Appointments | BSAI Crab | Observer Reports | Crab Crew Share Active Participation | BBRKC | Small Sablefish Release | PEIS | Crew Data Collection |Research Priorities | Staff Tasking | Upcoming Meetings
Sitka Sendoff for Council Chair Kinneen
Industry partners held a seafood reception for members and guests of the North Pacific Council meetings, and also to celebrate and recognize Simon Kinneen for his service to the Council. Kinneen has been involved with the Council for many years, first serving on the Advisory Panel in 2005, then participating as a Council member in 2014. Most recently, he has been serving as Chair of the Council since 2018, and his last meeting was in June. Thank you, Simon, for your commitment to managing Alaska’s fishery resources. The Council would like to thank all the businesses and organizations that donated seafood and resources for the reception.
At this meeting, the Council Chair announced the appointment of Steve Whitney to the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team. Whitney is a fishery management specialist for NMFS in Juneau, and will be replacing Mary Furuness. Additionally, Abby Jahn has been appointed to the GOA groundfish plan team. Jahn is also a fishery management specialist for NMFS in Juneau, and will be replacing Obren Davis. Welcome to the Groundfish Plan Teams!
Finally, Dr. Sarah Wise was appointed to the Social Science Planning Team, replacing Dr. Steve Kasperski. Wise is a marine anthropologist and social scientist for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.
The Council specified overfishing limits (OFLs) and allowable biological catch amounts (ABCs) for Aleutian Island golden king crab (AIGKC), Pribilof Island golden king crab (PIGKC), and Western Aleutian Island red king crab (WAIRKC) and approved the updated BSAI Crab SAFE chapters (motion).
For AIGKC, the Council adopted an OFL of 4,812 t and ABC of 3,137 t for the 2023/24 fishing year. PIGKC and WAIRKC are managed on a triennial basis. For PIGKC, the Council adopted an OFL of 114 t and ABC of 85 t for 2024-2026, as the stock is managed on a calendar year basis. For WAIRKC, the Council adopted an OFL of 56 t and an ABC of 14 t for 2023/24, 2024/25, and 2025/26. AIGKC, PIGKC, and WAIRKC were not overfished based on the updated stock assessment. The final determination of stock status will be provided in the final 2023 BSAI crab SAFE at the October 2023 Council meeting.
The Council also reviewed model scenarios for Pribilof Islands blue king crab, Eastern Bering Sea snow crab, Bristol Bay red king crab, and Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab, and several other topics from the May 2023 Crab Plan Team Report.
Unobserved fishing mortality working group
The Council passed a motion providing further clarity for the unobserved fishing mortality working group that was recommended in December 2022. The following objectives and end products for the workgroup are detailed below:
- Identify data sources, major data gaps, and assumptions to estimate unobserved mortality for stock assessments and to better understand temporal/spatial extent across fisheries and gear types.
- Provide research priority recommendations and/or needed research projects.
The anticipated products include:
- Framework for estimating unobserved fishing mortality and explicitly incorporating it into stock assessments.
- Report on specific research priorities and data needs.
- Recommendations for approaches to investigate spatial/temporal extent of unobserved mortality over fisheries and gear types to the extent practicable.
Following the Council’s review of the working group’s outcomes, the Council will consider a public workshop. The Council noted the advantages of engaging in a public process and is anticipating the products of the working group lead to a public-facing workshop.
Staff contact for the BSAI Crab Plan Team is Sarah Rheinsmith.
The Council reviewed the Draft 2022 Observer Program Annual Report, prepared by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and provided recommendations for the development of the 2024 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP). The Annual Report provides a scientific evaluation of the deployment of observers in 2022 to evaluate if deployment expectations were met that year. The report also includes information describing the program, enforcement trends, outreach efforts, and agency recommendations for the 2024 Draft ADP. This year’s report is abbreviated in response to previous Council direction, partly due to the complications in 2022 deployment plans because of COVID-19, and also in recognition that an abbreviated report conserves staff time for work on the Partial Observer Coverage Cost Efficiencies Integrated Analysis (Cost Efficiencies Analysis) for the Draft 2024 Annual Deployment Plan.
The Council also received a report from its Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) on ongoing analytical work for cost efficiencies in the partial coverage observer program, and a report from its Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC). The FMAC report included recommendations on the 2022 Annual Report, cost efficiencies for implementation in the 2024 ADP, how the committee will handle future prioritization of electronic monitoring (EM) issues, as well as several other topics.
