By: Shannon Carroll, Fisheries Policy Director
Earlier this month, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) met in Kodiak for its third meeting of the year. Though the Council took up other issues, including a 10-year review the Bering Sea crab rationalization program, it devoted much of its time to the Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program.
During the three days devoted to the issue, the Council heard from nearly 75 stakeholders. Testimony largely focused on community concerns regarding the proposed program. Trawl vessel owners and processors continued to stress the importance of the trawl fishery to Kodiak, and reiterated the need for tools that would allow them to reduce bycatch and harvest under-fished flatfish. Other stakeholders, including community members and salmon and halibut fishermen, highlighted the need for 100% observer coverage, entry opportunities, and protective measures to mitigate the kinds of community impacts associated with past catch share programs.
These impacts include excessive consolidation, out-migration of wealth and access, and the loss of support services. The Council also received a presentation on the Community Fishing Association (CFA) concept by AMCC staff and other community members.
At the conclusion of public testimony, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner, Sam Cotten, made a motion to establish three overarching goals for the program: (1) bycatch management, (2) increased groundfish utilization, and (3) maintaining opportunities to enter the fishery by—potentially—limiting any groundfish harvest privileges that might be allocated. The purpose of the motion, according to Commissioner Cotten, was to ensure that access to the fishery remains a top priority in the development of the new program. Permanently allocating a public resource to current participants, he noted, effectively locks out the next generation and benefits larger corporations with access to the most capital.
After a lengthy discussion, and one amendment, the Council passed Commissioner Cotten’s motion. The Council also passed a motion adopting the stakeholder-proposed changes to the CFA alternative. These changes included a more defined board governance structure, community eligibility definition, and specific goals and objectives.
The Council will next review the program during its December meeting in Anchorage.
For more info on Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management:
The Council bid Duncan Fields farewell
It was fitting that Duncan’s last meeting was held in his hometown of Kodiak. In his nine years on the Council, Duncan has been a tireless advocate for Alaska’s coastal communities and small boat fishermen. We at AMCC will certainly miss him.
Read more here: Fields’ voice never louder as he ends nine-year council run
After a busy summer season, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) was back together again for its October meeting in Anchorage, with strong focus on observer plans and electronic monitoring, as well as groundfish and halibut bycatch management.
The Council sent the annual deployment plan for groundfish observers in the partial coverage fleet forward, with specifications that would change how observers are dispersed among the groundfish fleet, if approved during final action in December. The change would assign observers based on gear type, with 14% coverage rates recommended for the pot and longline fleet and 29% for the trawl fleet. This is a positive change, as deciding observer time based on gear type will allow for more of the total catch to be observed, and give the industry more data to work with when making major harvest decisions.
Electronic monitoring (EM) is set to enter its first round of field trials, following Council approval of an EM pre-implementation plan for 2016. The Council has been discussing EM as a tool for monitoring fishing vessel activities, such as catch and bycatch, to expand the tools already available in the observer program — particularly for vessels that have difficulty accommodating observers. These initial trials will be run out of the ports of Homer and Sitka, on select pot and longline vessels that have volunteered for the program. We look forward to the results of these trials and the important data-gathering tools that EM could offer our fisheries as the program develops.
The Council unanimously approved an initial review motion modifying Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) trawl observer coverage to allow vessels to opt into the 100% coverage pool. Previously, some vessels opted to carry 100% coverage so that a switch from a partial observer fishery to a full coverage fishery did not require them to stop to pick up another observer and to maintain confidence in bycatch rates at the vessel-level within the coops. However, this choice has frequently resulted in those vessels paying double fees. AMCC supports the motion, as it removes the duplicate fee, and will hopefully result in more boats opting into the 100% coverage category.
The council has taken another step in the ongoing exploration of Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management options, voting forward a set of alternatives for staff analysis following a full day of reports, testimony, and discussion. The alternatives explore a variety of ways to manage bycatch among Gulf trawl fisheries and individual vessels. Commissioner Cotten introduced a new alternative which would apportion Chinook salmon and halibut bycatch to inshore fishing coops — on a voluntary basis — based on their members’ vessels. The alternatives maintain an option for Community Fishing Associations (CFAs), which have the potential to anchor quota to Gulf communities and to mitigate some of the adverse impacts of catch share programs. The Council also included options for further reduction of halibut and salmon bycatch. AMCC is pleased that the Council is moving forward with analysis of a broad suite of options, and that a CFA option is among those being considered. We look forward to a robust discussion following the next step of analysis, and the opportunity to weigh all of the material and find what is the best way to manage bycatch for sustainable and diverse fisheries and fishing communities in the Gulf.
