Appointments | BSAI Groundfish Specs | GOA Groundfish Specs | 2020 Charter Halibut Management Measures for Areas 2C and 3A | BSAI Pacific cod Parallel Fishery Limited Access | Crab Partial Offloads | St Matthew Island Blue King Crab Rebuilding | Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program Reauthorization | Unguided Halibut Rental Vessels | BSAI Halibut ABM | Small Sablefish Discarding/Release | AI Pacific Cod Set-Aside | National Standard 1 Guidance on ABC Control Rule Provisions | Staff Tasking | Community Engagement Committee | VHF Outages in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska | Upcoming Meetings
The following members of the AP have been reappointed to a 3-year term: Ruth Christiansen, Jeff Kauffman, Patrick O’Donnell, John Scoblic, and Sinclair Wilt. Also, John Gruver has been reappointed for a 1-year term, and Victoria O’Connell Curran has been reappointed to complete the term of her seat, which expires at the end of 2020. Finally, Julie Kavanaugh and Heather Mann have been newly appointed to the AP for 3-year terms.
A complete listing of Advisory Panel members is posted on the Council website AP page.
All current members of the SSC have been reappointed, with the exception of Heather Renner who is stepping down. Dr. Curry Cunningham has been appointed to replace Dr. Terry Quinn.
A complete listing of SSC members is posted on the Council website SSC page.
The Council appointed Dr. Andrew Olson to serve on the Scallop Plan Team, as a replacement for Mr. Quinn Smith who has resigned from the Team. Mr. Olson is the Groundfish and Shellfish Program Coordinator for the Southeast Region, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He currently provides oversight and evaluation of fisheries research and management activities within the Southeast and Yakutat management areas.
The Council Chair appointed Charlotte Levy to the Trawl Electronic Monitoring Committee.
The Council Chair also appointed the following members of the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Taskforces as taskforce co-chairs:
- Bering Sea FEP Climate Change Action Module Taskforce: Dr. Diana Stram (Council staff) and Dr. Kirstin Holsman (AFSC staff) appointed as co-Chairs.
- Bering Sea FEP LK/TK/Subsistence Action Module Taskforce: Dr. Kate Haapala (Council staff) and Dr. Sarah Wise (AFSC staff) appointed as co-Chairs.
BSAI Groundfish Specifications
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 email@example.com.
Staff contact for BSAI Groundfish Plan Team and specifications is Steve MacLean.
GOA Groundfish Final Harvest Specifications
The Council approved the 2019 Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2020 and 2021 GOA groundfish fisheries. For final rulemaking for the 2020 and 2021 fishing years, the Council recommended OFLs and ABCs consistent with SSC recommendations, and final TACs. The Council also recommended halibut PSC limit apportionments and adopted updated halibut DMRs for 2020. In setting the TACs for 2020 and 2021, the Council accounts for guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for groundfish fisheries in state waters; full details are in included in the Council motion for the GOA.
The 2019 GOA Groundfish SAFE report includes stock status updates for all 21 stocks or stock complexes managed through the GOA Groundfish FMP. The GOA SAFE report forms the basis for GOA 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 GOA in 2019 with the following exceptions: partial assessments were produced for shallow-water flatfish, northern and southern rock sole, rex sole, northern rockfish, dusky rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish, sculpins; an executive summary was produced for flathead sole; and no assessments were produced for sharks or thornyhead rockfish. For these exceptions, specifications were rolled over from the previous assessment for that stock.
The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the GOA, including a 4-page GOA ecosystem brief. The report highlighted unusually warm temperatures through 2019, similar to the 2014-2016 heat wave. Summer 2019 surface temperatures were warmer than the “blob” years. The report also provided information of phytoplankton and 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. According to the 2019 update of the Pacific cod stock assessment, the spawning biomass is projected to reach an all-time low in 2020, just above the “overfished level” of B17.5%. As the stock is below the B20% threshold, Federal regulations at CFR 679.20 require the directed fishery for Pacific cod to be closed for 2020-2021 due to Steller sea lion conservation measures. The 2020 GOA Pacific cod Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is for incidental catch in other fisheries and accounts for the State GHL.
