- Call for Nominations
The Council is calling for nominations for special expertise on two of its Committees.
The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee does not currently include representation by the salmon processing sector, and the Council is announcing a call for nominations for a processor representative to the Committee. The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee was established to assist in the development of measures necessary to amend the Salmon FMP to include traditional net-fishing areas in the Federal waters of Cook Inlet into the FMP. The Council has tasked the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee primarily with review of issues related to management of the commercial drift gillnet salmon fishery, and so representatives from that sector currently comprise the Committee membership. If you are interested in joining the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee as a representative from the processing sector, please send a letter of interest to Jim Armstrong at the Council office by January 09, 2019, to allow appointments prior to a late January/early February Committee meeting.
The Council is seeking an additional representative from Area 2C to join the Charter Halibut Management Committee. The Council’s Charter Halibut Management Committee was established to develop recommended management alternatives for the charter halibut fishery in Areas 2C and 3A. Requested changes to management measures are suggested by the Committee in October of each year, then evaluated by ADF&G staff to estimate their impact on charter halibut catch. The Committee recommends management measures to the Council in December of each year. More information is available on the Council website. If you are interested in joining the Charter Halibut Management Committee, please send a letter of interest to Steve MacLean at the Council office by noon on February 1, 2019.
- Appointments and changes
The Council reappointed Angel Drobnica, Dan Donich, Craig Lowenberg, and Joel Peterson to three-year terms. Ben Stevens was appointed to fill out the remaining two years of Shannon Carroll’s term, and John Gruver was appointed for a one-year term. Newly appointed to the AP for three-year terms are, Gretar Gudmundsson, Jamie O’Connor and Erik Velsko.
Mr. Gudmundsson of Bainbridge Island, WA, has been active in the Bering Sea commercial fisheries and most recently in the crab fisheries. He serves as the Executive Director of the Alternative Crab Exchange. Ms. O’Connor, of Homer, AK is a commercial fisherwoman in the Bristol Bay area and is a Program Coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Mr. Velsko, also of Homer, AK, has participated in many commercial fisheries throughout the state, and is currently owner of Dangerous Cape Fisheries, LLC. We welcome them to the process and look forward to working together on issues in the coming year.
Scientific and Statistical Committee
All current members of the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, except for Robert Clark of ADF&G, were reappointed. SSC members serve one-year terms. Robert Clark is retiring from ADF&G, and the Council appointed Dr. Andrew Munro to replace him. Dr. Munro is a Fisheries Scientist with the Division of Commercial Fisheries and in this capacity has contributed to discussions before the Council for the past seven years.
The Council approved the following reappointments for a one-year term to the SSC: Dr. Chris Anderson, Dr. Mike Downs, Dr. Sherri Dressel, Dr. Jason Gasper, Dr. Dana Hanselman, Dr. Brad Harris, Dr. Anne Hollowed, Dr. George Hunt, Jr., Dr. Gordon Kruse, Dr. Dayv Lowry, Dr. Franz Mueter, Dr. Terry Quinn, Dr. Katherine Reedy, Heather Renner, Dr. Ian Stewart, and Allison Whitman. Additionally, Dr. Jennifer Burns will return to the SSC in October 2019, Dr. Amanda Bishop will serve on the SSC until Jennifer returns; Dr. Matt Reimer will return to the SSC in June 2019, and Dr. Ron Felthoven will serve on the SSC until Matt returns.
Long-time SSC member, Robert Clark, was recognized by the Council for serving 11 years on the SSC representing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Council’s Executive Director, David Witherell, presented him with a plaque thanking him for his service and dedication to the conservation and management of fisheries in the North Pacific. His expertise in Alaska fisheries and participation in the scientific peer-review process will be missed, and we wish him well in retirement.
The Council appointed Dr. Anne Marie Eich to serve on the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team, replacing Ms. Brandee Gerke. Dr. Eich is the head of the Ecosystem Branch of the Sustainable Fisheries Division at the Alaska Regional Office, and has previously served as the Alaska Region lead for seabird/fisheries interactions.
The Council appointed Dr. Jim Fall to serve on the Social Science Planning Team, to fill an ADF&G seat reserved by the Council in October 2018. Dr. Fall is the Statewide Program Manager for the Division of Subsistence, where he plans, organizes, and monitors ADF&G’s social science research relative to subsistence hunting and fishing in Alaska communities. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin.
The Council appointed Mr. Andrew Kingham to serve on the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team, as a permanent replacement for the interim appointment of Ms. Jennifer Cahalan. Mr. Kingham is a Research Fishery Analyst in the AFSC Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division, bringing in-depth experience with the North Pacific Observer Program and emerging Electronic Monitoring programs.
