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.
Although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council failed to recommend meaningful halibut bycatch reductions in the Bering Sea groundfish fishery this past June, there is still time to tell the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to take action. Ask our Alaskan Congressional Delegation to urge NMFS and the Secretary of Commerce to protect the halibut resource and Alaskan coastal communities.
Please submit this letter and show your support for reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea by October 28, 2015.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Anchorage in just a couple of weeks for their April meeting. The meeting week kicks off with the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting on Monday, April 6 and the Advisory Panel starts Tuesday, April 7. The Council itself starts up Wed., April 8 and runs through April 13. The big item on this agenda is final action on Bering Sea salmon bycatch, with a focus on reducing both chum and Chinook salmon bycatch. With Chinook salmon populations in severe decline throughout Western Alaska, and complete closures of even the subsistence fisheries on the Yukon River, it’s critical that the Council takes meaningful action to reduce bycatch at this time. The Council will also take final action on allowing longline pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska and will discuss ecosystem-based management in the Bering Sea.
*Comments on all agenda items are due by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31 – email to firstname.lastname@example.org (See below for more details about the issues and how to comment).
Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch
Final action on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery is certainly the headlining act at the April Council meeting. The action before the Council considers changes to chum salmon bycatch reduction measures to provide for greater reduction of chum salmon bycatch and better integration of chum and Chinook salmon bycatch measures. Given the disastrously low Chinook salmon runs in Western Alaska, Chinook salmon bycatch is the major focus of this action. While caps on Chinook salmon bycatch have been in place since 2011, the rapid and dramatic declines in Chinook salmon populations necessitates changes to these caps and management measures to respond to the current crisis. The options (Alternatives) which the Council is considering include:
- Alternative 2: Combining Chinook and chum salmon bycatch measures to ensure that chum bycatch reduction efforts do not increase Chinook salmon bycatch;
- Alternative 3: Requiring changes to the Incentive Plan Agreements to achieve greater bycatch reduction. Options include penalizing vessels with consistently high bycatch, requiring use of salmon excluders, and specific changes to operation of the plans.
- Alternative 4: Changing the start and/or end dates of the pollock fishing season and distribution of pollock quota between seasons to minimize bycatch;
- Alternative 5: Reducing the performance standard (currently 47,591 Chinook salmon) and possibly also the hard cap (currently 60,000) for Chinook salmon bycatch by 25% – 60% in times of low abundance of Western Alaska Chinook salmon stocks.
To ensure that Chinook salmon bycatch is reduced in times of low abundance, and to ensure that when subsistence fisheries are closed the pollock fishery bycatch is greatly reduced as well, it is critical that the Council takes final action at this meeting and puts new regulations into effect quickly. We join with many Western Alaska groups in asking the Council to reduce the overall cap and performance cap for Chinook salmon bycatch by the maximum under consideration (60%) in times of low salmon abundance (Alternative 5, option 2, with the suboption to apply the 60% reduction to the overall hard cap). Alternative 2 and Alternative 3, options 1-5, should be selected as well.
Gulf of Alaska Sablefish Longline Pots
Also on the docket for the April Council meeting are measures to allow fishermen to use longline pots to harvest sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska with a goal of reducing whale predation. The Council will take final action on an amendment that would allow the use of pot longline gear by Gulf sablefish operations fishing IFQs. In addition to the reducing the fishery impact of whale predation on longline gear, the Council is also considering ways to reduce gear conflicts between pot and longline fishermen harvesting in the same area.
Amid the constant bustle of management issues, the Council is also doing some proactive thinking to further their work on ecosystem-based management. At the April meeting, the Council will hear a report from the Ecosystem Committee and continue to discuss the utility of undertaking a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Bering Sea. An FEP provides an opportunity for the Council to look at fisheries management in a more holistic context, rather than in the single-species context under which current management occurs. AMCC is actively engaged in this work and is encouraging the Council to move forward with an FEP for the Bering Sea.
How to Comment:
- Send written comments by 5pm on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 to email@example.com or
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306
Anchorage, AK 99501
Fax: (907) 271-2817
Include your name, affiliation, and date, and identify the agenda item in the subject line.
- Provide testimony: The Council takes testimony on every agenda item. The meeting starts April 6 and runs through April 13 at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. To testify in person, sign up at the Council meeting before public comment on that agenda item begins. View the schedule here.
Other Ways to Participate:
- Listen online: Visit https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/april2015 for live broadcast of the Council meeting.
- 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. Donations from members like you are essential to maintaining our role at the Council. Help support our work by investing in healthy oceans and coastal communities today: donate now.
For More Information
The Council posts analyses, public comments, motions and other documents linked from their agenda. Just scroll down to the agenda item you’re interested in. For the full Council agenda, schedule, and more on the April meeting, visit: www.npfmc.org/upcoming-council-meetings
by Sam Baker & Rachel Donkersloot
Last week we returned rejuvenated from the annual Bioneers Summit Conference in San Rafael, CA. The multifaceted event, what speaker, author and activist Naomi Klein describes as a ‘transformational meeting of minds’ melds conversations about indigenous rights, local and sustainable food systems, women’s rights, and other social and scientific topics, and left a strong imprint on both of us and re-ignited a spark of creativity in our work at AMCC.
We were both particularly impressed by the amazing work that is being done by groups like the Greenhorns,and the National Young Farmers Coalition who are actively addressing the challenges that new and young farmers in the U.S. face today through innovations and tools like Farm Hack and Agrarian Trust and epic awareness raising endeavors like the Vermont Sail Freight Project. While we were learning about all of the inspiring work and resources aimed at young farmers, we were reminded that there is overlap and opportunity here in Alaska, and AMCC hopes to help foster the type of community and support for young fishermen that is gaining traction among our friends in the farming world.
While we study issues like the Graying of the Fleet, and work to inform fisheries policy that protects working fishermen and benefits our fishery dependent communities, we hope also to facilitate the creation of forums for young fishermen and to advance the discussion on linkages between intergenerational access, community sustainability and resilient, regional food systems.
We intend to continue our conversations with luminaries like Severine von Tscharner Fleming of the Greenhorns and Dune Lankard of the Eyak Preservation Council in the coming months and to invite others to the table to take part through upcoming events like the Alaska Food Festival & Conference. AMCC has organized two fisheries focused panels at the conference which will hopefully serve as a springboard for potential solutions to some of the challenges Alaska’s community-based fishermen face today surrounding access and profitability.
On a final note, food systems, young farmers and land access rights may have piqued our primary interest at the conference , but various iterations of citizen science also caught our attention. Hearing from groups like Public Lab in the Gulf of Mexico, we were inspired to think of the many ways we could engage Alaskans through citizen science on important research like ocean acidification. We are excited to announce that this approach will fit into some new work we will be doing next year to bring informational and interactive ocean acidification kiosks to communities throughout coastal Alaska.
Overall, the Bioneers Conference was one of great learning and great brainstorming and we are lucky to have had the opportunity to attend. We wish there was space for us to share all of the exciting science and social endeavors we learned about at the conference. For now though, we are happy to be home in Alaska and we are ready to get back to work turning some of these ideas into concrete and collaborative projects aimed at achieving triple bottom line benefits for people, profit and planet.