By Shannon Carroll
This month, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) wrapped up its final meeting of 2016 by pulling the plug on the Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program. Citing an impasse in discussions between the State of Alaska and members of the trawl and processing sectors, the Council passed a motion tabling further action on the agenda item. The program, which has been under development for several years, was designed to provide groundfish fishermen with the “tools” to harvest target species while operating under reduced halibut and Chinook bycatch limits.
From the beginning of the Walker administration, the State of Alaska and the groundfish sector differed over the whether a catch share-type program was the right tool for the job. After a contentious meeting in Kodiak this past June, AMCC was optimistic that a middle ground – one that would bring greater stability to the groundfish sector while also addressing community concerns regarding past catch share programs – could be reached. Nonetheless, members of the Council likened the current impasse to being stuck on a sandbar, and in a 8-3 vote decided that it was better to take a step back from the proposed program.
Despite tabling the action, the Council initiated several discussion papers involving the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery. These analyses will evaluate, among other things, modifying season start dates and sea lion closures in the groundfish trawl fishery, current protections and stock information for Tanner crab, and the hurdles to implementing abundance-based halibut bycatch management in the Gulf of Alaska. While AMCC sees value in these efforts, we remain hopeful that the Council will continue working towards a comprehensive management structure that fits the unique characteristics of the Gulf of Alaska.
Looking beyond the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery, and into 2017, AMCC will continue to engage on issues at the Council that affect the sustainability of federal fisheries and impact the next generation of fishermen. At the February meeting in Seattle, the Council’s abundance-based halibut bycatch working group will be hosting a workshop to update and gather input on its effort to develop an abundance index for halibut. While this process has proven more complicated than we initially expected, AMCC continues to support moving towards a policy that establishes halibut bycatch caps based on the abundance of the stock. The Council will likely review the working group’s efforts during its April meeting in Anchorage. Also during the February meeting, the Council will hear recommendations from the Halibut/Sablefish IFQ Committee. These recommendations stem from the 20-year review of the Halibut/Sablefish IFQ program.
Finally, the Council will continue work on the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP)—a tool that will hopefully lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the Bering Sea ecosystem and its relationship to Council management actions. The Council recently appointed members to the Bering Sea Ecosystem Team, which will be the lead on developing the FEP. The team is expected to report to the Ecosystem Committee in February, and to the Council in April.
AMCC continues to champion the Council’s efforts to implement ecosystem-based measures through the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan. We greatly appreciate the work that has gone into the FEP development thus far and look forward to ensuring that the FEP includes defined ecosystem-level goals and measurable objectives and outcomes.
Shannon Carroll is AMCC’s Fisheries Policy Director. He can be reached at 907.277.5357 or via email.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is holding its June meeting in Kodiak, where it will be once again be reviewing the Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program. The long-term health of Gulf communities depends on a management plan that protects the role of independent, community-based fishermen, and the health of all Gulf fisheries. AMCC believes the Gulf Trawl Bycatch Management Program should allow for viable entry opportunities, community protections, and meaningful reductions to bycatch. Additional information about the program is available through the Council’s agenda.
If you wish to comment on the management plan, the deadline for written comments is 5:00 pm (AST) on Tuesday, May 31. Comments should be emailed to email@example.com.
Read on for full details…
Recognizing the importance of minimizing Chinook and halibut bycatch, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) has recently taken action to set or lower limits on bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. At the same time, the Council has also taken the position that the current management structure does not provide the trawl fleet with the tools necessary to meet existing bycatch reductions, or further reduce bycatch beyond current levels.
As a result, the Council has been looking at implementing a new management program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. In addition to the status quo, the Council is currently considering three options (alternatives):
- Alternative 2 is a traditional catch share program that would allocate pollock and cod as target species, and halibut and Chinook as bycatch to harvester-processor cooperatives, based on the qualifying catch history of the trawl members’ LLP licenses. Allocated fishing privileges would be transferable, somewhat similar to the halibut IFQ fishery.
- Alternative 3 would annually allocate halibut and Chinook bycatch to harvester-processor cooperatives, based on equal shares, some measure of dependency and engagement in the fishery, or some combination of the two. This bycatch quota could be traded within a cooperative, but is not transferable without also selling the vessel or license.
