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.
Although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council failed to recommend meaningful halibut bycatch reductions in the Bering Sea groundfish fishery this past June, there is still time to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to take action. Ask our Alaskan Congressional Delegation to urge NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce to protect the halibut resource and Alaskan coastal communities.
Please submit this letter and show your support for reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea by October 28, 2015.
With the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) less than a week away, supporters of halibut bycatch reduction in the Bering Sea are working hard to communicate to the Council Alaskans’ strong support for bycatch reduction.
The meeting is slated for June 1-9 in Sitka, and will include discussion and potential final action on Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) bycatch reduction.
Since 2005, landings from halibut fishermen have been cut by 63% in the Bering Sea, while halibut bycatch caps for non-halibut fisheries have not been measurably reduced for 20 YEARS! This inequity has created a stark disparity between halibut fishermen and fisheries that harvest halibut as bycatch in the Bering Sea. In 2014, Bering Sea groundfish fisheries killed and discarded 7 times more more halibut (number of fish, not pounds) than the halibut fishery in landed in the same region or over 5 million pounds!
BSAI halibut bycatch in 2014 came in at roughly one million fish, with an average weight of just under 5 pounds. Tagging studies show that from these large groups of juvenile halibut feeding in the Bering Sea, 70-90% of them are slated to migrate to other areas upon maturity. The removal of large numbers of these juvenile animals from the ecosystem is a critical stock concern for any halibut fisherman or consumer in the North Pacific, from California to Alaska.
How to Comment
It is vital that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) hear from halibut users from across the North Pacific. Join other fishermen and communities across Alaska and write to the Council today asking them to reduce halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea by no less than 50%! The deadline for written comment is Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Only a meaningful reduction will give the halibut fishery and the communities that depend on halibut the relief they need. Policy makers should not prioritize bycatch over other harvests and the long term health of juvenile halibut populations. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is responsible for managing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and as stewards of this resource, it is time to take action to reduce bycatch.
*To submit comments to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, email your comments to email@example.com with “C2 Bering Sea Halibut PSC” in the subject line. Copy our Congressional Delegations in your comments – Alaska’s representatives need to hear how Alaskans feel about bycatch. Letters can be copied to:
For more information on how to comment or testify in person, please visit npfmc.org or contact:
- Hannah Heimbuch — Community Fisheries Organizer — Homer (907) 299-4018 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Theresa Peterson — Kodiak Outreach Coordinator — Kodiak, (907) 539-1927 or email@example.com
Other Ways to Participate:
Testify in person: The Council takes public testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts June 1 and runs through June 9 in Sitka, AK. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins.
Listen online: We will post the link to listen on Facebook on the first day of meetings.
Support AMCC’s work on important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of marine ecosystems and fishing communities. Donations from individuals like you are essential to maintaining this key role. Help support our work today: donate now.
Read What Other Alaskans Have to Say:
Connecting the Coast; Bycatch in the Bering Sea by Marissa Wilson
Our Pacific Halibut Are In Trouble by Dave Kubiak
Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch Cuts Critical for Conservation by Hannah Heimbuch
Alaska Fish Factor: Reduction in Halibut Bycatch Needed by Laine Welch
It’s Time to Reduce Bycatch in the Bering Sea by Kelly Harrell & Jon Zuck
For past updates on this issue, click here.
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.
Halibut Bycatch in the Bering Sea
Bycatch is always a somewhat alarming topic – by definition it always refers to wasting one species or type of fish to catch another. In the Bering Sea this year, however, things have reached a new low. If proposed catch limits for the directed halibut fishery in the central Bering Sea (Areas 4CDE) are adopted by the International Pacific Halibut Fishery, this year 92% of the halibut caught in that area will be caught as bycatch, with only 7% leftover for the directed fishery. In other words, for every 1 halibut caught in the directed fishery, 13 will be wasted as bycatch! This is not the way to balance the needs of the directed fishery and those of the fisheries who catch halibut as bycatch. In this case it’s particularly egregious because it puts the directed fisheries, with a long history of harvest in this area and little else to rely upon for income, virtually out of business.
