The Council approved the BSAI Groundfish SAFE report and annual catch limits after recommendations from its advisory committees. The SAFE report provides an overview of the assessed stocks as well as a timeline for the assessment frequency for all stocks. 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.
The Council also received a report on the Ecosystem Status Report in the Bering Sea as well as results from a survey conducted in the Northern Bering Sea (NBS). Results from the 2017 NBS survey showed a large increase in the biomasses of pollock (1.3 million t) and Pacific cod (288,000 t) as compared with the previous survey in 2010. Length frequencies from the pollock and Pacific cod in the NBS area were comparable with the fish from the Eastern Bering Sea survey in 2017 and raise questions regarding the potential within year population movement of these stocks between the two surveyed areas.
The sum of the biomasses for 2018 represents a 16% decrease from 2017. This is primarily due to declines in EBS pollock and Pacific cod. Nonetheless, the status of the groundfish stocks continues to appear favorable. The abundances of EBS pollock, EBS Pacific cod, sablefish, all rockfishes managed under Tier 3, and all flatfishes managed under Tiers 1 or 3 are projected to be above their target (BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35%) in 2018.
The sum of the total allowable catches (TACs) for all BSAI groundfish is 2 million t for 2018 and 2019. The TACs were set below the sum of the recommended ABCs. The sum of the recommended ABCs for 2018 and 2019 are 3,766,809 t and 3,578,956 t, respectively. The Council established the annual ABC reserve for three flatfish species, northern rock sole, flathead sole and yellowfin sole. The Council established the entire ABC surplus (the difference between ABC and TAC, by species) as the ABC reserve, which is used to allow for more efficiency inseason in the harvest of these flatfish species. The Council also adopted revised PSC limits for crab stocks, Pacific halibut, and herring, including apportionments where applicable. The herring abundance estimate declined and thus the overall PSC limit (established as 1% of the biomass) for herring declined in 2018 from previous years. The Council also confirmed halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for use by in-season management in 2018 and 2019.
The Council also received economic information on the ex-vessel value of the BSAI groundfish fisheries in comparison with previous years. Due to the lagged availability of this information, ex-vessel value is available for 2016. The ex-vessel value in 2016 was $657 million. The 2016 total groundfish catch decreased by 2%, and the total first-wholesale value of groundfish catch increased by 4%, relative to 2015. The Groundfish Economic SAFE report will be reviewed at the February 2018 Council meeting.
The final BSAI groundfish harvest specifications will be published as a final rule in the Federal Register by late February/early March 2018. They will replace the current 2017 harvest specifications that were adopted by the Council in December 2016. Groundfish specifications for 2018-2019 are available on the Council’s website. Staff Contact is Diana Stram.