughout the BSAI by gear and fishery, gaps in bycatch data, regulatory provisions that could hinder the ability to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable, and a qualitative description of potential impacts on fishery participants of avoiding snow crab bycatch. At this meeting, the Council reviewed a Data Report that provided the requested data, and encouraged stakeholders to provide the Council with recommendations for next steps on this issue.
The data report shows that snow crab bycatch in the Federal groundfish fisheries is distributed throughout the BSAI. Snow crab bycatch in the trawl fisheries tends to occur mostly within the C. opilio Bycatch Limitation Zone (COBLZ) while snow crab bycatch in the hook and line and pot fisheries tends to occur outside COBLZ. Snow crab bycatch in trawl fisheries is higher than in hook-and-line and pot fisheries, however bycatch in the Federal groundfish fisheries is much lower than discards in the directed snow crab fishery, even after the 30% discard mortality rate is applied. Recorded size and sex of groundfish snow crab bycatch are variable with respect to size, but highly skewed toward male crab. This suggests that snow crab bycatch in the Federal fisheries does not disproportionately affect mature female crab, so population-level impacts are not expected. Overall, data show that snow crab bycatch in the Federal trawl fisheries is a very low proportion of the overall snow crab biomass, primarily occurs within the COBLZ, and is not likely to have any population-level impacts on the Bering Sea snow crab stock. Additionally, the Council has already taken significant steps to reduce impact of the groundfish flatfish trawl fishery on benthic environments and mortality of benthic fauna, through gear modifications and area closures.
After reviewing the data report, the Council passed a motion that directs staff to further develop the data requests and comments from the Council’s SSC, AP, and Crab Plan Team (CPT) and the comment letter of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers and provide those data to an informal stakeholder group that the Council encouraged industry to form. Some of the data from the CPT and SSC (bycatch by size and sex) have already been provided; other data requests include exploitation rate by proportion of the [snow crab] population, and maps of trawl fishing effort by area versus snow crab abundance. A data report will be posted on the Council’s website for general availability, and the Council will be informed when those data are available. The informal industry stakeholder group is encouraged to review data and help develop recommendations for further consideration of this matter by the Council, including refining the purpose and need and alternatives for analysis or other alternatives for analysis.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean
- CQE Fish Up in Area 3A
The Council reviewed an initial analysis of a regulatory impact review (RIR) on whether to allow Community Quota Entities (CQEs) in Area 3A to fish D-class halibut IFQ on C-class vessels after a date specified or for a certain number of years. After reviewing the document, receiving reports from the Enforcement and IFQ committees, and considering public testimony, the Council edited the Purpose and Need statement and the alternatives to include an option to allow CQE communities to fish “D” class quota on “C” class vessels for the duration of the IFQ season in addition to the original alternatives, and released the document for public review.
Current Area 3A regulations that require “D” class IFQ to be fished on “C” class vessels have, in some circumstances, limited one CQE community’s ability to fully harvest their halibut IFQ. This action is intended as a fallback mechanism for CQEs that have unfished D-class quota late in the season to potentially avoid revenue loss, furthering the Council’s intent of encouraging CQE communities to secure long-term opportunities to access halibut. The analysis provided an overview of community participation in the CQE Program CQE in Area 3A, the potential impacts of the alternatives, and the anticipated magnitude of those impacts.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
- Observer Fee Analysis
At their April meeting, the Council reviewed an analysis to modify the partial coverage observer fee. The Council released the analysis for public review, after revisions and additions from the Council and its advisory bodies, including the SSC, AP, and the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee, are addressed by staff, to the extent practicable.
The Council adopted a revised set of alternatives for analysis. The revised alternatives are intended to provide clarity and focus, including a reasonable range of options for the analysts to address. New options under the revised Alternative 3 allow the Council to select one fee percentage that would apply to all fixed gear fisheries combined, and a different, higher fee percentage for trawl fisheries. The rationale for this is the relative (higher) amount contributed in fees by fixed gear, as well as the PSC-limited nature and higher volume of trawl harvests.
