Election | BSAI Crab | Observer Issues | Groundfish Proposed Harvest Specs | Chum Salmon Bycatch | Crab Facility Use Caps | BS LKTKS Protocol and Onramps | BSAI Crab Program Review | IFQ Program Review | Staff Tasking | Upcoming Meetings
Election of Officers and New Members
The Council elected Angel Drobnica as the new Chair and re-elected Bill Tweit as vice-chair. Ms. Drobnica is Director of Fisheries and Government Affairs for the Aleutian-Pribilof Island Community Development Association and Mr. Tweit is the representative from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Ruichi “Rudy” Tsukada was sworn in at this meeting as a new Council member, along with Kenny Down, who will be serving his third term on the Council. Mr. Tsukada is Chief Operating Officer for Coastal Villages Region Fund, a CDQ group serving western Alaska. Mr. Down is owner of Seaquest Venture of Seattle.
The Council specified overfishing limits (OFLs) and allowable biological catch amounts (ABCs) for Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) snow crab, Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC), EBS Tanner Crab, and Pribilof Island blue king crab (PIBKC), and accepted final BSAI Crab Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report chapters. The Council also supported BSAI Crab Plan Team development of risk tables for crab stocks, as appropriate, in line with the recommendations from the SSC Risk Table Report from 2021.
For EBS snow crab, the Council adopted an OFL of 15.44 kt and ABC of 7.72 kt for the 2023/24 fishing year. For BBRKC, the Council adopted an OFL of 4.42 kt and an ABC of 3.54 kt. For EBS Tanner Crab, the Council adopted an OFL of 36.20 kt and an ABC of 28.96kt. PIBKC is managed on a biennial basis. For PIBKC, the Council adopted an OFL of 1.16 t and ABC of 0.87 t for 2023/24, and 2025/26. The final 2023 SAFE report indicates that Aleutian Islands golden king crab, Pribilof Islands red king crab, Norton Sound red king crab, and EBS Tanner crab stocks are all above BMSY, while BBRKC and EBS snow crab stocks are below BMSY but above ½ BMSY. Pribilof Islands blue king crab and St Matthew blue king crab stocks are below ½ BMSY, therefore overfished. EBS snow crab, St. Matthew blue king crab and Pribilof Islands blue king crab stocks are all under rebuilding plans, and will remain in rebuilding until the mature male biomass (MMB) reaches BMSY.
The Council also reviewed model scenarios for Norton Sound red king crab, and several other topics from the September 2023 BSAI Crab Plan Team Report.
Staff contact for BSAI Crab is Sarah Rheinsmith.
The Council reviewed the Draft 2024 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP) for the partial coverage category of the North Pacific Observer Program, along with the cost efficiencies analysis, and provided recommendations to NMFS for the Final 2024 ADP. The Council also received a report from its Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC).
Recall that NMFS outlined a plan in April 2021 at the Partial Coverage Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (PCFMAC) to complete a comprehensive analysis of the Council’s cost efficiency priorities in the partial coverage observer category. This analysis was conducted in 2022 and 2023, reviewed in 2023, and is incorporated into the draft 2024 ADP. The goal of this analytical work is to develop a scientifically robust sampling plan that will enable collection of the most and best data for a given (and variable) budget, while incorporating implementation of pelagic trawl EM and accounting for moving all Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) cod trawl catcher vessels into 100% coverage under the new LAPP program in 2024.
The analysis evaluated a suite of monitoring deployment designs to achieve the Council’s goal of spending observer fee revenues (fixed as a percentage of ex-vessel revenue) more efficiently, such that greater coverage and/or improved data are achieved using both observers and electronic monitoring (EM). The monitoring program also needs to meet data needs of data users with a wide range of analytic objectives (including biological samples, monitoring of seabird and marine mammal interactions), and collect data that reflects the full range of fishing activities in the North Pacific. Frequent presentation of analytical progress on this work to the PCFMAC has helped identify trade-offs between different monitoring deployment designs. Council recommendations on one sampling design will be incorporated into the final 2024 ADP. The recommendations include a combination of stratification (how trips are grouped together by gear type or area) and allocation (how sampling is done within those groups under a fixed annual budget) elements.
