- Meeting News
Council Holds First Hybrid Meeting
For the first time in two years, the Council met in-person, along with an online option for presenters and attendees. The meeting was held at the Anchorage Hilton, using double the meeting space allowing for extra distancing for both the Council members as well as the public following COVID protocols. Council administrative staff engineered the hybrid approach which also allowed remote public comment if a stakeholder indicated they would be testifying remotely. The zoom addresses, documents, presentations and motions were all available through the eAgenda, as were sign-ups for public comment by agenda item. The Council intends to keep the hybrid portion of the meeting for June, but may re-assess at a future date depending on the internet capabilities of upcoming meeting venues and locations. If you attended the meeting, either in person or remotely, and have logistical or technical feedback, please email email@example.com.
Welcome New Council Members
The Council introduced new members Mr. Jon Kurland and Ms. Sara Boario. Mr. Kurland is the new Regional Administrator in Alaska for NOAA Fisheries, and has served various senior roles in the Alaska Region, most recently as Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources. Ms. Boario is the new Regional Director for USFW Alaska Region, and recently served as the Assistant Regional Director for External Affairs in Alaska. We welcome both in their new roles.
- 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 B8) are a resource for the Council and the public 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 annual agenda item, including cooperative managers that voluntarily provided presentations.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken and Sarah Marrinan.
- IFQ Omnibus and Enforcement Committee Report
The Council took final action on the IFQ Omnibus Amendments analysis to modify IFQ and CDQ Program regulations. The analysis considered several elements intended to increase operational flexibility for vessels using pot gear and jig gear to harvest IFQ/CDQ as well as a separate alternative to temporarily remove the Adak CQE residency requirement to provide more opportunity for the Adak CQE to fully harvest its allocation. The Council also received the Enforcement Committee report which highlights enforcement-related considerations related to the current and proposed changes to regulations.
After receiving the staff presentation, the Committee report, and public testimony, the Council selected a preferred alternative. The preferred alternative included:
- A change to biodegradable panel requirements which could provide increased flexibility for innovation in gear designs for vessels fishing IFQ across the GOA and BSAI.
- Removal of flagpole, radar reflector, and buoy requirements for GOA sablefish longline pot gear.
- An element which would allow vessels targeting halibut IFQ in pot gear in the GOA to use a tunnel opening larger than 9 inches if they also have sablefish IFQ on board. This element will allow vessels with both sablefish and halibut IFQ to target halibut and larger sablefish more efficiently in longline pot gear.
- A change to pot limits in Western Yakutat which would allow vessels fishing IFQ to use 200 pots per vessel, and modifications to gear retrieval requirements in the Central GOA and Southeast Outside Area.
- An element which would authorize jig gear as a legal gear type to harvest sablefish IFQ/CDQ in the BSAI and GOA.
- A five-year exemption to Adak CQE residency requirements.
The Council’s motion aims to balance the need for flexibility and improved efficiency with the need to consider potential impacts of grounds preemption and gear conflicts, as well as how potential impacts may differ across management areas.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
- Recreational Quota Entity Funding Mechanism
The Council took final action to recommend a Charter Halibut Stamp mechanism for charter vessel operators to fund the Recreational Quota Entity (RQE). The Council recommended that NMFS develop regulations to establish the fee requirement for a Charter Halibut Stamp and contract with the RQE to develop the fee collection system. The Charter Halibut Stamp would be required for charter vessel anglers 18 years of age and older for each day they intend to harvest halibut on a charter vessel fishing trip in International Pacific Halibut Commission regulatory areas 2C and 3A. This includes charter halibut vessels operated and permitted under the Community Quota Entity and Military Morale and Welfare programs.
The Council determined that stamp fees in the first three years after the implementation of the program cannot exceed the following amounts: $20 for a 1-day stamp, $40 for a 3-day stamp, and $60 for a 7-day stamp. However, after the first three years of implementation, the RQE may recommend that NMFS increase the fee amounts in each of these categories by up to 10% annually. The RQE may also recommend a fee less than these amounts or recommend discontinuing the fee collection if deemed warranted.
The Sportfishing Guide Business Owner or their designee would be responsible for paying all required fees. Charter Vessel Guides would be responsible for ensuring there is a validated halibut stamp on the vessel for each angler subject to the fee for each day of halibut fishing. Fee payment and charter halibut stamp validation would need to occur prior to departure of each fishing day.