As the GOA Pacific cod stock is close to crucial management and biological thresholds (B20% and B17.5%), improved estimates of the probability of being above or below these thresholds in the future could better inform Council decisions. The SSC requested the authors compare results using different assumptions about natural mortality and recruitment, due to the considerable uncertainty about future recruitment and potential effects of the impending marine heat wave on cod mortality. For these reasons, the SSC set the 2021 ABC to be the same as the 2020 ABC until next year’s assessment provides more clarity about future trends.
The sum of the ABCs for all GOA groundfish stocks in 2020 is 465,956 mt, which is a reduction of 8.5% compared to the 2019 (509,507 mt) aggregate ABC. Maximum permissible ABCs were set for all stocks in the Gulf in 2019, except for pollock, sablefish, and demersal shelf rockfish. ABC less than the maximum permissible is recommended when there are additional conservation considerations that are not accounted for in the stock assessment, tier system, or harvest control rules. The GOA Groundfish Plan Team and the Council’s SSC will continue to explore use of the species-specific risk tables for appropriate reductions from maxABC in future harvest specification exercises (see also discussion in BSAI specifications newsletter).
For most stocks, the Council established TACs equal to ABCs. Exceptions where the TAC is set below ABC include pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, shallow water flatfish in the Western GOA, flathead sole in Western and Central GOA, arrowtooth flounder (except in the Central GOA), and Atka mackerel.
The GOA Groundfish Plan Team report summarized the issues discussed and actions taken by the Plan Team at its November meeting in Seattle, WA. Highlights of the GOA Plan Team report included stock assessments incorporating this year’s survey data presentations from individual assessment authors. The SSC recommended 2020 and 2021 OFLs and ABCs and provided guidance regarding including new survey data and updating apportionments when conducting partial assessments. Some of the issues that pertain to GOA Groundfish, such as moving to Alaska-wide sablefish OFLs, were covered in the Joint Plan Team Report (discussed further under the BSAI Groundfish newsletter article).
The Council also recommended that the terms of reference for the Center of Independent Experts (CIE) review for the Gulf of Alaska Pacific Ocean Perch stock assessment (April 2020) should prioritize fixing the models’ performance and exploring the VAST model. The model should be revised before the September Plan Team meeting.
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 the GOA Groundfish Plan Team is Sara Cleaver.
2020 Charter Halibut Management Measures for Areas 2C and 3A
After reviewing ADF&G’s analysis of potential charter management measures and the recommendations of the Charter Halibut Management Committee, the Council established preliminary recommendations for 2020 charter measures in Areas 2C and 3A.
For Area 2C, the Council recommends a progression of catch restrictions that would be applied in an additive measure to status quo measures until the area’s charter allocation – as set by the IPHC in February 2020 – will be achieved. The baseline measure is a U40/O80 reverse slot limit. If that measure is not sufficient to limit anticipated catch to the allocation, fishing will be closed on Wednesdays in addition to the reverse slot. Wednesday closures would begin on September 9, 2020 and additional Wednesday closures would be applied in sequence moving toward the beginning of the calendar year. If that combination of measures will not reach the allocation, a four-fish annual angler limit would also be applied. If further reduction to projected catch is required, the annual limit would be reduced to three fish. Any further reduction required beyond what is achieved with the reverse slot, Wednesday closures throughout the year, and a three-fish annual limit would be achieved by reducing the maximum size limit on the low end of the slot from 40” to a smaller fish (e.g., 39”). Finally, if an annual limit is adopted in Area 2C, charter anglers would be required to record the date and location (IPHC area) on their harvest record upon retaining a halibut – as is currently required in Area 3A.
For Area 3A, none of the management measure options analyzed by ADF&G for this meeting were projected to achieve a harvest level in line with the goal of 1.24 million pounds identified at the IPHC’s interim meeting in November 2019. Due to this unprecedented situation, the Council identified a preliminary recommendation that would achieve harvest at the status quo 3A charter allocation. The Council also instructed the Charter Halibut Management Committee’s 3A representatives to convene a public teleconference meeting prior to the Jan/Feb 2020 Council meeting and the IPHC’s February 2020 Annual Meeting at which they will make recommendations on management measures that could achieve a 1.24 million pound harvest. The timing of that meeting and instructions for public accessibility will be noticed in the Federal Register and publicized on the NPFMC website in the coming weeks. The Council’s preliminary recommendation for Area 3A is to maintain the status quo management measures with the additional measures of closing all Tuesdays (in addition to all Wednesdays) and reducing the maximum size of the second fish in the existing two-fish bag limit from 28” to 26” or less.
