In addition to meeting a various legal requirements, the Council has adopted several important policies to help guide and define its approach to conservation and management of fisheries; Ecosystem Policy, EFH Consultation Policy, Groundfish Fisheries Management, Groundfish Management Objectives, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, Spatial Management, and Enforcement Priorities.
In February 2014, the Council adopted an Ecosystem Policy that shall be given effect through all of the Council’s work, including long‐term planning initiatives, fishery management actions, and science planning to support ecosystem‐based fishery management. The Ecosystem Policy includes three parts: a value statement, the vision statement, and an implementation strategy.
Value Statement – The Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands are some of the most biologically productive and unique marine ecosystems in the world, supporting globally significant populations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish, and shellfish. This region produces over half the nation’s seafood and supports robust fishing communities, recreational fisheries, and a subsistence way of life. The Arctic ecosystem is a dynamic environment that is experiencing an unprecedented rate of loss of sea ice and other effects of climate change, resulting in elevated levels of risk and uncertainty. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has an important stewardship responsibility for these resources, their productivity, and their sustainability for future generations.
Vision Statement – The Council envisions sustainable fisheries that provide benefits for harvesters, processors, recreational and subsistence users, and fishing communities, which (1) are maintained by healthy, productive, biodiverse, resilient marine ecosystems that support a range of services; (2) support robust populations of marine species at all trophic levels, including marine mammals and seabirds; and (3) are managed using a precautionary, transparent, and inclusive process that allows for analyses of tradeoffs, accounts for changing conditions, and mitigates threats.
Implementation Strategy- The Council intends that fishery management explicitly take into account environmental variability and uncertainty, changes and trends in climate and oceanographic conditions, fluctuations in productivity for managed species and associated ecosystem components, such as habitats and non-managed species, and relationships between marine species. Implementation will be responsive to changes in the ecosystem, and our understanding of those dynamics, incorporate the best available science, including local and traditional knowledge, and engage scientists, managers, and the public.
Essential Fish Habitat Consultation Policy
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act includes provisions concerning the identification and conservation of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines EFH as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.”
Groundfish Fisheries Management Approach
The Council’s policy is to apply judicious and responsible fisheries management practices, based on sound scientific research and analysis, proactively rather than reactively, to ensure the sustainability of fishery resources and associated ecosystems for the benefit of future, as well as current generations.
The productivity of the North Pacific ecosystem is acknowledged to be among the highest in the world. For the past 25 years, the Council management approach has incorporated forward looking conservation measures that address differing levels of uncertainty. This management approach has in recent years been labeled the precautionary approach. Recognizing that potential changes in productivity may be caused by fluctuations in natural oceanographic conditions, fisheries, and other, non-fishing activities, the Council intends to continue to take appropriate measures to insure the continued sustainability of the managed species. It will carry out this objective by considering reasonable, adaptive management measures, as described in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and in conformance with the National Standards, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other applicable law. This management approach takes into account the National Academy of Science’s recommendations on Sustainable Fisheries Policy.
As part of its policy, the Council intends to consider and adopt, as appropriate, measures that accelerate the Council’s precautionary, adaptive management approach through community-based or rights-based management, ecosystem-based management principles that protect managed species from overfishing, and where appropriate and practicable, increase habitat protection and bycatch constraints. All management measures will be based on the best scientific information available. Given this intent, the fishery management goal is to provide sound conservation of the living marine resources; provide socially and economically viable fisheries for the well-being of fishing communities; minimize human-caused threats to protected species; maintain a healthy marine resource habitat; and incorporate ecosystem-based considerations into management decisions.
This management approach recognizes the need to balance many competing uses of marine resources and different social and economic goals for sustainable fishery management, including protection of the long-term health of the resource and the optimization of yield. This policy will use and improve upon the Council’s existing open and transparent process of public involvement in decision-making.
Groundfish Management Objectives
The Council notes that adaptive management requires regular and periodic review. The Council reviews its objectives annually in order to modify, eliminate, or consider new issues, as appropriate, to best carry out the goals and objectives of this management policy. The Policy was originally established through the Alaska Groundfish Fisheries Programmatic Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (2004).
To help focus management actions on fulfillment of the Policy, the Council and NMFS use Policy objectives as guideposts, to be considered, as amendments to the FMP are developed over the life of the PSEIS. The objectives include: prevent overfishing, promote sustainable fisheries and communities, preserve the food web, manage incidental catch and reduce bycatch and waste, avoid impacts to seabirds and marine mammals, reduce and avoid impacts to habitat, promote equitable and efficient use of fishery resources, increase Alaska Native consultation, and improve data quality, monitoring and enforcement.