Although the Council outlined several policy-level decision points for the Charter Halibut Stamp program, including maximum fee amounts, there are still many types of decisions left to be made. In developing the regulations, it is the intent of the Council that NMFS coordinate with the Charter Halibut Management Committee and the RQE in the development of the stamp requirements and fee collection system and update the Council as appropriate.
The Council’s final action recommendation is predicated on concurrent action in the U.S. Congress to grant NMFS this fee collection authority. This authority is currently being considered in Congress as part of a larger package titled the America COMPETES Act. If this language is amended or does not get signed into law by the president, it may be necessary for the Council to reconsider its recommendation for the RQE funding mechanism.
Relatedly, in February of 2022, the Council initiated an analysis to consider revising the commercial/ charter halibut allocations under the Area 2C and 3A Catch Sharing Plan (CSP). Staff were directed to evaluate the impacts of increasing the charter halibut portion of the combined catch limit (CCL) at the lowest level of CCL and decreasing the charter portion of the CCL in the third tier of the allocation for both Area 2C and 3A. However, the Council’s purpose and need statement specified that the RQE is its preferred method for reallocation of halibut harvesting opportunity from the commercial halibut sector to the charter halibut sector. It specified that should the Council both take final action on the RQE funding mechanism (as occurred at this April 2022 meeting) and the RQE fee funding mechanism become law, the Council intends to table (or rescind as suggested in April) this action to change the CSP at the following Council meeting.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- Scallop Specs
In April 2022, the Council reviewed the 2022 Alaska Weathervane Scallop SAFE report and specified scallop ABC for the 2021/2022 fishing year at 1.156 million pounds (546 t), a level equivalent to 90% of OFL, which is 1.284 million pounds (582 t). The federal specification of scallop OFL and ABC applies to all waters off Alaska, while guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for the State’s scallop registration areas and districts are established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
According to the Scallop 2022 SAFE, total scallop removals in 2020/2021 were 238,551 lb.; 108t of shucked meats, 20.6 % of ABC (1.156 million lb.; 524 t) and 18.6% of OFL. Therefore, overfishing did not occur in 2020/2021. The preliminary harvest for the 2021/2022 season is estimated to be 298,755 lb. (136 t).
The current OFL and ABC have not changed for several years and are based on the 1990-1997 time period. The State currently takes a very conservative approach when setting GHLs, and removals rarely approach OFL. In the 2020/2021 fishing year, the total removals were only 18.6% of OFL. Given the current trends in abundance and biomass, including CPUE, provided in the 2022 SAFE, the SSC recommended that the Scallop Plan Team discuss setting the OFL based on a more accurate time period that is representative of the current stock status.
As seen in previous years, the SSC raised the possibility of setting multi-year specifications, as is done for some stocks in the groundfish and crab SAFE reports. The Council passed a motion that initiates an analysis to amend the Scallop FMP to provide flexibility for non-annual assessments.
Staff contact is Sarah Rheinsmith.
- CGOA Rockfish Adjustment
The Council released for final action an analysis to adjust CGOA Rockfish Program measures. The Council identified a preliminary preferred alternative, and requested staff consider and address comments from the SSC to the extent practicable. The preliminary preferred alternative includes the following Alternative 2 options:
- Change the season start date from May 1 to April 1
- Eliminate the catcher vessel (CV) cooperative holding cap of 30 percent
- Increase the processing cap to 40 percent of the CV quota share pool for sablefish, Pacific cod, and primary rockfish
- Revise the vessel aggregated rockfish harvesting cap by capping only Pacific ocean perch at 8 percent of the CV quota share pool for this species.
The purpose of this action is to address changes in the fishery which would increase flexibility and efficiency, improve functionality, and better ensure the total allowable catch for the primary rockfish species is fully harvested and landed in Kodiak as intended. Unforeseen changes in the Central GOA rockfish fishery in recent years to include the continuing Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic conditions, impacts to the GOA flatfish market due to the continuing foreign trade tariffs, and the loss of several shorebased processing facilities in Kodiak have resulted in difficulties in processing all the trawl CV rockfish quota, especially later in the season as processors approach their current processing caps or close for seasonal maintenance. In addition, dusky rockfish and northern rockfish CV quota are not fully harvested, so modifying the aggregate harvest cap for the primary rockfish species to apply only to POP could facilitate a greater percentage of dusky rockfish and northern rockfish quota being harvested.
