- Council’s June 2020 meeting held online
The Council held its June 2020 meeting online due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. This was the first regular virtual meeting with the SSC, AP, and the Council members all participating. The public was able to engage during public testimony and provide handouts, and other attendees were able to follow along through presentations and discussions by listening from their own computers. If you attended any of the recent meetings online, your feedback is valuable as we plan for future online meetings. The staff has developed a short 3-question survey and you are encouraged to submit your comments.
If you are interested in the technical aspects of the meeting, feel free to email email@example.com.
- Appointments and Call for Nominations
The Council appointed Ms. Erin Fedewa to serve on the BSAI Crab Plan Team, as a replacement for Dr. Robert Foy. Ms. Fedewa is a Research Fisheries Biologist at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center studying Bering Sea crab body condition, energetics, growth and trophic dynamics in relation to environmental conditions.
The Council also appointed Mr. Scott Miller and Dr. Kate Haapala to the Social Science Planning Team, to replace Ms. Sally Bibb and Dr. Elizabeth Figus, respectively. Mr. Scott Miller is an industry economist with the NMFS Alaska Region Sustainable Fisheries Division, and Dr. Kate Haapala is a social scientist with Council staff.
The Council Chair also announced that he will be appointing an interim Advisory Panel member before the October meeting to replace Ben Stevens, who resigned from the AP in the spring. The interim appointment will last for the remainder of Ben Stevens’ AP term, which expires at the end of 2020.
Call for Nominations
The Council is accepting nominations through July 31, 2020 for an active, partial coverage observer to the Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC). The Committee convenes industry members, agency representatives, observers, and observer/EM coverage providers to advise the Council on issues related to all types of monitoring in the Alaskan fisheries that are subject to partial coverage. The Council Chair may appoint two active observers to share the PCFMAC seat.
- Scallop Specifications
The Council reviewed the 2020 Alaska Weathervane Scallop SAFE report and specified scallop ABC for the 2020/2021 fishing year at 1.156 million pounds (524 t)of shucked scallop meats, a level equivalent to 90% of OFL, which is 1.284 million pounds (582 t). The federal specification of scallop OFL and ABC applies to all waters off Alaska, while guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for the State’s scallop registration areas and districts are established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
According to the Scallop SAFE, total harvest off Alaska in the 2018/19 season was 238,973 lb (108 t) of shucked scallop meats, and preliminary harvest for the 2019/20 season is 224,765 lb (102 t). Guideline harvest levels were achieved in most of the State’s scallop management districts within the Yakutat, Kodiak, and Bering Sea registration areas. Some scallop beds with low productivity were abandoned by the fleet and these included the Alaska Peninsula registration area, and the Kodiak Southeast and Dutch Harbor districts.
Scallop harvest has been fairly stable in recent years, however, revenue of less than $2.6 million in the most recent season is lowest historically. Port landings of scallops are limited to Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Yakutat, and Homer.
Fishery CPUE has been trending up in the productive beds since 2015 especially in the Yakutat district and the Northeast, Shelikof, and Southwest Kodiak districts. The stock status of Alaska weathervane scallops is not viewed as a conservation concern since scallops are distributed in many areas that are closed to fishing. Closed areas can almost be thought of as marine refuges and potential yields from these areas are not factored into fishery performance. Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- BSAI Crab Management
The Council approved OFLs and ABCs for Aleutian Islands golden king crab, Pribilof Islands golden king crab, and Western Aleutian Islands red king crab, and reviewed stock assessment scenarios and other issues addressed at the Crab Plan Team’s May 2020 meeting.
For AI golden king crab specifications, the Council adopted an OFL of 4,798 mt and an ABC of 3,599 mt, and for Pribilof Island golden king crab, the Council adopted an OFL of 93 mt and an ABC of 70 mt, and for Western Aleutian Islands red king crab, the Council adopted an OFL of 56 mt and an ABC of 14 mt, all of which are consistent with the recommendations of the Crab Plan Team, SSC, and AP.
Complete 2020 SAFE chapters for those stocks are posted, along with the Crab Plan Team May meeting report, on the Council’s website. OFLs and ABCs for four additional BSAI crab stocks (snow, Tanner, Bristol Bay red king crab, and St. Matthew blue king crab) will be specified in October. The cancelation of the Bering Sea trawl survey was discussed at the May Crab Plan Team meeting and with the SSC with respect to uncertainty in developing OFL/ABC recommendations for some of these stocks. SSC and Crab Plan Team Chairs and other Plan Team Chairs will discuss appropriate approaches in preparation for Plan Team meetings in the fall. Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- St Matthew Island Blue King Crab Rebuilding
The Council took final action to adopt a rebuilding plan for St Matthew Island blue king crab and recommend a preferred alternative for Secretarial Action (Alternative 2/Option 2) that is projected to rebuild the stock within the time required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s National Standard 1, while also providing affected communities with the possibility of directed harvest during rebuilding. The rebuilding timeframe for the Council’s preferred alternative is expected to be protracted (25.5 years), mostly due to the low recruitment that could occur if current, unfavorable ecosystem conditions continue. Environmental stressors affecting survival and recruitment are considered to be the dominant factors in the decline of the stock and in stock recovery, rather than directed fishing or bycatch, and the possibility exists that rebuilding may never occur.