Staff contacts are Sam Cunningham and Steve MacLean.
BSAI Pacific cod Parallel Fishery Limited Access
At this meeting, the Council took final action to adopt a preferred alternative (Alternative 2) that would prohibit all Federal vessels from fishing for Pacific cod in waters from shore to 3 miles in the BSAI without the proper permits and licenses. The directed fisheries for Pacific cod in state waters (0 to 3 nm) that are open concurrently with the directed fisheries in federal waters (3 nm to 200 nm) are referred to as the parallel fishery and are prosecuted under virtually the same rules as the federal fisheries, with catch counted against the federal TAC. The parallel State waters fisheries are managed separately from the State waters Pacific cod fisheries.
The Council’s preferred alternative would preclude hook-and-line, pot, and trawl gear vessels from participating in the BSAI Pacific cod parallel fisheries unless they have a License Limitation Program license with the correct license endorsements and a designated Federal Fisheries Permit. The preferred alternative would also require the above Federally permitted or licensed vessels that fish in the parallel fishery to adhere to federal sector and seasonal BSAI Pacific cod closures and would restrict those vessels from surrendering and later reapplying for the FFP within a three-year time period. Jig vessels and those vessels that do not hold an FFP or an LLP license would not be affected by the preferred alternative and can continue to participate in the parallel fishery.
Implementation of the preferred alternative would ensure robust catch accounting while preventing all Federal vessels from circumventing the intent of previous Council decisions regarding license limitation and sector allocations when participating in the BSAI Pacific cod parallel fisheries. The alternative also recognizes that jig vessels, and new entrants who do not hold federal fishery permits, may participate in the parallel fishery.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
Crab Partial Offloads
The Council took final action to recommend a preferred alternative that removes the prohibition on a vessel continuing to fish for Crab Rationalization Program (CR) crab between the time of a partial delivery and the time at which all CR crab are offloaded by the vessel. The purpose of the action is to provide flexibility that can enhance operational efficiency under special circumstances or safety-related circumstances while also ensuring proper catch accounting. The Council did not select an option that would have required all crab in a tank to be offloaded if offloading from that tank has begun. It was understood that the draining and refilling required to partially offload a single tank would result in costly deadloss, and thus such a practice is unlikely to occur. Requiring a tank to be fully offloaded could have also reduced the effectiveness of the action when an offload is interrupted by safety considerations.
Allowing fishing after partial offloads may help vessels respond to an advancing ice pack. For example, a vessel could suspend an offload to retrieve and save gear still on the grounds that would otherwise be lost. The ability to resume fishing after a partial offload could also allow a vessel to maintain efficiency after delivering regionally designated quota shares to the Pribilof Islands before continuing to fish and completing their delivery in the southern region. Also, if an offloading vessel is forced out of a harbor by weather, this action would allow the vessel to fish rather than wait multiple days at anchor for weather to come down. Finally, the ability to fish after a partial offload could reduce disincentives to make smaller deliveries to processing partners who are innovating new product forms at small volumes (e.g., live crab markets).
While the Council recognized the importance of additional flexibility, it was understood that this provision is likely to be used in rare circumstances. As a result, the Council does not expect the provision to create significant challenges for catch accounting or to substantially increase deadloss in the fishery. The Council directed staff to specifically review the biological, economic, and management impacts of this action during the next required Crab Rationalization Program review that is scheduled for completion in 2023.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
St Matthew Island Blue King Crab Rebuilding
The Council reviewed an initial draft environmental assessment of a rebuilding plan for St Matthew Island blue king crab. The Council chose a preliminary preferred alternative that would allow directed harvest during rebuilding if estimates of stock biomass are sufficient to open the fishery under the State of Alaska’s crab harvest strategy. Official notice that the stock was overfished was communicated to the Council in October 2018, which started a two-year process at the end of which the rebuilding plan must be implemented. The draft EA will be revised based on Council and SSC input, and the Council is scheduled to make a final recommendation in April in order for implementation to occur before the October 2020 deadline.
