After reviewing the initial review analysis for halibut retention in pots in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), the Council revised its purpose and need statement and chose a preliminary preferred alternative (PPA). The preliminary preferred alternative would allow retention of halibut in pots in the BSAI, if participants have sufficient halibut IFQ or CDQ for the appropriate regulatory area. The Council recommended the analysis be released for public review pending certain changes and additions.
Elements identified in the PPA include: an exemption to the 9-inch maximum width of tunnel opening, VMS and logbook requirements for all vessels using pot gear to fish IFQ/CDQ, and in the event that the overfishing limit for a shellfish or groundfish species is being approached, regulations would allow NMFS to close IFQ fishing for halibut in the BSAI or GOA as necessary. NMFS would use the current in-season management process to establish specific closures by fishery, gear type, and/or areas of concern that are interacting with the stock nearing its OFL. Additionally, under the PPA, the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone would be closed to all fishing with pot gear.
The Council requested that prior to releasing a new draft, staff address changes to the current motion and incorporate the Council’s comments, including a discussion of how gear retrieval and storage requirements would impact the existing BSAI sablefish pot fishery. Due to concerns over bycatch, particularly Pribilof Islands Blue King Crab, the Council also asked staff to further explore potential crab escapement mechanisms in halibut pots. Additionally, the Council requested that staff develop a list of potential topics to review regarding the effects of allowing retention of halibut in pot gear, which would be reviewed by the Council three years after implementation of a halibut pot fishery in the BSAI.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.