- First Virtual Council Meeting
The Council held its first virtual meeting May 15, 2020. Council members called in via telephone in order to participate, and staff presentations were available online through the Adobeconnect meeting platform and accessible through links on the Council’s website. Attendees could listen in as they would during a regular Council meeting – either through their computer or through the Adobeconnect app on a phone. As always, all meeting materials were posted through links on the Council’s eAgenda.
Motions were posted in real time on Adobeconnect, and also posted on the Council’s eAgenda while the Council deliberated. All public comment for this meeting was submitted beforehand through the Council’s online commenting portal on the eAgenda.
The Council will also hold its June meeting virtually through Adobeconnect, with the added component of the public able to provide public comment over the phone during the meeting. The intent is also to use webcameras for Council members and presenters during discussion and deliberation. The SSC and the AP will also be using the same platform and format. The meeting link will be the same throughout all of the June meetings: https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/june2020. Detailed instructions for the public for joining and how to give public comment will be posted on the Council’s eAgenda and website. Staff contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- IFQ Transfer Provisions
The Council considered a NMFS analysis of three proposed options to modify IFQ Program temporary transfer provisions. The first two options would have altered the application of the existing medical transfer provision. The third option – selected by the Council – is a recommendation for an emergency action to allow the temporary transfer of IFQ for all quota share holders for the remainder of the 2020 fishing season. The recommended action would not modify other aspects of the IFQ Program such as area designation, vessel size designation, use (ownership) caps, and vessel caps.
The Council recognized that travel restrictions, health mandates, and other logistical and operational challenges posed by the ongoing public health emergency present management problems for the IFQ fisheries. The Council concluded that increased flexibility to temporarily transfer IFQ pounds would reduce the amount of anticipated forgone harvest and would accommodate the wide variety of operational plans that IFQ owners and vessel operators use to harvest halibut and sablefish. The Council further noted that existing hired master provisions and medical transfer provisions leave out a portion of IFQ holders who might be affected by the challenges of actively prosecuting the 2020 fishery. The Council’s recommendation also considers potential risks to individuals who are involved in the fishery but are not quota share holders. As a result, the Council chose the broadest temporary transfer provision in order to mitigate economic, social, and public health concerns. The broad temporary transfer option was also the least administratively burdensome for NMFS to implement as an emergency rule.
Staff contact is Sam Cunningham.
- Charter Halibut Management Emergency Action
At the May Special Council meeting the Council took action to recommend less restrictive charter halibut management measures for International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) Regulatory Area 2C and 3A for the remainder of the 2020 fishing season. The Council requests that the IPHC call an intersessional meeting to consider this recommended change for emergency action.
This decision was in response to a proposal received from Area 2C and 3A charter representatives related to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the charter halibut fishery. Within the proposal, charter representatives submitted two requests. The first request was to relax the established Area 2C and 3A charter halibut management measures (e.g. bag limits and size restrictions) for 2020. Significant charter cancellations and a large reduction in angler interest is likely to result in lower than expected levels of charter fishing effort than analysis suggested in December of 2019. Relaxing management measures are expected to provide some additional market opportunity for this struggling sector while still keeping each Regulatory Area under its allocation as established by the Catch Sharing Plan.
