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June 2023 NPFMC Meeting Update

From Marissa Wilson

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) met in Sitka in June 2023 and AMCC was there with our members, partners and allies to advocate for protections for Bristol Bay Red King Crab, development of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to build climate-resilient fisheries, improvements to observer coverage for bottom trawl vessels operating in areas with high Tanner crab abundance and more.

Defending Bristol Bay Red King Crab

Council members agreed that more analysis was needed before action for Bristol Bay Red King Crab (BBRKC) could progress and passed two motions - effectively stalling the urgent action needed to support their recovery. In a long list of considerations only the following addition acknowledged habitat damaged by factory trawling: Information from ongoing and potential projects to address gear-seafloor interactions for all gear types and BBRKC distribution.

Despite the Office of Law Enforcement’s Operation Bottom Trawl report showing instances of gear modifications to “pelagic” trawl nets that effectively rendered them bottom trawls, the State of Alaska responded by proposing a closed-door process for the trawl industry, NOAA Fisheries, its Office of Law Enforcement, and Council staff “to identify revisions to the regulatory definition of pelagic trawl gear to clarify that the codend is not intended to be regulated, allow for gear innovation, and resolve any inconsistencies in current regulations and/or outdated regulations.” Also in consultation with the trawl industry, there will be discussions to revise what AMCC sees as a broken and unenforceable pelagic gear performance standard to simply be enforceable.

This agenda item is scheduled to come before the public again at the February 2024 NPFMC meeting.

Stosh Anderson and crew loading pots for the Kodiak Tanner crab season on the F/V Kestrel

Improving Observer Coverage to Protect Tanner Crab

Fisheries management in the North Pacific is complex and layered with multifaceted regulations in both the State and Federal management processes. Engaging in the decision-making process is often viewed as a daunting task further complicated by endless acronyms. Despite the complications, some actions are just common sense, like don’t bottom trawl in the crab grounds.

AMCC and Kodiak-based Tanner crab fishermen went before the Council in June and asked for protections for Gulf of Alaska Tanner crab and increased observer coverage for bottom trawl vessels operating in areas associated with high Tanner crab abundance. The Council unanimously passed the following motion requesting information to help address long standing concerns about Tanner crab bycatch in federally managed groundfish fisheries. While Best Scientific Information Available is a regulatory cornerstone of decision-making for this body, such requests often result in missing the forest for the trees: trawl gear is bad news for crab, and actions to address that reality are not yet on the table. Since 2004, AMCC and Kodiak-based Tanner crab fishermen have sought measures to protect Tanner crab in critical crab habitat. For more information on the history of this community led initiative, please see AMCC’s comment letter. The discussion is scheduled to come back before the NPFMC in December 2023. Stay tuned for engagement opportunities on this important issue.

Building Climate-Resilient Fisheries

The Council adopted a Purpose and Need Statement and alternatives to begin the formal scoping process for development of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This process will begin with the required Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which includes the Purpose and Need, a preliminary description of the proposed action and alternatives that the EIS will consider.

A Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is an overarching environmental document, considering all the cumulative impacts of Federal Fishery Management Programs in the Alaskan Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ 3-200 miles). Federal fishery management programs are intertwined and interconnected and the analysis will consider the interactions between the various components of the management system for numerous fisheries, species and geographical areas.

The broad analysis will evaluate both the effects of climate change on the ecosystems and fisheries and also how those effects impact the processes used by the Council and NOAA to engage the public, including Indigenous communities and tribes. The PEIS can shape the vision of how we want our fisheries to work in the North Pacific.

Stay tuned for opportunities to provide input once the formal comment period opens. This discussion will benefit from Alaskans weighing in and sharing valuable insight on policies to guide fisheries management in today’s rapidly changing world.

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