After reviewing the initial review analysis for halibut retention in sablefish pots in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), the Council revised its purpose and need statement and revised the action alternative to expand the scope of action. The action considered by the Council at this April meeting proposed an opportunity to retain halibut in sablefish pots in the BSAI, if the participants have both the halibut and sablefish quota available for the appropriate regulatory area. After hearing public testimony on stakeholder interest and intent for this opportunity, the Council expanded the action to allow increased flexibility for fishery participants to more effectively harvest halibut with pot gear without a requirement to concurrently possess sablefish IFQ/CDQ. The new purpose and need statement addresses issues arising from whale depredation in both the sablefish pot fishery as well as in the sablefish and halibut hook-and-line fisheries. Noting that the IPHC recently revised its regulations to allow halibut retention in pot gear and that halibut retention is currently allowed in the GOA, the Council seeks to better align federal retention regulations with the IPHC.
Given this expanded scope, the Council requested another initial review which analyzes the new action alternative and potential impacts. This action alternative contains two new elements: 1) to require an escapement mechanism in the mesh panels of pots, and 2) to establish regulations that would allow NMFS to close IFQ fishing for halibut if an OFL is approached. These elements are in addition to the existing elements which address gear retrieval, an exemption to the 9-inch maximum width of tunnel opening, and VMS/logbook requirements. The analysis will also explore potential management measures to reduce gear conflict related to the use, storage, retrieval and gear loss of pots; implications of this action on the Pacific cod, crab, or other groundfish fisheries; whether definitions for IFQ/CDQ fishing or additional regulations to account for IFQ/CDQ fishing with pot gear are needed; and conservation concerns related to Pribilof Islands Blue King Crab and the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone.
The full motion is available here. Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.