Fortunately, there are ways to address this issue. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Seattle February 2-10 and Bering Sea halibut bycatch is a big agenda item. At this meeting the Council will finalize the options they’re looking at to reduce bycatch. It’s important that they hear from people about the urgent need to reduce halibut bycatch, and that reductions in the bycatch caps of at least 50% should be considered. The schedule for the meeting can be found here, and the full agenda can be found here. All discussion papers are available via the agenda. Public comments must be submitted by 5pm Alaska time on January 27 to be included in the Council’s briefing books.
More About the Issue of Halibut Bycatch
In recent years, halibut stocks have continued to decline in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fishery, forcing fishermen to weather significant quota cuts. The IPHC’s recommended harvest for 2015 represents a 71% reduction for the directed fisheries in this region, beyond the 69% reductions the directed fisheries have already taken from 2007-2013. Meanwhile, the bycatch limits for the groundfish fisheries that operate in the same area have remained unchanged at over 7 million lbs. Two fisheries alone – the yellowfin sole and rock sole trawl fisheries – were responsible for 57% of the total halibut bycatch in 2014!
While directed harvests for the halibut fishery are set by the IPHC, bycatch of halibut in the groundfish fisheries is in the hands of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) to regulate bycatch of halibut. The Council considered a request for emergency action to reduce halibut bycatch limits in the Bering Sea by 33 percent at their December 2014 meeting. This measure failed to pass by one vote, with the council split on a 5/5 vote and the Alaska contingent united in favor of emergency action. This request for emergency action has since been submitted to the United States Secretary of Commerce directly by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner along with the other five Alaska members of the Council.
Council Action in February
While the emergency action request is being considered, the Council is also in the midst of an action via their regular rulemaking process to look at the issue of halibut bycatch. In June 2014 they passed a motion to look at a broad range of measures aimed at reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. The motion includes options for reducing the current halibut bycatch limits by sector by 10-35%, and includes a number of possible measures as well.
In February, the Council will look at an analysis of all of these options and will make any changes for which they wish to see further analysis for final action in June 2015. We think it’s important to expand the range of reductions being considered to include at least up to a 50% reduction. Because actual halibut bycatch is below the cap levels, a 10% reduction in the cap is meaningless, and even a 35% reduction is just starting to reduce bycatch for some sectors.
Halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea is an issue of importance for anyone who cares about halibut. While the situation is contrary to basic principles of equity and fairness for the directed halibut fisheries in the Bering Sea, it’s also has implications far beyond the Bering Sea. “Juvenile halibut leave the Bering Sea and populate areas all over the state as they mature,” wrote longtime Bering Sea fishermen and AMCC founding member Buck Laukitis in a recent editorial. “What happens in the Bering Sea matters to everyone from Nome to California when it comes to halibut populations.”
How to Participate:
- Comment: To submit comment for consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, send written comments by Tuesday, Jan. 27 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org. The comments must identify the submitter by legal name, affiliation, and date, and must also identify the specific agenda item by number. You can also submit comments to the Council yourself after the deadline – just make sure to bring 25 copies for distribution to the Council.
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306
Anchorage, AK 99501
Fax: (907) 271-2817
Re: Agenda item C-5 Bering Sea Halibut PSC.
- Attend the Council meeting: The Council takes public comment on every agenda item. The meeting starts Feb. 2 and runs through Feb. 10 at the Renaissance Marriott hotel in Seattle. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins.
- Listen online: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/february2015 for live broadcast of the Council meeting.
- Support AMCC’s work on these important issues: AMCC has staff at every Council meeting, advocating for the health of our marine ecosystems and fishing communities. Membership and individual donations are essential to maintaining our role. Help support our work by investing in healthy oceans and coastal communities today: donate now.