The Council appreciates the 2022 Observer Program Annual Report and recommends NMFS provide an abbreviated annual report on 2023 deployment and a full annual report on 2024 deployment. The Council had several specific recommendations on the 2022 Annual Report, included in the Council motion.
The Council also supported the criteria for evaluation and the proposed components of the 2024 ADP, as well as the NMFS recommendations on pages 68-69 of the 2022 Observer Annual Report. Per EM deployment, this includes: 1) additional fixed gear EM vessels (30% coverage) in the EM pool in 2024 (up to 200 total vessels) provided they opt-in prior to November 1, 2023, additional funding for EM equipment is secured, and they meet the criteria in the ADP; and 2) support for additional pelagic trawl EM vessels in the EFP with 100% at-sea monitoring in addition to shoreside observer coverage.
For the draft 2024 ADP, the Council also supported:
- Continued evaluation of modifications to zero coverage for EM and observer strata
- Evaluation of solutions to high cancellation rates of trips selected for observer coverage in the hook-and-line stratum. Specifics are included in the Council motion.
The Council requested NMFS:
- Define the ‘burden share’ evaluation metric in such a manner that it could be applied to all strata in a consistent and meaningful way.
- Evaluate the monitoring designs and resulting coverage rates under high, medium, and low budget scenarios and provide these to the FMAC in advance of the October Council meeting.
- Consult with fixed gear EM service providers on the cost of inactive vessels to determine how costs would scale to different budget scenarios.
The Council also supported further investigation of video review protocols and/or increased staffing at Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) or other contracted solutions to minimize delays and better ensure timely EM data.
Lastly, under staff tasking, the Council requested a discussion paper for review by FMAC and the Council on observer availability and training opportunities on vessels (motion). Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.
Crab Crew Share Active Participation Requirements
The Council reviewed an analysis and received public comments on a regulatory package to amend the crew share (or C share) active participation requirements in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization (CR) program. In response, the Council revised its purpose and need statement and amended its alternatives. The Council did not identify a preliminary preferred alternative but released the document for public review and requested it return for possible final action once additional changes have been fully analyzed.
The Council’s revised purpose and need statement clarifies the Council’s intent for any changes to C share active participation requirements. The purpose and need focuses on addressing challenges with meeting current active participation requirements given recent and potential future circumstances that have limited the number of crew positions on BSAI crab vessels.
The Council’s revised alternatives consider either (Alternative 2) modifying active participation requirements for maintaining C shares to provide more flexibility and/ or exemptions under certain conditions where crew job opportunities are limited or (Alternative 3) removing the active participation requirements for maintaining C shares while preserving the active participation requirements for receiving C shares by transfer.
Alternative 2 includes three options that are not mutually exclusive from one another.
- The first option would restart the recent participation requirements and reissue any C share quota share that was revoked starting in 2019 and until the final rule is implemented.
- The second option considers different thresholds of low crab Total Allowable Catch (TAC) under which the C share active participation requirements would not apply. In this option (Option 2), the NMFS Regional administrator would use defined criteria to identify whether that threshold was met for the upcoming crab year. Sub-options for consideration look at thresholds that are based on a combined TAC for Bristol Bay red king crab, Bering Sea snow crab (C. opilio), and Eastern as well as Western Bering Sea Tanner (C. bairdi) fisheries including: 25, 15, or 10 million pounds. If the TAC threshold was not met, NMFS would not count this year for C share holders that did not provide evidence of active participation.
- The third option would revise the eligibility requirements for C share holders to receive annual IFQ and retain QS holdings to be the same for initial recipients and for those who have received C share by transfer after initial issuance. This would allow non-initial C share recipients to use 30 days in any Alaska fishery (state or federal) to count as qualified evidence of active participation in addition to participation in the CR Program fisheries.
Alternative 3, which is mutually exclusive from Alternative 2, would remove the active participation requirements for maintaining C shares. This alternative would also reissue any C share quota share that is revoked between 2019 and the implementation of the final rule.
