The Council reviewed a second discussion paper on allowing sablefish discarding in the directed Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) longline and pot fisheries, and tasked staff with continuing to explore issues related to sablefish discarding.
The sablefish discarding allowance was initially evaluated as a management response to the extremely large 2014 year class, but is now being considered for the longer-term. The April 2019 discussion paper explored nonspecific management concerns identified by the Council, including the ability to produce species- and gear-specific discard mortality rates; potential effect on spawning stock; variable discarding rules depending on stock abundance; likelihood of achieving TAC; effect of discards on whale depredation; gear modifications to avoid small sablefish; catch accounting; enforcement options. At the April meeting, the discussion paper was also presented to the Council’s IFQ and Enforcement Committees.
There is a broad set of options to consider in potentially modifying regulations to allow discarding in the IFQ sablefish fishery off Alaska. Some of these options require the initiation of significant data collection efforts and an investment of resources. Less resource-demanding operational solutions do exist, such as the discarding requirement in the IFQ halibut fishery, but these are associated with increased uncertainty and reliance on assumptions, and an appropriate level of precaution would need to be taken.
In reviewing the discussion paper, the Council was particularly interested in learning more about the potential for discarding to result in shifting harvest to more vulnerable portions of the stock biomass, such as the older, reproductively mature fish. Related to this is the potential for discarding to affect ABC and TAC and, therefore, create situations in which the allocation of sablefish between the target IFQ component of the fleet and the non-target trawl component need to be re-considered.
A further discussion paper will be prepared by staff. Topics to be addressed in the upcoming paper will include mandatory versus optional release, varying size limits by area, accounting for discards within ABC and TAC, specific options for proxy DMRs, DMR variability by gear, discard estimation methods and the associated monitoring and enforcement concerns, and, finally, impacts of discarding on sablefish abundance and how that affects allocations to IFQ and trawl sectors.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.