The Council supported NMFS’ recommendations for deploying observers and electronic monitoring (EM) on vessels in the partial coverage groundfish and halibut fisheries in 2024, described in detail in the draft 2024 ADP. Specifically, the Council recommended:
- Using a combined fixed gear-FMP stratification scheme which would group fishing trips based on the following:
- Gear: Hook-and-line/pot gear (combined); trawl gear
- Monitoring method: Observer; fixed gear electronic monitoring (EM); pelagic trawl gear EM
- FMP: BSAI; GOA
- Using the proximity allocation scheme, with the exception of the pelagic trawl EM EFP.
- 100% EM on pelagic trawl vessels participating in the EFP, plus 33% observer shoreside sampling rate for partial coverage EM EFP trips.
- Removing fixed-gear vessels which have not fished nor used their EM systems for 3 or more years from the EM stratum. Place such vessels under 50 feet into the zero-selection pool and larger vessels into the observer-selection pool.
Additionally, the Council requested NMFS re-evaluate the cost estimates for both fixed gear and trawl EM without including the cost of initially purchasing the EM hardware for both fixed and trawl gear, clearly separating ongoing costs from start-up costs. The Council supports additional fixed gear EM vessels added to the EM pool in 2024 (up to 200 total vessels) provided they opt-in prior to November 1, 2023, funding is available, and they meet the criteria in the ADP. Observer coverage rates resulting from this approach and the final budget will be available in the final 2024 ADP in December. The Council’s motion also included recommendations for future work for the 2025 ADP.
The Council also encouraged submission of an industry cooperative research grant proposal and encouraged NMFS to provide data to support the project. This project envisions a group of partial coverage fixed gear vessels that continue to be selected for coverage through ODDS but procure observers through a private contract with an observer provider.
Lastly, the Council will provide written support for the proposals (on p. 6 of the September 2023 PCFMAC report) submitted to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) under the 2024 Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grant Program.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver
Groundfish Proposed Harvest Specifications
Under this agenda item, the Council received reports from the recent Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Plan Team meetings and recommended 2024 and 2025 BSAI and GOA groundfish harvest specifications and prohibited species catch (PSC) limit apportionments for proposed rulemaking. Additionally, the Council concurred with separating management of GOA Demersal Shelf Rockfish (DSR) and Other rockfish complexes beginning in 2025.
The SSC was presented with the reports from the Groundfish Plan Teams that summarized the issues discussed and actions taken by the Plan Teams at their September meetings. Under their C1 Crab Specifications agenda item, the SSC received a preview of ecosystem status reports (ESRs) reporting that given data so far, there are no specific red flags or ecosystem areas of concern to highlight with respect to the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska. Full presentations of these reports will be provided to the Council in December.
The Council received condensed presentations of the Groundfish Plan Team reports that focused on issues most relevant to proposed specifications, including preliminary survey results and proposed modeling updates for stocks in December. Updated groundfish stock assessments will be reviewed by the Plan Teams at the upcoming meetings November 13-17 at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle WA and the Council will receive full reports at its December meeting prior to recommending final BSAI and GOA groundfish harvest specifications for 2024 and 2025.
For proposed rulemaking for the 2024 and 2025 fishing years, the Council recommended OFLs and ABCs, consistent with SSC recommendations, and TACs, based on a rollover of the existing 2024 specifications for all BSAI groundfish stocks. The Council also recommended PSC limit apportionments for halibut, crab, and herring, and halibut Discard Mortality Rates (DMRs) for 2024 and 2025. Full details are included in the Council motion for proposed BSAI groundfish harvest specifications.
The Council received a letter from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) indicating that the combined, post-season sum of the run sizes from the rivers comprising the three-river index (Upper Yukon, Unalakleet, and Kuskokwim Rivers) of Chinook salmon is 148,443 and is below the threshold level of 250,000. Therefore, the performance standard for the Bering Sea pollock fishery will remain at 33,318 Chinook salmon, and the PSC limit will remain at 45,000, as identified in 50 CFR 679.21.
Highlights from the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team report included preliminary results from the Eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, proposed changes and modeling considerations for several of the stock assessments planned for review in November, and a notification of planned BSAI survey modernization workshops beginning later in October 2023, to involve interested stakeholders.
Staff contact for the BSAI Groundfish Plan Team is Diana Stram.
For proposed rulemaking for the 2024 and 2025 fishing years, the Council recommended OFLs and ABCs, consistent with SSC recommendations, and TACs, based on rollover of the existing 2024 specifications for all GOA groundfish stocks. The Council also recommended GOA halibut PSC limit apportionments and adopted updated halibut DMRs for 2024 and 2025; full details are included in the Council motion for proposed GOA groundfish harvest specifications.