Crab C share share holders should note that active participation must be demonstrated as usual in order to receive C share IFQ or retain C share QS for the upcoming 2023/24 season (link to the requirements in regulations). In addition, NMFS is requesting that all C share holders submit documentation of recent participation for the upcoming 2023/24 crab fishing year due June 15, 2023. While both of the Council’s current action alternatives consider reissuing any C share quota that is revoked during this upcoming season, this would not occur until the Council provides final recommendations on the amendment package and a subsequent NMFS’ rule-making process. In total, this process could take more than one year.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
BBRKC & Groundfish Closure Areas
The Council conducted an initial review of alternatives that have the objective of reducing groundfish fishing mortality on Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC) in areas that may be important for that crab stock and could contribute to stock health and optimum yield from a directed BBRKC fishery. The action alternatives under consideration would close the Red King Crab Savings Area (RKCSA) to certain groundfish gears and/or close NMFS Area 512 (east of the RKCSA) to pot gear fishing for Pacific cod. Area closures would not be permanent but would be in effect for a calendar year when a trigger is met. There are two options to choose from as a trigger for either area closure alternative: a closure of the directed BBRKC fishery in the preceding crab season, or a total area-swept BBRKC biomass estimate derived from the eastern Bering Sea NMFS trawl survey of less than 50,000 tons.
The Council requested further development of the analysis of annual area closures to come back before advisory bodies prior to decision-making. The Council emphasized its desire for additional information that could help characterize the potential benefits to the BBRKC stock, noting ongoing scientific research on the life-history and movement of red king crab and factors that influence recruitment into the crab fishery that may not be fully resolved in the near-term. Specific requests include evaluation of the biological consequences of different bycatch levels in groundfish fisheries, and a more robust approach to describing the relative importance of the RKCSA and Area 512 to the BBRKC stock in terms of species presence and habitat. Regarding potential impacts to the groundfish fisheries that operate in the Bristol Bay region of the Bering Sea, the next analysis will evaluate a wider and more detailed range of potential areas to which fishing effort might shift if some areas may be closed. In terms of how spatial relocation of groundfish effort might affect crab and other non-target species outside of the Bristol Bay region, the next analysis will incorporate a longer time series of historical data into the existing analysis and address pot gear effort-shifting from Area 512 more directly.
In addition to the action alternatives currently proposed, the next analysis will scope flexible “framework” approaches to groundfish spatial management for pot and trawl gear in the areas that are most associated with the BBRKC stock. A framework approach would allow the groundfish and crab fishery participants to agree on best practices for impact mitigation which must be followed in order to fish in certain areas, and would likely require some definition in Federal regulations so that compliance could be enforced. The next analysis would continue to scope opportunities and challenges associated with this approach.
Pelagic trawl gear definition
The Council also reviewed a history of how pelagic trawl gear for pollock fishing has been defined and revised in regulation since the late 1980s, as well as a history of the rationale for the “trawl gear performance standard” (maximum amount of incidental crab onboard a pelagic trawl vessel) and an evaluation of the performance standard’s effectiveness in achieving its original bycatch objectives. The Council requested that staff identify potential regulatory revisions that could make the definition of pelagic trawl gear better align with current and historical practices, including gear elements that exist to minimize environmental impacts (e.g., salmon excluders). Regarding how pelagic trawl gear contacts the seafloor and may impact BBRKC or BBRKC habitat, the Council requested that NMFS, the Enforcement Committee, and fishery participants identify ways to make the performance standard enforceable and effective. The Council considered a motion to initiate a discussion paper on options to manage seafloor contact by pelagic trawl gear throughout the North Pacific FMP regions to protect habitat and mitigate unobserved crab mortality, but did not move forward with that directive at this meeting.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
Small Sablefish Release Update
The Council adopted a revised purpose and need statement and alternatives and initiated analysis for the proposed action to allow vessel operators in the fixed gear IFQ sablefish fishery to voluntarily release sablefish. This proposed action, which has been moving through the Council process since 2018, is in direct response to the low economic value of small sablefish which have inundated commercial catches over the past several years.
The Council received a presentation on the update document prepared by Council, AKRO, and AFSC staff. The document and presentation were intended to assist the Council in evaluating how to prioritize preparation of a second initial review analysis of the Council’s current alternatives for small sablefish release, given the required workload and changing conditions (environmental uncertainty, stock status, changes in fishery) since the Council and SSC reviewed the first initial review analysis in February 2021. Due to the significant changes that would be required either to monitoring in the sablefish IFQ fishery or to the stock assessment under the previously existing alternatives from 2019/2021, staff sought feedback from the Council on how to proceed with limited resources.
