The Council conducted its initial review of an analysis to allow vessel operators in the fixed gear IFQ sablefish fishery to voluntarily release sablefish they consider to be too small to have much economic value. After reviewing the analysis, the Council suspended action on this issue pending IFQ Committee recommendations on the relative priority of this action. An IFQ Committee meeting is scheduled for March 25-26, 2021, and the Committee’s recommendations will be provided at the Council April 2021 meeting, at which point the Council could consider further action on this analysis.
The draft analysis reviewed by the Council identified a wide range of potential reductions in sablefish ABC (0.8% – 51%) under a voluntary sablefish release allowance, and these reductions are dependent on discard mortality rates (DMRs) for released sablefish as well as the size composition of retained sablefish (retention selectivity). Impacts to sablefish IFQ and Bering Sea trawl fisheries are directly linked to potential ABC reductions, however, because DMRs and retention selectivities are not well understood, the probability of any given ABC reduction remains unclear.
Should the analysis be reactivated, the SSC recommends additional analysis be included to support final action by the Council. The SSC highlighted the need to address the effects of different DMRs and retention selectivities on sablefish age structure and productivity, and the contribution of uncertainty in DMRs and selectivities to stock assessment uncertainty and possible buffers on ABC.
The draft analysis focused on issues associated with the four Elements that the Council had identified for Alternative 2 under this action at its December 2019 meeting. Element 1 addresses DMRs, and provides a range of potential DMRs for analysts to consider. Elements 2, Catch Accounting, and 4, Monitoring and Enforcement, address how discards could be estimated, and the analysts noted that a release allowance would necessitate a variety of changes to observer data collection methods, each of which is associated with costs and logistical challenges for implementation. Element 3 has to do with accounting for the discards in the sablefish stock assessment, instead of creating a new system for discard accounting within the IFQ Program or annual groundfish specifications. The range of scenarios described under Element 3 contributed to the characterization of potential ABC reductions and fishery impacts.
The draft analysis indicates that a discarding allowance would be expected to provide near term flexibility to fishermen and could allow them to improve the value of landings, but it is unlikely that a reduction in IFQ value from reduced ABC could be overcome at very large ABC reductions. Also, the impacts to the IFQ fishery would vary geographically, so that that areas like the Bering Sea where large sablefish are not as available to the fishery would be negatively impacted.
Staff contact for this issue is Jim Armstrong.