By: Hannah Heimbuch, Community Fisheries Organizer
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) met for its final meeting of 2015 in Anchorage this month, setting groundfish harvest numbers for the coming year, while also diving into a wide range of other topics. Bycatch, along with abundance- and ecosystem-based management, continued as major themes for the Council.
In other bycatch conversations, the Council reviewed a roadmap outlining the analytical process for the development of a Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program. After revising and adding to the range of alternatives under consideration in October, Council and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff produced a work plan which lays out proposed steps to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Study by the end of 2016. Throughout this ongoing bycatch management initiative, AMCC has advocated for measures built into the program that protect community access to fishing rights, and options for the continued reduction of bycatch. We appreciate and look forward to the analysis of the new alternative introduced by Commissioner Cotten which would only apportion Chinook salmon and halibut to voluntary inshore cooperatives based on their members vessels. This is a new and innovative approach to provide for a cooperative style management without allocating the target species and thus the associated fishing rights.
As the need for information and options around bycatch management continues to increase, the Council is also exploring the potential of abundance-based halibut bycatch limits. The Council voted to initiate a workgroup, collaborating with NMFS and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, to evaluate options for moving bycatch management away from fixed limits, and toward limits that fluctuate with abundance (much like harvest). AMCC supports a move toward a bycatch management system that is more responsive to both conservation needs and balance between sectors, particularly in times of low abundance. The Council also tasked the workgroup with evaluating bycatch of juvenile halibut in terms of their long-term potential spawning potential. This is another important consideration, recognizing the stock-wide impact of removing large numbers of juvenile halibut, as seen in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.
Finally, the Council has also advanced the topic of ecosystem-based management after hearing staff reports and a discussion paper on a Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP). Going forward, Council staff is tasked with developing the core FEP, and taking steps toward forming a Bering Sea FEP team and plan for public outreach. The Council has long been a leader in implementing ecosystem-based fishery management measures into its fishery management policies and the FEP is an important step in furthering that tradition.
For more information on Council actions and upcoming meetings, visit npfmc.org.