- Hollowed and Smoker Receive Awards
Bob Mace Award
The Council selected Lauren Smoker to receive the Bob Mace award upon her retirement because of her position with NOAA General Counsel over the course of three decades. In that capacity, Ms. Smoker worked on some of the most complex and controversial fishery management actions in Alaska, including but not limited to the Community Development Quota Program, the Crab Rationalization and Amendment 80 programs, and salmon management. Her depth of knowledge about the legal requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act helped guide the Council to ensure its management decisions would be robust and defensible to litigation. She helped establish clear procedures for Council members on recusals and record-building, and was always available to answer questions both on the record at meetings, as well as on individual matters. These accomplishments, and her fairness and openness, have earned her the respect, confidence and most importantly, trust, of all of the Council members she worked with, as well as members of the Council family.
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. Anne Hollowed was selected by the Council to be the third recipient of the Terry Quinn II Distinguished Scientist Award. Dr. Hollowed’s contributions to fisheries science, ecosystem-based fishery management, and the implications of climate variability on fish and crab stocks, are internationally recognized, and we are fortunate to have had long-term participation by this globally recognized scientist in the North Pacific Council process. As a member of the Council’s SSC since 2003, the SSC co-Chair since 2018, and leader of the stock assessment team at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Anne has been instrumental in upholding and progressing the scientific foundation of groundfish and crab management in the North Pacific, both through her own research as well as mentorship of SSC members and new scientists. She embodies the Quinn Award values of integrating science and management, by prioritizing innovative research that links to scientific advice that is actionable in a management context and imbuing those values into the AFSC culture.
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.
- Election of officers
The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and Advisory Panel each convened with some new members and held an election for Chair and vice-chair.
The SSC re-elected Sherri Dressel (ADF&G) and elected Franz Mueter (University of Alaska Fairbanks) to serve as co-chairs for 2022. The SSC also re-elected Alison Whitman (ODFW) to serve as vice-chair. The AP re-elected Angel Drobnica as Chair, and Ruth Christiansen and Matt Upton as Vice-Chairs for 2022.
- Coast Guard Law Enforcement in the North Pacific
The Council received a report on Operation North Pacific Guard (NPG) from the U.S. Coast Guard in conjunction with their normal B report. NPG is an annual high seas U.S. fisheries law enforcement operation designed to detect and deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity in accordance with multilateral and bilateral international agreements to which the United States is a party. Operation NPG advances U.S. goals for the conservation and management of high seas fisheries resources and is our at-seas enforcement contribution to a multilateral effort by North Pacific rim nations to eliminate IUU fishing activity from the North Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard provided 51 days of support to Operation NPG 2021 which included 28 boardings and detected 42 violations. Of note, 689 shark fins and 25 salmon were discovered on these boardings.
The U.S. Coast Guard also reported on their arctic activity in the Bering Sea and Chukchi sea. For further details on Operation North Pacific Guard 2021 and their arctic activity, see Agenda item B5 in the February 2022 Council agenda.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Economic Data Reporting Amendments and Future Data Collection
The Council took final action to amend three existing Economic Data Reporting (EDR) Programs, and remove one. Currently four data collection programs exist which represent mandatory annual data reporting requirements for regulated entities participating in the BSAI Crab Rationalization fisheries, the BSAI American Fisheries Act pollock fishery, the BSAI Amendment 80 fisheries, and the GOA Trawl fisheries.
The Council’s final action recommends removing reporting requirements for the GOA trawl EDR, as well as removing the requirements for third-party data verification audits for the remaining data collections and changing the procedures for data aggregation and blind formatting for the crab EDR, to make those data aggregation and confidentiality protections comparable to the requirements under other data collection programs.
Given the latitude to make changes to the content of the three remaining programs without a regulatory amendment, the Council reiterated its request to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center staff to consider changes to the EDR identified in the stakeholder workshops, March 2021 SSPT report, and/or others in consultation with stakeholders, with the expectation that changes should take effect prior to the 2023 data submissions. The Council requested an update of those changes in a future AFSC/NMFS management report including a comprehensive listing of the recommended changes from the workshops, SSPT report and consultations, and contain the rationale for the treatment of each of the recommended changes, describing whether the EDRs were modified to incorporate them or if they were not implemented.
