by – Margaret Bauman
Final action is still many months away, but after hours of wrestling anew over trawl fisheries’ incidental harvest of salmon and halibut in the Gulf of Alaska and salmon in the Bering Sea, federal fisheries managers have requested more information.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, during its October meeting in Anchorage, spent more than a third of the five day council session hearing long reports and testimony on these issues before asking council staff to prepare two discussion papers tentatively for the council’s April 2014 in Anchorage.
Both actions came on motions presented by Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Cora Campbell on the heels of testimony from industry groups working to lower the bycatch, and from fish harvesters and others concerned over restrictions of some fisheries while groundfish fisheries continue to catch thousands of fish not targeted in their fisheries.
On the issue of Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management, the council asked staff to provide a discussion paper reviewing the proposed program structure, whose objective is to improve incentives for reducing prohibited species catch and improving prohibited species catch management. Pollock and Pacific cod are the groundfish fisheries of concern, because of prohibited species catch of halibut and Chinook salmon.
The council’s intension is to adopt a program that minimizes Chinook salmon byatch and allows for more target fishery opportunity while leaving some halibut PSC savings in the water for conservation and contribution to exploitable biomass.
The plan council staff will be reviewing calls for discussion of a system of cooperative management for reduction of bycatch, including a hotspot program, gear modifications, excluder use, and incentive plan agreements.
The plan would cover the western and central gulf and west Yakutat areas.
The council also received during testimony a petition from a number of residents of the Gulf of Alaska in support of a Community Fishery Association, to be allocated 100 percent of the quota in a Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management program.
The group backed proposals from the Alaska Marine Conservaiton Council and Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition for a CBA allocated 100 percent of quota.
Allocating quota directly to the community through a CFA would provide assurances that fishing rights would be anchorage in the community, the group said in its petition. Fishery participants would play a central role within the CFA and would receive al of the benefits that come with slowing down the race for fish.
The CFA, by setting performance standards and contractual obligations, could ensure community needs, such as stable crew jobs, active participation in the fishery, and a diverse fishing fleet, are met, the petition said.
For Bering Sea salmon bycatch issues, Campbell also made a motion approved by the council for a discussion paper evaluating the regulatory changes needed to incorporate Bering Sea chum salmon bycatch avoidance into the Chinook salmon incentive plan agreements.
The objectives of this action are to prioritize Chinook salmon bycatch avoidance, while preventing high chum salmon bycatch and focusing on avoidance of Alaska chum salon stocks, and allowing flexibility to harvest pollock at times and places that best support those goals.
Council staff members were directed to include in the discussion paper an evaluation of necessary changes to the IPA objectives and reporting requirements in regulation, and to identify effects of such a change.
The motion also directs inclusion of elements of a rolling hotspot system that the council should consider retaining or adding to regulations that define incentive plan agreement requirements.
The discussion paper is also to consider requiring modification of incentive plan agreements to include restrictions or penalties targeting vessels with consistently high rates of harvest of prohibited Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea.
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