Under the alternative rebuilding approaches considered by the Council, the St Matthew blue king crab stock could take between 14 to 25 years to recover. The directed fishery has been closed since 2016 under the State of Alaska harvest strategy, and has only been open 6 out of the past 20 years. Multiple measures for habitat protection and bycatch reduction are in place for the stock, and fishing mortality is not considered to be the primary constraining factor. The groundfish fisheries incur low levels of bycatch of St Matthew blue king crab, but in analytical projections, average bycatch rates had no constraining effect on rebuilding. Instead, rebuilding will depend on successful recruitment of crab under ecosystem conditions that have recently been very unfavorable. Warm bottom temperatures, low pre-recruit biomass, and northward movement of predator species, primarily Pacific cod, have constrained stock growth.
Given the intermittent openings of the targeted St Matthew blue king crab fishery over the last 20 years, vessel and community reliance on harvest of blue king crab is relatively low. Under the draft rebuilding plan, ecosystem indicators developed for the stock will be monitored in the coming years.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program Reauthorization
The Council approved the Initial Review draft of the Central Gulf of Alaska (CGOA) Rockfish Program (RP) for release to the public with suggested changes by the Council, SSC, and Advisory Panel. No changes were made to the Council’s Purpose and Need statement. The Council selected a Preliminary Preferred Alternative (PPA) that is posted on the Council’s website.
Elements selected as part of the PPA include removal of the sunset date provision, and inclusion of elements that were recommended by the NMFS and stakeholders. All elements considered in the initial review draft were directly or indirectly included as part of the PPA, and two new elements were added at this meeting. Both of the new elements were not included in the PPA because they had not yet been evaluated in the current analysis.
The two new elements will be considered at final action and could be moved forward at that time as part of the preferred alternative. Those elements would remove catcher/processor (CP) RP sideboard limits that apply to Western Gulf of Alaska (WGOA) during the month of July. CP sideboards established for the Amendment 80 sector would remain in place. The second new element would remove the 3-day stand down for vessels that fish groundfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI), while Pacific cod or pollock is open to directed fishing, and move from the BSAI to the CGOA RP fishery. Vessels that are moving into other CGOA fisheries would still be subject to the 3-day stand down.
Element 10 was clarified to allow NMFS to reallocate unused RP primary species incidental catch allowance to both CVs and CPs, with a preference to allocate to onshore cooperatives first. Elements 6 and 7, which define required elements of the cooperative reports to NMFS, were modified as a new Element 6. That element would remove regulations that require RP cooperatives to submit an annual report to NMFS. NMFS does not need the information included in the report to manage the fishery, so the information is unnecessary for their management needs. Information important to the Council could be voluntarily provided by the cooperatives at the April Council meetings, when the Council takes annual reports from Limited Access Privilege Program participants.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
Unguided Halibut Rental Vessels
The Council reviewed an initial review draft of an action that evaluated the potential impacts of: 1) a registration requirement for unguided halibut rental vessels and 2) aligning bag and size limits of unguided anglers using rental vessels to harvest halibut with those of charter anglers in IPHC Regulatory Areas 2C and 3A. After reviewing the analysis, reports from the Charter Halibut Management Committee and Enforcement Committee, and public testimony, the Council moved to take no further action on this item.
This action was proposed to address concerns that, in addition to the differences in harvest regulations between charter (guided) and unguided recreational halibut anglers, growth of the rental boat segment of the unguided sector may negatively impact other halibut fishing sectors. The analysis provided a description of status quo recreational halibut management, trends in subarea harvest in the recreational halibut fisheries, and minimum estimates of the number of rental vessel businesses in Areas 2C and 3A. It also outlined existing vessel registration programs and the extent to which they could satisfy the Council’s purpose and need for the action. The initial review draft outlined management and enforcement considerations of the proposed action alternatives, highlighting administrative costs of a registration requirement and logistical details that would benefit from Council clarification.
Given the lack of existing data on the unguided halibut rental vessel subsector, and the potential costs of implementing regulatory solutions to gather those data, the Council requested that staff coordinate with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, NMFS Alaska Region, and recreational stakeholders to explore alternative non-regulatory methods to quantify the number and geographic scope of unguided rental boat activities in recreational halibut fisheries off Alaska. The Council acknowledged the importance of gaining more information on the unguided halibut rental vessel subsector, but noted that this proposal was not likely to be an effective method to do so. The Council encouraged participation by the recreational sector in upcoming efforts to gather this information.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
BSAI Halibut Abundance-based Management
The Council reviewed a workplan for addressing October 2019 SSC comments on the BSAI Halibut Abundance-based Management (ABM) Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limits management action analysis, and provided feedback on prioritizing tasks to facilitate Council review of the analysis in June 2020.
The Council continues to consider proposed management measures to index Pacific halibut PSC limits in the BSAI groundfish fisheries to halibut abundance. The alternatives include PSC limit modifications for various groundfish sectors, including the BSAI trawl limited access sector (TLAS), the Amendment 80 sector, longline catcher vessels (CVs), longline catcher processors (CPs), and the Community Development Quota (CDQ) sector (i.e., a reduction to the CDQ’s allocated prohibited species quota reserve). At this meeting, staff was provided an overview of their plans for addressing SSC comments and any additional workload issues for revising the draft analysis.
Following review and discussion, the Council directed staff to prioritize the following tasks from the work plan, to facilitate Council review of the analysis in June 2020:
- Low and alternative recruitment scenarios and 30:20 harvest control rule simulation
- PSC usage assumptions
- Analysis of control rule scenarios recommended by stakeholders
To the extent possible, staff will also address all other aspects of the SSC comments in the revised analysis.
The Council further requested an opportunity, at the upcoming January/February 2020 Council meeting, for stakeholders to provide input on additional management alternatives that serve to streamline the action and meet the Council’s objectives to establish abundance-based PSC limits that minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable, and aid the directed halibut fisheries at low levels of abundance. The Council may then consider revisions to the suite of alternatives, understanding that requesting additional analysis to be included in the June 2020 draft will be contingent upon the scope of the requested changes. An interactive spreadsheet of the current stakeholder scenarios is available as a tool for understanding the behavior of these alternatives, and to help the public in developing any modifications for February. Input from stakeholders on modifications to the alternative set can be submitted through the public comment portal for the Council’s January/February agenda.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
Small Sablefish Discarding/Release
The Council and AP reviewed a discussion paper on the potential creation of a discard allowance for the fixed gear individual fishing quota (IFQ) sablefish fishery, and took action to initiate an analysis. The Council’s motion for the analysis cites the low commercial value and high survival rate of small sablefish, and suggests that allowing IFQ fishing operations to return these fish to the water could contribute to stock biomass and the future value of the commercial harvest.
The alternatives proposed for analysis include voluntary release of sablefish and a range of discard mortality rates (DMRs) for pot and hook and line gear. Voluntary discarding was preferred over setting a size limit because it accommodates differences in sablefish size between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, and also provides needed flexibility when catches of small sablefish and the conditions that favor keeping these fish can be unpredictable. Additionally, the motion includes two options for catch accounting including observer-based or survey-based discard estimation. Discard mortality was recommended to be estimated in the sablefish stock assessment with a request for analysis of voluntary discarding on the process for stock assessment and catch limit specifications. Finally, an evaluation of monitoring and enforcement provisions that could improve discard estimation are requested.
Under current regulations, all sablefish caught in the IFQ fishery must be retained. The discussion paper looked at a range of issues including voluntary discarding, area-based size limits, management accounting for discards, proxy discard mortality rates, discard reporting methods, and the potential impacts of discarding to sablefish stock abundance. Stakeholders in the IFQ fishery have asked the Council to take action to change to those regulations so that fishing operations have the ability to return small sablefish to the water so they can grow to marketable size. Unusually large numbers of small sablefish from the 2014 and 2016 year classes have been getting caught and must be kept.
Among the many challenges associated with IFQ sablefish discarding are the potential addition of extensive observer monitoring workloads and costs, which would be necessary to accurately estimate the quantity of discards that could occur as well as the size and condition of the discards. The accounting system for the IFQ fishery would also need to be overhauled since an allowance for IFQ discards would reduce allocations to both trawl and IFQ vessels or IFQ vessels only. Additionally, because IFQ is assigned to an individual, and discards may be attributed based on observer program estimates, individual liability may need to be addressed. Finally, avoiding harvest of small fish from the recent large year classes will have to be done carefully to avoid fishing down less abundant portions of the stock. Across all of these issues, the Council seeks to find balance between ensuring conservation and data quality on one hand and providing needed flexibility for fishing operations on the other.
AI Pacific Cod Set-Aside
At the December meeting, the Council reviewed a discussion paper that included a status report on Amendment 113 litigation and potential regulatory approaches that could be used to provide opportunities for trawl catcher vessels harvesting Pacific cod in the AI and delivering the Pacific cod to AI shoreplants. After review and public testimony, the Council highlighted its strong commitment for conservation of AI Pacific cod and the sustained participation of AI fishing communities, and considered the different approaches available meet these management objectives. Ultimately, the Council decided these objectives would best be met through the expeditious development the BSAI Pacific cod trawl CV cooperative style LAPP. The intent of this approach is to provide a comprehensive, long-term solution for the BSAI Pacific cod trawl CV fishery, of which an AI set-aside is one of several important elements.
The Council chose not to start a new action focused exclusively on an AI set-aside, along the lines of revising Amendment 113, because of concern about its ability to implement a similar action outside of a limited access privilege program, given the opinion provided by the U.S. District Court (Court) with respect to Amendment 113’s consistency with National Standard 8. The Council recognized that the fundamental objectives and structure for focused analysis would be the same as previously incurred legal challenge, in terms of promoting sustained participation in the Pacific cod fishery for shoreside processors in the AI where there continues to be one active shoreside processor. While the Court’s judgement is under appeal, the Council decided that the current uncertainty, as to whether Amendment 113 is available as a management tool, was sufficient for the Council to focus staff resources on the larger BSAI trawl CV cooperative style LAPP which utilizes the LAPP authority in section 303A of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to promote participation in the Pacific cod fishery for shoreside processors located in two fishing communities in the AI.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
National Standard 1 Guidance on ABC Control Rule Provisions
The SSC reviewed a draft document on technical guidance for designing, evaluating and implementing carry-over and phase-in provisions associated with annual catch limits, and provided comments to the Council. The document was prepared in conjunction with the NMFS revisions to NS1 guidelines.
Carry-over and phase-in provisions are intended to provide additional flexibility within existing catch limits. The SSC noted that carry-over catch provisions could disrupt the NPFMC’s approach to TAC-setting in particular in the BSAI where the 2 million ton OY cap is constraining. It was also noted that the frequency of North Pacific assessment as compared to other regions may preclude the necessity of carry-over provisions.
The SSC does not support the use of phase-in provisions when recommendations support a substantial reduction on ABC, but notes the utility of these types of actions in a precautionary manner when there is substantial uncertainty surrounded a recommended increase in ABC. Additional comments are provided in the SSC minutes on implementation of these provisions and the need for full analyses of the provisions on the NPFMC ABC control rules prior to adoption. The Council will submit the SSC’s feedback to NMFS on behalf of the Council.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously tasked projects, as well as the following tasking issues.
- See revised 3 meeting outlook for changes to scheduling.
- The Council affirmed their schedule for developing the Cook Inlet Salmon FMP amendment, requesting preliminary initial review in April 2020, with an intent to have the FMP amendment implemented by the 2022 fishing season.
- The Council initiated a new action to develop a preliminary / initial review draft analysis to reduce BSAI crab PSC limits for trawl CDQ and non-CDQ fisheries when the corresponding directed crab fishery is closed.
The Council requested several reports for the January/February meeting:
- from NMFS on the development of the proposed rule for humpback whale critical habitat
- from NMFS on an annual process to vet with stakeholders any proposed changes to the procedures required for decksorting
- from the Coast Guard on the VHF outage in Southeast Alaska
- an update on the progress with implementing the charter halibut recreational quota entity (RQE) program
The Council directed staff to develop the following letters:
- To the IPHC United States Commissioners, providing input for their deliberations at the 2020 IPHC Annual meeting. The letter will highlight the anticipated significant and adverse impacts to US harvesters that are currently forecast for 2020, and identify potential measures that could mitigate the severity of such impacts.