As a separate item under staff tasking, the Council tasked staff with developing a discussion paper identifying a few economic data components that 1) are not currently collected across all sectors but that could improve FMP and regulatory impact analyses if collected from all sectors, and/or 2) should continue to be collected from catch share programs and could inform potential revisions to current EDR requirements. The paper should also evaluate the appropriate data collection mechanism and frequency, which could include surveys, annual reports, or other tools that can collect consistent, useable data in a clear format that minimizes submittal burden and collection cost.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- BSAI Crab
Norton Sound Red King Crab OFL/ABC for 2022 and January Crab Plan Team Meeting Report
The Council received an overview of the 2022 stock assessment for Norton Sound red king crab (NSRKC). The council accepts SSC and CPT recommendations of maintaining an ABC buffer of 40%, given the concerns with the status of the stock and assessment model presented by the CPT. The council specified 2022 NSRKC OFL at 0.30 thousand t (0.67 million lb.) and an ABC of 0.18 thousand metric tons (0.40 million pounds) for Norton Sound red king crab.
The Crab Plan Team and SSC identified a range of concerns related to the NSRKC stock that contributed to maintaining an ABC buffer of 40%. These included uncertainty in methods for estimating discards, harvest specifications in length-dependent or length-independent natural mortality, and uncertainty in model inputs and model fit.
Other topics covered at the January CPT meeting and reviewed by the SSC, AP, and Council included modeling scenarios for the May 2022 stock assessment for Aleutian Islands golden king crab, survey planning and data collection, Essential Fish Habitat 5-year review and assessment of fishing effects, the 2021 crab economic SAFE, a CPT workshop on the GMACS modeling framework, and the snow crab rebuilding progress report.
Staff contact for the BSAI Crab Plan Team is Diana Stram/Sarah Rheinsmith
EBS Snow Crab Rebuilding Plan Progress Report
The Council received a progress report on the BS snow crab rebuilding plan. Action was neither reqiored nor taken at this meeting. The Council is scheduled to select alternatives for analysis during the June 2022 meeting.
On October 19, 2021, NMFS notified the Council that Bering Sea (BS) snow crab status has been changed to overfished. The BS snow crab assessment shows that mature male biomass (MMB) is 50,600 metric tons (mt), which is less than the minimum stock size threshold (MSST) of 76,700 mt, therefore the stock is overfished. The stock is not subject to overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires that a rebuilding plan be developed and implemented within two years of the stock being declared overfished. The rebuilding plan should specify a time period for rebuilding the fishery, not to exceed ten years. To facilitate development of the BS snow crab rebuilding plan, the Council was initially scheduled to select alternatives at this meeting. However, during the January 2022 Crab Plan Team (CPT) meeting, the team determined that the stock assessment model for assessing the snow crab stock status and intended for use in estimating the time frame for rebuilding the BS snow crab stock under different levels of fishing conditions, needs further refinement. The CPT is scheduled to review the stock assessment model during the May CPT meeting.
Staff contact for snow crab rebuilding is Jon McCracken.
- Catch Sharing Plan Allocation Review
At this meeting the Council considered an Allocation Review for the Area 2C and 3A commercial and charter halibut Catch Sharing Plan (CSP) as required by NOAA Policy Directive. The Council deemed the review complete and final with the incorporation of SSC recommendations.
In response to the review and public input, the Council also initiated an analysis to consider revising the commercial/ charter allocations under the Area 2C and 3A CSP. The Council’s purpose and need statement, as well as discussion, highlighted that the Council’s preferred mechanism for CSP allocation changes would be through compensated reallocation established through the Recreational Quota (RQE) Entity. The purpose and need statement specified that should the RQE fee funding mechanism become law and the Council take final action on the RQE funding mechanism, the Council intends to table or refine this action. Council members discussed concerns about the success and timing of funding the RQE, which is currently scheduled for Council final action at the April meeting but still requires Congressional action. Many Council members emphasized that the tasking of this analysis was not intended necessarily to indicate their support for such an allocation change, but support for an opportunity for additional analysis and consideration, depending on the progress of the RQE.
The analysis will evaluate changes for Area 2C and Area 3A allocations separately, given the different allocation structures in each area. For Area 2C, the analysis will consider increasing the charter halibut portion of the combined catch limit (CCL) by 1% to 5% in the first tier of the allocation (at lowest level of CCL) and decreasing the charter portion of the CCL by 1% to 3% in the third tier of the allocation. The “stair-step” portion of the allocation in tier 2 would adjust as necessary according to the percentage from the top and bottom tiers to maintain the current approach of avoiding a “cliff drop” in the charter allocation.