What We’re Reading:
BSAI Halibut PSC Limits Initial Review from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Major bycatch reduction essential to halibut fishery, by David Bayes, Op-ed in the Homer Tribune
Canada-U.S. delegates meet in B.C. to discuss halibut ‘wastage’ in Bering Sea by Keven Drews, The Canadian Press
If we don’t protect Alaska halibut, there will be no fish to fight over by Shannon Moore, Op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News
Halibut bodies to meet amid growing bycatch concerns by DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce
by AMCC Homer Staff, Hannah Heimbuch
In recent years, halibut stocks have continued to decline in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fishery, forcing fishermen to weather significant quota cuts. As the region looks at another decline in quota — to be determined at the upcoming meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) in late January — the pressure is on to reduce Bering Sea trawl halibut bycatch caps as well.
The IPHC staff recommendations for 2015 propose reductions to allowable harvest by directed halibut users of more than 70 percent for areas 4CDE in the central Bering Sea. The IPHC has no direct authority over the amount of halibut taken as bycatch and relies on policy makers on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) to regulate bycatch of halibut. If bycatch caps remain unchanged, 2015 could see a stark disparity between bycatch and directed halibut harvest — approximately 13 to one. That’s one fish landed and sold by halibut fisherman, compared to 13 caught and discarded as bycatch. As Bering Sea halibut fishermen experience record lows, this disparity has become economically crippling.
The Council considered a bycatch measure at its December meeting in the process of considering catch limits for the 2015 groundfish fisheries. During the harvest specification process they took up a request for emergency action to reduce halibut bycatch limits in the Bering Sea by 33 percent. This measure failed to pass by one vote, with the council split on a 5/5 vote and the Alaska contingent united in favor of emergency action. The sixth Alaska council member was absent due to kidney transplant surgery.
Since that time, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner along with the other five Alaska members of the Council submitted a letter to the United States Secretary of Commerce requesting action on this emergency measure. We (AMCC) submitted a letter supporting that request, as did the North Pacific Fisheries Association, the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and a contingent from St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea — including the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the City of St. Paul, the Tribal Government of St. Paul and the Tanadgusix Corporation. There is not only a clear need, but significant and diverse support throughout the fishing industry and its communities for a reduction in bycatch caps.
“Juvenile halibut leave the Bering Sea and populate areas all over the state as they mature,” wrote longtime Bering Sea fishermen and AMCC founding member Buck Laukitis in a recent editorial. “What happens in the Bering sea matters to everyone from Nome to California when it comes to halibut populations.”
A proposed reduction of BSAI halibut bycatch caps by up to 35 percent is currently scheduled for analytical review at the February Council meeting, with final action on the item slated for June. AMCC continues to support a reduction in bycatch caps through this Council process, but believes strongly that the BSAI halibut fishery meets the standards that the Magnuson-Stevens Act outlines for emergency action. Failure to take this action, in light of imminent quota reduction in the directed fishery, is likely to cause substantial harm and disruption to the halibut fishery and those dependent on it, before standard rule-making procedures can be carried out. AMCC supports an immediate reduction in BSAI halibut bycatch caps in time for the 2015 fishery — an emergency action by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce allowed for under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and warranted by the current state of the fishery.
International Pacific Halibut Commission — Vancouver, British Columbia — Jan. 26-30
North Pacific Fishery Management Council — Seattle, WA — Feb. 2-10
Joint Meeting of the IPHC and the Council — Seattle, WA — Feb. 5
How to Participate:
Comment: To submit comment for consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, send written comments by Tuesday, Jan. 27 2015 to email@example.com. The comments must identify the submitter by legal name, affiliation, and date, and must also identify the specific agenda item by number.
To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins.
NPFMC: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/february2015 for live broadcast of the Council meeting.
IPHC: Visit http://www.iphc.int/meetings-and-events/annual-meeting.html for updates on the IPHC annual meeting including webcast information.
For More Information — check out this recent article from the 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.
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.”
Source: The Cordova Times
Author: Margaret Bauman
“Declines in abundance of both halibut and king salmon, both hard hit by bycatch in groundfish fisheries, prompted hours of discussion before the June meeting of the federal fisheries managers in Nome, again with no resolution in sight…”