The Council appointed Gretchen Harrington to replace Jon Kurland on the Council’s Ecosystem Committee.
The Council reappointed all members of the Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee (PNCIAC) to two-year terms, with the exception of Dale Schwarzmiller and Gary Stewart, who have stepped down. To replace them, the Council appointed Edward Poulsen and Mike Simpson. Jamie Goen has also been appointed to take over for Tyson Fick as non-voting Secretary.
Full membership is as follows: Lance Farr, Jamie Goen (non-voting, Secretary), Dean Fasnacht, Erling Jacobsen, Kevin Kaldestad, Steve Minor, Stefanie Moreland, Gary Painter, Edward Poulsen, Brett Reasor, Mike Simpson, Tom Suryan, Elizabeth Wiley.
- Observer Annual Deployment Plan
The Council received a report on the Final Observer Program 2019 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP), which highlighted changes to the document since the Council’s review of the Draft ADP in October.
The Final ADP uses the Council’s recommended deployment strata and a coverage allocation scheme of 15% plus optimized allocation based on discarded groundfish and halibut PSC and Chinook PSC, which results in the following deployment rates by strata:
- No selection – 0%
- EM – 30%
- Trawl – 24%
- Hook-and-line – 18%
- Pot – 15%
- Tender trawl – 27%
- Tender pot – 16%
The Final 2019 ADP noted NMFS has approved all 168 vessels that requested to participate in the EM trip selection pool for 2019, consistent with the Council’s October recommendation to expand the EM pool. Of the total 168 vessels requesting to be in the EM selection pool, 27 requested to participate for the first time. An additional 4 vessels will participate in EM innovation and research, a separate category. NMFS also included Sitka on the list of ‘primary ports’ for EM deployment in 2019.
Appendix E of the Final 2019 ADP provides additional information about the cost structure under the observer contract and how costs may be expected to fluctuate at different funding levels, which was also requested by the Council in October.
Staff contact for observer issues is Elizabeth Figus.
- 2019 Charter Halibut Management Measures
The Council recommended the following management measures for charter halibut fisheries in Areas 2C and 3A for application in 2019, in order to achieve the charter halibut allocation under the Council’s Halibut Catch Sharing Plan:
- If the allocation is 0.81 million pounds: one fish per day with a reverse slot limit that allows retention of halibut less than or equal to 38 inches, or greater than or equal to 80 inches (U38:O80). No annual limit.
- If the allocation is above or below 081 million pounds, adjust the lower limit of the reverse slot limit up or down to keep the projected harvest within the allocation.
- Two fish daily bag limit.
- Retention of one fish of any size and a maximum size limit of 28 inches on the second fish
- One charter vessel fishing trip for CHP per day (use of each charter halibut permit is limited to one charter halibut fishing trip per boat in one calendar day)
- 4-fish annual limit, requirement to record retained halibut on the ADF&G fishing license or harvest record card.
- Prohibition on the retention of halibut on Wednesdays, all year.
- Adjust Tuesday retention closure according to Table 15 in the ADF&G analysis of proposed harvest regulations for 2019 to bring the projected harvest within the Area 3A allocation.
- If the allocation is above 2.023 million pounds, adjust the size of the second fish, up to a maximum of 30 inches, to keep the harvest within their allocation.
The Council selected these management measures following review of the ADF&G analysis of proposed management measures for 2019, and after receiving input from the Charter Halibut Management Committee which includes stakeholder representatives from both Areas 2C and 3A. Area 2C representatives noted that the Status Quo regulations project a harvest that is above their projected allocation, but feel that the projected overage is due to an optimistic estimate of angler effort. Area 2C representatives feel that the smaller lower limit of the reverse slot imposed in 2018 will result in lower bookings for 2019, and report that bookings to date for 2019 are below bookings for 2018 at the same point last year. Area 2C representatives feel that Status Quo measures will keep the area 2C charter sector within 0.81 million pounds.
Area 3A representatives feel that a 28% increase in area 3A distributed mortality may not be a realistic outcome of the January IPHC meeting. Continued large fluctuations in distributed mortality and management measures that attempt to address these fluctuations, either up or down, are not good for business planning. Area 3A representatives feel that although restricting the upper limit of the maximum size of the second fish may result in some halibut “left in the water”, management measures requested for analysis did not include a second fish larger than 30 inches and recognize that the charter halibut fishery in area 3A has been over their allocation in recent years. Therefore, representatives felt that it is reasonable to limit the area 3A charter catch to 2.088 million pounds, the maximum projected catch with no closed Tuesdays and a 30-inch limit on the second fish.