- Alternative 4 would allocate a specified percentage of quota to a Community Fishing Association (CFA). Quota allocated to the community is then used to address community goals of keeping a local fleet, providing a viable point of entry for new entrants, equitable crew compensation, and vessel/owner residency.
The Council Needs to Hear From You
During the June meeting in Kodiak, the Council will be looking for community input on the Gulf Trawl Bycatch Management Program. Hearing from community members about what they would like to see in the new program will go a long way in ensuring that community protections, bycatch reductions, and future access measures are included in the final action.
Written Comment: If you wish to comment, the deadline for written comments is 5:00 pm (AST) on Tuesday, May 31. Comments should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public Testimony: There will be two opportunities to testify at the June Council meeting:
- The Advisory Panel will begin hearing the GOA Trawl Bycatch Management Program agenda item on the afternoon of Thursday, June 9th. The Advisory Panel will be meeting in the Elks Lodge.
- The Council will begin hearing the same issue on the morning of Saturday, June 11. The Council will be meeting in the Pavilion Room of the Convention Center.
If you’d like more information on submitting written comments or offering public testimony, contact Shannon Carroll, at email@example.com.
Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Salmon Bycatch
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) concluded its April meeting last week following several days of discussion on the issue of salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. In-river salmon fishermen who are experiencing low returns of king salmon and restrictions on traditional subsistence harvest expressed deep concerns for the conservation of the ailing Chinook population in western Alaska. On the other side was testimony from the pollock fleet unwilling to drop bycatch caps. AMCC supported the western Alaska communities in urging a reduced bycatch cap because of the serious state of the Chinook population and dire circumstances for families who rely on Chinook for local economies and way of life.
The Council adopted a suite of measures anticipated to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch. A key part of the Council’s decision, and the focus of much of the debate, was lowering the hard cap and performance standard for Chinook salmon in times of low abundance. The State of Alaska led a strong charge to provide protections for Western Alaska salmon stocks. Commissioner Sam Cotten put forward a motion calling for a 35% reduction in the performance standard and a 33% reduction in the hard cap. Those numbers were amended by Washington State’s representative to a 25% reduction in the hard cap and a 30% reduction in the performance standard. This lesser reduction is what passed in the Council’s final motion, 10-0. The lower performance standard and hard cap apply in years of low Chinook salmon abundance –years in which the combined total run size for the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers is less than 250,000 fish. In years when the stock falls below that boundary, the hard cap would be reduced from 60,000 fish to 45,000, and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318.
Beyond the changes to the caps, the Council’s action incorporates important mechanisms to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in all conditions of salmon abundance. Incentive Plan Agreements (IPAs) create incentives for vessels to reduce bycatch. With this latest action, chum bycatch reduction measures will be incorporated into the Chinook IPA. The Council also added additional provisions to the IPAs — including enacting penalties or restrictions for vessels that maintain higher Chinook bycatch rates than others, requiring the use of salmon excluder devices, and restrictions on bycatch in October, which is historically a time of high bycatch. The options the Council selected under Alternative 4 allow the pollock fishery the flexibility to catch more of their harvest in the late A season, potentially shifting harvest effort away from the high bycatch times later in the year.
On Deck: Halibut Bycatch at June NPFMC Meeting
We leave the April Council meeting behind with a close eye on June’s upcoming halibut bycatch decision in Sitka. The Council will be taking final action to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries by up to 50 percent. After major declines in the directed fishery over the last 10 years, and a steady rate of bycatch in major groundfish operations, it’s critical that the Council reduces halibut bycatch in June. We will continue to keep you informed in the coming weeks about ways you can help support meaningful halibut bycatch reductions. For more information and past updates on the halibut bycatch crisis, click here.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Anchorage in just a couple of weeks for their April meeting. The meeting week kicks off with the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting on Monday, April 6 and the Advisory Panel starts Tuesday, April 7. The Council itself starts up Wed., April 8 and runs through April 13. The big item on this agenda is final action on Bering Sea salmon bycatch, with a focus on reducing both chum and Chinook salmon bycatch. With Chinook salmon populations in severe decline throughout Western Alaska, and complete closures of even the subsistence fisheries on the Yukon River, it’s critical that the Council takes meaningful action to reduce bycatch at this time. The Council will also take final action on allowing longline pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska and will discuss ecosystem-based management in the Bering Sea.
