At this meeting the Council bid farewell to longtime SSC member and recent co-Chair, Dr. Anne Hollowed. Dr. Hollowed has played a significant role in the Council’s science-based fishery management over the past 19 years she has been with the SSC, and has contributed to the development of many of the management programs the NPFMC has in place today. Thank you, Anne, and best wishes in retirement.
Also departing the SSC is Dr. Matt Reimer, who has served the SSC for 8 years with an emphasis on economic analysis. Thank you Matt for your contributions to sustainable fishery management in the North Pacific.
This December meeting was the last meeting for Mrs. Lauren Smoker, who will be retiring from NOAA’s General Counsel office after 30+ years. Ms. Smoker has advised the Council, developed Alaska legal procedures and defended Council and Agency actions. We will miss you, Lauren, and wish you the best in your new chapter.
This meeting was also the last for the following members of the AP: John Gruver, Craig Lowenberg, Joel Peterson, John Scoblic, Marissa Wilson, and Erik Veslko. Thank you all for your service and your involvement in decisions that affect the Nation’s fisheries.
The Council made the following appointments during the December 2021 Council meeting.
The following members of the Advisory Panel have been reappointed for one-year terms: Angel Drobnica, Gretar Gudmundsson, Brian Ritchie, and Susie Zagorski.
Additionally, Tamara Briggie, Tim Heuker, Lauren Mitchell, and Paul Wilkins have been newly appointed for one-year terms.
The Council noted that the appointments were made for a one-year term in order to accommodate the potential for upcoming changes as the Council comprehensively considers its Advisory Panel membership and nomination process over the next year.
In addition to the AP appointments, John Scoblic has resigned from the AP with one year remaining on his term; consistent with the Council’s policy, the Chair may choose to replace him with an interim appointment.
AP members for 2022 will be:
Scientific and Statistical Committee
All current members of the SSC have been reappointed for next year, with the exception of Dr. Anne Hollowed and Dr. Matt Reimer, who are stepping down. Dr. Robert Foy and Dr. Kailin Kroetz have been newly appointed for 2022.
SSC members for 2022 will be:
Kathryn Meyer (alt Theresa Tsou)
Charter Halibut Management Committee
Brian Ritchie has been appointed to the Charter Halibut Management Committee.
Charter Halibut Management Measures for 2022
The Council approved management measures for charter halibut fishing in Areas 2C and 3A to be recommended for adoption by the IPHC at its annual meeting in January 2022. The measures approved by the Council were developed by the Charter Halibut Management Committee based on analyses provided by ADF&G demonstrating projected removals, reference catch limits identified at the Interim IPHC meeting, and considering the interests of the fishery. These measures are expected to constrain overall charter removals to the final 2022 Area-specific charter mortality limits, which will be identified by the IPHC at its meeting in January.
Given that the charter mortality limits are still unknown until the Area-wide mortality limits are set by the IPHC, the Council’s recommendations provide direction for how the measures should become more or less restrictive in response to different limits adopted at the IPHC. Staff will use the following direction to identify the measures that can be adopted given the Area-wide mortality limits set.
Area 3A recommendations:
- Two-fish daily bag limit.
- One halibut of any size and a maximum size for one of the two fish is 28 inches.
- One charter vessel fishing trip per CHP per day (use of each charter halibut permit is limited to one charter halibut fishing trip per boat in one calendar day).
- Prohibition on halibut charter fishing on Wednesdays, all year.
- Adjust Tuesday closures according to Table 17 on page 53 in ADF&G analysis of proposed harvest regulations for 2022 to bring the projected harvest within the Area 3A allocation.
- For example, in combination with the other proposed measures:
- 4 closed Tuesdays closed would result in a harvest of 2.034 Mlb
- 8 Tuesdays closed would result in a harvest of 1.928 Mlb
- For example, in combination with the other proposed measures:
In 2022, it is unnecessary to include a requirement to record retained halibut on the back of the license or harvest record card as an enforcement mechanism for the annual limit for 2022.