For Area 3A, the analysis will similarly consider increasing the charter halibut portion of the CCL by 1% to 5% in the first tier of the allocation and decreasing the charter portion of the CCL by 1% to 3% in the third tier of the allocation. The fifth tier of the allocation would remain the same. The “stair-step” portions of the allocation in tier 2 and tier 4 would adjust as necessary according to the percentage from the top and bottom tiers.
The Council also requested that the analysis explore methods of implementing charter management measures (i.e., bag limits or size restrictions) for more than one year through either the existing Council/IPHC process or through domestic regulations. This alternative is meant to address concerns that were raised about the instability and uncertainty created by the CSP management system, which does not typically establish charter management measures until January in the year measures apply. This alternative is not mutually exclusive from the allocation alternatives.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- Bering Sea Greenland Turbot Longline Pots
The Council initiated an analysis of authorizing longline pot gear in the directed Greenland turbot fishery in the Bering Sea. The Council reviewed a discussion paper that examined evidence that killer whale depredation is precluding the hook-and-line fishery for Greenland turbot and scoped issues with a new gear authorization that should be fully analyzed. The Council established a Purpose and Need statement and a single action alternative that is a simple authorization for the use of longline pot gear when directed fishing for turbot in the Bering Sea. The authorization would apply to any type of vessel that is permitted to fish non-trawl gear in those Federal waters, but it is understood that the fishery is largely prosecuted by catcher/processor vessels. The action alternative includes an option to exempt vessels in the turbot directed fishery from a 9-inch maximum pot tunnel opening restriction that currently applies to groundfish pot vessels that do not have unfished halibut IFQ onboard.
The Council directed staff to further analyze the potential for a viable non-trawl Greenland turbot fishery to attract new, or renewed, participation and any effects that might have on competition for catch within the non-trawl sector or with the trawl sector. The Council emphasized that the analysis should address the possibility of spatial and temporal overlap between the trawl and non-trawl sectors that could result in fishing grounds being preempted by pot gear. The Council also directed analysts to further develop information on the species most likely to be encountered as bycatch in pot gear, including prohibited species (e.g., crab and halibut), commercial species (e.g., Pacific cod and sablefish), and species in the ecosystem component of the fishery management plan.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham
- Groundfish Management Policy
The Council conducted a comprehensive review of the Groundfish Management Policy, highlighting Council activities in 2019-2021 that were relevant to priorities and objectives
established in the Policy. The Management Policy is part of the Council’s Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish FMPs, and was developed through a Council process
supported by a programmatic supplemental environmental impact statement (PSEIS), finalized in 2004. The management policy consists of a management approach statement, nine policy goals, and 45 management objectives, and established the Council’s ongoing vision for management of these fisheries within an ecosystem-based management perspective.
Under the FMPs, the Council has a requirement to review the management policy periodically. The Council monitors its actions relative to the policy objectives at staff tasking at each meeting, and conducts a comprehensive review of the policy on a three-year cycle. During the discussion, the Council indicated that it continues to approve the substance of the management policy and objectives as written, although noting that some of the language is dated. The Council acknowledged that in the next 2-3 years, it may be appropriate to develop a Supplemental Information Report for the PSEIS, to evaluate whether any new information about environmental concerns triggers a requirement to supplement the PSEIS. Staff will evaluate a process for developing the SIR, and report back to the Council.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Trawl Electronic Monitoring
The SSC completed a preliminary review of electronic monitoring (EM) on pelagic trawl pollock catcher vessels (CVs) and tenders both delivering to processing plants. The trawl EM program combines EM systems that provide at-sea monitoring of CVs for compliance with fishery management objectives to achieve maximized retention, electronic reporting of catch and discard information, and shoreside observers to monitor salmon bycatch and collect catch composition and biological information at the trip level. The preliminary review was focused on overall program design and objectives, and how data are collected and used; to provide early communication and seek feedback from the SSC regarding concerns about data types, quality, availability and priorities.
The SSC found that the preliminary review represented a solid foundation for the initial analysis and appreciated the level of collaboration between agency and industry participants in the project. The SSC included several recommendations regarding specific data analysis and program descriptions to be included in the initial review (detailed in the SSC minutes). An initial review of a full Environmental Assessment and Regulatory Impact Review is scheduled for the June 2022 meeting. Staff contact is Anna Henry.
