- Call for Nominations for Council Advisory Groups
The Council is calling for nominations for an additional industry participant on the Council’s Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF). The goal of the Taskforce is to facilitate the Council’s work towards climate-ready fisheries management that helps ensure both short- and long-term resilience for the Bering Sea. The Taskforce has a scope of work of 4-5 years, to complete deliverables outlined in the CCTF draft workplan (which will be finalized with the Council’s recommendations at this meeting). The Taskforce will meet 2-3 times a year, either in person or by teleconference. Candidates are asked to provide a voluntary time commitment of approximately 40 hours to prepare for each meeting, in addition to the meeting itself. The Council will pay travel costs for non-Federal Taskforce members to attend officially noticed in-person Taskforce meetings.
Taskforce membership qualifications:
- Bering Sea fishing industry expertise requested; other desirable expertise includes that related to the Bering Sea ecosystem oceanography, food web, or biological species, fisheries, or communities; climate change scenario modeling; and/or resilience planning.
- Demonstrate some familiarity with Council processes, as the intent is to provide advice that is relevant to the Council’s decision-making process.
- Able and willing to commit to attending meetings 2-3 times per year through 2025 (some by teleconference), and additionally to volunteer approximately 40 hours of preparation time before each meeting.
Please send a letter of interest to Taskforce co-Chair Diana Stram (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 15, 2021.
At a later date, the Council will also call for nominations for the reconstituted Community Engagement Committee. An announcement will be issued on the Council website once a new Terms of Reference has been developed for the reconstituted Committee.
- Election of Officers for AP and SSC
The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and Advisory Panel (AP) each convened with some new members, and each group re-elected the same officers as in 2020. The SSC and AP leadership for 2021 is:
Co-Chairs: Dr. Sherri Dressel, Dr. Anne Hollowed
Vice Chair: Alison Whitman
Chair: Angel Drobnica
Vice-Chairs: Ruth Christiansen, Matt Upton
- Chris Oliver and Jim Ianelli receive Council awards
On the first day of the February Council meeting, the Council presented Mr. Chris Oliver with the Bob Mace Distinguished Service Award, and Dr. Jim Ianelli with the Terry Quinn II Distinguished Scientist Award.
Bob Mace Award
The Council selected Chris Oliver to receive the Bob Mace award because of his recent role in serving the regional fishery management councils as part of his position as NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries. Mr. Oliver assisted with securing the Councils’ role in managing fisheries while also improving communication and emphasizing efficient rulemaking. He pushed the Agency to prioritize sustainable fishery management, support scientific advancement and surveys, revise management and regulatory regimes, and build economic value in fisheries-related industries. Under his leadership, NOAA Fisheries’ mission, staff, and budgets were protected, and agency scientists continued to serve sustainable fisheries and ecosystem preservation.
Chris Oliver, along with the rest of the Council staff, was the first recipient of this award in 2006.
Representing the state of Oregon as a Council member for over 23 years, Bob Mace known for his integrity, dedication, professionalism, and conservation ethic. In Bob’s honor, the Council established the Bob Mace Distinguished Service Award. This award is only occasionally bestowed by the Council, to an individual that exemplifies the highest levels of dedication, professionalism and conservation ethic necessary to make the fisheries off Alaska the best managed in the world.
Terry Quinn II Distinguished Scientist Award
Dr. Jim Ianelli was selected by the Council to be the second recipient of the Terry Quinn II Distinguished Scientist Award. Dr. Ianelli is a senior scientist at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fishery Science Center. He is a well-known and highly esteemed stock assessment author for Bering Sea pollock and other groundfish stocks, a member and chair of our groundfish plan teams since the early 1990s, a mentor to many scientists at the AFSC, and a prolific contributor to numerous important council analyses including salmon and halibut PSC limits. Council Chair Simon Kinneen noted, “Dr. Ianelli shares two important traits with Dr. Quinn: his understanding of the importance of working with and listening to members of the fishing industry, and his ability to be a great ambassador for the NPFMC on the global stage.”
