Bycatch still a hot topic at IPHC; new advisory boards formed
VICTORIA, B.C. — The annual meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission included a discussion on bycatch, which is the second-largest source of removals.
The Bycatch Working Group reported on its activity so far, and said a report on bycatch would be done this summer, including an implementation plan. The group will also work this spring to develop longer-term ways of addressing and accounting for bycatch, and finalize a timeline for the shorter-term recommendations.
The working group’s immediate recommendations include finding a way to account for the uncertainty of bycatch estimates and downstream impacts, and following the progress of the new observer program in the Gulf of Alaska.
That work largely continues on the efforts begun by the commission last year.
The IPHC Conference Board, made up largely of halibut harvesters, passed multiple motions regarding halibut caught incidentally in non-directed trawl and longline fisheries. Trawlers and longliners are allowed to take about 5 million pounds of halibut as bycatch each year while prosecuting Pacific cod, rockfish and groundfish, among other species.
Ultimately, the body asked for a review of the NMFS observer program and whether or not it provided adequate bycatch information, a letter to the U.S. State Department asking for funding, and a mandate that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council address halibut bycatch immediately.
The board also asked either the IPHC or Canadian fisheries staff to present information to the North Pacific council regarding electronic monitoring and how it’s being used in Canada. Last June, the North Pacific council voted to reduce halibut bycatch from trawlers and longliners by 15 percent phased in over three years beginning in 2014.
The small boat fleet of halibut longliners is upset that electronic monitoring for their vessels is not a larger component of the new observer program, and that only about 13 percent of trawl trips will be covered compared to a 30 percent requirement in the former observer program.
“The CB is looking for some really aggressive action from the commission on bycatch and accounting for bycatch through an improved observer program,” said Linda Behnken, who is executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.
The commission acknowledged that motion, but did not directly call for inclusion of those requests in the working group’s plans. Instead, the group will proceed primarily on the same track it was already on, as set forth at the 2012 meeting.
Pearson said the advisory motions were passed along to the working group to review the suggestions and incorporate them as needed.
New advisory bodies formed
The Management Strategies Advisory Board and the Scientific Review Board were created to help advise the commission and its staff on certain issues.
The commission is working on a formal process for evaluating management strategies, and the MSAB will be responsible for overseeing much of that work. The body will be comprised of harvesters, managers, processors, IPHC staff and others. Part of the body’s work will be to set performance metrics for the fishery, and find ways to measure them. Then, it will be tasked with evaluating how management measures meet those standards. Further work on the commission’s harvest policy is also planned.
The Scientific board is a more technical group, and will provide a long-term review process for the stock assessment and other scientific work done by the commission.
The CB and PAG supported creation of those bodies, although the CB had concerns about not overshadowing the current advisory bodies. PAG also asked for more information.
Further details on the new bodies are still forthcoming. The commissioners will likely select members of the MSAB based on nominations, while staff will work on finding technically- competent members for the SRB.
Pearson said that establishing the MSAB and SRB was partially a result of the performance review recommendations.
Pearson said the MSAB will be limited in size so as not to be unwieldy, but that commissioners would consider all of the nominations. The membership and terms of reference for the bodies were expected to be confirmed in the near future, he said.
The commission is pursing non-regulatory action in response to some proposals, but did not opt to move forward with any proposed regulations.
Although the commission did not take action to implement a proposal that would have mandated the use of circle hooks, it did opt to pursue a public education campaign to encourage use.
“We think this is a good idea, we have problems regulating it, so we’ll approach it that way for the time being,” American Commissioner and NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger said.
The commission also discussed a proposal to allow preserved fish onboard sport fishing vessels to not count toward the possession limit, but decided there is not a way to mark it or otherwise differentiate between what is preserved and what was just caught.
Balsiger said commissioners recognized the hardships of the regulation in question, and asked staff to continue working on ideas of how to work around the issue.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.