On the halibut bycatch front, the Council passed a motion indicating its intent to consider reducing the total allowable catch (TAC) for targeted groundfish species that have high bycatch rates. Final action on groundfish TACs will be in December. The Council also unveiled its draft Halibut Management Framework, which is, among other things, intended to develop a framework for improving coordination between the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the Council. Although the Council responded to initial feedback during the October meeting, the framework will undergo further public and council review prior to the December meeting.
The Council will continue to analyze a Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon bycatch reapportionment and may take final action in December. The proposed alternatives would provide NMFS in-season managers the authority to move allowable bycatch between the Pollock and other groundfish sectors (non-pollock/non-rockfish). The proposed action will not increase the overall cap beyond the 32,500 current limit. However, combining the two caps creates a different scenario, and options to limit Chinook salmon reapportionment are important elements to consider in the action going forward. While AMCC supports actions that give the fleet tools for keeping bycatch below the cap while still executing target fisheries, we continue to prioritize maintenance or reduction of current bycatch levels.
Halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea was the big ticket item for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) at the February meeting in Seattle last week. After nearly four days dedicated to the issue, the Council made a motion to move forward in reducing halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries with options to reduce bycatch by up to 50% by sector. Final action is scheduled for June 2015 at the Council meeting in Sitka.
The final Council motion includes additional options for bycatch reduction in multiple BSAI groundfish fisheries, beyond that in the existing motion language. AMCC strongly supported this amendment, maintaining that the crisis facing the directed halibut fishery warrants swift and significant change in bycatch caps. The options for reducing bycatch, which will be voted upon by the Council in June, now include: no change, or reductions of 10, 20, 30, 35, 40, 45 or 50 percent.
The Council held a joint meeting with the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) earlier in the week to discuss the issue of BSAI bycatch. It had been nearly two decades since the two bodies met to share information and the meeting provided an opportunity to collaborate on management of pacific halibut. The IPHC was formed in 1923 and is the oldest bilateral fishing agreement in the United States. The Council is responsible for managing bycatch of halibut while the IPHC monitors the overall status of the halibut stocks and establishes catch limits for each regulatory area in the United States and Canada.
In staff tasking, as a follow up to the expedited action to reduce BSAI bycatch, the Council expressed interest in pursuing a more comprehensive, long term approach. The Council passed a motion unanimously to move forward with a discussion paper looking at abundance-based caps for Bering Sea halibut bycatch.
In addition, the Council also passed a motion made by Commissioner Cotten to initiate a discussion paper evaluating effects of moving all GOA trawl vessels currently in the partial observer coverage category to the full (100%) observer category. The discussion paper will provide information on the impacts of this move, and the Council can decide at that point if they wish to proceed further with action on this item.
Community Protections, Bycatch Reduction Move Forward for Analysis
Earlier this week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) wrapped up another long meeting at the Anchorage Hilton. The Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program (aka catch shares) dominated the agenda, with over 30 people providing testimony to the Council. At this meeting, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made a motion to move forward with a formal set of “alternatives” or options for analysis and the Council voted unanimously in favor of this motion. This is an important step, as it frames the Council’s choices as they move forward with developing this program.
After hours of public testimony and 100 letters supporting the move, the Council included reductions for Chinook salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery (up to 25% reduction) and halibut bycatch for all trawl fisheries (up to 15% reduction) as options for analysis. Given the deteriorating condition of Chinook salmon and halibut stocks, including bycatch reduction up front is critical, and this makes additional bycatch reduction beyond the status quo a key decision point.
The Council also included a Community Fishing Association and an Adaptive Management Program as options under a separate option – Alternative 3. Alternative 3 provides for a 5-15% allocation to either a Community Fishing Association or an Adaptive Management Program. AMCC has been working with Gulf of Alaska community residents to develop and support a Community Fishing Association. Including these options provides for meaningful ways to protect coastal communities from negative impacts in a catch share program and offers a novel approach to ensure coastal communities retain access to the resource outside their doors.
Finally, the Council also added options for requiring active participation (either through ownership of a vessel or participation in the fishery) to purchase a trawl license or catch history and to continue to hold it. This provides a key mechanism for ensuring that those who hold licenses/catch history (quota) are active participants in the fishery, rather than allowing non-active participants to hold quota and charge lease fees for others to fish it.
All of these changes are merely options for analysis at this point, and there is a long road ahead before the Council makes any decisions about selecting one alternative or another. Keeping the pressure on to ensure that the final program reduces bycatch and protects coastal communities is critical. The Council is scheduled to take this agenda item up again in April 2015 in Anchorage.