The Council has scheduled final action for June 2022. Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Bristol Bay Red King Crab
The Council reviewed a discussion paper on four topics related to Bristol Bay Red King Crab (BBRKC), tasked staff with additional evaluation, and requested information from Bering Sea fishery sectors with crab mortality. The purpose of the paper was to aid the Council, other responsible agencies, and the public in considering actions related to an ongoing stock decline for BBRKC, preliminary evidence of shifts in stock distribution, and the closure of the 2021/22 directed BBRKC fishery. The paper covered: (1) crab molting and mating, and how the timing of those cycles may interact with fisheries; (2) survey, stock assessment, directed fishery, and bycatch boundaries used for management; (3) estimated seafloor contact by pelagic trawl gear in the directed pollock fishery; and (4) examples of flexible spatial management tools used in Alaska and other regions to manage impacts on certain species.
After considering the paper and receiving public testimony, the Council took two actions to better inform any management response to the state of BBRKC: a request to four Bering Sea fishery sectors for input on near-term steps and needed research, and direction for staff to develop a more in-depth discussion paper that includes six specific items.
The Council asked participants in the BBRKC directed fishery, the Bering Sea Pacific cod fisheries (all gears), the AFA pollock trawl fishery, and the Amendment 80 sector (non-pollock trawl catcher/processors) to make reports to the Council in October 2022. These sectors should encompass all fishing mortality of red king crab in the Bristol Bay region. All sectors are asked to report on voluntary measures to avoid BBRKC and reduce crab mortality in 2023 and beyond. The sectors are also asked to identify research that would inform the development of more flexible and effective spatial management measures relative to the geographically static seasonal or year-round closures that currently exist, or gear modifications that could reduce impacts on the crab stock. The trawl sectors are asked to identify research that could help evaluate unobserved crab mortality in that sector. The BBRKC directed fishery sector is asked to report on measures that could reduce discard mortality of crab.
Council staff will work with NMFS, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and Alaska Department of Fish & Game to develop a paper on the following six topics:
- Impacts of annual or seasonal gear closures in the Red King Crab Savings Area (RKCSA) on groundfish target catch, the timing of fishing relative to crab molting/mating, crab bycatch avoidance, and bycatch of non-crab species.
- Data on all sources of BBRKC mortality in Federal groundfish fisheries and directed crab fisheries. This should include information on the sex of crab catch/mortality, observer coverage, discard mortality rates, the timing of mortality relative to molting/mating, and – for groundfish fisheries – proportions of bycatch in the BBRKC fishery area, the trawl prohibited species catch (PSC) limitation zone, and the RKCSA.
- Information needed to create dynamic closed areas that could protect mature female BBRKC
- Information needed for the Amendment 80 sector to create a “rolling hot spot” closure system that avoids and reduces BBRKC PSC, and information needed to evaluate what trade-offs such a system might have in regards to encounter rates of Pacific halibut
- Impacts of groundfish predation on BBRKC
- Impacts of prohibiting pot gear fishing for Pacific cod in NMFS Area 512 (east of the RKCSA), and impacts of hard-cap PSC limits for Pacific cod pot sectors.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team and Taskforce reports
The Council received several progress reports on the ongoing BS FEP-related work and supported their ongoing work. The Ecosystem Committee and the SSC both provided feedback as well. A discussion of the reports is provided below.
BS FEP Team report
The BS FEP Team reported on their annual meeting, and development of a strategic ecosystem evaluation report for the Bering Sea. The report is organized around the six ecosystem goals that are identified in the FEP, and the objectives that support them. A pilot version of the strategic report is planned for this fall, noting that some sections will be more complete than others, depending on the availability of data. The Team intends to work in subteams during May and over the summer, to make progress on each of the ecosystem goal sections; public involvement is welcome.
The SSC provided comments that were supported by the Council. Given the impacts of environmental change and shifting baselines in the Bering Sea, the SSC recommends moving away from the normative term “health” in the title of report, and ensuring that the report objectives and indicators remain forward-looking. The Team will address the SSC comments in their May and fall work products. Staff contact is Diana Evans.
Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge, and Subsistence Taskforce
The Local Knowledge (LK), Traditional Knowledge (TK), and Subsistence (collectively LKTKS) Taskforce reported on the progress of its work over the last year. This update primarily focused on the draft protocol for identifying, analyzing and incorporating LK, TK, and subsistence information into the Council’s decision-making process. The LKTKS Taskforce reviewed an initial draft of the protocol at its January 2022 meeting and anticipates making future progress throughout 2022.