Area 2C recommendations:
A progression of management measures in the following order as needed:
- A reverse slot with an upper limit fixed at O80, and a lower limit decreased until the allocation is reached, but no lower than U40; Harvest of 0.814 Mlb (rounds to status quo 0.81 Mlb (Table 6, Page 26 in ADF&G analysis of proposed harvest regulations for 2022)
- If the allocation is insufficient to maintain at least a U40 on the lower limit, add Monday closures starting September 19th and work consecutively toward the beginning of the season until a lower limit of U40 is reached; Yield 0.689 Mlb. (Table 9 Page 31)
- If a lower limit of U40 can’t be reached after closing all Mondays, add an annual limit of 4-fish (Yield 0.679 Mlb), progressing to an annual limit of 3-fish, as necessary to meet the allocation (Yield 0.648 Mlb); if possible, use any unused allocation to increase the lower limit above U40 until the allocation is reached (Table 13, Page 44).
- If the allocation is not reached by closing all Mondays and a 3-fish annual limit, allow the lower limit to drop until the allocation is reached; Yield 0.583 Mlb at U37/O80. (Table 13, Page 44)
If an annual limit is adopted in Area 2C, implement a requirement for charter anglers to record, immediately upon retaining a halibut, the date, location (IPHC area), and species (halibut) on their harvest record, consistent with the past reporting requirement in Area 3A.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan
Halibut Abundance-Based Management
The Council took final action on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the abundance-based management (ABM) of the Amendment 80 (A80) halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limit. The Council has been considering this action iteratively for 6 years. The core concept of the action is linking PSC limits in the A80 commercial groundfish trawl fleet in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) to estimated halibut abundance. The current PSC limit is set as a fixed amount at 1,745 mt, which becomes an increasingly larger proportion of total halibut removals in the BSAI when halibut abundance declines. The Council and its advisory bodies, fishery stakeholders, and the public have considered several approaches for an ABM program consistent with Council fishery management objectives and the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Council heard extensive public testimony during this and previous meetings over both the importance of providing flexibility to the A80 fleet to prosecute their quotas as well as concerns from the directed halibut users that their directed fishery catch has declined as a result of a decline in halibut abundance while fixed PSC limits have further reduced the proportion of halibut available for harvest in the directed halibut fisheries.
The Council recognizes that its authority under the Magnuson Stevens Act is limited to setting PSC limits to the directly regulated entity (A80) and establishing directed fishery catch limits is under the authority of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). Therefore while this action may result in changes to PSC usage by the A80 fleet, there is no guarantee that this will translate to increased opportunities for halibut in the directed fishery. In its purpose and need statement for this action the Council acknowledges this directly by stating:
The Council is considering a program that links the Amendment 80 sector PSC limit to halibut abundance and provides incentives for the fleet to minimize halibut mortality at all times. This action could also promote conservation of the halibut stock and may provide additional opportunities for the directed halibut fishery.
The SSC has reviewed multiple iterations of this analysis and provided extensive review comments over multiple years on a range of survey indices before recommending the two most applicable for informing halibut abundance in the Bering Sea; the IPHC Setline survey and the NMFS Eastern Bering Sea trawl survey. In April 2021, the SSC noted that the current analysis represents the best available science for informing the decision by the Council at this meeting.
The preferred alternative (PA) selected determines the A80 PSC limit annually based on the most recent survey values and the associated PSC limit value from the following table:
At current halibut abundance index levels, a 1,309 mt PSC limit would be established for the A80 sector as specified in the Low/Low states of the setline and EBS trawl survey indices. This is a 25% reduction from the 1,745 mt limit currently in place and establishes the PSC limit 37 mt under the sector’s average halibut PSC use from 2016 through 2019. The Council recognizes that the PA will impact all A80 companies differently and significant changes will need to be made to fishing plans and operations to adjust to the reduction in halibut PSC limits and that impacts on operating costs and on groundfish harvests and revenue will differ across companies. Although the Council received a large amount of written comment and testimony supporting even larger reductions in halibut PSC limits than the lowest (35%) included in the PA, the DEIS along with written comment and testimony from A80 sector participants indicated that the largest PSC limit reductions under consideration (in Alternative 4) at current levels of halibut abundance would result in significant increases in halibut avoidance costs and operating inefficiencies and would not be practicable to achieve in most years.