The Council also discussed the observer program and approved changes for 2015. Starting in 2015 vessels from 40 to 57.5 feet will be in the “trip selection” pool and will be required to register all fishing trips with NMFS – watch your mailbox for more information on how to register. They also moved forward with development of the Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan, tasking the Ecosystem Committee with developing goals and objectives.
For more info:
Observer Plan: Alaska Journal of Commerce
As Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management/catch shares are coming up at this week’s North Pacific Fishery Management Meeting in Anchorage (Oct. 6-14), we wanted to feature AMCC supporter and Gulf of Alaska fisherman, Alexus Kwachka’s views on the issue. The op-ed below can also be found in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities
“We are a fishing community. That’s one aspect of commercial fishing that everyone in Kodiak agrees on. We have an active waterfront and an infrastructure built to sustain our fishing town into the future. We have invested a tremendous amount of money to supply the volume of water and electricity needed to process fish. We’ve invested in a boat yard to maintain our vessels and many support businesses rely on the fleet to make ends meet. We are built on fish.
I have spent the last three decades fishing here and have seen a lot of changes. The change that concerns me the most is a relatively new federal fish policy called catch shares that gives away fishing rights to those fortunate few who are in the right place at the right time. If these fishing rights leave Kodiak – how do we get them back? How does the next generation find and afford these rights?
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is in the midst of developing a new management program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet. A goal of the new program is to provide the tools to the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch of prohibited species like halibut, Chinook salmon and crab. These valuable species are caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries and are vital to coastal communities for our livelihoods and subsistence. The change is good and management should continually strive to reduce bycatch. However, as I read through the recently released discussion paper outlining the new management program I am struck with a depressing case of Déjà Vu — – are we really going to do this again? Is the State of Alaska really going to support a catch share program, which gives away the fishing rights of valuable groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska to trawlers who are currently active in the fishery? Why would Alaska and Kodiak residents want to do this again? I understand the need to provide tools for the trawl fleet to reduce bycatch – in fact the trawl fleet has been operating under voluntary cooperative management agreements for years in the Pollock seasons. It appears to be working.
Despite the success of the voluntary coop, the discussion at the NPFMC continues to explore a more permanent solution through a catch share system, which would allocate quota based on a suite of qualifying years. It is all very complicated but at the end of the day it’s the same old thing we know all too well —– give away the rights to a public resource.
Catch shares come at a cost to coastal communities and these costs are well documented. They include loss of access for the next generation, lower crew pay, consolidation and flight of capital to name a few. We know this will happen; it is time to do something different. Community Fishing Associations are authorized in the Magnuson Stevens Act, the law governing our federal fisheries. They serve as a tool to anchor quota into historically dependent coastal communities. A Community Fishing Association can hold quota through an initial allocation and be structured to allow community values such as bycatch reduction, crew shares and community stability to be addressed effectively.
It is time to be proactive and innovative in designing this program. This community must be engaged and as community members we need to speak up.
The trawl industry is at the table, so should the rest of us.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is spending a lot of time talking about this at their meeting in October. Send a letter and share your concerns and hopes for the future of Kodiak as a fishing community. Letters addressing C-7 GOA Trawl Bycatch can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and must be received by September 30th to be included in Council members’ packets.
We need to be at the table, let’s work together to find management programs that work to better this community as a whole.
Longtime Kodiak fisherman, member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council”
“The summer of 2014 represented a different kind of summer for Alaska fishermen. While commercial halibut fishermen have had their catch limits reduced for a number of years, this year the reductions hit charter fishermen in Southcentral Alaska as well. Anyone who went out on a charter boat out of Homer, Whittier, Seward, or Kodiak knows that this year, fishermen could only keep one halibut of any size, and the second halibut had to be smaller than 29 inches. Fishermen throughout the Gulf of Alaska faced restrictions on fishing for king salmon as well. While the restrictions hurt, we’re all willing to do our part to help give the struggling king salmon and halibut populations a chance to recover. However, as we all make sacrifices in commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries to support these iconic Alaskan fish species, our attention turns to another group of harvesters that has not been restricted nearly to the same degree — the Gulf trawl fisheries…”
For more on what AMCC is doing to reduce bycatch, click here.
Feds’ cutback of observers aboard trawlers plying Alaska waters questioned by judge
“A federal court judge has questioned whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is doing enough to protect salmon and halibut from trawlers whose massive nets strip mine the ocean off the Gulf of Alaska coast…”
Read Canada’s trawlers drastically cut bycatch, why can’t Alaska’s? by Joe Macinko in the Alaska Dispatch News.
Highlight: “We can tell the trawl industry to pay the price, which is not all that high, to get the destructive potential of their fishery in check. Or we can continue to let them waste the resources that are our future.”