The Council noted the recommendation from the Charter Halibut Management Committee to reduce halibut harvest limits for unguided anglers in times of low halibut abundance, but did not take action at this time. This would require an amendment to the Council’s Halibut Catch Sharing Plan. The Council may consider revisiting the issue if the new State of Alaska administration determines interest in pursuing this option.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean
- GOA Groundfish Specifications
The Council approved the 2018 Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2019 and 2020 GOA groundfish fisheries. Harvest and prohibited species catch (PSC) specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are available here.
The 2018 GOA Groundfish SAFE report includes stock status updates for all 23 stocks or stock complexes managed through the GOA Groundfish FMP. No harvest specifications were set for squid for the upcoming years since that stock complex has been moved to the ecosystem component category. The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the GOA, which differentiates between the Eastern and Western GOA. The report highlighted closer to average conditions in 2018 following the marine heatwave of 2014-2016 and provided information of zooplankton densities as well as forage fish, seabird and marine mammal trends.
The GOA Pacific cod stock continues to be at a low biomass level since the large decrease in the abundance that was described in the 2017 SAFE report. According to the 2018 update of the Pacific cod stock assessment, environmental conditions in early 2018 were improved for survival of age 0 Pacific cod; however, fall 2018 surface temperatures suggest the advent of a further heatwave, albeit not as intense as that which occurred in 2014-2016. Climate models predict a 70% probability of an El Niño in the 2018-2019 winter season, which corresponds to poor conditions for age-0 survival. Precautionary management of Pacific cod by the Council continued for 2019 and 2020 with TACs set at levels that are consistent with maintaining spawning biomass above the B20% threshold.
The sum of the ABCs for all Gulf groundfish stocks in 2019 is 509,507 mt, which is a reduction of 5% compared to the 2018 (536,921 mt) aggregate ABC. The Council approved maximum permissible ABCs for all stocks in the Gulf in 2018, except for pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, and demersal shelf rockfish. ABC less than the maximum permissible is recommended when a stock needs additional conservation considerations. A risk table associated with reductions from maxABC was applied by assessment authors for pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish in the 2018 SAFE and the GOA Groundfish Plan Team and the Council’s SSC will continue to explore appropriate reductions from maxABC in future harvest specification exercises. Differences in the 2019 ABCs compared to 2018 vary among GOA stocks with reductions for eight stocks, increases for seven stocks, and no change for eight stocks.
For most stocks, the Council established TACs equal to ABCs. Exceptions, where the TAC is set below ABC, include fisheries where bycatch may be a concern, specifically, shallow water flatfish and flathead sole in Western and Central GOA, arrowtooth flounder (GOA wide), and other rockfish (East Yakutat and Southeast Outside). For Pacific cod, ABC is reduced by 25% in Eastern and Central GOA and by 30% in Western GOA to accommodate State-managed fisheries; and for pollock, ABC is reduced by 2.5% for the State’s Prince William Sound fishery.
Stock Status Summary from the 2018 GOA SAFE report
None of the GOA groundfish stocks are overfished or experiencing overfishing (see stock status figure). Other than Pacific cod and sablefish, all stocks are projected to be above their biomass targets (BMSY or the BMSY proxy, B35%) in 2019. Estimated female spawning stock biomass (SSB) of Pacific cod (34,701 mt) is 50% below target stock size (68,896 mt) while sablefish SSB (96,687 mt) is 17% below target stock size (116,738 mt). The summed biomass estimates for GOA groundfish in 2019 (5,005,262 mt) represent a 1% decrease from the 2018 aggregate biomass (5,053,276 mt).
Prohibited Species Catch Limits:
The Council approved halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, by season and gear sector, for 2019 and 2020 and specified apportionments of the hook and line (HAL) halibut PSC allowance between the HAL catcher vessel and HAL catcher/processor sectors according to the Pacific cod sector split allocation. For 2019, the Council is moving 50 mt of trawl sector halibut PSC from the shallow to the deep water species complex and is changing the 4th halibut PSC season start date from September 1 to August 1. This is intended to provide flexibility for the trawl fleet and for processing plants by providing access to alternative target species given the low availability of Pacific cod and salmon in the GOA. The Council will evaluate the efficacy of the adjustment when GOA groundfish harvest specifications are addressed again in 2019. The Council also approved halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for use by in-season management in 2019 and 2020.
Harvest and PSC specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are posted on the Council’s website.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- BSAI Groundfish
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.
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan
The Council adopted the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP). The Bering Sea FEP establishes a framework for the Council’s continued progress towards ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM) of the Bering Sea fisheries, and relies and builds on the Council’s existing processes, advisory groups, and management practice. The Council noted that adoption of the FEP represents a major milestone in what has been a multi-year process to develop this FEP. The FEP builds from the Council’s Ecosystem Vision Statement, adopted in 2014, and is a continued commitment by this Council to use the best science to sustainably manage fisheries using a precautionary, transparent and inclusive process.