The Council recognizes the complex and challenging nature of this action. However it has been a priority to establish abundance-based management of halibut PSC for the A80 groundfish fisheries and to promote continued participation of other fishery participants and communities dependent on the halibut stock in the BSAI. Under this ABM program, the A80 halibut PSC limit will move both up and down according to the indices of abundance and be responsive to changing halibut stock conditions that affect all halibut users, while never exceeding the current PSC limit. The A80 sector has expressed concern about a lack of positive correlation between the survey indices and their halibut encounter rates and the potential impacts that may have on their ability to avoid halibut and reduce halibut mortality. While these are valid concerns, the primary objective of this action is to link halibut PSC limits to the abundance of halibut, recognizing that halibut is fully allocated. In addition to supporting prosecution of groundfish fisheries, it is a highly valued fish species that supports directed subsistence, recreational and commercial halibut fisheries coastwide.
The PA strikes an appropriate balance between the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements to establish conservation and management measures that minimize bycatch to the extent practicable under MSA National Standard 9 while achieving optimum yield on a continuing basis under MSA National Standard 1. The PA balances the interests of the two largest halibut user groups in the BSAI, the directed commercial halibut fishery and the A80 sector, by establishing abundance-based halibut PSC limits for the A80 sector. The Council clearly would rather not impose additional costs that could result in reduced groundfish harvests and revenues, but noted that halibut is fully utilized in the BSAI and at low and very low index states, mortality from PSC should decline in response to reduced amounts of halibut available for harvest for all users and this is likely to prevent halibut PSC from becoming a larger proportion of total removals in the BSAI, consistent with the Council’s purpose and need statement.
Implementation of this action will occur in either 2023 (mid-year) or for the beginning of the 2024 fishing year.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Specifications
The Council approved the 2021 Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2022 and 2023 GOA groundfish fisheries. For final rulemaking for the 2022 and 2023 fishing years, the Council recommended Overfishing Limits (OFLs) and Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) levels consistent with SSC recommendations, and final Total Allowable Catch (TAC). The Council also recommended halibut Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limit apportionments and adopted updated halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for 2022. In setting the TACs for 2022 and 2023, the Council accounts for guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for groundfish fisheries in state waters; full details are in included in the Council Motion.
The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the GOA, including a 4-page GOA ecosystem brief. The report provided information on ocean conditions, phytoplankton and zooplankton densities, forage fish abundance, and seabird and marine mammal trends. The report highlighted average temperatures for 2021, however, the GOA biological community is still in transition from the marine heatwaves in 2014-2016 and 2019. Examples of species populations that remain reduced include capelin, common murres, Prince William Sound humpback whales, and Pacific cod. A predicted cool phase in 2022 may shed light on how persistent the impacts of previous heatwaves will continue to be. NOAA Fisheries also released a video that captures some of the high points of the ecosystem conditions from the previous year, in efforts to communicate the updated summary of ecosystem information to the broader community.
The 2021 GOA Groundfish SAFE report includes stock status updates for all 20 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 2021 with the following exceptions: partial assessments were produced for flathead sole, deepwater flatfish, northern rockfish, and dusky rockfish, and no assessments were produced for thornyhead rockfish nor sharks. For these exceptions, specifications were rolled over from the previous assessment for that stock.
The GOA Groundfish Plan Team report summarized the issues discussed and actions taken by the Plan Team at its virtual November meeting. Highlights of the GOA Plan Team report included stock assessment presentations from individual assessment authors and authors of the Ecosystem and Socioeconomic Profiles (ESPs) for GOA pollock and Pacific cod. Some of the issues that pertain to GOA Groundfish, such as sablefish and the draft Economic SAFE, are covered in the Joint Plan Team Report.