If conditions improve so that the fishery can be opened under the Council’s preferred alternative, stock biomass would have to have recovered to a minimum threshold (50% of the average 1978-2012 biomass) as specified in the State of Alaska’s St Matthew Island blue king crab harvest strategy.
Every two years during rebuilding, progress on stock recovery will be reported by NMFS to the Secretary of Commerce. Additionally, directed harvest (if it occurs), bycatch, and ecosystem conditions will be monitored throughout rebuilding so that the contributions of these factors to rebuilding progress can be assessed.
The Council was notified that the stock was overfished in October 2018, which started a two-year process for implementing a rebuilding plan. Initial review occurred at the December 2019 Council meeting, and final action at this meeting will allow implementation to occur before the October 22, 2020 deadline. Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
- Cook Inlet Salmon
The SSC, AP, and Council reviewed a preliminary draft of the environmental assessment and regulatory impact analysis (EA/RIR) that is being prepared to analyze the impacts of managing the salmon driftnet fishery in federal waters of Cook Inlet through the Council’s Salmon FMP. The Council also reviewed reports from the final meetings of the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee, in February and May 2020, which provide Committee recommendations on revising the alternatives under consideration. After its review, the Council confirmed the existing alternatives (provided below) for evaluation and requested staff move forward with development of a draft analysis for initial review at the October 2020 Council meeting.
The Cook Inlet salmon action was initiated in 2017 in response to a Ninth Circuit Court finding that the Salmon FMP was not in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) because it excluded three traditional salmon net fisheries (Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and South Alaska Peninsula) that overlap with portions of federal jurisdictional waters. The Court ruling was brought about by litigation from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) and Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund (CIFF) who want federal management in Cook Inlet. At present, the Council is specifically addressing the Cook Inlet fishery. In December 2019, UCIDA/CIFF appealed to federal court to expedite completion of an amended FMP. In January 2020, the Court established a deadline of December 31, 2020 for final Council action, and gave no instruction on the content of the amendment.
Two approaches for managing Cook Inlet salmon fisheries are currently under consideration by the Council (Alternatives 2 and 3), and a “No action” alternative (Alternative 1) is provided for comparison. Under Alternative 2, management measures necessary for the federal waters salmon driftnet fishery would be delegated to the State, primarily, while under Alternative 3, all management would be done at the federal level. Driftnet fishery stakeholders have indicated their support for Alternative 2 because it would incorporate the State of Alaska’s widespread salmon data collection and inseason management capabilities into the fulfillment of federal management obligations.
In order to develop options for managing the Cook Inlet salmon fishery for the Council’s deliberations, the Council created the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee in 2018. The Council Chair appointed salmon driftnetters from Cook Inlet to the Committee, most of whom are also UCIDA members. Since then, Council and agency staff have worked with the Committee to develop recommendations for the Council. Progress on developing those recommendations was frequently constrained by the insistence of some Committee members that federal management be able to direct and override salmon fishery management actions by the State of Alaska. While this is permissible in federal waters, the Committee members also wanted the FMP to direct management of fisheries that operate solely in State jurisdictional waters, such as in-river fisheries, and to take over the State’s salmon escapement goal setting process.
The Cook Inlet Salmon Committee’s recommendations were provided to the Council as a redline version of Alternative 2, in order to compare the recommendations to the existing alternative. The revised alternative was referred to as Alternative 2 – Expanded Scope, and the Committee recommended that this revised alternative replace the existing Alternative 2 in the analysis. After review, the Council chose not to move the Committee’s recommended alternative forward for analysis, but requested staff include it in the section on alternatives considered but not analyzed further. Having satisfied its purpose, the Cook Inlet Salmon Committee will meet no longer. Staff Contact is Jim Armstrong.
Salmon FMP Purpose and Need and Alternatives
Purpose and Need
The Council intends to amend the Salmon FMP to manage the traditional net fishing area that occurs in Federal waters of Cook Inlet. Federal management in an FMP must meet the Magnuson-Stevens Act required provisions for an FMP in section 303(a) and related Magnuson-Stevens Act provisions. This proposed action is necessary to bring the Salmon FMP into compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act consistent with the recent Ninth Circuit ruling and the Judgement of the District Court in UCIDA et al., v. NMFS.