Highlights from the GOA Groundfish Plan Team Report included preliminary results from surveys conducted this year in the Gulf and proposed changes and modeling considerations for several of this year’s planned stock assessments. As part of the GOA Plan Team report, the Council received a short presentation in response to a Council motion from last October regarding DSR spatial management (a short staff paper is posted to the eAgenda on this action). The Council’s motion coming out of the October 2023 meeting recommended moving the seven demersal shelf rockfish (DSR) species which currently occur in the ‘other rockfish’ complex into a separate DSR complex for the Western GOA/Central GOA/West Yakutat areas during the 2024 Plan Team cycle for implementation in the 2025 fisheries.
Staff contact for the GOA Groundfish Plan Team is Sara Cleaver.
Chum Salmon Bycatch
The Council approved for analysis additional management measures to minimize chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery to the extent practicable (National Standard 9). The Council is considering actions to minimize chum bycatch because chum salmon returns to Western and Interior Alaska rivers and subsistence fisheries have declined substantially in recent years, negatively impacting the subsistence way of life for many communities and Tribal members across Western Alaska. Approximately 99% of the chum salmon encountered as bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery are encountered by this fishery.
Scientific reports indicate recent declines in chum salmon populations across many regions of the North Pacific appear to be driven by warmer water temperatures in both the marine and freshwater environments, which impact juvenile survival, prey availability and quality, metabolism and growth rates, and reproductive rates. The majority of the chum salmon encountered by the Bering Sea pollock fishery are of Russia and Asia origin and are predominantly hatchery released fish. However, the pollock fishery also encounters chum salmon originating from Western Alaska river systems, and the Council is focused on minimizing the bycatch of Western Alaska origin chum salmon (a genetic group that extends from Norton Sound to Bristol Bay). Any additional chum salmon returning to Alaska river systems improves the ability to meet the State of Alaska’s spawning escapement goals which is necessary for the long-term sustainability of chum salmon fisheries.
In April 2023, the Council adopted a purpose and need statement for the action as well as a set of preliminary alternatives to be analyzed for their relative feasibility. The set of preliminary alternatives were based on concepts for management measures put forward from the Council’s Salmon Bycatch Committee composed of representatives of the pollock industry and Tribal and in-river salmon users. At this October meeting, analytical staff presented the Preliminary Review Analysis which outlined several decision points for the Council’s consideration to finalize a reasonable range of alternatives for impact analysis. The Council also received reports from the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Advisory Panel, as well as extensive public comments on the importance of chum salmon for the subsistence way of life including its cultural and spiritual importance for communities and Tribal members. Public comments also described the importance of the pollock fishery to coastal Western Alaska communities that receive economic and social benefits from processing pollock or through their participation in the Community Development Quota Program. Representatives of the pollock industry described recent and ongoing efforts to avoid Western Alaskan chum salmon while fishing for pollock.
At its October meeting, the Council approved analyzing changes to chum salmon bycatch management measures after reviewing the Preliminary Review Analysis. The next step will be an impact analysis of the potential environmental, social and cultural, and economic impacts of the proposed management measures relative to the status quo. The Council analysis will evaluate the following management measures to change the status quo:
- Alternative 2: a bycatch cap on the total number of chum salmon taken in the pollock fishery. The potential caps range from 200,000 to 550,000 total chum salmon.
- Using annual run strength indicators from the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and Norton Sound region to trigger various bycatch cap levels.
- Alternative 3: an annual cap on Western Alaska origin chum salmon bycatch ranging from 40,000 to 53,000 Western Alaska chum salmon.
- Alternative 3 would need to be implemented in conjunction with Alternative 2 because real-time, in-season genetic information is not available.
- Alternative 4: additional regulatory requirements and management measures for the pollock fleet to avoid chum salmon bycatch by closing areas in near real-time throughout the season in response to when chum are on the pollock fishing grounds.
The Council can select multiple alternatives and the full description of the alternatives and options is available here. The first review of the impact analysis is scheduled to occur by mid-2024. The Council heard concerns from the public about when and where to schedule initial review of the impact analysis, and will further consider options before finalizing the schedule. None of the options that the Council is considering for when to review the analysis will delay implementation of any management measures resulting from this action.
Staff contact is Kate Haapala.