Council Changes to the Alternatives
In contrast to the alternatives put forward by the Council in 2019/2021, the new alternatives include an option (Alternative 2, Option 2) to continue requiring retention of sablefish greater than or equal to 22 inches in total length. This option still provides for voluntary release of sablefish under 22 inches, while addressing some of the data and stock assessment issues regarding uncertainty in discard estimates.
Under Element 1, the Council also added a 6th DMR option, that DMR(s) for released sablefish would need to be chosen through the harvest specifications (stock assessment/Plan Team/SSC) process. The Council noted that options 1-5 under Element 2 are included for analytical purposes to estimate potential impacts based on a variety of DMRs.
The other notable change to the Council’s alternatives is the addition of a new Element 4, which includes options to either: 1) review effects of the proposed action a certain number of years after implementation, or 2) sunset the provisions in the proposed action 5 years following implementation.
Lastly, the Council directed staff to incorporate SSC recommendations as feasible in the next initial review, and to flag any that are unlikely to be accomplished within the allotted time frame.
Staff contact for this issue is Sara Cleaver.
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
The Council initiated the development of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for all Council-managed fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands, adopted a draft purpose and need statement and alternatives, and recommended NMFS initiate NEPA scoping and solicitation of input. The Council took action in response to a staff report providing context on the development of a PEIS, and its Ecosystem Committee report recommendations on the purpose for a PEIS, draft alternatives a description of the proposed action.
Once a timeline for NEPA scoping is determined, additional opportunities for public input will be announced in a Notice of Intent published by NMFS. The Council intends the development of the PEIS to be an iterative process, and that the purpose and need and alternatives will be refined through the public scoping process. The Ecosystem Committee will continue to provide advice to the Council on this issue; their next meeting has yet to be determined.
The following provides the draft purpose and need statement and alternatives adopted by the Council:
Purpose and Need Statement
The federal action under consideration is to clarify the management policy and objectives for all federal fisheries managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Halibut Act under the jurisdiction of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands, including objectives for adapting to the effects of climate change. The purpose of this action is to ensure that the management framework of the Council is adequate to meet current and forthcoming challenges in the federal fisheries, and to describe and implement that framework in a comprehensive manner to improve the Council’s ecosystem-based management approach. Given changing conditions in the fisheries, new Council efforts, and significant climate-related impacts on the marine ecosystem, there is a need to evaluate the management policy and objectives for federal fishery management to be adaptable and responsive in order to better meet the objectives of the Magnuson Stevens Act and Halibut Act, to ensure long-term sustainability of the stocks managed under those statutes, and to sustain participation in and benefits from the fisheries over time. The Council intends to ensure that the management framework is structured to use the best available science, which includes climate science and local and traditional knowledge, and also recognizes Alaska tribes and communities that rely on subsistence resources.
Alternative 1: Maintain current ecosystem-based management policy and objectives for Council-managed fisheries (status quo)
Alternative 2: Adopt a more adaptive ecosystem-based management policy and objectives for Council-managed fisheries which would enable the Council to develop and implement climate-resiliency tools; new pathways to incorporate indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge; and new tools to assess and adapt to risk in the face of additional uncertainty in stock status and distribution due to climate driven marine ecosystem changes.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver. Staff contact for the Ecosystem Committee is Nicole Watson.
Crew Data Collection
The Council initiated an analysis to establish a collection of crew data from federal fisheries. This analysis will return as an Initial Review Draft and will consider one action alternative, to implement an annual survey of vessel owners collecting crew license data, crew compensation, and number of crew positions on vessels operating in federal fisheries in the North Pacific. These data would need to be delineated by fishery and area and would not include crew on charter halibut vessels or crew on vessels in state water fisheries only.
The Council also established a purpose and need statement, which highlighted the intent to use these data to support economic and community impact analyses required for Fishery Management Plan and regulatory amendments. The Council stated any proposed collection mechanism should provide useable data by fishery while minimizing reporting burden and costs to fisheries participants and NMFS.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
The Council and AP received a brief update regarding the SSC proposed plan for conducting the upcoming 2024 triennial review of research priorities.
Opportunities for the public to suggest new research needs and priorities
For the 2024 cycle, the public is invited to submit proposals for new research priorities through an online portal. Information will be available soon on the Council website. The Council and SSC will accept input on potential research priorities to be considered in this cycle from approximately late June through early November 2023.
