The Council received a report on the IFQ Committee’s May 2022 meeting. The IFQ Committee made three recommendations to the Council, which were supported: (1) initiate an analysis of modified halibut vessel use caps in IPHC Area 4; (2) schedule the next review of alternatives to allow the voluntary, careful release of small sablefish in the IFQ fishery; and (3) endorse the NMFS analysis of a rule to waive medical transfers that occurred during years impacted by COVID-19 (2020-2022).
The Council tasked an analysis with defined alternatives for modifying the Area 4 halibut vessel use cap. The status quo alternative would maintain the vessel use cap definition that no vessel may harvest IFQ in an amount greater than 0.5% of the “coastwide” catch limit (sum of Areas 2C, 3AB, and 4ABCD) over the course of a year, regardless of where fishing occurs. The action alternative would either create (Option 1) an Area 4 vessel use cap equal to 4%, 5%, or 6% of the sum of the Area 4ABCD combined catch limit, or (Option 2) an Area 4 vessel use cap equal to 150% of the vessel use cap as determined by the “coastwide” catch limit. The Council clarified that an Area 4 cap and the coastwide cap that would continue to exist in other areas are not additive. In other words, catch that a vessel makes outside of Area 4 accrues to higher Area 4 cap. The effect would be that vessels fishing in Area 4 are allowed to harvest additional pounds in that area.
The Council included suboptions that could be applied under either Option. The first suboption would specify that catch of halibut IFQ that is held by an Area 4B community quota entity (CQE) does not accrue to the Area 4 vessel use cap (note that the Area 4B CQE can only own Area 4B quota share). This would be analogous to community development quota (CDQ) halibut, which does not accrue to vessel use caps, and in contrast to an existing 50,000 lbs. limit on the amount of CQE-derived IFQ than a vessel can harvest annually. The purpose of this suboption is to allow the Area 4B CQE community some relief in harvesting their IFQ while working to rebuild local fleet and processing capacity. The second suboption specifies that any action taken should be reviewed either three years after implementation, five years after implementation, or as part of the next IFQ Program Review to occur after implementation.
Finally, given that an action taken on these alternatives would not be in effect in time for the 2023 IFQ season, the Council requested that NMFS evaluate options for extending the temporary rule that waives halibut vessel use caps in Area 4. Such a rule is in place for the 2022 season.
The Council also supported the IFQ Committee’s recommendation to schedule the next initial review of action to allow small sablefish release, although without setting a specific date. The Council Chairman and Executive Director will schedule that review as Council agenda time and NPFMC/NMFS/AFSC staff resources allow.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.