Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Take Action to Ensure Observer Program Increases Coverage on Trawl Vessels and Provides Electonic Monitoring
What’s Happening: A New Observer Program Promised to Improve Bycatch Data, But May Fall Short
Two years ago, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) took action to restructure the fisheries observer program, which is responsible for collecting critical information on catch and bycatch in our federal fisheries in Alaska. There are longstanding concerns over accuracy of bycatch data in the Gulf of Alaska where most of the catch is harvested by vessels required to carry observers 30% or less of the time. Getting accurate data on Chinook salmon, halibut and Tanner crab bycatch in the trawl fleet was a major impetus for restructuring the observer program.
Groups throughout Alaska, including AMCC, supported action to improve the observer program. Small boat fishermen voiced their willingness to pay fees to support better coverage to get better bycatch information. With implementation of the new program poised for 2013, it appears unlikely that these objectives will be realized and the program may fall short of the promised outcomes.
While we don’t know yet what final observer coverage rates will be, the program design currently does not propose to increase coverage for fisheries with bycatch concerns—notably Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. Rather it proposes to apply coverage equally across all observed vessels, regardless of gear type and based on a random selection process. The lack of accurate data on bycatch of Chinook salmon, halibut and Tanner crab has been an ongoing concern, and the restructured observer program has been touted in many North Pacific Fishery Management Council decisions as the cure for this problem. As currently structured, it it is unclear if the program in 2013 will give us any better answers to what bycatch of these species really is. With the Chinook salmon crisis in southcentral and western Alaska this year, and reductions in directed harvest of halibut due to population concerns, this is simply not acceptable. Alaskans demand better information from our fisheries than what it appears this program will give us.
In addition, throughout the development of the program Electronic Monitoring (EM) has been presented as an observer option that works on small, community-based boats. In the proposed plan for 2013, however, electronic monitoring is included as an option for a limited part of the fleet in southeast Alaska, with a limited purpose. While the experience in this first year will feed into future EM development, it leaves small boats (in the 40 foot to 57.5 foot range) that were expecting to have the option of electronic monitoring in the position of having to carry a human observer. While boats who truly don’t have room for an observer won’t be required to take one, the limited space on many of these boats makes this a real challenge.
To support the program, which will now be administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a fee will be levied on all boats participating in the system. This will include vessels under 60 feet, which were previously unobserved, and brings a large portion of the halibut/sablefish IFQ fleet into the program. Catcher processors and boats which participate in catch share programs (including the Bering Sea pollock and groundfish trawl fleets and Gulf rockfish trawl fleets) which had 100% or greater coverage under the old system will still be required to carry that same level of observer coverage. These vessels will also continue to operate under the old system where they contract directly with observer providers.
How You Can Help: Take Action By Next Tuesday!
There is hope that it’s not too late to get the observer program back on the track. At their upcoming meeting in Anchorage in October, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will review the deployment plan and will have an opportunity to make recommendations to NMFS.Pressure on Council members in the form of letters and testimony is needed to make this happen. The Council is scheduled to take up this agenda item on Friday, October 5th through Saturday October 6th. If you can, please come to the Council meeting and testify. Please also write a letter to the Council beforehand. Letters are due by Tuesday, September 25, 2012.
Points to include in your letter:
- Who you are: If you are a commercial fisherman, include the size of your boat and what fisheries you participate in. If you are a sport fisherman or subsistence harvester state what you fish for and its importance to you. If you are simply an Alaska resident or seafood consumer who wants to see better management of our fisheries, let them know this.
- The Council should prioritize observer coverage for fisheries with bycatch concerns, particularly Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries that catch Chinook salmon, halibut and Tanner crab as bycatch. These fisheries should have increased coverage from the old program.
- Remind the Council more data is needed to understand the scale and impacts of bycatch.
State your support for electronic monitoring as a viable at-sea monitoring alternative to human observers and if you are a fisherman, your willingness to help develop this option. This option is important for small boats who have limited space onboard.
Send comments by 5:00 pm Alaska time on Tuesday, September 25 to:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org**All comments must include the submitter’s name and affiliation, and must be submitted before 5pm Alaska time on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Make sure to reference agenda item C-3 in the heading of your letter.**
After September 25, but before October 5 you can e-mail comments to AMCC at email@example.com for hand delivery to the Council.
- Fax: (907) 271-2817
- Mail: North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 605 West 4th Ave, Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 99501.
Copy a letter to AMCC staff by cc’ing firstname.lastname@example.org