During discussion about the fee analysis, costs of the Observer Program were highlighted as a key concern both by the public and by the Council. The Council noted that releasing the fee analysis for public review is not meant to suggest that the agency and the Council are not pursuing ways to reduce costs of the Observer Program. Rather, the fee analysis adds value in addition to the specific scope of assessing the partial coverage fee percentage, by allowing the Council to review and assess overall goals of the Observer Program.
It was noted that the Council has typically prioritized increased coverage and representative and random sampling in the Observer Program, and has not always been cost conscious in how sampling needs are achieved. This fee analysis provides an opportunity for the Council to discuss cost savings while working to maintain and enhance the Observer Program through consideration of whether and by how much to increase the observer fee.
Council members noted the importance of ongoing constructive communication and collaborative work among industry, agency, and the Council regarding all Observer Program work.
Staff contact is Elizabeth Figus
- Cost Saving Strategies for the Observer Program
The Council received a report on continued work by the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) to develop new ideas to potentially lower costs in the partial coverage observer category, and requests that the group continue to develop new ideas.
A subgroup of industry volunteers on the FMAC was first convened in 2017, to explore ideas for how to increase coverage rates in the partial coverage category. In October 2018, the Council tasked the subgroup to “develop additional recommendations for how to potentially lower costs and increase observer coverage rates in the partial coverage category.”
The subgroup reported to the FMAC, and via the FMAC report, to the Council, at their April 2019 meeting, and the Council supported further work by the subgroup, including scoping the idea of developing shoreside monitoring for Fixed Gear Electronic Monitoring (EM) vessels. The idea for developing shoreside monitoring of Fixed Gear EM vessels would include brainstorming about how to obtain biological samples currently collected at sea and exploring how many vessels might enter the Fixed Gear EM pool without negatively impacting costs and biological sampling data quality.
The ultimate goal of this concept would be to layer monitoring tools to get maximum value from the existing Fixed Gear EM program. This idea would also leverage ongoing progress by the Trawl EM Committee to develop EM for compliance on pollock trawl catcher vessels with a shoreside monitoring component. The Council tasked the subgroup to continue fleshing out ideas related to integrating different monitoring tools, including shoreside monitoring and EM, to meet overall monitoring objectives. The Council also requested that ongoing subgroup work be reported back to the FMAC during the standard meeting schedule (in May and September), and through the FMAC to the Council.
Staff contact is Elizabeth Figus
- Cooperative Reports
Every April, the Council reviews cooperative reports submitted by representatives from the American Fisheries Act Program, Amendment 80 Program, Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program, and BSAI Crab Rationalization Program. As part of these programs, cooperatives have been required or requested to provide an annual written report detailing the use of the cooperative quota or addressing other specific areas of Council interest. The written reports and the voluntary presentations (available under Agenda Item D1) are a resource for the Council to track the effectiveness of the cooperatives and whether the cooperative programs are meeting their intended goals. The reports and presentations also facilitate feedback from cooperative managers to the Council on successes of the program and areas of the program that may need adjustment.
The Council appreciates the effort put into this process, including cooperative managers that voluntarily provide presentations and those that took the initiative to provide a more thorough and comprehensive report.
During Council discussion, it was clarified that even minor Council suggestions for voluntary modifications to the reports are subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, requiring a Federal Register announcement, an opportunity for public comments, and clearance through the Office of Management and Budget. This prompted a discussion about opportunities for streamlining the cooperative report process at the Council. The Council asked staff and interested Council members to discuss and report back any ideas for improving the process before the next reporting cycle.
Staff contacts are Jon McCracken and Sarah Marrinan.
- Cook Inlet Salmon
The Council reviewed the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee’s progress on developing recommendations for an amendment to extend federal management to Cook Inlet salmon fisheries that operate in the EEZ and provided direction for their further work. The Council also received a report from the SSC about their review of status determination criteria for the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.
The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee was created to involve salmon stakeholders in the development of the FMP amendment. After receiving the Committee’s first meeting report in December 2018, the Council directed the Committee to meet again prior to the April 2019 Council meeting and in order to further develop management measure recommendations related to reporting and monitoring of harvest and bycatch, and to further develop its recommendations on status determination criteria. A discussion paper developed by staff serves as a reference document for the Committee to base its recommendations on.