The core FEP document that has been adopted identifies management goals and objectives for the FEP and for monitoring of the Bering Sea ecosystem, and describes how the FEP framework will support research projects (Action Modules) to address Council priorities. The FEP offers a framework for strengthening trust, transparency, and a sense of shared investment among managers, scientists and stakeholders. It is intended to be a living document and process.
The Council also adopted the five action modules included in the draft, and initiated action on two of them. Staff will work with the BS FEP Team to bring back workplans for how to manage the workload associated with the initiated modules. The two action modules for the Council to work on are:
- Develop protocols for using Local Knowledge and Traditional Knowledge in management and understanding impacts of Council decisions on subsistence use.
- Evaluate the short- and long-term effects of climate change on fish and fisheries.
In the future, and the Team will prepare workplans to bring back to the Council on the other three approved modules, which are: Assessment/gap analysis of Bering Sea management with EBFM best practices; create a series of interdisciplinary conceptual models for the Bering Sea ecosystem; and align Council priorities with research funding opportunities and track relevant research.
The FEP is a living document and lays out a flexible process that allows the Council to better explain to stakeholders what they are already doing with respect to ecosystem-based fishery management, identifies areas to improve, and provides a reasonable action path to address those areas while still taking into account the practical realities of staff time and other Council priorities. The Council appreciated the productive dialogue and engagement with Bering Sea stakeholders that has occurred during the development of the FEP, especially at the Ecosystem Committee and at the Council’s Ecosystem Workshop in February 2018.
The FEP will be revised to address requested clarifications in response to Council, Ecosystem Committee, and SSC review in December 2018. Moving forward, staff will update and post the document, and convene the FEP Team.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Aleutian Islands Pacific Cod Set-Aside Adjustment
The Council took final action to adjust Amendment 113 such that the prosecution of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Pacific cod fishery aligns with the Council’s original objective of providing stability to Aleutian Islands (AI) shoreplant operations, AI harvesters, and AI fishing communities dependent on AI Pacific cod harvesting and shoreside processing activity. The Council selected Alternative 4 and Option 2 as its preferred alternative.
Alternative 4 changes how the unrestricted fishery harvested in the AI is deducted from the trawl catcher vessel (CV) BSAI allocation in order to provide the full AI set-aside for shoreside deliveries. Option 2 maintains the March 21 end date for the Bering Sea (BS) trawl CV limitation, but changes the restriction on the limitation after March 15 so that during the March 15 to March 21 period, AI Pacific cod deliveries by the trawl CV sector can be delivered to any processor.
The final motion is available here. Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Snow Crab PSC Limits in Groundfish Fisheries
The Council reviewed an analysis of alternatives to modify methods to calculate and apportion snow crab PSC limits in groundfish trawl fisheries operating in the C. opilio Bycatch Limitation Zone (COBLZ). The Council paused development of the analysis and requested staff provide a data report on C. opilio bycatch in the directed crab and groundfish fisheries that describes the spatial distribution of bycatch throughout the BSAI by gear and fishery.
The COBLZ was created in 1997 by Amendment 40 to the BSAI Groundfish FMP and limited snow crab PSC for groundfish trawl fisheries within the area. The analysis was requested by the Council in February 2016 after a series of discussion papers from 2010 through 2016. Those discussion papers initially considered crab bycatch issues for all 10 crab species addressed in the BSAI Crab FMP, and over the course of several years, narrowed the scope to consider only modifications to calculating snow crab PSC limits for groundfish trawl fisheries within the COBLZ. Those previous discussion papers addressed snow crab bycatch that occurs in fisheries other than the groundfish trawl fishery, inside and outside the COBLZ, and presented information that indicated that the Council could consider managing snow crab bycatch by weight rather than by numbers. However, the Council chose not to take any action on those issues and instead limited the action to trawl PSC limits within the COBLZ.
To date, the COBLZ has been closed only to the 2010 BSAI Trawl Limited Access (TLA) yellowfin sole fishery when approximately 1.38 million snow crab were encountered early in the year. The COBLZ closed to that fishery in February 2010.
In February 2016, the Council provided a purpose and need statement that stated that a review of snow crab PSC limits was necessary because no review had been conducted since limits were put into place in 1997. The Council also included two alternatives that modify the methods for calculating PSC limits for the Community Development Quota (CDQ), Amendment 80 (A80) and BSAI TLA fisheries. The action alternatives would modify the abundance estimate from which PSC calculations are made to the modeled estimate of total abundance rather than the estimate of predicted survey abundance, as in status quo management. Staff note the disconnect between the very broad purpose and need statement and the very specific alternatives for analysis.
