The Council reviewed and made some adjustments to options for a proposed management measure to link the Pacific halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limit for the Amendment 80 commercial groundfish trawl sector in the BSAI to halibut abundance. The objective of linking the PSC limit to abundance is to minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) National Standard 9 and to achieve optimum yield in the BSAI groundfish fisheries on a continuing basis under MSA National Standard 1. The action should provide incentives for the Amendment 80 sector to minimize halibut mortality at all times. Achievement of the objectives could promote conservation of the halibut stock and may result in additional harvest opportunities for the directed halibut fishery. The Council reviewed a preliminary draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) including a Social Impact Assessment (SIA).
The Council modified some of the options which apply to the action alternatives, but did not select a Preliminary Preferred Alternative (PPA) at this time, electing instead to make the determination of a Preferred Alternative at final action. There are four alternatives under consideration: a no action alternative (Alternative 1, that keeps the status quo Amendment 80 PSC limit at 1,745 t) and three action alternatives. Under Alternatives 2 through 4, the Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limits would be prescribed annually based on look up tables where the level of the PSC limit (metric tons of halibut mortality) is determined based on halibut abundance using a combination of two survey index values: the EBS shelf trawl survey index and the IPHC setline survey index in Area 4ABCDE. The PSC limits in Alternatives 2 through 4 establish values that range, depending on halibut abundance, from 45 percent below the current limit to 15 percent above the current PSC limit.
Options that are applied to the action alternatives were modified by the Council and now include the following:
Option 1: PSC limit is determined using a 3-year rolling average of survey index values instead of the most recent survey value.
Option 2: In the first year of implementation, the PSC limit varies no more than (i: 10% or ii: 15%) from the status quo limit (1,745 mt).
Option 3: Establish an annual limit of (i: 80% or ii: 90%) of the PSC limit generated by the look-up table. In 3 of 7 years, the A80 sector may exceed the annual limit up to the PSC limit generated by the look-up table. If the A80 sector has exceeded the annual limit in 3 of the past 7 years, then the annual limit is a hard cap for the following year.
After extensive review and discussion, the Council recommended releasing the analysis for final action after addressing the SSC comments to the extent practicable. Some of SSC’s major recommendations include the following: to use the closed loop halibut modeling effort for context only (rather than in a predictive capacity); to revise assessment of directed halibut catch impacts using a range of values between 0-1; to provide some additional information on the spatial distribution of PSC historically by area within Area 4 and the historical and potential impacts on the directed halibut fisheries; and to provide additional information on halibut encounter rates in the A80 sector.
The DEIS will be revised and published over the summer. A 45-day comment period will be provided with a summary of public comments provided to the Council at final action. Final action is scheduled for December 2021. Staff contacts are Diana Stram and Anna Henry.