The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee met on March 6 and on April 2, 2019 to address the issues directed by the Council as well as other topics related to the FMP amendment. The Committee Reports for these meetings reflect perspectives held by some Committee members that challenge information provided in the staff discussion paper. A Committee proposal on methods for establishing status determination criteria captures some of these stakeholder perspectives, including assertions that the FMP should manage fishery activity in freshwater areas, that salmon escapement goals should be determined by the Council, and that it is a violation of the MSA to allow salmon to exceed escapement goals. These concepts are not supported by the Council, and a motion was passed to direct the Committee to focus its recommendations on procedures for FMP implementation and identifying appropriate fishery monitoring to meet the MSA requirements.
The Council also received a report from the SSC on their review of escapement-based data and established escapement goals for status determination criteria. The SSC review was requested by the Council to address the Committee’s December 2018 objections to status determination criteria methods as well as related analysis of overcompensation in Kenai and Kasilof River sockeye salmon described in the staff discussion paper. The Council requested that the SSC review the information for consistency with National Standard 1 and the use of best scientific information available under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The SSC provides a response to the Council on this issue in their report, and the Council directed staff to incorporate the proposed status determination criteria in a future analysis, incorporating the SSC’s comments as practicable. The Council also directed the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee to defer review of status determination criteria until the analysis is available for review.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- Sculpins as an Ecosystem Component Species
The Council reviewed a discussion paper evaluating the appropriate level of conservation and management required for sculpins in the BSAI and GOA consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and National Standard guidelines. After review and public testimony, the Council initiated an analysis to designate sculpins in the BSAI and GOA as non-target ecosystem component species. The Council approved a motion adopting a purpose and need statement and identifying alternatives to consider the appropriate conservation and management status for sculpins in the BSAI and GOA. Alternatives include the Status Quo Alternative, and the Action Alternative, to designate sculpins in the BSAI and GOA as non-target ecosystem component species. The Action Alternative would require regulations to prohibit directed fishing for sculpins, establish a Maximum Retainable Amount (MRA) for sculpins (Options 2%, 10%, 20%), and require recordkeeping and reporting to monitor catch and discards of sculpin species. The motion also encouraged the Alaska Fisheries Science Center to continue to explore methods to estimate sculpin abundance and assess the sculpin stocks.
Sculpins are currently taken only as bycatch in fisheries directed at other target species in the BSAI and GOA. Since 2011 the sculpin complex total catch (retained and discarded) has ranged from 2-6% of the total estimated biomass in the BSAI and GOA. The MSA provides definitions for “conservation and management” and NMFS has recently published guidelines to aid Councils as they consider whether a stock requires conservation and management. Target stocks are those that fishermen seek to catch for sale or personal use, including fish discarded for economic or regulatory reasons. Non-target stocks are fish caught incidentally during the pursuit of target stocks. Non-target stocks may require conservation and management, in which case they are included in a FMP, or may not require conservation and management, in which case they may be considered an Ecosystem Component (EC) species.
If sculpins were to be moved to the non-target category and conservation and management were considered necessary, TAC would no longer be required but OFL and ABC would still be required. If sculpins were moved to the non-target EC category, conservation and management would not be necessary and OFL, ABC, and TAC would no longer be required. In either case, regulations would have to be revised to prohibit directed fishing for sculpins.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will take the lead in developing the appropriate analysis. Council staff contact is Steve MacLean.
- Halibut ABM
The SSC received a presentation on the halibut operating model and additional analytical considerations to be employed in the initial review analysis of the BSAI halibut abundance-based management (ABM) of PSC limits. The SSC provided the Workgroup some suggestions and guidance on additional sensitivity analyses to be considered as well as some feedback on considerations in developing policy-level alternatives for demonstrating contrast in the forthcoming analysis. Staff affirmed they will address the SSC suggestions including specifically a sensitivity analysis on the use of age-dependent versus age-independent natural mortality in model runs as well as additional contrast in policy-level alternatives. SSC recommendations are contained in their minutes and available on the Council’s website. Staff will provide a confirmation that the analysis is proceeding as anticipated in June. This analysis is scheduled for initial review in October 2019.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Economic Data Report Revisions
The Council reviewed a discussion paper on the Council’s Economic Data Report (EDR) programs, addressing the requirements, use, and estimated cost of these reporting requirements on submitters in order for the Council to determine if revisions to the EDRs are needed. In response to the discussion paper, the Council initiated both an FMP amendment and further staff recommendations on potential EDR revisions.
The Council has established four EDRs, including:
- The Bering Sea/ Aleutian Islands Crab EDR, implemented in 2005;
- The Non-AFA Trawl Catcher/Processor EDR implemented in 2007 for Amendment 80, and in 2015 for CPs operating in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries;
- The Bering Sea Chinook salmon bycatch management program EDR for participants in the BS pollock fishery, implemented in 2012; and
- Gulf of Alaska Trawl EDR for groundfish trawl catcher vessels and processors taking deliveries from these vessels, implemented in 2015.
The Council initiated an analysis to consider several specific regulatory and Fishery Management Plan changes to make data verification requirements and confidential data protections for EDR data consistent with those that apply to other confidential fisheries data. These include:
- removing requirements for third party data verification audits,
- revising requirements for data aggregation, and
- removing the requirement for blind formatting procedure (note that individual data and personally identifiable information will continue to remain confidential when released to the public, and all public release of EDR data will continue to be in aggregated to at least three or more entities).
- In addition, this analysis will consider revising or removing the GOA trawl EDRs (not including the original Amendment 80 EDR).
NMFS has some discretion in the use of third-party data verification audits; thus, while the analysis is under development, NMFS intends to seek to reduce the cost and burden as much as possible.
A second suite of proposed revisions to the EDRs (including the GOA trawl EDRs) will be addressed through a separate process. Recommended revisions include:
- Evaluating the utility of the EDR data against the Council’s previously stated needs and objectives for these data collections.
- Considering any EDR data that may be duplicative to other data collected
- Creating more consistency across EDRs to increase the utility of the data, and
- Considering tradeoffs between aggregation of elements to reduce reporting burden and the effects of loss of detail from that aggregation
The objectives of these revisions are to reduce the EDR program cost and reporting burden by eliminating duplicative data elements and streamlining reporting requirements where possible, and to increase the practical utility and analytical usability of these data. These revisions should consider the benefits and costs of more standardized EDRs and should address the SSC’s comments from the April 2019 meeting to the extent practicable.
For this second suite of EDR issues in particular, the Council directed staff to consult the Council’s Social Science Planning Team (SSPT), submitters, and data users of the various EDR programs in developing these recommendations. More specifically, the Council requested its SSPT consider the EDR discussion paper and revision topics and provide recommendations to the to the Council at its June 2019 meeting. The Council is interested in which aspects of the review of the current EDRs are within the scope and capability of the SSPT to undertake. The Council requests the SSPT develop a plan for conducting this review. This plan should include opportunities for public input during the review, the work products that would be needed from staff to conduct the review, and a projected timeline for the review.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- IFQ Committee Report and Whale Depredation Workshop
The IFQ Committee met on Monday, April 1, and reviewed three documents that came before the Council at this meeting: CQE fish-up in halibut Area 3A, IFQ eligibility criteria, and small sablefish discards. Committee comments and recommendations were presented to the Council under each agenda item and are summarized in the minutes. The Committee’s other business addressed the desire for the Council to define the term “owner-operator” in regards to the IFQ Program’s original objectives, requested routine updates on the cost recovery fees charged to the IFQ fisheries, and requested that IFQ-related agenda items be consolidated into review packages that come before the Council during meetings do not coincide with the timing of the fishery.
The Council did not take any action under this agenda item. However, under the Staff Tasking agenda item the Council expressed its desire to receive the three-year review of the GOA sablefish longline pot fishery as soon as is practicable following the conclusion of the 2019 fishing season.
The Council also received a report on the Whale Depredation Workshop that was held on Monday evening, April 1. The event brought together fishermen, stock assessment scientists, SSC members, Council members, and other stakeholders to discuss this issue of sablefish depredation off of longline gear. Stock assessment scientists described how depredation is presently monitored and accounted for, fishermen shared their experiences with depredating whales, and all attendees had an opportunity to discuss avenues for cooperative research to enhance data collection and application. Staff prepared a report on the proceedings which was presented to the Council under the Staff Tasking agenda item.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
- Small Sablefish Discarding
The Council reviewed a second discussion paper on allowing sablefish discarding in the directed Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) longline and pot fisheries, and tasked staff with continuing to explore issues related to sablefish discarding.
