After a busy summer season, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) was back together again for its October meeting in Anchorage, with strong focus on observer plans and electronic monitoring, as well as groundfish and halibut bycatch management.
The Council sent the annual deployment plan for groundfish observers in the partial coverage fleet forward, with specifications that would change how observers are dispersed among the groundfish fleet, if approved during final action in December. The change would assign observers based on gear type, with 14% coverage rates recommended for the pot and longline fleet and 29% for the trawl fleet. This is a positive change, as deciding observer time based on gear type will allow for more of the total catch to be observed, and give the industry more data to work with when making major harvest decisions.
Electronic monitoring (EM) is set to enter its first round of field trials, following Council approval of an EM pre-implementation plan for 2016. The Council has been discussing EM as a tool for monitoring fishing vessel activities, such as catch and bycatch, to expand the tools already available in the observer program — particularly for vessels that have difficulty accommodating observers. These initial trials will be run out of the ports of Homer and Sitka, on select pot and longline vessels that have volunteered for the program. We look forward to the results of these trials and the important data-gathering tools that EM could offer our fisheries as the program develops.
The Council unanimously approved an initial review motion modifying Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) trawl observer coverage to allow vessels to opt into the 100% coverage pool. Previously, some vessels opted to carry 100% coverage so that a switch from a partial observer fishery to a full coverage fishery did not require them to stop to pick up another observer and to maintain confidence in bycatch rates at the vessel-level within the coops. However, this choice has frequently resulted in those vessels paying double fees. AMCC supports the motion, as it removes the duplicate fee, and will hopefully result in more boats opting into the 100% coverage category.
The council has taken another step in the ongoing exploration of Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management options, voting forward a set of alternatives for staff analysis following a full day of reports, testimony, and discussion. The alternatives explore a variety of ways to manage bycatch among Gulf trawl fisheries and individual vessels. Commissioner Cotten introduced a new alternative which would apportion Chinook salmon and halibut bycatch to inshore fishing coops — on a voluntary basis — based on their members’ vessels. The alternatives maintain an option for Community Fishing Associations (CFAs), which have the potential to anchor quota to Gulf communities and to mitigate some of the adverse impacts of catch share programs. The Council also included options for further reduction of halibut and salmon bycatch. AMCC is pleased that the Council is moving forward with analysis of a broad suite of options, and that a CFA option is among those being considered. We look forward to a robust discussion following the next step of analysis, and the opportunity to weigh all of the material and find what is the best way to manage bycatch for sustainable and diverse fisheries and fishing communities in the Gulf.
On the halibut bycatch front, the Council passed a motion indicating its intent to consider reducing the total allowable catch (TAC) for targeted groundfish species that have high bycatch rates. Final action on groundfish TACs will be in December. The Council also unveiled its draft Halibut Management Framework, which is, among other things, intended to develop a framework for improving coordination between the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the Council. Although the Council responded to initial feedback during the October meeting, the framework will undergo further public and council review prior to the December meeting.
The Council will continue to analyze a Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon bycatch reapportionment and may take final action in December. The proposed alternatives would provide NMFS in-season managers the authority to move allowable bycatch between the Pollock and other groundfish sectors (non-pollock/non-rockfish). The proposed action will not increase the overall cap beyond the 32,500 current limit. However, combining the two caps creates a different scenario, and options to limit Chinook salmon reapportionment are important elements to consider in the action going forward. While AMCC supports actions that give the fleet tools for keeping bycatch below the cap while still executing target fisheries, we continue to prioritize maintenance or reduction of current bycatch levels.
Community Protections, Bycatch Reduction Move Forward for Analysis
Earlier this week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the Council) wrapped up another long meeting at the Anchorage Hilton. The Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program (aka catch shares) dominated the agenda, with over 30 people providing testimony to the Council. At this meeting, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made a motion to move forward with a formal set of “alternatives” or options for analysis and the Council voted unanimously in favor of this motion. This is an important step, as it frames the Council’s choices as they move forward with developing this program.
After hours of public testimony and 100 letters supporting the move, the Council included reductions for Chinook salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery (up to 25% reduction) and halibut bycatch for all trawl fisheries (up to 15% reduction) as options for analysis. Given the deteriorating condition of Chinook salmon and halibut stocks, including bycatch reduction up front is critical, and this makes additional bycatch reduction beyond the status quo a key decision point.
The Council also included a Community Fishing Association and an Adaptive Management Program as options under a separate option – Alternative 3. Alternative 3 provides for a 5-15% allocation to either a Community Fishing Association or an Adaptive Management Program. AMCC has been working with Gulf of Alaska community residents to develop and support a Community Fishing Association. Including these options provides for meaningful ways to protect coastal communities from negative impacts in a catch share program and offers a novel approach to ensure coastal communities retain access to the resource outside their doors.