The analysis compared actual snow crab PSC usage from 2008–2017 in the CDQ, A80, and BSAI TLA fisheries to new limits that would have been imposed under the action alternatives. Staff noted that past performance may not be a predictor of future performance, but because of the limited data available, an effort reprojection was not possible. The analysis concluded that although some of the new PSC limits could have resulted in PSC limits that were lower than PSC usage for some fisheries in some years, it would remain a rare occurrence for fisheries to exceed their snow crab PSC limits under any alternative, either status quo or either of the action alternatives because of the way that the A80 and BSAI TLA fisheries are currently managed by cooperatives. Analysis also concluded that in the rare event that one or more fisheries were excluded from the COBLZ, there is little likelihood that any catch would be foregone, although there are likely to be some costs to the fisheries for fisheries to avoid areas of higher than acceptable snow crab PSC rates, or for redeployment should the fisheries exceed the COBLZ limit and be excluded from the area. The analysis also concluded that no alternative was likely to result in significant impacts to the human environment.
Both the SSC and the AP recommended that the analysis should be expanded. The SSC recommended additional discussion of the size distribution of snow crab in the estimate of survey abundance or total abundance and in PSC usage, and the treatment of undersize crab included in the modeled biomass estimates vs. those that show up in survey estimates currently used to establish PSC limits. The SSC also requested an additional section in the RIR addressing differential distribution of risk of foregone catch or increased operational costs among fishing communities participating in or dependent upon the fishery. The AP recommended that the Council clarify the purpose and need statement, increase the range of alternatives to better reflect the purpose and need, and include descriptions of: trade-offs of using the predicted survey abundance vs. total abundance as the index of abundance for setting PSC limits; data on size and sex composition of bycatch and amount of bycatch in weight and numbers of crab; description of the impacts of the alternatives on the C. opilio directed fishery; description of impacts on communities and small entities; report total bycatch in directed and groundfish fisheries in number of crabs to be consistent with the way that bycatch is measured; include research on gear modification/mortality reduction that was included in the February 2016 discussion paper; include information on temporal movement of trawl fishery relative to marine mammal interactions; consider the chances of displacing trawl vessels into areas of higher PSC (red king crab, halibut, etc.) and to what extent it could increase that PSC; include examples of how all bycatch removals in all fisheries, beyond on-pelagic trawl, are impacting the crab biomass and the amount available in directed fishery.
After review and public testimony, the Council paused development of the analysis and requested a data report on C. opilio bycatch in the directed crab and groundfish fisheries that describes the spatial distribution of bycatch throughout the BSAI by gear and fishery. The Council requested that staff provide information on possible gaps in bycatch data, identify regulatory provisions that could hinder the ability to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable and provide a qualitative description of potential impacts of avoiding C. opilio bycatch on fishery participants.
The Council also encouraged the crab and groundfish industry to coordinate to find non-regulatory measures to minimize C. opilio bycatch. Staff contact is Steve MacLean.
- GOA Pollock and Cod Seasonal Allocation Adjustments
The Council adopted for public review an analysis of alternatives intended to relieve operational inefficiencies for the trawl catcher vessel (CV) pollock and Pacific cod fisheries in the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska. For pollock, additional flexibility would be achieved by moving from the existing equal (25%) four-season TAC allocation to equal (50%) two-season allocations. Under the seasonal modification, the pollock A and B seasons would be combined into a season that runs from January 20 through May 31 and the C and D seasons would be combined into a season that runs from August 25 through November 1. The Council will continue to consider whether increasing the 20% cap on in-year seasonal rollovers of unharvested pollock TAC provides flexibility to better utilize the available harvest; the Council’s preliminary preferred alternative would increase the cap to 25%.
For Pacific cod, the Council aims to reduce the underharvest of B season TAC in the trawl CV sector by moving some of the seasonally allocated TAC to the A season. The Council re-specified the options for the amount of the seasonal reallocation, to clarify that sectors other than the trawl CVs would not be impacted. The preliminary preferred alternative would result in an A/B seasonal TAC ratio – across all sectors – of 64%:36%, compared to the status quo of 60%:40%.
The Council’s stated purpose and need for this action remains unchanged as the Council proceeds to public review. The analytical document prepared for this action qualitatively describes circumstances in which fishery effort could result in impacts to Steller sea lions. Throughout the development of this action, the Council has maintained that its intent is to provide benefits to fishery participants while not adversely impacting ESA-protected Steller sea lions. The alternatives do not pose any additional risk to the GOA pollock or Pacific cod stocks since harvest specifications would continue to control overall harvest of these target species. Likewise, the efficacy in PSC limits constraining bycatch of Chinook salmon and halibut are not affected by the alternatives. Staff contacts are Jim Armstrong and Sam Cunningham.