The sablefish discarding allowance was initially evaluated as a management response to the extremely large 2014 year class, but is now being considered for the longer-term. The April 2019 discussion paper explored nonspecific management concerns identified by the Council, including the ability to produce species- and gear-specific discard mortality rates; potential effect on spawning stock; variable discarding rules depending on stock abundance; likelihood of achieving TAC; effect of discards on whale depredation; gear modifications to avoid small sablefish; catch accounting; enforcement options. At the April meeting, the discussion paper was also presented to the Council’s IFQ and Enforcement Committees.
There is a broad set of options to consider in potentially modifying regulations to allow discarding in the IFQ sablefish fishery off Alaska. Some of these options require the initiation of significant data collection efforts and an investment of resources. Less resource-demanding operational solutions do exist, such as the discarding requirement in the IFQ halibut fishery, but these are associated with increased uncertainty and reliance on assumptions, and an appropriate level of precaution would need to be taken.
In reviewing the discussion paper, the Council was particularly interested in learning more about the potential for discarding to result in shifting harvest to more vulnerable portions of the stock biomass, such as the older, reproductively mature fish. Related to this is the potential for discarding to affect ABC and TAC and, therefore, create situations in which the allocation of sablefish between the target IFQ component of the fleet and the non-target trawl component need to be re-considered.
A further discussion paper will be prepared by staff. Topics to be addressed in the upcoming paper will include mandatory versus optional release, varying size limits by area, accounting for discards within ABC and TAC, specific options for proxy DMRs, DMR variability by gear, discard estimation methods and the associated monitoring and enforcement concerns, and, finally, impacts of discarding on sablefish abundance and how that affects allocations to IFQ and trawl sectors.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- Groundfish Economic SAFE Review
At this meeting, the SSC reviewed the Groundfish Economic SAFE report as presented by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Economic and Social Science Research Division. The Groundfish Economic SAFE report contains detailed information about economic aspects of the groundfish fisheries (sections that are new or were extensively revised since 2018 are indicated):
- Economic performance indices
- Catch share fishery indicators
- Wholesale product price projections and ex-vessel price projections (revised in 2019)
- Summary of the community participation in Alaska fisheries (extensively revised in 2019)
- Amendment 80 fishery economic data report (EDR) summary
- Updated Amendment 91 fishery economic data report (EDR) and vessel master survey summary
- Market profiles for the most commercially valuable species (extensively revised in 2019)
- Summary of the relevant research being undertaken by the Economic and Social Sciences Research Program (ESSRP) at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), and a
- List of recent publications by ESSRP analysts.
The SSC noted their appreciation for the authors’ responsiveness to their comments from last year, especially on the community information. The newly-developed Economic Report Card metrics were noted as having great utility. Additional suggestions for next year’s Groundfish Economic SAFE report are in the SSC minutes.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Staff tasking
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of new and previously tasked projects (see revised 3 meeting outlook).
The Council tasked the following new projects:
- Bering Sea parallel fishery: The Council initiated an analysis to consider limiting access to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands parallel fisheries to Federal fishery participants, similar to a previous action that was taken for the Gulf of Alaska.
- Aleutian Islands Pacific cod trawl set-aside: The Council tasked staff with a discussion paper to provide a status report on recent litigation, conditions in the fishery, and potential regulatory approaches that could be used to provide opportunities for Pacific cod trawl CVs delivering to AI shoreplants.
- Crab rationalization program reviews: The Council initiated a housekeeping amendment to amend the program review cycle in the FMP to 7 years, consistent with the Council’s other LAPP programs and allocations.
- RQE funding: The Council tasked staff with a discussion paper to develop a mechanism for the Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) to fund the purchase of halibut quota share by selling halibut stamps to charter operators.
- Designating CDQ hauls: The Council requested NMFS review reporting time limits that require CPs to designate whether a haul is a CDQ haul within 2 hours after weighing of all catch.
