In December 2018 the Council reviewed the Initial Review Draft of an EA/RIR/IRFA of an action to modify snow crab PSC calculations and limits in Bering Sea trawl groundfish fisheries, and requested additional information on the distribution of snow crab bycatch throughout the BSAI by gear and fishery, gaps in bycatch data, regulatory provisions that could hinder the ability to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable, and a qualitative description of potential impacts on fishery participants of avoiding snow crab bycatch. At this meeting, the Council reviewed a Data Report that provided the requested data, and encouraged stakeholders to provide the Council with recommendations for next steps on this issue.
The data report shows that snow crab bycatch in the Federal groundfish fisheries is distributed throughout the BSAI. Snow crab bycatch in the trawl fisheries tends to occur mostly within the C. opilio Bycatch Limitation Zone (COBLZ) while snow crab bycatch in the hook and line and pot fisheries tends to occur outside COBLZ. Snow crab bycatch in trawl fisheries is higher than in hook-and-line and pot fisheries, however bycatch in the Federal groundfish fisheries is much lower than discards in the directed snow crab fishery, even after the 30% discard mortality rate is applied. Recorded size and sex of groundfish snow crab bycatch are variable with respect to size, but highly skewed toward male crab. This suggests that snow crab bycatch in the Federal fisheries does not disproportionately affect mature female crab, so population-level impacts are not expected. Overall, data show that snow crab bycatch in the Federal trawl fisheries is a very low proportion of the overall snow crab biomass, primarily occurs within the COBLZ, and is not likely to have any population-level impacts on the Bering Sea snow crab stock. Additionally, the Council has already taken significant steps to reduce impact of the groundfish flatfish trawl fishery on benthic environments and mortality of benthic fauna, through gear modifications and area closures.
After reviewing the data report, the Council passed a motion that directs staff to further develop the data requests and comments from the Council’s SSC, AP, and Crab Plan Team (CPT) and the comment letter of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers and provide those data to an informal stakeholder group that the Council encouraged industry to form. Some of the data from the CPT and SSC (bycatch by size and sex) have already been provided; other data requests include exploitation rate by proportion of the [snow crab] population, and maps of trawl fishing effort by area versus snow crab abundance. A data report will be posted on the Council’s website for general availability, and the Council will be informed when those data are available. The informal industry stakeholder group is encouraged to review data and help develop recommendations for further consideration of this matter by the Council, including refining the purpose and need and alternatives for analysis or other alternatives for analysis.
Staff contact is Steve MacLean