- Adopt conservative harvest levels for multi-species and single species fisheries and specify optimum yield.
- Continue to use the 2 million mt optimum yield cap for the BSAI groundfish fisheries.
- Provide for adaptive management by continuing to specify optimum yield as a range.
- Provide for periodic reviews of the adequacy of F40 and adopt improvements, as appropriate.
- Continue to improve the management of species through species categories.
Promote Sustainable Fisheries and Communities:
- Promote conservation while providing for optimum yield in terms of the greatest overall benefit to the nation with particular reference to food production, and sustainable opportunities for recreational, subsistence, and commercial fishing participants and fishing communities.
- Promote management measures that, while meeting conservation objectives, are also designed to avoid significant disruption of existing social and economic structures.
- Promote fair and equitable allocation of identified available resources in a manner such that no particular sector, group or entity acquires an excessive share of the privileges.
- Promote increased safety at sea.
Preserve Food Web:
- Develop indices of ecosystem health as targets for management.
- Improve the procedure to adjust acceptable biological catch levels as necessary to account for uncertainty and ecosystem factors.
- Continue to protect the integrity of the food web through limits on harvest of forage species.
- Incorporate ecosystem-based considerations into fishery management decisions, as appropriate.
Manage Incidental Catch and Reduce Bycatch and Waste:
- Continue and improve current incidental catch and bycatch management program.
- Develop incentive programs for bycatch reduction including the development of mechanisms to facilitate the formation of bycatch pools, vessel bycatch allowances, or other bycatch incentive systems.
- Encourage research programs to evaluate current population estimates for non-target species with a view to setting appropriate bycatch limits, as information becomes available.
- Continue program to reduce discards by developing management measures that encourage the use of gear and fishing techniques that reduce bycatch which includes economic discards.
- Continue to manage incidental catch and bycatch through seasonal distribution of total allowable catch and geographical gear restrictions.
- Continue to account for bycatch mortality in total allowable catch accounting and improve the accuracy of mortality assessments for target, prohibited species catch, and noncommercial species.
- Control the bycatch of prohibited species through prohibited species catch limits or other appropriate measures.Reduce waste to biologically and socially acceptable levels.
- Continue to improve the retention of groundfish where practicable, through establishment of minimum groundfish retention standards.
Avoid Impacts to Seabirds and Marine Mammals:
- Continue to cooperate with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect ESA-listed species, and if appropriate and practicable, other seabird species.
- Maintain or adjust current protection measures as appropriate to avoid jeopardy of extinction or adverse modification to critical habitat for ESA-listed Steller sea lions.
- Encourage programs to review status of endangered or threatened marine mammal stocks and fishing interactions and develop fishery management measures as appropriate.Continue to cooperate with NMFS and USFWS to protect ESA-listed marine mammal species, and if appropriate and practicable, other marine mammal species.
Reduce and Avoid Impacts to Habitat:
- Review and evaluate efficacy of existing habitat protection measures for managed species.
- Identify and designate essential fish habitat and habitat areas of particular concern pursuant to Magnuson-Stevens Act rules, and mitigate fishery impacts as necessary and practicable to continue the sustainability of managed species.
- Develop a Marine Protected Area policy in coordination with national and state policies.
- Encourage development of a research program to identify regional baseline habitat information and mapping, subject to funding and staff availability.
- Develop goals, objectives and criteria to evaluate the efficacy and suitable design of marine protected areas and no-take marine reserves as tools to maintain abundance, diversity, and productivity. Implement marine protected areas if and where appropriate.
Promote Equitable and Efficient Use of Fishery Resources:
- Provide economic and community stability to harvesting and processing sectors through fair allocation of fishery resources.
- Maintain the license limitation program, modified as necessary, and further decrease excess fishing capacity and overcapitalization by eliminating latent licenses and extending programs such as community or rights-based management to some or all groundfish fisheries.
- Provide for adaptive management by periodically evaluating the effectiveness of rationalization programs and the allocation of access rights based on performance.
- Develop management measures that, when practicable, consider the efficient use of fishery resources taking into account the interest of harvesters, processors, and communities.
Increase Alaska Native Consultation:
- Continue to incorporate local and traditional knowledge in fishery management.
- Consider ways to enhance collection of local and traditional knowledge from communities, and incorporate such knowledge in fishery management where appropriate.
- Increase Alaska Native participation and consultation in fishery management.
Improve Data Quality, Monitoring and Enforcement:
- Increase the utility of groundfish fishery observer data for the conservation and management of living marine resources.