The Council directed staff to develop and send several letters:
- To NMFS, commenting on the National Bycatch report, referencing prior council comments.
- To the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commenting on the Pebble mine draft EIS. The letter should thank them for the presentation, request an extension of the comment period, and highlight the importance of the Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet fisheries and their habitat as considerations in the EIS. The Council also wishes to have an opportunity to review the EFH assessment for the project once it is available.
- To NMFS and other appropriate recipients, supporting continued AFSC funding for surveys but also for basic research on recruitment and ecosystem process studies that are critically important due to unprecedented climate change effects in Alaska.
- To the U.S. Navy, thanking them for the presentation on the 2019 Northern Edge exercise, and their responsiveness to previous Council feedback.
- To NMFS, commenting on the proposed rule for decksorting which will be published shortly, and highlighting that the primary objective of decksorting is reduction of halibut mortality. The Council also requested that in future, NMFS management reports identify any non-regulatory changes that affect decksorting.
- To the National Observer Program, expressing appreciation for the funding that has allowed the hiring of additional FMA analytical staff to support observer and EM issues, and highlighting the importance of this additional capacity. Staff were also tasked to prepare a one-page fact sheet on near-term observer program funding issues.
The Council also:
- Requested staff include evaluation of starting the revised B season on September 1st instead of August 25th, as part of the GOA pollock and cod season analysis.
- Requested NMFS review reporting time limits for CPs to designate if it is a CDQ haul within 2 hours after weighing of all catch
- Affirmed the SSC recommendation to move the development of research priorities to a 3-year schedule, to begin in February 2020.
- Affirmed scheduling the Protected Resources report as an annual item in February.
- Requested Council members and staff consider whether there are ways to streamline the cooperative report presentations prior to April 2020.
- Provided feedback on a NMFS proposal to establish a specific annual cycle for accepting exempted fishing permit applications. The Council heard concerns about how the proposed timing aligns with grant funding timelines, and requested NMFS consult further with stakeholders and report back with a final process.
Committees and Plan Teams
The Council received reports from recent meetings of the Community Engagement Committee, which held an inaugural meeting to discuss how the Committee will organize and operate, and the Ecosystem Committee, which received updates on northern fur seal status, planning for the EFH 5-year review, and the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan implementation. The Council also received a report on an evening workshop to evaluate whale depredation in sablefish fisheries, and opportunities for cooperative research. These reports are posted on the online agenda.
The Council reissued the call for nominations for a representative of the pot CV fishery to participate on the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee.
The Council Chair made the following appointments:
- The Council appointed Noelle Rucinski and Abby Snedeker to share the active observer seat on the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee.
- The Council appointed Dr. Jie Zheng to the Crab Plan Team.
A full list of Council committee membership can be found here.
- BSAI Pacific cod Parallel Fishery Limited Access
During staff tasking, the Council initiated an analysis to limit access to the BSAI parallel fishery for federal fishery participants. The intent of the proposed action is to limit the erosion of the sector allocations by precluding new entry of federally permitted, but non-LLP license holding vessel operators into the parallel fishery. The Council adopted the following purpose and need statement:
Currently, there are no limits on entry into the parallel waters groundfish fisheries, and no limits on the proportion of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Pacific cod TAC that may be harvested in parallel waters. There is concern that harvest of Pacific cod in the parallel waters fishery by vessels that do not hold LLP licenses may continue to increase. The Council, in consideration of options and recommendations for the parallel fishery, will need to balance the objectives of providing stability to the long-term participants in the sectors, while recognizing that new entrants who do not hold Federal permits or licenses may participate in the parallel fishery.
Under the proposed action, vessels with a License Limitation Permit (LLP) or Federal Fishery Permit (FFP) would be precluded from participating in the BS or AI Pacific cod parallel fishery if they do not have the appropriate area, gear, and Pacific cod endorsement (required for fixed gear vessels). In addition, the proposed action would require Federally-permitted or licensed vessels that fish in the BS or AI parallel fishery to adhere to seasonal closures of the BS or AI Pacific cod sector. The proposed action would also preclude participating vessels from surrendering and reactivating the FFP on an unlimited basis, as is presently allowed. Once an FFP is relinquished, there would be a three-year waiting period before the FFP can be reissued to the vessel. The purpose of this restriction is to preclude federally permitted vessels from circumventing the LLP requirement in parallel waters by surrendering the FFP.
