Status of stocks and specification of OFL, ABC and TAC
The Council reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the Eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands; the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) Report; and made final recommendations on groundfish harvest specifications, PSC limits and halibut DMRs, to manage the 2019 and 2020 BSAI groundfish fisheries. Harvest and prohibited species catch (PSC) specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are available here.
The BSAI SAFE report forms the basis for BSAI groundfish harvest specifications for the next two fishing years. Based on consideration of stock prioritization, including assessment methods and data availability, some stocks are assessed on an annual basis while others are assessed less frequently. Full assessments were produced for all stocks in the BSAI in 2018 with the following exceptions: partial assessments were produced for Alaska plaice, other flatfish and northern rockfish, and no assessment was produced for sculpins. For these exceptions, specifications were rolled over from the previous assessment for that stock. No reports were produced for grenadiers and forage species in 2018. Both of these are Ecosystem Component species, which is a category of non-target species that are not in need of conservation and management.
Squids have been reclassified (BSAI Groundfish FMP Amendment 117) in the FMP as an Ecosystem Component species. Therefore, starting in 2019, harvest specifications (OFL, ABC, and TAC) for squids in the BSAI are no longer necessary. Amendment 117 prohibits directed fishing for squids, while maintaining recordkeeping and reporting requirements for squid. A report on their status and catch was produced as an appendix to the SAFE report this year.
Overall, the status of the stocks continues to appear favorable. Nearly all stocks are above BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35%. The abundances of EBS pollock, EBS Pacific cod, all rockfishes managed under Tier 3, and all flatfishes managed under Tiers 1 or 3, are projected to be above BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35% in 2019 while Sablefish and Blackspotted/Rougheye rockfish remain below this target level.
Summary of Bering Sea stock status next year (spawning biomass relative to Bmsy; horizontal axis) and current year catch relative to fishing at Fmsy (vertical axis) where FOFL is taken to equal Fmsy.
In setting TACs for 2019 and 2020, the Council accounts for guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for groundfish fisheries in state waters. The Alaska Board of Fisheries took action in 2018 that modified how GHLs in the Bering Sea (BS) and Aleutian Islands (AI) are set for Pacific cod. The GHL in the AI will be set at 31% of the AI ABC. The BS GHL will be set at 8% of the EBS Pacific cod ABC. An additional reduction of 45 t is taken from the remaining EBS available maxTAC for the Area O jig fishery. The Council had considerable discussion regarding declining trends in Pacific cod that are expected to continue for the next several years. The Council’s OFLs, ABCs and TACs for the 2019-2020 fishing years are posted on the Council’s website.
Additional actions by the Council under specifications included specification of an ABC reserve for flathead sole, rock sole, and yellowfin sole, which was specified as the ABC surplus for the species (i.e., the difference between the ABC and TAC). Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limits were also established for halibut, crab, and herring as well as discard mortality rates (DMRs) for halibut.
Guidance for recommending an ABC below maximum permissible ABC
The Council was provided a report by a workgroup of the Plan Teams regarding recommending ABCs below the maximum permissible specified by the control rule within the groundfish Tier system. This report proposed the use of a risk assessment table to list concerns related to assessments, population dynamics and environmental and ecosystem considerations. This risk table was used in several assessments in this cycle to provide rationale for recommendations below maxABC including for GOA pollock, GOA Pacific cod, sablefish and Bering Sea pollock. The table was also included in the BSAI Atka mackerel assessment to provide rationale for why no ABC reduction was recommended. For Bering Sea Pacific cod, the author neither included the table nor recommended a reduction, but the Plan Team completed the table and included it in their minutes with a rationale for a recommended reduction. Although, ultimately the SSC and Council recommended an ABC for BSAI Pacific cod at the maximum permissible. The Council discussed the utility of this risk table and concurred with the SSC to recommend the inclusion of this in every assessment, as time allows, in order to provide transparency on some concerns that cannot be addressed within the assessments themselves at this time. The Council motion regarding this is posted here.
Sculpins discussion paper
The Council also tasked staff with preparing a discussion paper to evaluate 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. The paper should assess whether the best available scientific information indicates that sculpins could be managed as non-target species, specifically whether sculpins could be identified as “non-target ecosystem component species not in need of conservation and management”. The discussion paper will assess regulations to prohibit directed fishing for sculpins, establish maximum retainable amounts for sculpins, and require recordkeeping and reporting to monitor catch and discards if sculpins were reclassified as a non-target species.
Harvest and PSC specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are posted on the Council’s website.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.