After reviewing a staff discussion paper, the Council initiated an analysis to allow vessels using pot gear in the BSAI to retain legal-size halibut if they possess the appropriate IFQ. The Council established a purpose and need statement that recognizes the challenge of whale depredation on longline gear and on halibut that must be discarded in the presence of whales because regulations do not allow them to be retained. Whale depredation causes unaccounted mortality on the sablefish and halibut resource, and hinders the ability of IFQ holders to prosecute the fishery in an effective manner. Noting that the IPHC recently revised its regulations to allow halibut retention in pot gear and that retention is currently allowed in the GOA, the Council seeks to align Federal retention regulations with the IPHC and apply them consistently throughout Alaska waters.
The Council will review analysis of a ‘no action’ alternative and one action alternative. The action alternative contains an element that would allow fishermen to deploy pots with a wider opening, which could lead to more effective harvest of legal-size halibut. The action alternative does not frame the catching of halibut with pot gear as “targeted/directed” or “incidental.” Rather, the Council will analyze a measure that provides the fishery latitude to fish for IFQ in the manner that is most effective in the presence of depredating whales, and would review the effects of allowing halibut retention three years after implementation in accordance with the NPFMC and IPHC commitment to review retention in GOA longline pot gear subsequent to implementation of GOA Amendment 101. The Council will consider whether regulations that make pots a more effective gear for the harvest of halibut would introduce pots to new areas and increase the chance of gear conflict. To that effect, the action alternative includes an option that would require vessels that are participating in the fishery to tend their gear at least every five to ten days, and requires vessels fishing pot gear to complete logbooks and utilize VMS.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.