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December NPFMC Meeting

by AMCC Staff Hannah Heimbuch & Theresa Peterson

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) recently gathered for its last meeting of 2014, addressing a number of issues important to the long-term health and sustainability of our marine resources.  Over eight days of meetings, the Council set annual catch limits, addressed salmon and halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and decided to postpone any action on the Gulf of Alaska catch share program until October 2014.

The meeting was also a first showing for the new administration, with Sam Cotten, the newly appointed Acting Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, sitting in the State of Alaska’s designated seat.  Cotten is a familiar face in the world of fishery policy, and served two terms on the Council previously.

Here are some highlights on top issues from the Council meeting:

Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch

At the December meeting, the Council unanimously approved moving ahead on measures to reduce Bering Sea Chinook and chum salmon bycatch, with final action scheduled for April 2015. At this meeting the Council advanced the options they’re currently considering and made several changes. The current options include additional measures to require bycatch reduction through industry incentive plans, as well as changing season start and end dates and lowering the performance standard in times of low Chinook salmon abundance. The notable addition was inclusion of an option to reduce the overall hard cap (currently set at 60,000) in times of low Chinook salmon abundance. Chinook salmon are an extremely important resource in many Alaska communities that depend on the local fisheries for both sustenance and livelihoods.  For the first time in history, subsistence fisheries on the Kuskokwim and Yukon — which account for 80 percent of the subsistence harvest in the state of Alaska — were closed in 2014. Chinook runs around the state have seen sharp declines in recent years.

Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch

The Council considered one item that wasn’t on the agenda – during the harvest specification process they took up a request for emergency action to reduce halibut bycatch limits in the Bering Sea. These measures 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. Though the issue is currently scheduled for analytical review in February 2015, this discussion surfaced in light of recommendations by International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) staff during their interim meeting in early December. They have proposed 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 Council to regulate bycatch of halibut.

“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.”

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.

“Hundreds of halibut fishermen who fish around the Pribilofs in the Central Bering Sea will see their shares divided into 370,000 pounds next year, (a 70 percent decline), while factory longliners and factory trawlers kill 5 million pounds of halibut – business as usual,” wrote Laukitis.

Council Delays GOA Trawl Catch Shares

And finally, during staff tasking and at the request of Commissioner Cotten, the Council agreed to postpone any further discussion of a catch share program for the Gulf of Alaska catch shares  program  (also known as trawl bycatch management) until October 2015. This will provide Governor Walker’s administration a chance to review the program and determine their direction.

For More Information

Full motions from the Council meeting are available via links from the Council agenda here. A newsletter describing all the actions will be posted on the NPFMC’s website in the next week.

In the news

Alaska Must Lead Halibut Management, Before it’s too Late, by founding AMCC Board Member Buck Laukitis, Alaska Dispatch News

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