The Council reviewed a discussion paper evaluating the appropriate level of conservation and management required for sculpins in the BSAI and GOA consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and National Standard guidelines. After review and public testimony, the Council initiated an analysis to designate sculpins in the BSAI and GOA as non-target ecosystem component species. The Council approved a motion adopting a purpose and need statement and identifying alternatives to consider the appropriate conservation and management status for sculpins in the BSAI and GOA. Alternatives include the Status Quo Alternative, and the Action Alternative, to designate sculpins in the BSAI and GOA as non-target ecosystem component species. The Action Alternative would require regulations to prohibit directed fishing for sculpins, establish a Maximum Retainable Amount (MRA) for sculpins (Options 2%, 10%, 20%), and require recordkeeping and reporting to monitor catch and discards of sculpin species. The motion also encouraged the Alaska Fisheries Science Center to continue to explore methods to estimate sculpin abundance and assess the sculpin stocks.
Sculpins are currently taken only as bycatch in fisheries directed at other target species in the BSAI and GOA. Since 2011 the sculpin complex total catch (retained and discarded) has ranged from 2-6% of the total estimated biomass in the BSAI and GOA. The MSA provides definitions for “conservation and management” and NMFS has recently published guidelines to aid Councils as they consider whether a stock requires conservation and management. Target stocks are those that fishermen seek to catch for sale or personal use, including fish discarded for economic or regulatory reasons. Non-target stocks are fish caught incidentally during the pursuit of target stocks. Non-target stocks may require conservation and management, in which case they are included in a FMP, or may not require conservation and management, in which case they may be considered an Ecosystem Component (EC) species.
If sculpins were to be moved to the non-target category and conservation and management were considered necessary, TAC would no longer be required but OFL and ABC would still be required. If sculpins were moved to the non-target EC category, conservation and management would not be necessary and OFL, ABC, and TAC would no longer be required. In either case, regulations would have to be revised to prohibit directed fishing for sculpins.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will take the lead in developing the appropriate analysis. Council staff contact is Steve MacLean.