The Council recommended the following changes for Regulatory Area 2C and Area 3A for the remainder of the 2020 season:
Current management measures in 2020 Recommended management measures for the remainder of 2020 Area 2C One-fish daily bag limit with a reverse slot limit; halibut that is 40 inches or less or 80 inches or more (U40/O80) One-fish daily bag limit with a reverse slot limit; halibut that is either 45 inches or less or 80 inches or more (U45/O80) Area 3A A two-fish bag limit, one fish of any size, and one fish with a 26-inch size limit
- An annual limit of four fish
- Prohibition on halibut retention by charter vessel anglers on all Tuesdays and all Wednesdays
- One trip per vessel and per CHP each day
A two-fish bag limit, one fish of any size, and one fish with a 32-inch size limit
- No annual limit
- No day of the week closures
- One trip per vessel and per CHP each day
These measures were chosen based on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s analysis which demonstrated different levels of reduced effort necessary to keep the charter sector under their catch limits for 2020. For Area 2C, a reverse slot limit with an upper limit of 80 inches and a lower limit of 45 inches is expected to be a conservative approach to relaxing charter management measures. Given the vast majority of the 2C charter anglers are non-Alaskan residents, many of whom arrive in Alaska via cruise ship, it is expected that cancellation of cruise ships, travel restrictions and general aversion to travel will significantly reduce fishing effort in this area, likely beyond this magnitude. The Council’s recommended changes for Area 3A address the need to decrease the uncertainty in removals that would result from allowing 2-fish of any size and increase the likelihood of remaining within the Area 3A allocation, while also accounting for the expectation of reduced charter fishing effort.
The Council did not choose to link the change in management measures to State of Alaska mandated travel restrictions as was proposed by the charter representatives. While these travel restrictions will likely have an impact on the tourism economy in Alaska, including the charter halibut sector, other factors such as cruise ship cancellations and widespread concerns about public health will likely continue to limit travel into the summer of 2020. Moreover, it may be operationally difficult to link these management processes, particularly if mandates are modified rather than removed or if they are removed and reinstated throughout the year. Management measures that switch multiple times in the season may be difficult to enforce and increase the likelihood of non-compliance.
The charter representatives’ second request was for a rollover of unused charter allocation from 2020 to 2021 in regulatory Area 2C and 3A. The Council is not recommending a rollover of unused 2020 charter allocation at this time. This issue may be reconsidered depending on the extend of charter allocation that remains unfished in 2020. However, the IPHC Secretariat’s comments made clear that this is an allocative issue by nature as projected harvests that are not completely taken in 2020 will be factored into the stock assessment and population dynamics in the subsequent year.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
- IFQ Vessel Caps
The Council passed a motion requesting that the Secretary promulgate emergency regulations to remove vessel use cap regulations for IFQ halibut harvested in IPHC regulatory Areas 4B, 4C, and 4D for the remainder of the 2020 IFQ fishing season. This action does not modify other aspects of the IFQ Program. The Council determined that due to health concerns and logistical challenges associated with the global pandemic, vessel capacity is uncertain in IPHC regulatory Areas 4B, 4C and 4D and this action will reduce the risk that a portion of the harvest is foregone due to limited vessel capacity. This request for emergency regulations does not extend to vessel caps in other IPHC Areas or the sablefish fishery as requested in one of the stakeholder letters received by the Council. The Council determined that current circumstances do not meet emergency criteria in sablefish or halibut outside of Areas 4B, 4C and 4D because fewer vessels have operated at or near vessel caps in these areas in previous years. Additionally, substantial public comment against waiving vessel caps in sablefish and other halibut Areas, suggested that any action in these areas would benefit from the advance notice, public comment and deliberative consideration of impacts to participants, as afforded under the normal rulemaking process. The Council was clear that it strongly supports vessel caps in the IFQ Program and this emergency request represents a rare circumstance that does not indicate support to consider changing vessel caps in the future.
Staff contact is Anna Henry.
- IFQ Rollover Increase & Season Extension
The Council considered two emergency IFQ fishery modifications that would have (1) temporarily increased the 10% cap on the year-to-year rollover of uncaught IFQ pounds, and (2) extended the IFQ Program to a “year-round” fishery. The Council chose not to take action on either proposal at this time. The Council indicated that it does not plan to revisit the proposals unless the issue is brought back to the Council by stakeholders as the 2020 fishery and the effects of the pandemic unfold.
In both cases, the Council reviewed 2020 harvest rates to-date and determined that modifying the IFQ season at this point would be premature. The Council also noted that mechanisms to account for unharvested 2020 IFQ pounds in future catch limits exist in both the stock assessment and the harvest specifications processes.
Staff contacts are Sam Cunningham and Sarah Marrinan.