The Council reviewed a presentation on the exempted fishing permit (EFP) application to allow on-deck sorting of Pacific halibut on non-pelagic trawl catcher processor vessels, as a means of reducing halibut bycatch mortalities. Under the EFP, vessels are allowed to sort halibut removed from a codend on the deck, rather than routing halibut over the flow scale and below deck, and release those fish back into the water after sampling halibut for length and condition, using IPHC halibut mortality assessment methods. All groundfish and halibut harvested must be within existing allocations for groundfish and halibut mortality. For the period May – November 15, 2016, 12 boats have participated in the EFP, and it is estimated that deck sorting under the EFP has allowed a halibut savings of 288 mt.
The EFP granted to the Amendment 80 cooperatives and co-applicants expires at the end of April 2017, and the applicants and NMFS are working towards extending the EFP for another year. NMFS, after consultation with the Council at this meeting, will consider modifications to the permit that would begin at the start of 2017, which would allow the applicants to test different requirements for the number of observers, depending on vessel production constraints. It remains the intent of the Council that once the experimental work is complete, an analysis will be initiated to implement deck sorting in regulation. Staff contact is Diana Evans.