Dr. Quinn served on the Council’s SSC until his death in 2019. This award is bestowed by the Council to an individual who, over the course of many years, has made outstanding contributions in fisheries science or other related field, and has been dedicated to ensuring that fisheries science and management in the North Pacific is the best in the world.
- BSAI Pacific Cod Pot CP LLP Licenses
The Council received a public review analysis of alternatives that could modify the number of License Limitation Program (LLP) licenses endorsed to fish for BSAI Pacific cod with pot gear as a catcher-processor and selected the No Action alternative. As a result, there will continue to be eight LLP licenses that are endorsed for use in the “Pot CP” sector of the BSAI Pacific cod fishery. The action alternative that was not selected would have removed the endorsement from licenses that were not credited with a minimum amount of commercially retained Pacific cod over a defined qualifying period. That alternative would have reduced the number of remaining endorsements to either four or five licenses depending on the qualifying period selected.
The Council’s selection of No Action at this time was based on weighing the benefits and costs of removing license endorsements in the context of the Council’s purpose and need statement. The Council determined, on balance, that the challenges facing the sector stem primarily from low TAC levels that would not be affected by the action alternative. The Council determined that potential benefits to the most active participants of removing other licenses did not outweigh the loss of future or continued access for other license holders. The Council also noted that some licenses that could lose the endorsement had been used in the fishery during the considered historical period.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
- Standard Bycatch Reporting Methodologies
The Council took final action recommending amendments to the BSAI crab, salmon, and scallop FMPs, to make them consistent with national guidance on Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodologies. The Council determined that existing bycatch reporting requirements in fisheries managed under these FMPs are consistent with SBRM requirements, however, the language in the FMPs needs to be modified to explicitly identify a SBRM in each fishery and explain how it meets the purpose of collecting, recording, and reporting bycatch. These amendments are necessary to increase transparency about how the SBRM in each fishery is consistent with national guidance.
The MSA requires FMPs to establish a standardized reporting methodology (SBRM) to assess the amount and type of bycatch occurring in the fishery and include conservation and management measures that minimize bycatch and minimize the mortality of bycatch which cannot be avoided. National guidance set out in the Final Rule defines SBRM as an “established, consistent procedure or procedures used to collect, record, and report bycatch data in a fishery.” SBRMs may include one or more combination of data collection and reporting programs such as observer programs, electronic monitoring, and industry reports (e.g. landing reports or “fish tickets”).
The analysis evaluated the BSAI crab, scallop, and salmon FMPs in relation to the national guidance about SBRM requirements. In February 2020, the Council had previously determined that its Arctic, BSAI Groundfish, and GOA Groundfish FMPs are already in compliance with current SBRM guidance and that no amendments are necessary for those FMPs. The Final Rule established a deadline of February 2022 for FMPs to be in compliance with guidance on SBRM.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
- IFQ Small Sablefish Release
The Council conducted its initial review of an analysis to allow vessel operators in the fixed gear IFQ sablefish fishery to voluntarily release sablefish they consider to be too small to have much economic value. After reviewing the analysis, the Council suspended action on this issue pending IFQ Committee recommendations on the relative priority of this action. An IFQ Committee meeting is scheduled for March 25-26, 2021, and the Committee’s recommendations will be provided at the Council April 2021 meeting, at which point the Council could consider further action on this analysis.
The draft analysis reviewed by the Council identified a wide range of potential reductions in sablefish ABC (0.8% – 51%) under a voluntary sablefish release allowance, and these reductions are dependent on discard mortality rates (DMRs) for released sablefish as well as the size composition of retained sablefish (retention selectivity). Impacts to sablefish IFQ and Bering Sea trawl fisheries are directly linked to potential ABC reductions, however, because DMRs and retention selectivities are not well understood, the probability of any given ABC reduction remains unclear.
Should the analysis be reactivated, the SSC recommends additional analysis be included to support final action by the Council. The SSC highlighted the need to address the effects of different DMRs and retention selectivities on sablefish age structure and productivity, and the contribution of uncertainty in DMRs and selectivities to stock assessment uncertainty and possible buffers on ABC.
