Status of stocks and specification of OFL, ABC, and TAC
The Council reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the Eastern Bering Sea, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island (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 2020 and 2021 BSAI groundfish fisheries. Harvest and prohibited species catch (PSC) specifications for 2020 and 2021 fishing years are available in the Council motion.
The Council reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the Eastern Bering Sea, which is summarized in a BSAI Ecosystem Brief. The eastern Bering Sea experienced the second year of low sea ice conditions due to residual heat in the Chukchi Sea in fall 2018, and anomalous winds from the south in February 2019. The 2018-2019 mean sea ice extent was the second lowest on record. No cold pool was present over the southern shelf in 2018, and unprecedented warm bottom temperatures occurred in coastal waters. A small cold pool was presented over a portion of the northern shelf in 2019.
The BSAI SAFE report forms the basis for BSAI groundfish harvest specifications for the next two fishing years. Some groundfish stocks in the BSAI are assessed annually, while others are assessed less frequently due to stock prioritization, including assessment methods and data availability. Full assessments were last produced for all stocks in the BSAI in 2018. In 2019 full assessments were conducted for 8 stocks (EBS pollock, EBS Pacific cod, AI Pacific cod, Sablefish, Yellowfin sole, Alaska plaice, Northern rockfish, and Atka mackerel), partial assessments for 10 stocks, and no assessment for 6 stocks. For stocks with partial or no assessment, specifications are rolled over from the previous assessment. A report was provided for forage species and squid which are both Ecosystem Component species, a category of non-targeted species that are not in need of conservation and management.
In specifications, the Council identified the Overfishing Level (OFL) for sablefish as Alaska-wide, which is how the stock is assessed, rather than identifying specific OFLs for the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska, as has been done in previous years. In doing so, the Council accepted the recommendations from the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team and the SSC to combine the OFL and identify the OFL for the recognized stock.
In 2019 the Council took final action to amend the FMPs for the BSAI (Amendment 121) and GOA (Amendment 110) to move the sculpin stock complex to the Ecosystem Component category. If Amendments 121 and 110 and their implementing regulations are approved by the Secretary of Commerce, no assessment will be required for sculpins in the future, and information will be presented to the Council in a report produced every four years. Until then, NMFS will continue to publish OFLs, ABCs and TACs for sculpins in the BSAI groundfish harvest specifications.
Overall, the status of stocks continues to appear favorable. No stocks are experiencing overfishing or are overfished, and nearly all stocks or stock complexes are above BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35%. Eastern Bering Sea pollock, EBS Pacific cod, all rockfishes managed under Tier 3, and all flatfishes managed under Tier 1 or Tier 3 are projected to be above BMSY or the proxy of B35% in 2020, while Blackspotted/Rougheye rockfish are very close to this target level.
In setting TACs for 2020 and 2021, the Council accounts for the 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 and Aleutian Islands are set for Pacific cod. In 2020, the GHL in the AI will be set at 6,804 mt, the maximum GHL for the AI. The BS GHL will be set at 14,074 mt, 9% of the EBS Pacific cod ABC. GHL in 2021 is expected to increase to 39% of the BS ABC, and 10% of the AI ABC. The Council’s OFLs, ABCs, and TACs posted here take the GHLs into account.
The Council also specified 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); specified Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limits for halibut, crab, and herring; and specified halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for the BSAI.
Species-specific Risk Tables
The Council also took action to reiterate the dual purpose of the risk table that is produced by stock assessment authors for each full assessment. The purposes of the risk table are identified as: 1) to facilitate further collaboration and communication among stock assessment scientists and those in other disciplines (for example, ecosystem and climate scientists) and 2) to increase transparency and consistency in the rationale for reducing from maximum permissible ABC based on exceptional risks/ circumstances that are not already addressed in the stock assessment, tier system, and harvest control rules. The Council also supported the SSC guidance to the Plan Teams on future use of the risk table as provided in the December 2019 SSC minutes, and expects iterative changes to occur over time as we gain experience with its use.
Sablefish apportionment workshop
As noticed in the Upcoming Meetings newsletter article, the AFSC is planning presentations and open discussions about the sablefish apportionment analysis at Juneau’s Auke Bay Lab in February. For more information contact Kari Fenske at (907)789-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff contact for BSAI Groundfish Plan Team and specifications is Steve MacLean.