Alternative 1: No Action. No amendment to the Salmon FMP. This alternative would maintain status quo. Alternative 1 is not a viable alternative given the Ninth Circuit decision, however, NEPA requires that Federal agencies analyze a no action alternative.
Alternative 2: Federal management with specific management measures delegated to the State. Amend the Salmon FMP to include the Cook Inlet EEZ in the FMP’s fishery management unit in the West Area and establish a Federal management regime for these salmon fisheries that delegates specific management measures to the State of Alaska, to use existing State salmon management infrastructure, in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and Ninth Circuit ruling. Alternative 2 would identify the management measures that would be managed by the Council and NMFS, the management measures that would be delegated to the State to manage with Federal oversight, and the process for delegation and oversight of management.
Alternative 3: Federal management. Amend the Salmon FMP to include the Cook Inlet EEZ in the FMP’s fishery management unit in the West Area and apply Federal management to those portions of the fisheries that occur in the EEZ.
- Observer coverage update
The Council reviewed changes to observer deployment and data collection this year in the full and partial coverage program related to COVID-19, presented by the agency. After a report from its Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC), the Council provided recommendations to NMFS about re-introducing observers into the partial coverage observer program as well as developing the 2021 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP). The Council commends and supports NMFS’ response thus far to COVID-19 relative to the observer program.
The full coverage fleets typically provide 90% of the observed data and have thus far maintained observer coverage in the 2020 calendar year with industry working closely with the Observer Program and observer providers. Observer coverage has also been maintained via the pelagic trawl electronic monitoring (EM) Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) covering most of the pelagic trawl fleet, and all partial coverage catcher vessels operating out of Kodiak are subject to observer coverage under the 2020 ADP.
NMFS put forward an early proposal to the FMAC and Council for re-introducing observers into the partial coverage program this year comprised of two components: 1) using a modified vessel selection where, if a vessel was randomly selected for coverage in ODDS, every trip taken by that vessel would be selected for coverage under a specified time period; and 2) increasing the fixed gear EM selection rate from 30% to 100%.
The Council emphasized the tradeoffs outlined in the May 2020 FMAC report that weigh concerns about re-introducing observers into the partial coverage category in 2020 against the utility of limited data that would be collected primarily from fixed gear fleets. If NMFS proceeds, the Council recommends the following approach:
- Reintroduce partial coverage using trip selection out of a select number of key ports (i.e., in addition to Kodiak).
- Maintain the current coverage and selection rates for vessels carrying EM.
- Given the limited opportunities for outreach, focus on communicating proposed changes to affected fleets.
The Council further recommends NMFS place a high priority on developing a 2021 ADP that provides necessary data and is also responsive to continued COVID-19 challenges and Council priorities, particularly improving cost efficiencies in the partial coverage category.
Staff contact is Kate Haapala. Staff contact specifically for EM issues is Anna Henry.
- Sablefish apportionment
The SSC received a report regarding ongoing analyses of different ways to spatially apportion the sablefish stock sub-area ABCs across management regions in the GOA and BSAI. Preliminary results indicate limited biological differences amongst apportionment schemes. Final analyses of a range of apportionment schemes and their performance against some biological and economic objectives will be presented in conjunction with the fall sablefish assessment.
In responding to the SSC’s report, the Council indicated that the SSC should continue to assess and make recommendations on the appropriate sub-area or aggregate (e.g., GOA-wide) ABCs for the sablefish stock based upon biological aspects of the stock, while economic concerns about area splits will be addressed by the Council in the TAC-setting process. Modifications to the ABC spatial apportionment will be considered during the annual specifications process and do not require additional analyses beyond what is already planned. Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Species Distribution Models for EFH
The SSC received a report from Jodi Pirtle (NMFS AKR) and Ned Laman (AFSC) on the development of new and revised species distribution models that may provide information to support descriptions and mapping of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) in the Council’s FMPs. The discussion paper and presentation reviewed analyses under development to provide information to stock assessment authors, Plan Teams, the SSC, and the Council to review and potentially revise EFH descriptions in the upcoming 2022 5-year review of EFH. The four in-progress studies are designed to provide information that may allow descriptions of EFH to evolve from the current Level 1 (distribution) to Level 2 (habitat-related densities), or Level 3 (habitat-related growth, reproduction, and survival).
The SSC supports the continued exploration of these approaches and provided specific feedback to the authors. The SSC suggested that fishery-dependent information and local and traditional knowledge may be useful to provide EFH information for seasons, areas, or habitats that are not sampled by fishery-independent surveys. Staff contact is Steve MacLean.