Finally, the Council clarified that the proposed restriction to the BS or AI Pacific cod parallel fishery would not apply to jig vessels.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
 The directed fisheries for Pacific cod in state waters (0 to 3 nm) that are open concurrently with the directed fisheries in federal waters (3 nm to 200 nm) are referred to as the parallel fishery and are prosecuted under virtually the same rules as the federal fisheries, with catch counted against the federal TAC. The parallel State waters fisheries are managed separately from the State waters Pacific cod fisheries.
- AI Pacific Cod Set-Aside
The Council tasked staff with a discussion paper on the Aleutian Islands Pacific cod trawl CV set-aside, in response to the recent U.S. District Court opinion on Amendment 113, and recognizing the Council’s history of supporting shorebased processing in remote fishing communities. The discussion paper is scheduled for June 2019, and will include a status report on Amendment 113 litigation, a description of the Council’s December 2018 revision to Amendment 113 including the purpose and need and the alternatives considered, and a summary of AI Pacific cod fishery conditions since the implementation of Amendment 113 in November 2016. The Council also requested the discussion paper identify potential regulatory approaches that could be used to provide opportunities for trawl catcher vessels harvesting Pacific cod in the AI delivering to AI shoreplants. consistent with the Council’s history of supporting shorebased processing in remote fishing communities
The Council noted that by June, there should be more clarity from NMFS and the Department of Justice as to whether they intend to appeal the U.S. District Court’s decision. The Council will also receive a BSAI Pacific cod allocation review. Together, these will provide a basis for considering how best to move forward.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Northern Edge 2019
The Council received an overview of the proposed Northern Edge 2019 joint training exercise, which is scheduled for May 13-24, 2019, in the Gulf of Alaska. The exercise occurs biennially, dating back to 1975, and provides comprehensive and realistic training on joint interoperability tactics, techniques, and procedures. John Mosher, from U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn Brazil, from Eleventh Air Force Headquarters, gave a presentation on the exercise. The 2019 exercise will be similar in size and scope to Northern Edge 2017, but with more emphasis on the air component. The largest portion of the naval component will occur far offshore, toward the center of the Temporary Maritime Activities Area (TMAA; see map), which minimally overlaps with groundfish fisheries management areas and has no overlap with salmon management areas. There are no restrictions on commercial fishing activity or civilian vessel navigation in the TMAA during the exercise.
Protection measures to minimize the effects of the naval exercise on the marine environment were developed in coordination with NMFS. As noted in the presentation, one of the protection measures is to minimize the use of live explosives in the TMAA during weapons training, and prohibit the use of explosives at the Portlock Bank. Another protection measure is to limit the use of active sonar frequency to the mid-range that is not heard by shellfish and most fish species, including key commercial species such as salmon and groundfish. The GOA Navy Training Activities Supplemental EIS/OEIS information is located at the project website: goaeis.com. Mr. Mosher and Lt. Col. Brazil are scheduled to provide the Council an after-action presentation at a future meeting. Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Upcoming meetings
Council Committees, Plan Teams, or workshops
- Salmon bycatch genetics workshop, April 15-16, AFSC, Seattle, WA
- Community Engagement Committee, April 29, teleconference, 2-4pm.
- Crab Plan Team, April 29-May 3, Anchorage, AK
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team, May 6-7, AFSC, Seattle, WA
- Social Science Plan Team, May 7-9, Anchorage, AK
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee, May 20-21, AFSC, Seattle, WA
- Ecosystem Committee, June 4, Sitka, AK
- Community Engagement Committee, June 4, Sitka, AK
- Enforcement Committee, June 4, Sitka AK
- Recreational halibut roundtable, June 6, 5.30-7pm, Sitka, AK
Other upcoming meetings
- Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium on Cooperative Research, May 7-9, 2019, Anchorage, AK
- IPHC Management Strategy Advisory Board (MSAB), May 6-10, Sitka, AK