The draft analysis focused on issues associated with the four Elements that the Council had identified for Alternative 2 under this action at its December 2019 meeting. Element 1 addresses DMRs, and provides a range of potential DMRs for analysts to consider. Elements 2, Catch Accounting, and 4, Monitoring and Enforcement, address how discards could be estimated, and the analysts noted that a release allowance would necessitate a variety of changes to observer data collection methods, each of which is associated with costs and logistical challenges for implementation. Element 3 has to do with accounting for the discards in the sablefish stock assessment, instead of creating a new system for discard accounting within the IFQ Program or annual groundfish specifications. The range of scenarios described under Element 3 contributed to the characterization of potential ABC reductions and fishery impacts.
The draft analysis indicates that a discarding allowance would be expected to provide near term flexibility to fishermen and could allow them to improve the value of landings, but it is unlikely that a reduction in IFQ value from reduced ABC could be overcome at very large ABC reductions. Also, the impacts to the IFQ fishery would vary geographically, so that that areas like the Bering Sea where large sablefish are not as available to the fishery would be negatively impacted.
Staff contact for this issue is Jim Armstrong.
- Crab PSC Limit Reductions
The Council chose to take no further action on a preliminary/initial review analysis of a proposed action that would set crab prohibited species catch (PSC) in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish trawl fisheries to the lowest limits when the corresponding crab directed fishery is closed. As a result, bycatch limits for Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC), Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) Tanner crab, and EBS snow crab in the groundfish trawl fisheries will continue to be set based on crab abundance, but not explicitly linked to the open/closed status of the corresponding directed crab fishery. This means there could be times when the crab directed fishery is closed but the PSC limits for that species are not at their lowest abundance-based limit.
The proposed action was developed by the Council in December 2019 in response to public testimony. The intent considered was to balance the impacts of depressed crab stocks across fisheries and communities and align management across fisheries. However, after reviewing the analysis, the Council determined that the proposed action would have minimal impact to the PSC limits for BBRKC – the stock most at risk of reaching an overfished status. This is in part because the lowest BBRKC PSC limit for the groundfish trawl fisheries already align with the thresholds in the state harvest strategy for determining whether to open the BBRKC fishery, thus these management systems are already implicitly linked. The action alternative may have resulted in lower Tanner and snow crab PSC limits, but since crab PSC usage in these fisheries has typically been well below the lowest PSC limits, the additional incentive to change groundfish trawl fishing behavior under this action may have been limited. The Council noted that for all crab species considered, observed trawl bycatch represents a small fraction of the fisheries-induced crab mortality. Thus, an isolated action to lower the crab trawl PSC limits may increase costs and decrease revenue in the groundfish trawl fisheries without producing substantial benefits to the crab stocks.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- BSAI Crab
Norton Sound Red King Crab OFL/ABC for 2021 and January Crab Plan Team Meeting Report
The Council received an overview of the 2021 stock assessment for Norton Sound red king crab (NSRKC) as well as other issues addressed at the January 2021 CPT meeting. For NSRKC, the SSC recommended increasing the buffer for ABC in 2021 from 30% to 40%, based on a wide range of concerns identified in their report to the Council. Consistent with the recommendations of the SSC, the Council specified 2021 NSRKC OFL at 0.29 thousand metric tons (0.63 million pounds) and ABC of 0.17 thousand metric tons (0.38 million pounds).
Norton Sound Red King Crab Stock Status
The updated BSAI Crab SAFE chapter for NSRKC indicates that the 2021 biomass of mature male crab is 2.27 thousand metric tons, which is above BMSY (2.05 thousand metric tons) but above the minimum stock size threshold (1.03 thousand metric tons), and, therefore, the stock not overfished. Additionally, because the 2020 total catch was below the OFL specified for 2020 (0.13 thousand metric tons), overfishing did not occur.
The Crab Plan Team and SSC identified a range of concerns related to the NSRKC stock that contributed to the reduction in ABC. These included uncertainty in methods for estimating discards and total abundance, declining reproductive potential, and uncertainty in model inputs and model fit.
Other issues covered at the January CPT meeting and reviewed by the SSC, AP, and Council included modeling scenarios for the May 2021 stock assessment for Aleutian Islands golden king crab, survey planning and data collection, using the groundfish risk table for crab stocks, a questionnaire for improving stakeholder input, the 2020 crab economic SAFE, ecosystem inputs for snow crab modeling, tagging studies, climate change and crab management, crab PSC in groundfish fisheries, research priorities, terms of reference, stock assessment prioritization, and a CPT workshop on the GMACS modeling framework.
Staff contact for the BSAI Crab Plan Team is Jim Armstrong.
- Community Engagement Committee Report
The Council reviewed the final report of its Community Engagement Committee (CEC) and recommended several actions to enhance engagement with rural and Alaska Native communities. The CEC was authorized and formed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in June 2018 to identify and recommend strategies for the Council to provide effective engagement with rural and Alaska Native communities. The CEC developed recommendations for the Council over the course of five meetings and one teleconference. The final meeting was held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The full list of CEC recommendations is available on the committee’s final report.
The recommendations from the Council in response to the Committee’s report are detailed in the Council motion and include:
- Providing cultural awareness training for Council members and staff;
- Assigning responsibilities for a Rural Fisheries Community/Tribal Liaison position to an existing staff member;
- Reconstituting and maintaining the Community Engagement Committee with its charter to identify and recommend strategies for the Council to enact processes that provide effective rural and Alaska Native community engagement;
- Exploring ways to improve opportunities for public testimony;
- Clarifying the Council process to allow any member of the public to waive questions during public comment;
- Reviewing current Council meeting standard operating procedures and policies and IT requirements to support remote access to Council meetings and to support in-person Council meetings in rural and Alaska Native communities;
- Working with NMFS to receive and understand results of Tribal Consultation meetings early in the Council process;
- Continuing current outreach practices and explore ways to improve information delivery and strategies to foster two-way engagement;
- Supporting FEP Taskforce efforts to create processes and protocols for the Council to identify, analyze, and incorporate Traditional Knowledge, Local Knowledge, and subsistence information into the Council decision making process.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean.
- Exempted Fishing Permits
The Council reviewed an exempted fishing permit (EFP) application from the Alaska Seafood Cooperative to test ‘hallway’ style excluders in the Bering Sea flatfish trawl fisheries, and recommended that NMFS approve the EFP noting suggestions by the SSC for some experimental protocols where possible.
This EFP project will document halibut and target species escapement rates by using a twin trawl to compare excluder performance in one of the trawl nets. Ancillary data collection will involve taking fin clips from halibut to see whether the sex can be identified. The Council discussion emphasized the importance of this project in helping to understand the use of excluders and associated tradeoffs between escapement of target fish and halibut encounters. The Council was particularly interested in the SSC recommendation that if possible, given logistical constraints, the experiment consider switching sides on the excluder more frequently. The Council commended the applicants for the clarity of project objectives, and early coordination with NMFS on application review and the process for monitoring fishing conducted under the EFP.
The SSC also received a presentation on work completed under a previous EFP, to determine what factors were associated with Pacific ocean perch bycatch in pollock trawling in the Aleutian Islands. While no strong predictors were identified, the SSC appreciated the effort involved in the experiment and suggested avenues for future work. Staff contact is Anna Henry.
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan
The Council reviewed reports from the FEP Team, Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF), and Local Knowledge/Traditional Knowledge/Subsistence Taskforce (LKTKS). The Council approved the workplan for the CCTF following requested revisions.
Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team
The FEP Team provided a report on their March 2020 meeting, at which they discussed the ongoing work of the two Taskforces as well as research priorities and the development of a new ecosystem report focused on strategic and long-term indicators. The Team will meet again before June to continue development of the report, and will continue to coordinate with the Taskforces on consolidating and distinguishing ecosystem and climate information products for the Council. Staff contact for the FEP Plan Team is Diana Evans.
Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF) Workplan
The Council received a report from the Bering Sea FEP Climate Change Task Force (CCTF) on their draft work plan. The Council endorsed the work plan and supports the goal of the Climate Change Module as developed by the CCTF: ‘to facilitate the Council’s work towards climate-ready fisheries management that helps ensure both short- and long-term resilience for the Bering Sea’ as well as the steps outlined by the CCTF to achieve this goal. The Council noted that its existing public process incorporates extensive, primarily near-term, ecosystem and climate information in decision-making. The CCTF workplan will focus on how to incorporate long-term trend information from a diverse knowledge base into the Council’s existing processes. The Council requested some additional revisions for the CCTF workplan including: 1) regular check-ins with the SSC and Council; 2) a list of deliverables that relate to the module’s steps and the taskforce’s remaining timeframe (2021 – 2025); 3) identification of NMFS and/or Council groups proposed to take on ongoing maintenance of new climate information once the work of the CCTF is complete; and 4) input provided by the Ecosystem Committee intended to increase understanding and readability of the workplan. The CCTF will be holding its next meeting in the Spring of 2021 to finalize the work plan and draft the timeline for their work. Additional information on the meeting will be posted to the Council’s website.
The Council also issued a call for nominations for a new CCTF member with industry expertise. Staff contact for the CCTF is Diana Stram.
Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge, and Subsistence Taskforce
The Council received a presentation on the Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge, and Subsistence (LKTKS) Taskforce’s work over 2020. The co-chairs’ update reminded the Council of its past action in January 2020 which adopted two over-arching goals and five objectives for its work. In 2020, the LKTKS Taskforce had three meetings (one in-person and two virtual), completed their workplan, created a glossary of terms to guide their work, made progress towards identifying initial onramps for LKTKS experts and information, and began to outline protocols. The LKTKS Taskforce’s next meeting will be held virtually on March 16 and 17. Staff contact for the LKTKS Taskforce is Kate Haapala.
- Groundfish and Crab Economic SAFE Review
At this meeting, the SSC reviewed the Groundfish and Crab Economic SAFE reports as presented by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Economic and Social Science Research Division. The SSC appreciated these presentations.
The Groundfish Economic SAFE has continued to evolve over the last several years and is a useful reference on the economic status of fisheries, becoming more useful, organized, and accessible to the public over time. The SSC was especially appreciative of the continued development of the data webtool as well as other new initiatives such as the in-season nowcast and the new graphical displays of the Amendment 80 Economic Data Report (EDR) data. The decomposition of first-wholesale revenues into their respective price and quantity effects was also appreciated. The SSC was grateful for the report card in the Groundfish Economic SAFE, and believes it provides an excellent overview of general trends in the groundfish fisheries. Unfortunately, due to time limitations in the remote-meeting format, the SSC did not receive a presentation of the report card metrics and thus will be presented during the February 2022 meeting.
Specific to the Crab Economic SAFE, the SSC appreciated the Groundfish and Crab Economic SAFE Review tracking of quota lease rates to identify who is benefitting from the fishery. The SSC continues to look forward to completion of the quota ownership decomposition effort, which will allow better tracking of what communities are capturing the ownership benefits of the crab fishery. The SSC recommended the development of a report card for the Crab Economic SAFE, similar to the Groundfish Economic SAFE. The SSC also noted that the rationalized crab fisheries offer a unique opportunity to track the economic health of the fisheries thanks to the comprehensive economic data collected under the crab EDR program.
Finally, due to time limitations at this meeting, the previously scheduled presentation of the new Annual Community Engagement and Participation Overview (ACEPO) was postponed to the April 2021 meeting.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Marine Mammal Status
The SSC reviewed the status of marine mammals for which there are conservation concerns or unusual or unexpected results, through a number of presentations from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Laboratory, NMFS Alaska Region, and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island. The presentations covered a wide variety of topics, species, and regions and several themes related to fisheries management including populations trends, integrated research projects and bioenergetics, changes in the Bering Sea, and Co-management and local knowledge and traditional knowledge (LKTK). This was the first time that the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island presented to the SSC as a Co-manager with NMFS for northern fur seals.