The LKTKS Taskforce also reported on the search engine containing a wide variety of materials and information on LK, TK, the social science of LK and TK, and subsistence information. You can visit the search engine here: https://www.npfmc.org/lktks_information/. The LKTKS Taskforce intends to convene for its next meeting in Fall 2022; continued public engagement and involvement is welcome. Staff contact is Kate Haapala.
Climate Change Taskforce report
The Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF) reported on their progress May 2021. The major workproduct to address objective 1 of the work plan (collating existing information through which climate change information is currently included in the fishery management process, identify gaps, and help create opportunities to increase the inclusion of available information) is a report of the Climate Readiness Synthesis (CRS) to be made available over the summer and discussed at a CCTF meeting in August (dates TBD). This CRS will be reviewed by the Council in October 2022. The CRS will provide a snapshot of our current climate readiness as characterized through 2021, with the intent to periodically update the report as changes occur in the future. The CRS will include three sections: 1) a management overview which provides the current tools employed for managing fisheries in the North Pacific and an evaluation of their climate change potential adaptive capabilities (strengths), climate change potential maladaptive capabilities (weaknesses) and some near-term recommendations on modification to increase climate change resilience. 2) A review of groundfish and crab SAFE reports as well as Plan Team minutes for all climate change-related information currently contained therein. This section will also include some near-term recommendations for inclusion of currently available climate change information to augment assessment chapters, as applicable. 3) A knowledge and information summary that includes a summary of existing forms of LKTK information, industry-collected information and NGO information as it relates to climate change. This section will also include some near-term recommendations for improvements on information available but not yet compiled. Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Ecosystem Committee
The Ecosystem Committee met in March to discuss a variety of issues, including the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan reports (see separate newsletter article) as well as other agenda items. The Council made the following response on specific issues:
- Area-based management: The Council requested that NPFMC representatives provide specific recommendations at the Council Coordination Committee (CCC) in May, to highlight the need for GIS funding to support the closure area categorization work underway through the CCC Subcommittee. The Council also recommends that the CCC Subcommittee report highlight the importance of ground-up collaborations in identifying appropriate closure areas.
- GOA Ecosystem scoping: The Council tasked the Ecosystem Committee with some preliminary scoping work to evaluate lessons learned from the Bering Sea FEP process, and needs in the GOA, in preparation for eventual Council interest in initiating a GOA FEP or some similar tool.
- PSEIS/Groundfish management policy: The Council requested staff to provide an assessment later this year of resources necessary for a review of the PSEIS, which typically begins with development of a Supplemental Information Review.
The Committee also wanted to highlight the following funding opportunities available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act:
- Habitat restoration projects that increase resilience for coastal communities, or provide for fish passage, through the NOAA Restoration Center
- Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund opportunities
- Projects to create and restore natural systems for current and future threats from coastal hazards, through the National Coastal Resilience Fund
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Dr. Kirstin Holsman provided the SSC an overview of the Sixth Assessment Report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report assesses the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels as well as the vulnerabilities and the capacity and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change. Dr. Holsman provided the general overview of the climate projections which show global warming at an alarming rate as well as more specific threats and projections for the North Pacific. This report is available on the IPCC website at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-ii/. This presentation will be provided to the AP and the Council at the October 2022 meeting in conjunction with the report from the Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF). Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Best Scientific Information Available (BSIA)
The SSC and Council reviewed a draft NMFS document focused upon Best Scientific Information Available (BSIA) as it relates to our current specifications process for all managed stocks, and provided comments. In 2019, NOAA issued a procedural directive that required each Region to develop a regional Best Scientific Information Available (BSIA) framework that describes how it implements NOAA Fisheries general BSIA framework. The required elements of this framework should include: a timeline, the roles of each partner in the process, and a description of modifications from the general framework (if required). Per Council direction, the SSC’s comments will be provided to the agency for incorporation prior to finalizing the document for submission to NOAA in May 2022. Once final, the document will be broadly available to the public.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Staff Tasking
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously-tasked projects, and identified new tasking. The revised 3 meeting outlook reflects this guidance.
