The Council received input from stakeholders on suggested modifications to the current suite of alternatives being considered for halibut Abundance-based management (ABM) of PSC limits in the Bering Sea. After extensive consideration of proposed changes and simplifications to the alternative set the Council made several recommended changes.
The action will now focus exclusively on the Amendment 80 sector (BSAI non-pollock trawl catcher-processors). This sector is responsible for more than 60% of the annual halibut bycatch mortality in the Bering Sea. In limiting this action to the Amendment 80 sector, the Council acknowledged that while the trawl limited access catcher vessel sector is responsible for approximately 20% of the annual mortality, that mortality is primarily taken in the directed Pacific cod fishery and the Council has already initiated a separate action that would reduce their halibut PSC as part of a forthcoming rationalization package. The other two sectors, freezer longline and catcher vessel hook-and-line sectors contribute a relatively small proportion of the annual halibut PSC. The CDQ sector is also removed from this action at this time.
The alternatives for this action have been simplified to three stakeholder-submitted alternatives in addition to the status quo. This action will include only a single index of halibut abundance for each control rule (IPHC setline survey in 4ABCDE and the EBS trawl survey). An element that could be applied to any alternative to address low levels of halibut abundance was added to the set of alternatives. This element would reduce the PSC limit proportional to biomass (B/B30%) when the coastwide spawning stock biomass decreases below B30%. This corresponds to the harvest policy for Council-managed groundfish species as well as biological benchmarks identified by the IPHC. A new analysis will be provided to the Council for Initial Review in October.
While noting that the analysis for October is the priority, the Council also initiated a discussion paper to evaluate different approaches to halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector and how they meet the Council’s objectives for ABM. There are three components to be considered in the paper, which is scheduled for review in June.
- Establish halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector based on a 3×3 lookup table shown below.
The halibut abundance index values and PSC limit values shown in the table are intended to provide a basis for the initial evaluation of the lookup table approach. The paper will analyze the IPHC setline and EBS trawl survey index data to evaluate the suggested breakpoints for high, medium and low abundance and provide information on other approaches to suggest breakpoints. Staff was directed to offer different breakpoints for consideration based on analysis, if needed. Additional requests include information on the process for setting PSC limits based on this approach and what PSC limits would have been historically if based upon this approach.
- A performance standard to create incentives to reduce halibut PSC mortality to the extent practicable.
If the Amendment 80 sector has maintained its PSC usage to less than (option 1: 80% or option 2: 90%) of its limit in three of the preceding five years, the sector will be permitted to use up to its full limit in the coming year. If the sector does not meet this performance standard, it shall be limited to (option 1: 80% or option 2: 90%) of its limit in the following year. This performance standard threshold will not apply if the Area 4CDE directed halibut fishery catch limit is specified at 2 million net pounds or greater.
The discussion paper will describe the process for determining and implementing the performance standard mechanism within the Council and NMFS harvest specifications processes and evaluate the impacts of implementing the performance standard on the Amendment 80 groundfish fisheries and the Area 4 directed halibut fisheries relative to PSC use and directed halibut fishery harvests from 2008 through 2019.
- Adjust the halibut PSC limit (of 1,745 mt) down in years of low directed halibut fishery catch limits in Area 4CDE.
If the Area 4CDE directed halibut fishery catch limit is specified at less than 1 million net pounds, the 1,745 mt halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector will be reduced at a rate equal to 50 mt of halibut PSC for each 100,000 net pounds that the Area 4CDE catch limit is below 1 million net pounds. For each metric ton reduction in the halibut PSC limit under the above provision, 1,000 net pounds of directed halibut quota in Area 4CDE will be allocated to the CDQ groups in addition to the annual CDQ allocations, prorated among the groups in proportion to the established CDQ halibut allocations.
The discussion paper will describe the process for determining and implementing the PSC limit adjustment and allocation to CDQ groups within the Council and NMFS harvest specifications processes and the IPHC process to establish directed halibut fishery catch limits. The paper will also evaluate the resulting halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector and impacts on the Area 4 CDQ and IFQ directed halibut fishery catch limits when the Area 4CDE catch limit is below 1 million net pounds.