Opportunities to comment on how research needs are prioritized
Research priorities from the public will be categorized by subject area for review by the Council’s Plan Teams, or for those subject areas without an appropriate Plan Team, by a subgroup of the SSC. Staff will ensure that there is a public-facing way to track where priorities that are submitted by the public will be reviewed. The Plan Teams will consider public input as well as Team member input in their subject-area review of Council research needs and priorities. Each Plan Team, and the SSC subgroup, will schedule a public meeting (likely virtual) to complete their review, and identify the top 3-5 priorities for their subject area, to occur between November 2023 and January 2024.
The SSC will then receive the reports from all Plan Teams and the SSC subgroup at the February 2024 SSC meeting, and will finalize a cumulative list of the top 8-12 selected priorities across all subject areas, for Council consideration at the April 2024 meeting. Public input on cumulative prioritization of suggested research priorities will have most impact at the February 2024 meeting. The SSC will not consider new research priority concepts for the 2024 5-year research priority cycle at the April 2024 meeting.
The Council’s research priorities from the April 2021 Research Priorities Triennial review can be found here.
Staff contact is Nicole Watson.
The Council discussed the relative priority and scheduling of previously-tasked projects, and identified new tasking. The revised 3 meeting outlook reflects this guidance.
Following review of the B reports and staff tasking materials, the Council took the following actions:
- Appointed Steve Whitney to the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team, Abby Jahn to the GOA Groundfish Plan Team, and Dr. Sarah Wise to the Social Science Planning Team.
- Called for nominations for the Advisory Panel for 2024, to be received by October 31. Interested persons may submit their nomination materials through a link on the Council’s eAgenda.
- Noticed the public that the IFQ Committee, FMAC, PCFMAC, and Ecosystem Committees may meet prior to the October meeting.
Meeting process changes
- In response to the staff discussion paper on potential changes to the Council’s annual meeting cycle, requested staff bring back a strawman future meeting plan with discussion of the potential cost savings involved in the changes under consideration, including dropping or making virtual the February meeting beginning in 2025, holding June meetings in the Pacific northwest, and holding meetings in smaller Alaska communities at times other than June. The Council signaled that it is not interested in options that do not have the SSC, AP, and Council meeting together in-person.
- Noticed the public of an intent to discuss changing public testimony times in the Council to a standard 5 minutes across individuals and organizations, to be consistent across the SSC – AP –Council. The Council will revisit the discussion at the October meeting under staff tasking.
- Directed staff to request an extension of the public comment period for the Advance Notice pf Public Rulemaking on changes to the Guidelines for National Standard 4, 8, and 9, and if the date cannot be extended, to submit a Council comment letter by the current September 12 deadline.
- Requested the SSC develop a comment letter on the draft technical revisions to National Standard 1 guidelines, to be submitted by the Council prior to the comment deadline of August 31.
Analyses and new tasking
- The Council took action to request data necessary to support development of a cooperative limited access privilege program (LAPP) for the BSAI pot catcher vessel fleet greater than or equal to 60 ft, and the BSAI pot Pacific cod catcher processor fisheries. The Council has established a control date of June 11, 2023, that may be used as a reference date for any future management action to address vessel participation in the BSAI Pacific cod pot sector fishery.
- Requested information from staff to inform potential GOA Tanner crab protections, including catch and monitoring data on fisheries occurring in statistical areas 525702 and 525630, current Tanner and king crab distribution in the Kodiak District, and options to implement full monitoring requirements for trawl and pot gear.
- Requested a staff discussion paper on observer availability and training opportunities on vessels, including challenges to providing observer coverage in North Pacific fisheries as well as any potential solutions to improve observer availability.
- Initiated an analysis to establish collection of crew data from federal fisheries (see separate newsletter article).
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
The following Committee and Plan Team meetings are currently anticipated:
- BS FEP Local Knowledge/Traditional Knowledge/Subsistence (LKTKS) Taskforce – June 22, 2023; virtual
- BS FEP Climate Change Taskforce – Aug/Sep 2023
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – week of September 11-15, 2023
- Ecosystem Committee – Sep 2023 (T)
- Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) – second week of Sep 2023
- Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) – second week of Sep 2023
- Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee (PNCIAC) – Sep 2023
- IFQ Committee – last week of September 2023
- Joint Groundfish Plan Teams – week of September 19-22, 2023; November 2023
- Charter Halibut Management Committee – October, December 2023