The SSC supports continuing to receive annual updates and new findings that are not captured through other Council pathways. The SSC also recommended that abundance information for marine mammals be included in the Ecosystem Status Reports as an indicator of the nearshore system. The SSC also supported continuing investigations to understand shifts in marine mammal migratory patterns north and south, but also including potential changes in east-west migratory patterns. The SSC also supported presentations from other species’ Co-management organizations along with the northern fur seal Co-management presentation.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean.
- SSC Workshop on Risk Tables
The SSC convened a workshop on ‘Risk Tables for ABC advice to the Council’. The workshop was motivated by the need to provide feedback to stock assessment authors and Plan Teams, as well as the SSC’s plan to assess risk table performance after they had been presented for groundfish stocks. The Council originally outlined its purposes for the risk tables in December 2019, as an opportunity to increase transparency and consistency for incorporate uncertainty into the harvest specifications process from factors that are not already addressed in the stock assessment. It was intended that the risk tables would evolve over time, and the primary goals of this SSC workshop were to: 1) Evaluate how the risk table process is working; 2) Address consistency issues with the risk tables as identified by the Groundfish Plan Teams, assessment authors, and SSC; and 3) Provide guidance for moving forward through an open discussion between stock assessment authors, Plan Teams and SSC members. The workshop included a number of presentations from different AFSC scientists and two breakout groups discussed the necessary steps towards quantifying the following: the importance of external changes in fishery performance in stock assessments; the importance of assessment risk; and the risk of external changes in population and ecosystem conditions. The SSC will prepare a report of the workshop discussions and findings, and address a number of additional discussion topics outlined in the SSC minutes, such as the consideration of LK/TK information in cases of data lags or missing surveys and a working definition of ‘risk’. The Council has asked to review SSC advice on the risk table before it is applied for Council action. Staff contact is Diana Stram
- Staff Tasking
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously tasked projects. The revised 3 meeting outlook reflects this guidance. Council meetings, including Plan Team and Committee meetings, will be held virtually through the first part of 2021. The Council also heard the report of the Council’s Finance Committee.
The Council directed staff to write letters to NMFS on the implementation of the recent Executive Order requiring protection of 30% of the U.S. ocean by 2030, and to Senator Sullivan’s office regarding proposed language affecting Council management of salmon fisheries in Alaska.
The Council also discussed proposals from the public requesting emergency relief for situations arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council recommended four emergency rule requests to NMFS, with supporting rationale indicating the need for these actions stem from unforeseen and adverse impacts on harvesters, processors, and communities as a result of travel restrictions, health mandates, and operational challenges directly attributable to the global pandemic. The emergency rules recommended by the Council for the 2021 fishing season are to:
- Allow temporary transfer of halibut and sablefish IFQ ,
- Waive vessel use cap on IFQ halibut in Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, and 4D,
- Suspend residency requirements applicable to the Adak CQE program, and
- Move up the start date for the Central GOA Rockfish Program from May 1 to April 1.
Finally, the Council issued a call for nominations for a new member for the Climate Change Task Force
- Upcoming Meetings
Council Committees, Plan Teams, Taskforces
Committee and Plan Team meetings that are currently anticipated in the first half of 2021, at this point all likely to occur virtually, include the following.
February – March
- Scallop Plan Team – February 17, 2021
- Social Science Planning Team – March 4, 2021
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Taskforce on Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge, and Subsistence – March 16-17, 2021
- IFQ Committee –March 25-26, 2021
- Ecosystem Committee (T) – March 2021
- Enforcement Committee (T) – late March 2021
- Executive Committee – March/April 2021
April – May
- Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) – April 2021
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – May 17-21, 2021
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) – May 2021
- EM Trawl Committee – May 21, 2021