Crab Facility Use Caps
The Council identified a preliminary preferred alternative for regulatory changes to two types of processor use caps that apply within the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization (CR) Program. With these alternatives identified, the analysis will be moved forward and considered for final action in December.
The first proposed action (Alternative 2) would remove a 60 percent facility use cap that exists on the processing of Eastern Aleutian Islands golden king crab and Western Aleutian Islands red king crab east of 174° W longitude.
The second proposed action (Alternative 3) would include IPQ from the Bristol Bay red king crab, south- region designated Bering Sea snow crab, and Western Aleutian Islands golden king crab processed east of 174° W longitude from counting to Processor Quota Share (PQS)/ IPQ use caps if it is custom processed at a plant that the IPQ holder is not affiliated with. In all other CR Program fisheries, if IPQ is custom processed at a shorebased or stationary floating processor that is located within community boundaries, it is not counted towards the use cap for the owner of that processing facility. Therefore, the proposed Alternative 3 would align the application of the PQS/ IPQ use caps across all CR Program fisheries.
Both proposed actions could permit the redistribution of crab processing by existing crab processing facilities or allow for consolidation of IPQ into a smaller number of facilities for specific fisheries. However, regional delivery requirements would not be changed under the proposed action nor would the 30 percent cap on the amount of PQS and IPQ that could be held or leased. The proposed actions could increase crab processing flexibility and efficiency in the identified CR Program fisheries by permitting IPQ holders to more efficiently utilize available facilities. This flexibility could limit operational disruptions in the case of recent and possible future low crab catch limits and may provide unaffiliated IPQ holders (i.e., IPQ holders with less than 10 percent common ownership in another crab processing facility) and crab harvesters that have share-matched with these IPQ holders more processing market opportunities if there continues to be the same number or more processing facilities available.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
Bering Sea Local Knowledge/ Traditional Knowledge/ Subsistence Protocol and Onramps
The Council adopted a Local Knowledge (LK), Traditional Knowledge (TK), and Subsistence (LKTKS) protocol developed by its Bering Sea LKTKS Taskforce, and implemented work on several onramp recommendations. The LKTKS Taskforce is a nominated body composed of Local and Traditional Knowledge holders from across the Bering Sea region, social scientists, and agency staff. The protocol and onramps were developed through a multi-year, consensus-based process. The Taskforce co-Chairs’ presentation included an overview of the LKTKS Protocol and onramp recommendations, the feedback received from the extended public review period initiated by the Council in April 2023, and the edits to materials reflecting the Council’s input in April.
After receiving the Taskforce presentation, the Advisory Panel report, and public testimony, the Council adopted the LKTKS Protocol, approved an ‘LKTKS policy statement’ based on the Protocol’s guidelines, and implemented work on several onramp recommendations. The LKTKS Protocol provides guidance to inform the Council’s decision-making process for how to appropriately identify, analyze, and incorporate LK, TK, and subsistence information into the Council’s decision-making process. The onramp recommendations identify potential changes to the Council’s process to better incorporate these knowledge systems.
The Council’s full motion containing the approved the LKTKS policy statement can be found here. The onramp recommendations implemented by the Council will result in ongoing development of the LKTKS search engine; continued support for two-way dialogue and engagement between the Council and Tribes and communities as well as Tribal Consultations led by the National Marine Fisheries Service occurring early and often; new materials to support analytical staff; and changes to the Council’s public comment procedures to allow testifiers to provide introductions without it counting against their allowed time limit for oral public comments at the Council, Scientific and Statistical Committee, and Advisory Panel meetings.
Staff contact is Kate Haapala.
BSAI Crab Program Review
The Council approved a workplan for a review of the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization Program. Based on public feedback and recommendation from the Council and advisory bodies, the program review will have a slightly modified structure to what staff proposed, focusing around the “three-pie cooperative structure” that the program provisions were designed around, namely: harvesters, processors and communities.
Within this format, measures for the specific elements of the Purpose & Need of the Crab Rationalization Program will be incorporated, especially including performance of key community and sector protection measures. Additionally, the Council requested analysts cite and incorporate information from previous Social Impact Assessments as appropriate. The analysts were also asked to incorporate information on costs associated with the crab program, including costs incurred from EDR data compliance, annual IPQ/IFQ application and matching, custom processing due to unaffiliated PQS holdings, and arbitration.