*Comments on all agenda items are due by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31 – email to firstname.lastname@example.org (See below for more details about the issues and how to comment).
Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch
Final action on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery is certainly the headlining act at the April Council meeting. The action before the Council considers changes to chum salmon bycatch reduction measures to provide for greater reduction of chum salmon bycatch and better integration of chum and Chinook salmon bycatch measures. Given the disastrously low Chinook salmon runs in Western Alaska, Chinook salmon bycatch is the major focus of this action. While caps on Chinook salmon bycatch have been in place since 2011, the rapid and dramatic declines in Chinook salmon populations necessitates changes to these caps and management measures to respond to the current crisis. The options (Alternatives) which the Council is considering include:
- Alternative 2: Combining Chinook and chum salmon bycatch measures to ensure that chum bycatch reduction efforts do not increase Chinook salmon bycatch;
- Alternative 3: Requiring changes to the Incentive Plan Agreements to achieve greater bycatch reduction. Options include penalizing vessels with consistently high bycatch, requiring use of salmon excluders, and specific changes to operation of the plans.
- Alternative 4: Changing the start and/or end dates of the pollock fishing season and distribution of pollock quota between seasons to minimize bycatch;
- Alternative 5: Reducing the performance standard (currently 47,591 Chinook salmon) and possibly also the hard cap (currently 60,000) for Chinook salmon bycatch by 25% – 60% in times of low abundance of Western Alaska Chinook salmon stocks.
To ensure that Chinook salmon bycatch is reduced in times of low abundance, and to ensure that when subsistence fisheries are closed the pollock fishery bycatch is greatly reduced as well, it is critical that the Council takes final action at this meeting and puts new regulations into effect quickly. We join with many Western Alaska groups in asking the Council to reduce the overall cap and performance cap for Chinook salmon bycatch by the maximum under consideration (60%) in times of low salmon abundance (Alternative 5, option 2, with the suboption to apply the 60% reduction to the overall hard cap). Alternative 2 and Alternative 3, options 1-5, should be selected as well.
Gulf of Alaska Sablefish Longline Pots
Also on the docket for the April Council meeting are measures to allow fishermen to use longline pots to harvest sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska with a goal of reducing whale predation. The Council will take final action on an amendment that would allow the use of pot longline gear by Gulf sablefish operations fishing IFQs. In addition to the reducing the fishery impact of whale predation on longline gear, the Council is also considering ways to reduce gear conflicts between pot and longline fishermen harvesting in the same area.
Amid the constant bustle of management issues, the Council is also doing some proactive thinking to further their work on ecosystem-based management. At the April meeting, the Council will hear a report from the Ecosystem Committee and continue to discuss the utility of undertaking a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. An FEP provides an opportunity for the Council to look at fisheries management in a more holistic context, rather than in the single-species context under which current management occurs. AMCC is actively engaged in this work and is encouraging the Council to move forward with an FEP for the Bering Sea.
How to Comment:
- Send written comments by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to email@example.com or
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306
Anchorage, AK 99501
Fax: (907) 271-2817
Include your name, affiliation, and date, and identify the agenda item in the subject line.
- Provide testimony: The Council takes testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts April 6 and runs through April 13 at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins. View the schedule here.
Other Ways to Participate:
- Listen online: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/april2015 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. Donations from members like you are essential to maintaining our role at the Council. Help support our work by investing in healthy oceans and coastal communities today: donate now.
For More Information
The Council posts analyses, public comments, motions and other documents linked from their agenda. Just scroll down to the agenda item you’re interested in. For the full Council agenda, schedule, and more on the April meeting, visit: www.npfmc.org/upcoming-council-meetings
“As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season…” Listen to the full story on KYUK.
Source: Nome Nugget
Author: Laurie McNicholas
“Chinook (king) salmon stocks are at all-time lows in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim area that includes Norton Sound, the Yukon River, Kuskokwim Bay and the Kuskokwim River…”