- To NMFS, commenting on the proposed rule setting critical habitat for humpback whales. Staff will develop a draft of the letter which the Council will review and finalize at the January/February Council meeting prior to the comment deadline (January 31st).
- To NMFS, conveying the SSC’s comments on the proposed revisions to National Standard 1 guidelines with respect to carry-over and phase-in provisions.
Committees and advisory groups (see also the Appointments newsletter article):
- The Council announced appointments to the Advisory Panel and SSC for 2020.
- The Council appointed Dr. Andrew Olson to the Scallop Plan Team.
- The Council appointed Charlotte Levy to the Trawl EM Committee.
- The Council Chair announced co-Chairs for the Bering Sea FEP Action Module Taskforces for Climate Change and LK/TK/Subsistence.
Community Engagement Committee
The Council’s Community Engagement Committee met on Monday, December 2 to continue to develop recommendations for the Council to improve their engagement with rural and Alaska Native communities. The committee’s final report is expected to be presented to the Council in June, 2020.
VHF Outages in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska
The Council heard a report from the U.S. Coast Guard that they have experienced various VHF outages in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska throughout the summer and into the winter. Extra caution is advised in areas of Shelikof Strait, Southern Cook Inlet, and offshore Southeast Alaska. Repairs are ongoing, but due to extreme weather and remote locations, intermittent outages are expected to continue in various locations in both Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Mariners are reminded that due to mountains terrain, and limited VHF coverage, even with fully operational VHF sites, the USCG cannot hear VHF calls in all areas, and mariners should have secondary means on communications onboard at all times, file a float plan with a trusted person, and carry safety equipment onboard in the event you are in a survival situation. The Coast Guard command centers can be reached at the following numbers:
Sector Juneau Command Center: 907-463-2980
Sector Anchorage Command Center: 907-428-4100
17th District command center: 907-463-2000
Council Committees and Plan Teams
- Charter Halibut Management Committee 3A teleconference, early January (exact date TBD)
- Crab Plan Team, January 13-17, Kodiak, AK
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate Change Action Module Taskforce, Jan 13-15, Seattle, WA
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan LK/TK/Subsistence Action Module Taskforce, Jan 16-17, Anchorage, AK
- Ecosystem Committee, January 28, Seattle, WA
- Partial Coverage FMAC, January 28, Seattle, WA
- Scallop Plan Team, February 19, Kodiak, AK
- Community Engagement Committee, March or April (date and location TBD)
- Bering Sea FEP Team, March 3-5, Seattle, WA
- IFQ Committee, March 30 or 31, Anchorage, AK
- Ecosystem Committee, March 30 or 31, Anchorage, AK
- Enforcement Committee, March 31, Anchorage, AK
- BSAI Crab Plan Team, May 4-8, Seattle, WA
- Social Science Planning Team, May (date and location TBD)
- Trawl EM Committee, May 18, Seattle, WA
- FMAC, May 19-20, Seattle WA
- Alaska Marine Science Symposium, Jan 27-30, Anchorage, AK
- IPHC Annual Meeting, February 3-7, Anchorage, AK
- NMFS Sablefish apportionment workshop: mid-February (exact date TBD), Auke Bay Lab, Juneau, AK
- NMFS National EM Workshop, Feb 12-13, Seattle, WA
- NMFS Deep Sea Coral Workshop, May 13-15, Juneau, AK
Regarding the Sablefish Apportionment Workshop:
AFSC staff will be hosting the fishing industry and the public for presentations and open discussions about the sablefish apportionment analyses. This event will be held at Juneau’s Auke Bay Lab, and will occur over a full day in mid-February 2020. It will be open to the public and will be broadcast for remote participation. If you are interested in attending in person or remotely, wish to receive updates on the date and agenda, or have questions, please contact Kari Fenske, 907-789-6653 or email@example.com.
Regarding Deep Sea Coral Workshop:
NMFS has scheduled a workshop on 13-14 May, 2020 in Juneau, AK to discuss the research focus and develop a strategic plan for the Alaska Region Deep Sea Coral Research Initiative. The initiative will guide three years of extensive research on deep sea corals in the Alaska region.