- Develop funding mechanisms that achieve equitable costs to the industry for implementation of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program.
- Improve community and regional economic impact costs and benefits through increased data reporting requirements.
- Increase the quality of monitoring and enforcement data through improved technology.
- Encourage a coordinated, long-term ecosystem monitoring program to collect baseline information and compile existing information from a variety of ongoing research initiatives, subject to funding and staff availability.
- Cooperate with research institutions such as the North Pacific Research Board in identifying research needs to address pressing fishery issues.
- Promote enhanced enforceability.
- Continue to cooperate and coordinate management and enforcement programs with the Alaska Board of Fish, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, NMFS Enforcement, International Pacific Halibut Commission, Federal agencies, and other organizations to meet conservation requirements; promote economically healthy and sustainable fisheries and fishing communities; and maximize efficiencies in management and enforcement programs through continued consultation, coordination, and cooperation.
Habitat Areas of Particular Concern
The Council has a standardized policy for considering habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC). Every 5 years, in concert with the EFH review, the Council may call for HAPC nominations through a proposal process that focuses on specific sites consistent with the HAPC priorities designated by the Council. The Council may designate HAPCs as habitat sites and consider management measures, if needed, to be applied to a habitat feature or features in a specific geographic location.
The feature(s), as identified on a map or chart, must meet the considerations established in the Federal regulations, and address identified problems for an FMP species. Proposals must provide clear, specific, and adaptive management objectives. Evaluation and development of HAPC management measures, where appropriate, will be guided by the EFH Final Rule.
A. HAPC Considerations
HAPCs are those areas of special importance that may require additional protection from adverse effects. 50 CFR 600.815(a)(8) provides that FMPs should identify specific types or areas of habitat within EFH as habitat areas of particular concern based on one or more of the following considerations:
- The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat;
- The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation;
- Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type;
- The rarity of the habitat type.
The Council will consider HAPCs that meet at least two of the four considerations above; rarity is a mandatory criterion of all HAPC proposals.
B. HAPC Priorities
The Council sets priorities at the onset of each HAPC proposal cycle.
C. HAPC Proposal Cycle
The HAPC cycle is considered by the Council on a five-year cycle, to coincide with the EFH 5 Year Review. Additionally, the Council can initiate the HAPC process at any time if a specific need arises.
D. HAPC Process
The HAPC process initiates when the Council sets priorities. A subsequent request, or call, for HAPC proposals is issued. Any member of the public may submit a HAPC proposal. Potential contributors may include fishery management agencies, other government agencies, scientific and educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, communities, and industry groups. A step-by-step outline is attached (Figure 2).
E. HAPC Call for Proposals
A call for proposals is announced during a Council meeting, published in the Federal Register, and advertised in the Council newsletter and other media such as the Council’s website. Scientific and technical information on habitat distributions, gear effects, fishery distributions, and economic data are accessible to the public. For example, NMFS’ Alaska Region website http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/ has a number of valuable tools for assessing habitat distributions, understanding ecological importance, and assessing impacts. Information on EFH distribution, living substrate distribution, fishing effort, catch and bycatch data, gear effects, known or estimated recovery times of habitat types, prey species, and freshwater areas used by anadromous fish is provided in the EFH EIS (April 2005). The public will be advised of the rating criteria with the call for proposals (Section III.E).
A full description of the HAPC process is found here.
In October 2013, the Council adopted a policy that established a process for determining spatial management (i.e., subarea allocations of annual harvest specifications (OFL, ABC, and/or TAC)) of stocks and stock assemblages for groundfish, crabs and scallops.
- As soon as preliminary scientific information indicates that further stock structure separation or other spatial management measures may be considered, the stock assessment authors, plan teams (groundfish, crab, scallop), and SSC should advise the Council of their findings and any associated conservation concerns.
- With input from the agency, the public, and its advisory bodies, the Council (and NMFS) should identify the economic, social, and management implications and potential options for management response to these findings and identify the suite of tools that could be used to achieve conservation and management goals. In the case of crab and scallop management, ADF&G needs to be part of this process.
- To the extent practicable, further refinement of stock structure or other spatial conservation concerns and potential management responses should be discussed through the process described in recommendations 1 and 2 above.
- Based on the best information available provided through this process, the SSC should continue to recommend OFLs and ABCs that prevent overfishing of stocks.
Statement of Organization, Practices, and Procedures (SOPP)
Section 302(f)(6) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that each regional fishery management council prepare and publish a Statement of Organization, Practices, and Procedures (SOPP). The NPFMC SOPP can be downloaded here.