The Council reviewed both a preliminary draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and a discussion paper on approaches to indexing Amendment 80 (A80) halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits to abundance and other incentives to minimize halibut bycatch. Following review, the Council revised the purpose and need statement and alternatives for the action, and provided direction to staff.
The action alternatives in the preliminary DEIS were initially proposed by stakeholders and refined and adopted by the Council over a series of meetings. Alternatives 2 through 4 set PSC limits for the BSAI Amendment 80 groundfish fishery based on control rules that are indexed to either the EBS trawl survey (Alternative 2) or the IPHC setline survey (Alternatives 3 and 4). The alternatives included a range of elements and options for floors, ceilings and other features that modify the responsiveness of the control rule that establishes the PSC limit based on abundance. The model-based analysis of alternatives indicated that the magnitude of change in PSC limits over time would be higher than the change in directed fishery catch and that, given the information available on Pacific halibut recruitment projected forward, PSC limits within the projected range negligibly impact long-term spawning stock biomass (SSB), but near-term trends in SSB vary mainly based on the current IPHC assessment age structure. Lower PSC limits are projected to result in greater directed halibut fishery catches (although at less than a 1:1 ratio) and are expected to reduce gross revenues for the A80 groundfish sector to varying degrees. The Council also reviewed a social impact assessment (SIA) that evaluates community and regional patterns of engagement in, and dependency on, the BSAI Amendment 80 groundfish fishery and the BSAI/Area 4 commercial and non-commercial halibut fisheries as well as the potential for community level impacts under the no-action and action alternatives.
The discussion paper provided information on three proposed approaches that could substitute for the ABM approach analyzed in the DEIS: a look-up table control rule with breakpoints based on states of both surveys, a PSC performance standard applied to the status quo limit, and a concept that would shift halibut mortality from the A80 PSC limit to the CDQ reserve for directed commercial halibut harvest in Area 4CDE.
Following extensive review of the DEIS and discussion paper and considerable public testimony, the Council revised the purpose and need statement to more directly address the action before the Council. In doing so, the Council noted that it was removing the previously derived objectives and instead was relying upon those folded into the new purpose and need as the stated objectives for any future action. The revised purpose and need statement is shown below:
Halibut is an important resource in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), supporting commercial halibut fisheries, recreational fisheries, subsistence fisheries, and groundfish fisheries. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is responsible for assessing the Pacific halibut stock and establishing total annual catch limits for directed fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) is responsible for managing prohibited species catch (PSC) in U.S. commercial groundfish fisheries managed by the Council. The Amendment 80 sector is accountable for the majority of the annual halibut PSC mortality in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. While the Amendment 80 fleet has reduced halibut mortality in recent years, continued decline in the halibut stock requires consideration of additional measures for management of halibut PSC in the Amendment 80 fisheries.
When BSAI halibut abundance declines, PSC in Amendment 80 fisheries can become a larger proportion of total halibut removals in the BSAI, particularly in Area 4CDE, and can reduce the proportion of halibut available for harvest in directed halibut fisheries. The Council intends to establish an abundance-based halibut PSC management program in the BSAI for the Amendment 80 sector that meets the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, particularly to minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable under National Standard 9 and to achieve optimum yield in the BSAI groundfish fisheries on a continuing basis under National Standard 1. The Council is considering a program that links the Amendment 80 sector PSC limit to halibut abundance and provides incentives for the fleet to minimize halibut mortality at all times. This action could also promote conservation of the halibut stock and may provide additional opportunities for the directed halibut fishery.
The Council also revised its alternatives to meet the purpose and need, and provided direction to staff on the scope of the analysis for the next draft. The Council recommended replacing the existing suite of action alternatives in the DEIS with the following three action alternatives, based upon different look up tables utilizing breakpoints determined by both the IPHC setline survey and the EBS trawl survey. Under any of the action alternatives, the PSC limit would be determined annually based on survey values from the most recent year available. A synopsis of the alternatives is provided below; the actual look up tables are in the Council’s motion.
Alternative 2: A 3X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from current PSC limit to 20% below current limit.
Alternative 3: A 4X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from 15% above current PSC limit to 30% below current limit.
Alternative 4: A 4X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from current PSC limit to 45% below current limit.
The Council also adopted four options that could be applied to any of the alternatives.
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: PSC limit varies no more than (suboptions: 10% or 15%) per year.
Option 3: Establish an annual limit of (suboptions: 80% or 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 (suboptions: 80% or 90%) of the PSC limit generated by the look-up table is a hard cap for that year.
Option 4: (mutually exclusive with Options 2 and 3) PSC unused in one year may roll to the following year to increase the PSC limit generated by the lookup table up to 20%. Any PSC savings in excess of 20% would stay in the water.
The Council requested that the next version of the DEIS shift the analytical focus from a management strategy evaluation (MSE) approach centered on evaluating objectives with respect to performance metrics to a more traditional impacts analysis on the affected fishing sectors and other affected resource components. The analysis will provide the information necessary for the Council to understand the expected impacts of each alternative on the affected sectors, and use the information to develop an action that balances the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The analysis is scheduled for initial review in April 2021 which, following EIS timing requirements under NEPA, could allow for final action for October 2021. Staff contact is Diana Stram.