- Essential Fish Habitat
At this meeting, the SSC reviewed the models and output being used for the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) 5-year review summary report, which is under preparation for Council review later this year, and the Council supported the SSC’s recommendations for improvements. The SSC received reports on progress with assessing EFH component 1, descriptions and maps of EFH by species, and EFH component 2, the effects of fishing on EFH. Under component 1, staff reported on results from the revised species distribution model (SDM)-based EFH maps, which have also undergone review by all stock assessment authors. The SSC found that overall, the information provided exhibits substantial improvement and refinement of EFH descriptions from the previous 5-year review (2017). There are, however, a subset of stocks for which stock assessment authors noted concerns with the SDM-based maps, particularly for species that are not well represented in surveys. The SSC had several recommendations for improvement to the component 1 assessment, as detailed in SSC report. For example, the SSC requests that the final report include a summary table that evaluates survey reliability, seasonal representativeness, and spatial representativeness of the data used in the SDM models, for species where concerns were raised in the stock author review.
The SSC also reviewed the methodology for the fishing effects (FE) model, which is largely the same as that used in 2017, although with new data and some updates. The SSC supports using this version to evaluate fishing impacts for the 2022 5-year EFH review cycle, after addressing the recommendations in the SSC report. The SSC recommended, and the Council concurred, that for species where concerns have been raised about SDM-based EFH descriptions, the analysis should bring in other sources of information to address any question of possible mitigation.
The SSC is currently scheduled to review output from the fishing effects model in June 2022, and the Council is tentatively scheduled to receive the 2022 EFH 5-year review summary report in October 2022. The Council noted that this schedule may be adjusted if needed, to ensure staff have sufficient time to address SSC recommendations.
Staff contact is Sarah Rheinsmith.
- Marine Mammals
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, University of Alaska Fairbanks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and NMFS Alaska Region. 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.
The SSC supports continuing to receive annual updates as they provide opportunities for new, fisheries-relevant information and broad perspectives for the Council’s strategic and ecosystem-based management efforts. The SSC is additionally supportive of efforts, across species, to incorporate new technology to improve population monitoring. A more detailed description of the series of presentations and findings is included in the SSC report under item D6.
Staff contact is Diana Evans
- Groundfish and Crab Economic SAFE Reports
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 recognizes the high quality of ongoing work to provide clear and consistent data summaries/analyses to address economic conditions.
The Groundfish Economic SAFE report provides a broad overview of the economic performance of the groundfish fisheries in the 2020 data year, with particular attention to changes coinciding with COVID and some new additions to the report. The SSC appreciated the organized and accessible format the Groundfish Economic SAFE uses to depict the current economic status of the fisheries, changes in the economic status of fisheries over time, as well as to provide a detailed economic history of the fisheries. The SSC also appreciated the new and recently added detail in the Groundfish Economic SAFE report and presentation. This includes the report card indices. Finally, the SSC expressed concerns over dropping the Amendment 91 EDR data from the report. Although the data collected have limitations, it is important for process transparency to summarize for the public what has been collected.
The Crab Economic SAFE report also provides important information on the economic status of the crab fisheries. The SSC particularly appreciated the analysis related to potential COVID impacts, the evolving lease market analysis, work related to understanding the structure of quota share holding entities, and the development quota share decomposition. The SSC looks forward to further work on the integration and continuing refinement of community-scale results and work on areas including composition of active versus absentee owners, advancing the work on decomposing quota share ownership by tenure, and concentration indices. The SSC also recommends an analysis on the flow of quota share between entities to provide a better picture of who is capturing the ownership benefits of the crab fishery and how this may be changing over time. Finally, the SSC appreciated the preliminary report card index results and looks forward to their formal integration into the Crab Economic SAFE report.
Both Economic SAFE reports contained a first look at the impacts of COVID. The SSC found both economic SAFE report documents provided useful information related to COVID impacts and recommends developing a COVID effects narrative that is carried forward in the documents.
Finally, the SSC identified the need to continue discussions around the appropriate vehicle for, and publication timing of, summaries of the social conditions-focused aspects of the Economic SAFE reports. The social and community information that has recently been removed from the groundfish and crab economic SAFE report documents will be updated and made available later this year in the Annual Community Engagement and Participation Overview (ACEPO). In the interim, the SSC endorses the analysts’ suggestion to include a few paragraphs in the Executive Summary or some other part of the groundfish and crab economic SAFE report documents.
Staff contact is Jon McCracken.
- Staff Tasking
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 discussed planning for the April meeting. At this point, the Council is still planning on an in-person/hybrid April Council meeting in Anchorage, AK, however the Council noted that a final decision on the in-person component will be made at the end of February/early March. In either case, the Council will accommodate remote accessibility options, including broadcasting the SSC and AP in addition to the Council, and allowing for remote and in-person testimony at all three meetings.
