The Council took action to initiate analysis to implement electronic monitoring (EM) on pollock catcher vessels (CVs) using pelagic trawl gear and tender vessels transporting pollock catch in the eastern Bering Sea (BS) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA).
The principal investigators on the BS and GOA pelagic pollock EM exempted fishing permit (EFP) presented an interim report on the progress of the EFP through April 2021. The EFP report highlighted that objectives are being met: maximized retention can be accomplished with limited changes in vessel activities, EM is effective in capturing at sea discard events to support catch accounting, biological sampling goals can be met by shoreside observers with effective communication, salmon bycatch accounting is improved, specifically in WGOA pollock fishery that relied on estimates with large variance under status quo methods and initial comparisons indicate that EM is more cost-effective, especially after the initial cost of systems in the first year.
The Council also received a report from the trawl EM Committee and reviewed a draft set of alternatives developed by NMFS and Council staff. The Council adopted the purpose and need statement as included in the draft alternatives document and recommended by the Trawl EM Committee and approved the following three alternatives to analyze to implement a regulated trawl EM program:
- Alternative 1: status quo–EM would not be implemented and catch monitoring would be provided by at-sea observers.
- Alternative 2: Electronic Monitoring is implemented on pelagic pollock trawl catcher vessels and tenders delivering to shoreside processors in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
- Alternative 3: Electronic Monitoring is implemented on pelagic pollock trawl catcher vessels delivering to shoreside processors and not on tenders.
- Option 1 Bering Sea
- Option 2 Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska
The Council was clear that their goal and intent is to implement Alternative 2 and include all CVs and tenders in the BS and GOA in the regulated program, as it is currently structured in the EFP. However, Alternative 3 is included in the alternative set to support a robust analysis of the elements necessary to implement an EM option in three different pollock fisheries (CVs in the BS, GOA and tenders), and provide a framework to promote analysis of the various complexities and unique characteristics of the three groups. The Council also recognized that there are some significant logistical and operational challenges in implementing EM. If the analysis identifies that one group of vessels is having unanticipated difficulties in addressing those logistical challenges and data are not available to be able to proceed with a regulated program, Alternative 3 allows for these challenges to continue to be examined and addressed through an EFP, without slowing implementation for the remainder of the program. The Council supported the current list of elements from the draft alternatives document be included in the analysis, understanding that new elements may be added and current elements may be modified in the future. The Council recognized the success of the collaborative approach of the EFP team and encouraged the continuation of this team to address complex issues as they arise in the analysis.
The implementation timeline is for the regulated trawl EM program to begin in January 2024.
The Council also passed a motion to draft a letter of support for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) EM funding proposals including:
- A proposal from United Catcher Boats (UCB), Alaska Groundfish Data Bank and Aleutians East Borough (AEB) to improve and expand EM systems onboard pollock mid-water trawl catcher vessels in the BS and GOA; including the sub-project from AEB to test current trawl EM systems on boats using fixed-gear in the WGOA.
- A proposal from the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and North Pacific Fishermen’s Association (NPFA) to develop machine learning algorithms that can evaluate image quality.
- A proposal from the Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association (FVOA) to form and test an industry run co-op model that will contract with existing NMFS-certified observer contractors and EM providers to improve cost efficiencies in the current partial coverage observer program.
Staff contact is Anna Henry.