- Herring PSC management
The Council discussed herring prohibited species catch (PSC) management in the Bering Sea following unanticipated high catch of herring in the pollock fishery A season in 2020, and affirmed NMFS’ authority to use inseason adjustments to monitor and manage PSC closures during the summer.
By regulation, the PSC trigger limit for herring is 1% of the total estimated biomass of herring in the Bering Sea. This trigger limit is apportioned among target fisheries during the annual specifications process. When reached, three different herring savings areas (HSA) in the Bering Sea close for specified time periods. Two of the HSAs close for periods of time in the summer, and one closes in the fall and following winter. The establishment of the HSAs date back to Amendment 16a to the BSAI FMP, implemented in 1991, and were designated based upon bycatch data and migration assumptions from the 1980s as well as then-low BSAI-wide herring biomass estimates.
The Council discussed current concerns about the closure of HSAs in the pollock B season, the resulting movement of the pollock fleet away from productive fishing areas early in the B season, the potential for increased Chinook salmon bycatch as a result of longer B season fishing, the dated information upon which the HSAs were designated, as well as the considerably higher herring biomass currently than when the trigger limit was established in 1991. Given these considerations, the Council voted unanimously to recommend that NMFS use their inseason authority to adjust the HSA2 closure and allow for directed fishing within it. The NMFS will monitor for bycatch rates of herring and Chinook salmon within and outside of HSA2 during the 2020 B season, and will make adjustments to the closure and its timing as necessary. This will provide additional flexibility to achieve an appropriate balance between bycatch management of all PSC species and the achievement of OY on an annual basis. The agency further indicated that it will conduct tribal consultations on this herring issue.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.
- Economic Data Reporting Stakeholder Meetings
The Council will be holding a series of facilitated stakeholder discussions to explore potential revisions to the four existing Economic Data Reporting (EDR) programs. EDR programs are currently implemented in four fisheries: the BSAI Crab Rationalization program, Amendment 80, GOA trawl fisheries, and the BSAI pollock fishery. The Council and the Council’s Social Science Planning Team ( SSPT) are engaging with fishery participants to develop a strategy to assess and improve EDR collections and improve their usability, efficiency, and consistency while minimizing their cost and burden to industry and the government.
The purpose of the EDR stakeholder discussions is generate input and ideas that can inform the Council’s consideration of potential revisions to the four existing EDR programs. Specifically, these discussions will help focus and inform the SSPT’s development of alternatives for the Council’s consideration. The objectives include:
- Discuss the Council’s existing EDR programs, including their objectives, the use of EDR information to support decision-making, and the relationship between the data elements collected, economic performance metrics, and the management questions they can inform.
- Generate ideas for improving the usability, efficiency, and consistency of existing EDR programs while minimizing their cost and burden to industry and the government.
These discussions will be held virtually. The date and times are to be determined and will be posted at: https://www.npfmc.org/edr/
The Council hopes to hear from a wide range of perspectives and all those interested are welcome to participate. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the email list.
- Staff Tasking
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously tasked projects, in the context of the cancelled April and limited June meetings, and provided guidance to the Chair and Executive Director about which items to prioritize for October and subsequent meetings. The revised 3-meeting outlook highlights this guidance. In addition to must-do items in October (crab and groundfish specifications, the 2021 Observer Annual Deployment Plan, and the Cook Inlet Salmon FMP amendment initial review), the Council will review workproducts for BSAI halibut abundance-based management and will take final action on the squid/sculpin product types analysis. The Council took into account the potential for additional agenda items based on whether the Council is able to meet in person or virtually. At this point, it appears that both the September Plan Team meetings and the October Council meeting will occur online, as reflected in the draft 3-meeting outlook. However, should the situation improve dramatically and in-person meetings be possible, the October agenda and schedule may be revised to include the BSAI Pacific cod actions.
The Council directed staff to develop the following letters:
- To the NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center, expressing concern about the lack of surveys in 2020, and requesting a detailed plan, which would enable a full complement of 2021 surveys even if covid-19 limitations are still in effect.
- To NFWF, in support of three electronic monitoring projects that have been submitted for funding.
The Council provided the following additional direction:
- During the B reports, the Council provided direction to NMFS affirming their inseason management authority to respond selectively to triggered closures of herring savings areas.
- The Council also considered how to respond to NMFS’ request for input regarding Executive Order 13921 on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth. The Council is interested in input from stakeholders about ideas or opportunities to identify recommended actions that would further reduce the regulatory burden on domestic fisheries. Such testimony should be provided directly to the Council at the October Council meeting, at which time the Council will compile a prioritized list of recommended actions.
Finally, the Council Chair announced Plan Team appointments and a call for nominations for an active observer to the PCFMAC.