The SSC recommended 2022 and 2023 OFLs and ABCs and provided guidance on many of the assessments in its draft SSC report. Maximum permissible ABCs were set for all stocks in the GOA in 2020, except for sablefish, dusky rockfish, and demersal shelf rockfish (DSR). 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. Overall, the status of stocks in the GOA continue to appear favorable. No stocks are experiencing overfishing or are overfished. Most stocks are above BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35% with the exception of Pacific cod.
The GOA Pacific cod stock remains at low levels, but recent trends show modest improvement from 2019 and 2020. The spawning biomass is projected to have increased in 2021 and continue to increase in 2022. The 2022 Federal GOA Pacific cod Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is 24,111 mt. An additional 8,700 mt are reserved for the State fishery.
Summary of Gulf of Alaska stock status next year (spawning biomass relative to BMSY; horizontal axis) and current year catch relative to fishing at FMSY (vertical axis). Note that sablefish is for Alaska-wide values including the BSAI catches.
For most stocks, the Council established TACs equal to ABCs. Exceptions where the TAC is set below ABC include pollock, Pacific cod, shallow water flatfish in the Western GOA, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole in Western and Central GOA, other rockfish in the Eastern GOA, and Atka mackerel.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
Red King Crab Savings Area Expansion
At this meeting, the Council reviewed but took no further action on an analysis to expand the Red King Crab Savings Area boundary from 57° 00.0’ N to 57° 30.0’ N through an emergency rule. After reviewing the analysis, the Council did not recommend an emergency rule because the expansion of the Red King Crab Savings Area boundary does not meet all three criteria defining an emergency. Specifically, the Council noted that the uncertain benefits for Bristol Bay red king crab savings from expanding the savings area boundary do not outweigh the value of advance notice, public comment, and the deliberative consideration of the impacts on participants.
The Council noted in the Bristol Bay red king crab discussion paper that was tasked in October 2021 will provide a comprehensive evaluation of current boundaries used for PSC limits in addition to boundaries relevant to assessment and management of the directed Bristol Bay red king crab fishery. This discussion paper will also evaluate the best available information on bottom contact by pelagic trawl gear and the impact it may have on Bristol Bay red king crab stocks, and summarize mechanisms used in other Council-managed fisheries to create flexible, responsive spatial management measures for all gear types, and how they might be applied to protect Bristol Bay red king crab.
During staff tasking at this meeting, the Council asked staff to also include in the Bristol Bay red king crab discussion paper the best available information on Bristol Bay red king crab molting/mating annual cycle, and how the seasonality of this overlaps with fisheries, and the effects these interactions may have. The Council prioritized this discussion paper for the April or June meeting, depending on the availability of staff resources.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously tasked projects, and identified new tasking. The revised 3 meeting outlook reflects this guidance.
The Council directed staff to write a letter to NOAA providing input on ways NOAA can advance the goals and recommendations in the report on “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.” The Council’s comment letter will highlight the conservation areas that the Council has already instituted as part of its fishery management program, and will emphasize the importance of the annual surveys as well as new initiatives to survey in the winter months. The Council considered the opportunity to provide additional new or additional information to NOAA on the St. George Unangan Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination review, but determined that there was no need to supplement the Council’s 2016 letter.
The Council requested staff to add additional information to its previously-tasked discussion paper on Bristol Bay red king crab boundaries, and asked that the paper be brought back for Council review as soon as possible. More information is included here.
Finally, the Council Chair announced 2022 appointments for the SSC and Advisory Panel, and for a new member for the Charter Halibut Management Committee.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
Upcoming Meetings: Committees, Plan Teams, Taskforces
BSAI Crab Plan Team – January 10-14, 2022 (Anchorage/online)
Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Taskforce on Climate Change – January 18-20, 2022 (online)
Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Local Knowledge/Traditional Knowledge/Subsistence Taskforce – January 20-21, 2022 (Anchorage/online)
Ecosystem Committee – January 25-26, 2022 (online)
Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) – January 2022 (TBD)
Scallop Plan Team – February 16, 2022 (online)
March and beyond
Ecosystem Committee – March 2022 (TBD)
BSAI Crab Plan Team – May 2022 (TBD)
EM Trawl Committee – May 2022 (TBD)
Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee – May 2022 (TBD)