To the extent practicable, the analysts will also incorporate other recommendations and areas of focus as highlighted in the SSC report and provided in public comment.
Staff contact is Sarah Marrinan.
IFQ Program Review
The Council approved the workplan for the IFQ Program Review and recommended the Review incorporate recommendations from the SSC and the IFQ Committee to the extent practicable. The Council specifically highlighted recommendations related to community level impacts, as many of the suggestions from the advisory bodies and written and public testimony focused on the discussion of the potential differential distribution of impacts among tribal, minority, low-income, and other communities of potential concern with respect to equity and environmental justice.
Additionally, the Council recommended the Program Review include description of actions to promote new entry and active participation that the Council has considered since the previous Program Review. Although these actions have not resulted in any regulatory amendments to the IFQ program, it is important to document the Council deliberations related to these issues. The Council also discussed the relative utility of the analyst’s proposed format of a shorter written document and a more substantial online appendix, and whether it may be more useful to have the complete report in one document, but did not make an official recommendation regarding format.
Staff contact is Anna Henry.
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:
- Requested staff write a letter of appreciation to the U.S. Coast Guard recognizing their prompt action to alert the fishing fleet about an urgent warning of navigational dangers advisory message, known as a HYDROPAC, which was released regarding Russian missile operations occurring in the Bering Sea in September.
- Endorsed development of a staff conceptual approach for use of IRA funding available to Councils, which prioritizes work on the Programmatic EIS initiated in June, as well as other projects such as evaluating the harvest control rule framework for climate responsiveness, as discussed by the SSC at their February 2023 workshop. Staff will bring back a workplan in December identifying the scope and timeline for what might be accomplished with the funding, and including a timeline and milestones for developing the Programmatic EIS.
- Requested that the NMFS discussion paper being prepared on maximum retainable amount (MRA) management also include potential regulatory changes to modify the trip triggers for calculating and determining MRA calculations, which may reduce regulatory discards.
- Requested a staff discussion paper to consider allowing sablefish A share IFQ holders to use flow or hopper scales when participating in the sablefish fishery. The Council is also interested in the agency exploring other mechanisms to make these types of reporting and recordkeeping regulatory changes.
- Following a report on the public pelagic trawl gear performance standard workshop, provided clarification to staff regarding the June 2023 motion that requested further explanation of why the trawl performance standard (TPS) is not enforceable. The requested review of TPS enforceability is to be focused on the BSAI FMP area. The Council anticipates that the February 2024 BBRKC analysis will provide an opportunity for the Council to discuss whether the performance standard meets Council objectives.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
The following upcoming Committee and Plan Team meetings are currently anticipated:
- Charter Halibut Management Committee – October 20, 2023, virtual; Dec 2023 (date TBD)
- BS FEP Climate Change Taskforce – Nov 1-2, 2023; Seattle, WA and virtual
- BSAI and GOA Groundfish Plan Teams – November 13-17, 2023; Seattle, WA and virtual
- Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Group (PNCIAC) – November 28, 2023; virtual
- BSAI Crab Plan Team – Jan 8-12, 2024; Anchorage, AK and virtual
- Ecosystem Committee (T) – Jan/Feb 2024 (TBD)
In addition, there will be a series of Plan Team discussions of research priorities between November and January, in order to provide input to the SSC in February 2024:
- Social Science Planning Team (research priorities) – Oct 18, 2023 (organizational; virtual) and Nov 3, 2023 (virtual)
- Scallop Plan Team (research priorities) – December 14, 2023; virtual
- BSAI Crab Plan Team (research priorities component) – initial Dec 1, 2023 (virtual); final Jan 10, 2024 (Anchorage, AK/virtual)
- Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Team (research priorities) – January 9, 2024; virtual
- SSC Subgroup for Research Priorities (will address all priorities not filtered through a Plan Team – e.g., habitat, bycatch, seabird/marine mammal interactions) – January 11, 2024; virtual
- Joint Groundfish Plan Teams (research priorities) – January 17, 2024; virtual
Finally, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center is hosting stakeholder workshops on efforts to modernize the BSAI trawl survey, beginning later in October 2023 . If you are interested in participating, NMFS requests you send an email to Nancy Roberson with your name, affiliation, and the project component you are interested in. Contact information for attending the survey workshops is contained in the BSAI plan team report posted to the Council’s eAgenda as well as the eAgenda for the September Plan Team meeting.