- Exempted Fishing Permits
The Council reviewed two exempted fishing permit (EFP) applications that were presented at the meeting and recommended that both be approved.
The first EFP was proposed by the Aleut Corporation, to develop an economically viable AI pollock fishery. By allowing vessels under this EFP to fish in a mixed-target pollock fishery with its own Pacific Ocean perch (POP) allocation of 500mt, rather than being restricted to the 5% aggregated rockfish MRA limit, this EFP proposal will test an alternative management framework for limiting POP bycatch in the AI pollock fishery. The Council is in support of the EFP’s goals to reduce POP bycatch mortality, prove the viability of fishing for pollock in the AI under the current POP abundance, provide an important economic opportunity for Adak, and improve safety at sea.
The second EFP application was submitted by Mr. Cory Lescher and Dr. Bradley Harris from the Alaska Pacific University Fisheries, Aquatic Science, and Technology (FAST) Laboratory. Two concurrent studies would be conducted under this EFP. The first would compare red king crab prohibited species catch (PSC) rates generated using Observer Program sub-sampling protocols to whole-haul censuses in the Amendment 80 Bering Sea yellowfin sole and role sole fisheries. The second is an at-sea crab vitality pilot study to examine factors which influence red king crab discard mortality. Assessing the accuracy of PSC estimation and the potential to improve the viability of crab PSC may help inform future fisheries management. Testimony and Council discussion highlighted support for the project. Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
- Observer Coverage on Vessels Delivering to Tenders
The Council received an update on staff progress with resolving challenges related to observer coverage on vessels delivering to tenders, and reaffirmed current tasking priorities. The Council recognizes the longstanding use and importance of tenders in Alaska fisheries, especially in the western Gulf of Alaska, where the location of pollock and Pacific cod fishing grounds are further from port, and the fleet is largely comprised of smaller trawl vessels (57 to 60 ft LOA).
Challenges with deploying observers on vessels delivering to tenders have led to different sampling protocols for monitoring salmon bycatch for those vessels and the potential for biased data resulting from observed tender trips. The Council has initiated multiple actions to resolve these challenges. Since 2017, the Council and NMFS have established separate strata for random deployment of observers on vessels delivering to tenders, to ensure that a minimum amount of observer coverage is obtained. In October 2017, the Council also initiated an analysis to change the definition of a tender trip, including an evaluation of deploying observers directly from tender vessels. In February 2018, the Council formed a trawl catcher vessel Electronic Monitoring (EM) Committee to develop EM including for use on vessels delivering to tenders. The trawl EM Committee has made swift progress developing a cooperative research plan to develop an EM program for compliance purposes on pelagic pollock trawl catcher vessels and tenders both delivering to shoreside processors with a defined retention requirement.
In 2017, the Council approved the recommendation from the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (formerly the OAC) to prioritize the observer fee analysis ahead of the tender analysis with respect to staff tasking. After the fee analysis is completed (anticipated during the Spring of 2019), more staff capacity may become available to continue progress on an analysis relating to the definition of a tender trip. After revisiting this issue at the December 2018 meeting, the Council decided that no change was needed to existing prioritization. Staff contact for observer issues is Elizabeth Figus.
- Trawl Electronic Monitoring Research Plan
The Council approved a 2019 Trawl EM Cooperative Research Plan, developed by the Trawl Electronic Monitoring (EM) Committee. The 2019 cooperative research plan begins development of an EM program for compliance purposes, in accordance with Council direction from June 2018, and focuses on pelagic pollock trawl catcher vessels and tenders both delivering to shoreside processors, with a defined retention requirement. The Council also requested the EM Committee and NMFS begin working on regulatory implementation issues.
The trawl EM Committee expects EM to move more quickly for trawl vessels targeting mid-water pollock than it did for fixed gear vessels in the North Pacific. Rapid progress is expected because:
- much is already known about the EM technology;
- the Council’s (now disbanded) Fixed Gear EM Workgroup laid the groundwork for current work of the trawl EM Committee; and,
- a similar style trawl fishery in an adjacent region (West Coast Pacific whiting) is already using EM for compliance monitoring.
In June of 2018 the Council approved three objectives for the trawl EM Committee. With approval of the 2019 cooperative research plan, they also approved a fourth objective:
- Improve salmon accounting
- Reduce monitoring costs
- Improve monitoring data
- Examine retention/discard requirements (new)
The document further describes key research questions, pilot studies conducted in 2018, and project plans targeted for 2019 and 2020. All research projects are aimed at collecting information to inform the development of a pre-implementation plan as well as the development of alternatives for operationalizing EM as a compliance monitoring tool for pelagic pollock trawl catcher vessels. The EM Committee recognizes that there are further questions and potential interest in using EM on vessels conducting non-pelagic fishing and targeting multiple species, which will be addressed in the future. Staff contact for EM issues is Elizabeth Figus.
