The Council reviewed a discussion paper, requested in December 2020, to examine management tools that the Council may consider to limit or prevent overages of trawl sablefish area- and sector-specific allocations. The Council initiated the discussion paper in response to public comment and a letter submitted to the Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries in October 2020 that identified a number of complaints about the trawl sector exceeding its sablefish allocation. The paper reviewed a number of potential management measures identified by the Council and provided context for sablefish ACLs and how they are managed, and sablefish catch in the trawl fisheries. After review, the Council passed a motion to take no further action, but did note during staff tasking that they are interested in hearing from the trawl sector about plans to avoid sablefish in the future.
A single sablefish stock occupies the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska. As appropriate for a single stock, a single Overfishing Level (OFL) is established for sablefish, statewide. Current model predictions indicate that this stock is not subject to overfishing, not overfished, and not approaching an overfished condition. Acceptable Biological Catches (ABCs) for sablefish are specified by management area, and have been reduced from the maximum permissible ABC for the last several years. Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) are set well below biomass estimates, and Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are set well below ABC.
Recent large year classes have resulted in large numbers of juvenile sablefish that appear to be ubiquitous on the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska grounds. The large year classes have made it difficult for directed longline fisheries and trawl fisheries to avoid small sablefish. As a result, trawl fisheries have exceeded several area-based sablefish allocations in recent years. The potential management measures reviewed in the discussion paper were considered to limit or prevent overages in the trawl fisheries. Preliminary review of the proposed management measures did not indicate that any of the proposed measures would have an appreciable effect on the catch of sablefish in the trawl fisheries. Trawl fisheries operate under a number of Prohibited Species Catch limits that are monitored closely by the cooperatives. Sectors have developed methods to track rates of bycatch for multiple species, including Chinook and chum salmon, herring, halibut, and sablefish. The Council encouraged the cooperatives to develop non-regulatory actions to reduce sablefish encounters in years of high abundance.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean.