Council sets 2013 harvests, keeps charter halibut rules
A crewmember watches pollock unload on the F/V Starlite during a summer haul in the Bering Sea. The pollock harvest is going up in 2013, to about 1.27 million metric tons.
Pollock harvesters heard good news at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage Dec. 5 to 11.
The total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock was set at 1.27 million metric tons, about a 4 percent increase versus the 1.22 million metric ton harvest for 2012.
The Pacific cod harvest for the BSAI was set at 260,000 metric tons, a slight decrease from 2012.
In the Gulf of Alaska, pollock will also go up and cod will also go down. The TAC for Gulf pollock is 121,046 tons, up about 5,000 tons compared to 2012. Gulf Pacific cod is down about 5,000 tons, to 60,600 tons, and black cod, or sablefish, is down about 400 tons, to 12,510 tons.
The council also recommended status quo management for the halibut charter industry in Areas 2C and 3A, or Southeast Alaska and Southcentral. The status quo measures are a reverse slot limit and one fish bag limit for Area 2C, and two fish of any size in Area 3A. The reverse slot limit prohibits keeping fish between 45 inches and 68 inches long.
That was relatively good news for halibut charters, given that the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, is looking at a likely reduction in halibut harvests overall for 2013.
The recommended halibut management is contingent on the IPHC setting harvest levels that results in a guideline harvest level, or GHL, of 780,000 pounds for Area 2C and 2.37 million pounds for Area 3A. Those numbers are likely, but won’t be determined until the IPHC annual meeting in January.
Council member Ed Dersham motioned for the status quo charter halibut management, which was supported by the council Advisory Panel and the charter management committee.
The council won’t set halibut harvest levels until its annual meeting in January, but those GHLs are in line with the likely harvest based on the current harvest policy that the commission discussed at its interim meeting in November.
The Gulf harvests were approved unanimously, and the BSAI harvests by a vote of 10-1. Craig Cross, who began serving his first term as a council member in October, introduced the motion on BSAI harvests.
Pacific Ocean perch and a handful of groundfish species in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands will also increase next year under catch limits the council approved.
In the BSAI, the limits increase the TACs for rock sole, squid, and other flatfish, while arrowtooth flounder will hold steady. Other species in that area, or BSAI, including most rockfish, some yellowfin and flathead sole, and Alaska plaice, will decrease.
The TACs for most other groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska, including Pacific Ocean perch, flatfish, sole, and arrowtooth flounder are similar to the 2012 allowances.
The BSAI perch TAC was set at 35,100, an increase of more than 10,000 metric tons over 2012. Atka mackerel will see the biggest decrease in the BSAI, at 25,920 metric tons, down nearly 25,000 metric tons compared to 2012.
Some of the BSAI changes were necessitated by changes in stock status, while others came as the council tried to balance varied industry needs and higher overfishing limits given the overall 2 million metric ton cap for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.
Allocation shifts to remain under that cap were a significant part of the council’s discussion, and public comment.
The approved BSAI harvests were a change from the council Advisory Panel and Scientific and Statistical Committee recommendations. The AP recommended 1.25 million metric tons of pollock for the region — slightly less than what the council approved — and an AP minority report asked for a pollock harvest of 1.29 million metric tons.
United Catcher Boats Executive Director Brent Paine presented a set of TACs that included a pollock number between the AP and minority reports. The UCB proposal was supported by several in the industry including At-sea Processors Association Executive Director Stephanie Madsen.
But Susan Robinson from Fishermen’s Finest, which has two Amendment 80 vessels that target flatfish, said that company supported the AP motion, although they might prefer more flathead and less pollock if it were solely their choice.
Under the 2 million metric ton cap for the Bering Sea, less pollock and cod allows for more harvest of flatfish targeted by the Amendment 80 fleet. Conversely, increasing pollock harvests lowers the fish available to the Amendment 80 fleet.
The council also asked the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to consider allowing directed fishing for sculpins and put shark and octopus on bycatch only status.
Sculpins are a bottomfeeder with spines rather than scales.
The council also considered directing NMFS to consider a directed skate fishery, but decided that needed further vetting, such as consideration by the council’s Advisory Panel. The sculpin suggestion did come to the council with the AP’s blessing.
When the council considered catch limits, they also heard from NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center Biologist Jim Ianelli who talked about the stock assessments, and about decision tables that may be used in the future.
Those tables are something like the new IPHC harvest information, which provides a variety of metrics associated with a potential harvest, rather than just a single number recommendation.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.