- BSAI Pacific Cod Allocation Review
At this meeting, the Council reviewed the workplan for an allocation review of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Pacific cod allocation, which is scheduled for 2019. The workplan provides background on national requirements the allocation review, program objectives for Amendment 85 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the BSAI Area, applicable management policy objectives from FMP, and the proposed approach for the allocation review.
The Council adopted the workplan as outlined, and requested staff include, to the extent practicable, SSC recommendations that primarily address document organization and AP recommendations to review prohibited species catch by season and include options for trawl CV sector to achieve their cod allocation. The Council also requested staff include in the allocation review a description of recent changes in the Pacific cod fishery and Pacific cod stocks, including the changes in the State water allocations, the additional survey of the Northern Bering Sea Research Area, recent Council-recommended modifications to Amendment 113 that created a CV trawl set aside for Aleutian Islands Pacific cod, and other changes in the Pacific cod fishery that the staff may identify.
During staff tasking, the Council also requested staff prepare a discussion paper to evaluate participation and effort in the Bering Sea Pacific cod pot catcher processor fishery in response to a potential need to limit entry and participation in the fishery. Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program Reauthorization
The Central Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Rockfish Program will sunset on December 31, 2021. If the Council does not take action to recommend the continuation of the current CGOA Rockfish Program management structure or a modified management program for the CGOA rockfish fisheries, these fisheries will revert back to the License Limitation Program (LLP) management structure, and harvesters, processors and communities may lose the benefits that have been realized through the Rockfish Program. If the current program or a modified version of the program is to continue, the Council must develop an amendment to the GOA groundfish Fishery Management Plan. In order for a final rule to be implemented by October 2021 and avoid confusion in the management of these fisheries, staff recommend the Council aim to take final action by April 2020.
Therefore, at this meeting the Council established a purpose and need statement and adopted two alternatives for considerations: 1) no action (meaning the management would revert back to the LLP) and 2) reauthorize the Rockfish Program with the existing management framework. Alternative 2 also includes consideration of minor changes recommended by NMFS (Items 1 through 5 on page 6 of the discussion paper) and includes the following amendments for consideration:
- Modify or remove the sunset date
- Consider options to reallocate unharvested Rockfish Program Pacific cod to the fixed gear fishery after the Rockfish season is over
- Exempt crab program sideboard limits for vessels when fishing in the Rockfish Program
- Require annual NMFS cost recovery report
In addition, the paper will include harvesting trends in the entry-level fixed gear fishery, information about how the current three-day stand down requirement applies to vessels when transiting from the BSAI to the GOA to participate in the Rockfish Program, and information about the rockfish harvesting patterns related to different levels of quota holdings.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- Cook Inlet Salmon Committee
The Council reviewed the recommendations of the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee regarding an updated staff discussion paper on candidate measures that are being proposed to evaluate alternative management for salmon fisheries in Federal waters of Cook Inlet. The Council directed the Committee to continue developing measures necessary to establish status determination criteria for Cook Inlet salmon stocks. The Council also indicated its intent to have the SSC review the use of escapement-based analyses for status determination criteria and as best scientific information available under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Committee’s report is available on the Council website, as is the Council motion.
The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee held its first meeting on December 4, which was attended by approximately 50 people. The meeting agenda was structured around developing recommendations to the Council for specific Magnuson-Stevens Act provisions under the two alternative management approaches currently being considered by the Council: Alternative 2 – cooperative management with the State of Alaska, and Alternative 3 – fully Federal management. NMFS, ADFG, and Council staff presented an overview of the discussion paper and discussed opportunities for enhancing the evaluation of in-river salmon essential fish habitat (EFH) in the next 5-year EFH update, and challenges associated with joint management of salmon fisheries with the State of Alaska.
- Status determination criteria: The Committee received a staff presentation with an analysis of spawner-recruit relationships for Kenai and Kasilof River sockeye salmon, but was unable to agree on specific management measures. The Committee recommended that further Committee meetings be held to make progress on that issue.
- Bycatch and harvest reporting: Options considered by the Committee were discussed in terms of their relationship to groundfish bycatch retention and associated permitting requirements. The Committee recommended non-retention of groundfish and supported use of eLandings as a reporting mechanism.
- Fishery Impact Statement: Committee members recommended that the Fishery Impact Statement be expanded to reflect concerns about community hardships and concern about uncertainty in the future of the salmon driftnet fisheries in Cook Inlet.