The Council discussed the June meeting. At this point, the Council is still planning on an in-person/hybrid Council meeting in Sitka, AK. The Council will follow a similar format as at the April meeting, accommodating remote accessibility options, including broadcasting the SSC and AP in addition to the Council, and allowing for remote and in-person testimony at all three meetings.
The Council provided the following additional guidance:
- Direction to staff to write a comment letter on the NOAA Fisheries and BOEM Draft Federal Survey Mitigation Strategy that addresses anticipated impacts of offshore wind energy development on NOAA Fisheries’ scientific surveys in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The Council noted that while the initial strategy focuses elsewhere, it is important to provide comments as it will serve as a model to address the impacts of offshore wind on NOAA Fisheries surveys nationwide.
- Clarification of its intent that IFQ transfers that occurred under the COVID-19 emergency rule provisions should not count towards the regulated limit allowed for the existing medical transfer provision, and authorized NMFS to prepare any required rulemaking under its authority.
- Request to staff to arrange a Joint Protocol Committee meeting with the Alaska Board of Fish, to discuss upcoming crab and Pacific cod issues of mutual interest.
- Support for the SSC proposal to hold a workshop in February 2023 focused on the management of Federal stocks, given the rapid changes that have been observed in the northern Bering Sea and southern Chukchi Sea, and possible ecosystem responses
- Tasking to staff with further work on several ideas from the February 2022 staff paper on reflections on the Council process and ideas for change (see separate newsletter). Staff will report back in June.
Additionally, the Council directed staff to develop a NPFMC Facebook page in order to provide an additional avenue to reach rural communities. The creation of a social media presence on Facebook is responsive to recommendations from the Council’s Community Engagement Committee. Through the Facebook page, staff will disseminate meeting announcements and availability of meeting materials, content that is usually highlighted on the ‘Spotlight’ section of the Council’s webpage.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Council Process Ideas for Change
In response to a staff discussion paper from February with reflections on the Council process and identifying potential ideas for change, the Council tasked staff with exploring several ideas related to the timing of the harvest specifications process, reducing the Council’s 5 meeting per year schedule down to 4, the nomination process for AP and SSC members, and an approach to agency B reports, as well as options for continuing remote testimony when meeting in communities with limited internet bandwidth.
The February 2022 staff paper contained a series of ideas related to potential changes to the Council meeting schedule and agenda timing, and advisory bodies. The inclusion of ideas in the paper was intended to start a public conversation and were not provided as staff recommendations. The Council chose to refer the paper to their Executive Committee and AP and SSC leadership, who met in March and provided recommendations to the Council to initially prioritize 5 ideas for further exploration. The Council concurred with the Committee recommendations, and also included the idea related to agency B reports. Additionally, the Council requested staff include a discussion previously referenced in other materials related to planning for return to in-person meetings. The issue raised by staff is that it may be difficult for the Council to continue the same level of remote accessibility, in terms of offering a meeting broadcast and opportunities for remote testimony, for the AP and SSC as well as the Council, when meeting in some of the coastal communities where the Council usually meets.
Based on the Council’s direction, staff will provide further discussion of each set of ideas, including any tradeoffs that should be considered. Staff will bring back a paper addressing all of the prioritized ideas in June, noting that some (especially the timing of the harvest specifications process) will not yet be fully fleshed out. Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Upcoming Meetings
The following Committee and Plan Team meetings are currently anticipated.
Before the June Council meeting
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – May 16-20, 2022 – hybrid: Anchorage, AK / remote access
- BS FEP Team report working sessions – virtual; May 2022 (TBD)
- Enforcement Committee – June 2, 2022 – virtual
- IFQ Committee – May 26, 2022 – virtual
- Trawl EM Committee – May 31, 2022 – hybrid: Anchorage, AK / remote access
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) – June 1, 2022 – hybrid: Anchorage, AK / remote access
- PNCIAC – (TBD)
Later in 2022
- BS FEP Climate Change Taskforce – August 2022
- Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) – Aug/Sep 2022
- Ecosystem Committee – September 2022
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – week of September 12-16, 2022
- Joint Groundfish Plan Teams – week of September 19-23, 2022; November 2022
- Charter Halibut Management Committee – October, December 2022
- Joint Protocol Committee – October 2022 (T)
- BS FEP Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge, and Subsistence Taskforce (LKTKS) – Oct/Nov 2022
The Council will also host the national workshop of SSCs in Sitka, AK, August 15-17, 2022.