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What We'll be Watching at the October 2023 NPFMC Meeting

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) meets on October 2-11, 2023 online and in person in Anchorage. You can find the meeting schedule and agenda here and written comments are due Friday, September 29 at 12pm AKT.

AMCC will be there and continuing our advocacy on agenda items (C2) Observer 2024 Annual Deployment Plan, (C3) BSAI/GOA Groundfish, (C4) Chum Salmon Bycatch and (D1) Bering Sea Local Knowledge/Traditional Knowledge/Subsistence Information Protocol and Onramps.


The technical names for these items belie their significance to AMCC’s mission. This blog post explains a bit more about each issue and why we consider them priorities.

Agenda item C2: Observer 2024 Annual Deployment Plan

Background: Federal fisheries are monitored by a combination of onboard observers and, more recently, electronic monitoring technology. Information collected is used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to manage and report harvests, and by Fishery Management Councils in their decision-making processes. Each year an Annual Deployment Plan (ADP) is released, specifying how much coverage each gear group will have in the following year, the objectives of that coverage and what strategies the program will employ to achieve them.


What’s happening at this meeting:

The Council is seeking public input on the recently released ADP. The goal of the ADP is to design a monitoring program that collects credible, statistically rigorous scientific data within the restraints of the current budget. At this meeting, the public has an opportunity to comment on the plan, and the Council will determine a path forward for a final analysis in December.


What AMCC is advocating and why:

In the ADP design, AMCC will continue to advocate for improved observer safety standards, observer coverage rates, data transparency and electronic monitoring turn around times so data is useful for managers accounting for quotas and bycatch limits.


AMCC believes that the ADP needs to first and foremost consider the safety of the observers sent out on boats to collect biological samples and data. Recent years have seen an uptick in observer harassment, which compromises both safety and program efficacy. Without safe observers, we can not collect unbiased, reliable data from which fisheries can be monitored and managed.

Agenda item C3: BSAI/GOA Groundfish


Background:

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) is discussed during October NPFMC meetings and set at December meetings for the following year's harvest levels. The Council will review a suite of information, including Groundfish plan team reports, stock assessment information and ecosystem status reports to inform the decision.


What’s happening at this meeting:

At this meeting, the Council will recommend, for proposed rulemaking, BSAI and GOA groundfish specifications - commonly referred to as the TAC - for the upcoming two-year period (2024 and 2025), which will notify the public of expected Council action to set final TAC in December 2023. In addition, the Council will recommend gear and target fishery apportionments of prohibited species catch (PSC) (aka bycatch) limits for halibut, red king crab, Tanner crab, opilio crab and herring.


What AMCC is advocating and why:

Of significance is the enormous Pollock TAC and AMCC is focusing on what the current TAC levels "cost" us in bycatch of other non-target species. With catastrophic declines in Western Alaska of Chinook and chum salmon and the resulting effects on subsistence users in the region, we believe salmon bycatch is one of the cumulative stressors and must be factored in when setting the TAC.


Agenda item C4: Chum Salmon Bycatch


Background: The Bering Sea is undergoing rapid ecological and climatological shifts, and chum salmon returns to Western Alaska have dropped below previous historical lows, leading to commercial, sport and subsistence fishery closures. Meanwhile, chum salmon are being caught as bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, which does not have a chum salmon limit, and this has increased in recent years while chum stocks have declined to crisis levels for communities along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and throughout the Bering Strait. Some NPFMC members have agreed this is a humanitarian crisis. Still, the Council has thus far only recommended additional analysis to inform potential chum bycatch limits or other regulations to be applied to the pollock industry.


What’s happening at this meeting:

The Council will review the preliminary review analysis that breaks down the feasibility of proposed alternatives for additional management measures to minimize chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea and hear public input. The intent is to minimize chum salmon bycatch, emphasizing salmon of Western Alaska origin. The proposed measure would apply to the Bering Sea Pollock fleet.


What AMCC is advocating and why: Considering the ecological volatility and profound interconnectedness in the Bering Sea ecosystem, AMCC believes managing and mitigating the human activities impacting these stocks is critical. Currently, chum bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery is essentially unmanaged, as there is currently no limit on, or regulatory means of minimizing, chum intercept. AMCC is advocating for timely and meaningful action to reduce chum salmon bycatch, and provide for meaningful, regulatory limits and management mechanisms.

Agenda item D1: Bering Sea Local Knowledge/Traditional Knowledge/ Subsistence Information Protocol and Onramps.


Background:

This Protocol provides guidance for identifying, analyzing and incorporating Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge and subsistence information into NPFMC decision-making processes. The onramps (or points of entry) provide recommendations to take this valuable information into consideration when making management decisions. Together, the Protocol and onramp recommendations offer the full suite of information for the Council to consider.

What’s happening at this meeting:

At this meeting, the Council is scheduled to formally adopt the Protocol and onramps resulting from a collaborative, multi-year effort from the NPFMC’s Local Knowledge, Traditional Knowledge and Subsistence (LKTKS) Taskforce. This taskforce was formed to fill an identified gap in fisheries management stemming from the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan. Adopting the Protocol will serve to improve NPFMC processes and support its ecosystem goals.


What AMCC is advocating and why:

AMCC supports the Council adopting the Protocol and onramps. We appreciate the expertise of the LKTKS Taskforce members, the dedication of staff supporting the taskforce and the amount of time and thoughtfulness committed by everyone involved in developing a meaningful and interconnected suite of recommendations for the Council’s consideration. The Protocol will support guidance in National Standard 2 as it relates to TK, indigenous science and approaching management systems in a more inclusive and holistic way - cornerstone components of ecosystem-based fishery management.

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