Finally, in recognition that the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee does not currently include representation by the salmon processing sector, the Council is announcing a call for nominations for a processor representative to the Committee. Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- Western Gulf of Alaska Pollock Vessel Limitations
The Council took no action on a proposal to limit vessels greater than 58 feet length overall from the Western Gulf of Alaska (GOA) pollock trawl fishery. The action proposed would have either prohibited vessels greater than 58 ft from participating in the Western GOA (Area 610) pollock fishery or created a sideboard limit that would constrain vessels greater than this length to a specific percentage of the Western GOA pollock total allowable catch. Among other reasons, Council members stated they did not wish to exclude a category of vessels that have historically and recently participated in this fishery. Some members were concerned this action had the potential to create spillover impacts in other areas and suggested that the community protections sought in this action would be better addressed through a more holistic consideration of the GOA. Council members felt it important to continue to track the harvesting dynamic between the larger and smaller vessels and requested staff update the discussion paper with current annual catch data when those data become available. Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- Social Science Planning Team
The Council received a report on the minutes from the Social Science Planning Team’s (SSPT) interim teleconference (which occurred November 9th, 2018), including draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for Council consideration, and approved the Team’s TOR with modifications. The SSPT minutes detail the status of the data gap analysis and discussion of the logistics and agenda for its next May in-person meeting. When the date and location of that meeting is determined, it will be posted on the SSPT webpage. Information was also provided on social science guidance in other Council regions, as previously requested.
At the October 2018 Council meeting, there was a request for staff to aid the Council in identifying a process to determine an individual to broadly represent Tribal organizations on the SSPT. Tracking with the SSPT discussion (as detailed in the minutes), staff recommended the Council clarify its policy on affiliations eligible to be considered for the SSPT and clarify the role it is seeking to fill on the SSPT (i.e. public representation or scientific knowledge). As a result, the Council changed language in the SSPT Terms of Reference (TOR) to clarify that individuals with Tribal-affiliations (defined as being nominated by a Tribe or Alaska Native organization) are considered eligible for membership to this plan team. In the event of a future call for nominations, the Council will seek to more clearly communicate how it intends to weigh affiliation and professional qualifications. In addition, Council intends to consider more broadly its policy for membership on plan teams and committees in a separate policy document in the future.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- Staff Tasking
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously tasked projects (see revised 3 meeting outlook), as well as the following issues.
- The Council also received a presentation on proposed regulations governing Council member recusal, and directed staff to develop a comment letter for Council consideration at the February Council meeting.
- The Council agreed to send a letter to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and USCG regarding using AIS identification on fishing gear. If appropriate, the Council requested that the Council letter be coordinated with the Pacific and Western Pacific Councils.
- The Council also tasked staff with developing a discussion paper to evaluate participation and effort in the Bering Sea Pacific cod pot catcher processor fishery in response to a potential need to limit entry and participation in the fishery.
Committees and advisory groups:
- During staff tasking, the Council received the report of its Enforcement Committee, who met on December 4th. The committee received a presentation from Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) on results from an anonymous survey of all observers who deployed in the North Pacific Observer Program in 2016 and 2017. The committee also reviewed its terms of reference, and the Council’s enforcement precepts which were previously developed by the Committee.
- The Council approved the following upcoming committee agendas:
- Ecosystem Committee will meet in February to receive and discuss the annual update from the Marine Mammal Lab on conservation status of Alaskan marine mammals, an update on Ocean Acidification Science in Alaska, and develop a list of areas of focus for the next two years for Council review.
- Community Engagement Committee: staff is developing a draft Terms of Reference to review with the Committee in the spring.
- Enforcement Committee will meet in April to review: 1) sablefish discards discussion paper, 2) non-guided halibut rental boat registration initial review document, and 3) review the Trawl Electronic Monitoring Committee’s cooperative research plan for 2019.
- The Council issued solicitations for a processor representative on the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee, and an Area 2C representative on the Charter Halibut Management Committee.
- The Council appointed new members to three Plan Teams (BSAI Groundfish Plan Team, BS FEP Team, and Social Science Planning Team), the Ecosystem Committee, and announced SSC and Advisory Panel appointments for 2019.
- Upcoming Meetings
- FMAC Partial Coverage Subgroup, January 17, teleconference
- BSAI Crab Plan Team meeting, January 22-25, Nome, AK
- Halibut Stakeholder Committee meeting, February 4, 8am-12pm, Portland, OR
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee, February 4, 1-5pm, Portland, OR
- Ecosystem Committee meeting, February 5, 1-5pm, Portland, OR
- Scallop Plan Team, February 20, Kodiak, AK
- Salmon bycatch genetics workshop, February 28-March 1, AFSC, Seattle, WA
- Trawl EM Committee meeting, March 4-5, Seattle, WA
- Community Engagement Committee, March 2019, dates and location TBD