In early February, the Council met in Seattle and covered a diverse range of topics in fisheries management.
The Council adopted additional charter halibut management measures for 2C and 3A. It also recommended a series of restrictive actions to reduce charter halibut harvest in the two regions based on allocation recommendations to the charter sector after the International Pacific Halibut Meeting in February.
The Council discussed Halibut Abundance Based Management in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and received stakeholder input on methods to streamline the process of linking halibut bycatch to halibut abundance. The Council focused the proposed action on Amendment 80 (A-80) fleet which is made up of BSAI non-pollock catcher processors (bottom trawlers) and is responsible for about 60% of the BSAI halibut bycatch. In addition, the action will consider an element that factors halibut bycatch at times of low abundance, when the coast-wide biomass of halibut falls below a spawning stock biomass of 30%. The analysis is scheduled to come back to the Council for the initial review in October. In the interim, a discussion paper is scheduled to come back to the Council in June which will focus on breakpoints to consider high, medium and low halibut abundance, performance metrics and incentives for the A-80 fleet to reduce bycatch, and a mechanism to further reduce the halibut bycatch limit in years of low directed halibut harvest limits in areas 4C, D, and E in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. The Council will look at reducing halibut bycatch in other trawl fisheries through another action on the agenda in June. A limited access program for the BSAI trawl limited access fishery includes elements to reduce the amount of halibut bycatch allowed, regardless of abundance, and thus the Council limited the scope of abundance-based management to the A-80 fleet.
The Council reviewed the development of two action modules based upon recommendations from the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan. One module to develop protocols for use of local knowledge, traditional knowledge and subsistence in fisheries management and another to develop a plan to evaluate short to long term effects of climate change on fish, fisheries and the Bering Sea ecosystem. The work plans for these important issues in ecosystem-based fishery management are under development by two task forces which then make recommendations to the Council.