The Council considered an initial review analysis of alternatives to modify the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) non-pollock trawl catcher vessel (CV) sector’s prohibited species catch (PSC) limit for Chinook salmon. The Council established a purpose and need statement that affirms the need to balance the optimum yield objective with bycatch minimization, and the need to do so in light of the best available information on variability in annual Chinook PSC levels and in the groundfish fisheries themselves. The Council’s statement notes that new information has become available since the Council originally took action to set PSC limits for these sectors in 2013; that information includes expanded observer coverage on smaller trawl CVs (less than 60 feet in length) and continued genetic sampling efforts to determine the region of origin for GOA trawl Chinook PSC.
The alternatives under consideration include a No Action alternative (status quo PSC limits), increased limits for the non-pollock trawl CV sectors (Rockfish Program and non-Rockfish Program), and additional flexibility under the existing limits in the form of limited one-year rollovers of unused Chinook PSC. The current limit (“base limit”) for non-Rockfish Program CVs is 2,700 Chinook salmon PSC per year; the limit for Rockfish Program CVs is 1,200 Chinook per year. Alternatives to modify existing annual PSC limits could increase allowable Chinook removals by up to 3,000 fish in the non-Rockfish Program CV sector and by up to 900 fish in the Rockfish Program CV sector. For each sector, the Council added a “flexibility approach” (Option 4) that would maintain the current annual PSC limit but allow a portion of unused Chinook—relative to the sector’s base limit—to be rolled over to the sector’s limit in the following year. Rollovers would not accumulate over multiple years. The maximum amount of Chinook PSC that can be rolled over would be capped at (suboptions) 25%, 50%, or 75% of the sector’s base limit. The maximum rollover for the non-Rockfish Program CV sector would be 2,025 Chinook, and the maximum for the Rockfish Program CV sector would be 900 Chinook. None of the alternatives under consideration would permit total Chinook PSC in the GOA trawl fisheries to exceed the annual amount that triggers reconsultation under the Endangered Species Act listing for Chinook salmon or southern resident killer whales (40,000 Chinook).
The Council requested a second initial review draft so that it could receive additional information about the status of Chinook salmon stocks and commercial/non-commercial salmon fisheries that might be affected by PSC in the groundfish trawl fishery. The Council noted that multiple Chinook stocks from regions whose presence has been detected in trawl PSC samples are experiencing poor returns. Among other items, the next iteration of this analysis will include additional information on Chinook stock status throughout the Pacific coast (US and Canada), conservation management measures enacted in directed salmon fisheries, Chinook abundance in the GOA, hatchery releases, and the best available estimates of natural mortality rates for the immature Chinook that are taken as PSC in trawl fisheries.
The Council is scheduled to receive an updated initial review draft at its April 2018 meeting in Anchorage, AK. Final action is tentatively scheduled for October 2018.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham