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