The Council also reviewed a staff paper on reflections on the Council process and ideas for change, containing a series of ideas related to potential changes to the Council meeting schedule and agenda timing, and advisory bodies. The inclusion of ideas in the paper was intended to start a public conversation, and were not provided as staff recommendations. The Council chose to refer the paper to their Executive Committee and AP and SSC leadership, who will convene a public meeting to discuss the issues and provide recommendations for the Council to consider about which ideas merit further exploration.
The Council directed staff to write the following letters:
- to the Department of Interior, in response to a request for comments on the development of the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (Atlas), a new tool that will be used to track conservation and restoration of U.S. lands and waters. The Council reviewed a draft response letter during the meeting addressing the data sources and technical approach used to develop the Atlas.
- to the U.S. Coast Guard, in appreciation of the presentations as well as ongoing efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, working in partnership with other nations.
The Council also tasked the following projects:
- Initial review analysis of four changes to the Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Program to increase flexibility and efficiency, improve functionality, and better ensure the rockfish TACs are fully harvested and landed in Kodiak as intended. These changes include changing the season start date and modifying harvesting, processing and cooperative holding caps.
- Emergency rule request to modify IFQ transfer provisions of the Halibut and Sablefish IFQ Program, to allow the temporary transfer of catcher vessel halibut and sablefish IFQ for all individual quota share holders for the 2022 fishing season. The Council’s rationale pointed to impacts on harvesters, processors, and communities as a result of travel restrictions, health mandates, and operational challenges directly attributable to the global pandemic.
- Expedited rulemaking to waive IFQ vessel use caps for IFQ halibut harvested in IPHC regulatory Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, and 4D for the 2022 IFQ fishing season, with a similar COVID-19 rationale as above.
- Discussion paper identifying a small number of economic data components, including crew data, which could improve Council decision-making if collected from all sectors (see more info in the EDR newsletter article).
- Discussion paper exploring potential regulatory changes to simplify pot gear regulations across fisheries, and allow for flexibility to use new pot gear designs in the BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries where they are currently authorized, including biodegradable panels, escape mechanisms, tunnel opening sizes, and the use of longline and single pot gear.
The Council also responded to the groundfish management policy, the Ecosystem Committee, and the SSC report on EFH 5-year review planning, as described in other newsletter articles. In response to public testimony, the Council tasked the BS FEP Climate Change Taskforce to evaluate an ecosystem matrix concept as a potential tool for considering climate impacts in the specifications process. The Council also appointed Ms. Danielle Dickson to the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team.
Finally, NMFS signaled to the Council and to the public that the agency is seeking a legal opinion that would help establish the extent of the agency’s fiscal authority under the proposed Congressional language to allow a fee collection program for the RQE. Specifically, the agency is seeking advice on whether the RQE or some other entity could administer the fee collection under rules that NMFS would implement and enforce. If that option proves to be viable under the new law, then it will be examined in the next iteration of analysis for RQE funding, currently scheduled for Council review in April 2022.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Ecosystem Committee
The Council received a report from the Ecosystem Committee about their January meeting, at which the Committee discussed marine debris events and response in Alaska, a status report on northern fur seals from NMFS and co-managers, a review of EFH modeling methods for determining habitat distribution and evaluating fishing effects on EFH, a discussion of forage fish as considered in the Council process, progress to date planning a second Council ecosystem workshop, and an ongoing discussion about the Ecosystem Committee’s role for the Council. Based on the Committee’s report, the Council:
- endorsed a proposal for the Groundfish Plan Teams to organize a public forage species workshop focusing on the quality and availability of forage species information.
- supported the Committee’s recommendation to reframe a proposal for a second Council ecosystem workshop in a future year, and report back to the Council in June.
The Council elected to address other Ecosystem Committee recommendations regarding Council support for marine debris planning and clarification of the purpose of the Ecosystem Committee for a future meeting. Staff contact is Diana Evans.
- Upcoming Meetings
Council Committees, Plan Teams, Taskforces
- Scallop Plan Team – February 16, 2022 AGENDA
- Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee (PNCIAC) – March 2, 2022
- Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) – March 3, 2022 AGENDA
- Ecosystem Committee – March 29-30, 2022
- BSFEP Climate Change Taskforce (CCTF) – March 15-17, 2022
- Enforcement Committee – March/April 2022 (T)
- Executive Committee meeting on Council process ideas staff paper – March/April 2022 (T)
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – May 16-20, 2022
- Trawl EM Committee – May 2022 (TBD)
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) – May 2022 (TBD)
- Ecosystem Committee –May 25, 2022 (T)