Finally, the Council also added options for requiring active participation (either through ownership of a vessel or participation in the fishery) to purchase a trawl license or catch history and to continue to hold it. This provides a key mechanism for ensuring that those who hold licenses/catch history (quota) are active participants in the fishery, rather than allowing non-active participants to hold quota and charge lease fees for others to fish it.
All of these changes are merely options for analysis at this point, and there is a long road ahead before the Council makes any decisions about selecting one alternative or another. Keeping the pressure on to ensure that the final program reduces bycatch and protects coastal communities is critical. The Council is scheduled to take this agenda item up again in April 2015 in Anchorage.
The Council also discussed the observer program and approved changes for 2015. Starting in 2015 vessels from 40 to 57.5 feet will be in the “trip selection” pool and will be required to register all fishing trips with NMFS – watch your mailbox for more information on how to register. They also moved forward with development of the Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan, tasking the Ecosystem Committee with developing goals and objectives.
For more info:
Observer Plan: Alaska Journal of Commerce
Another Big Agenda for the North Pacific Council
Summer fishing season is winding down so it’s time for meeting season to pick up! The North Pacific Fishery Management Council holds their meeting in Anchorage October 6-14 at the Hilton. As always, there are a number of issues of importance to fishermen, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem. Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management/catch shares, the observer program and Bering Sea ecosystem top our list of things to watch at this meeting. The schedule can be found here, and the full agenda can be found here. All discussion papers are available via the agenda. Keep reading for a quick look at what AMCC is tracking this meeting and more information about how to participate!
- Observer Program: Under the new restructured observer program which went into effect in 2013, the Council reviews the annual deployment plan for the following year. At the October meeting they’ll review the proposed 2015 deployment plan which outlines how the National Marine Fisheries Service intends to deploy observer to vessels fishing in the North Pacific in 2015. There are some significant changes recommended which include moving all small fixed gear boats (40 feet-57.5 feet), into the trip selection category – all vessels will now have observers deployed on a trip by trip basis. Exemptions to carrying observers will only be issued to vessels in the small vessel category that do not have sufficient life raft capacity to carry an observer, or are participating in Electronic Monitoring pilot projects. For 2015, NMFS is proposing to increase coverage on the large vessel category (all trawl vessels and fixed gear vessels above 57.5 feet) to 24% for 2015. Smaller vessels will be covered at a rate of 12%.
- Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management (aka catch shares or rationalization): The Council is continuing to look at changes to the current management system in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries to provide the fleet with “tools” to adjust how and when they fish in order to reduce bycatch. At this meeting the Council will review an analysis of their framework proposal for the catch share program, and may move forward with outlining alternatives (or options) for a formal analysis. AMCC has two primary focuses on this issue. First, is ensuring that the catch share program delivers on the promise to reduce bycatch, and doesn’t just provide tools for the trawl fleet to adapt to the current limits. We’re asking the Council to include meaningful reductions from the current Chinook salmon and halibut bycatch limits as part of the program. Our other focus is making sure that fishing communities are not negatively impacted by the catch share program. We’re working on this with the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition (GOACCC) and other community leaders in the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska. With this group we’re advocating for a variety of community protections, including consolidation limits, protections for crew and others. The central component of this work is a direct allocation of quota to the fishing community via a Community Fishing Association (CFA). The Council will receive an analysis of our proposal for a CFA at the October meeting, and will decide whether or not to include a CFA in their program structure. A CFA will provide a mechanism to anchor quota in the community, support new generations of fishermen and crew and amplify community benefits. Learn more and view the CFA Proposal.
- Bering Sea Ecosystem Planning: At the October meeting the Council will discuss ecosystem planning and a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. They’ll hold a public hearing on the Bering Sea FEP on Thursday, October 9 from 5:30-7. The Council is contemplating how a Bering Sea FEP could add value to the current fishery management plan. AMCC sees this as a valuable opportunity to move forward in our fishery management model and formalize management from an ecosystem, rather than single species perspective.
How to Participate
- Attend the Council meeting or listen online: The Council takes public comment on every agenda item. The meeting starts Oct. 6 and runs through Oct. 14 at the Anchorage Hilton downtown. You can also listen to the Council meeting streaming on-line at: https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/october2014/
- 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. By donating and becoming a member, you play an essential role in advancing sustainable fisheries policy in Alaska. Help support our work by making a gift today.