Council convenes in Nome, familiar bycatch topics on tap


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Bering Sea fishery issues will top the agenda when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Nome this month.

Several agenda items revolve around incidental catches of halibut, chum and king salmon in the Bering Sea. The council will also discuss the Norton Sound red king crab fishery, a potential new Pacific cod fishery for the Community Development Quota organizations, and adopt quotas for certain Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab seasons.

The council manages federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska, and is scheduled to meet at the Nome Mini Convention Center June 4-9.

The bycatch discussion will include chum salmon, king salmon and halibut caught incidentally in various Bering Sea fisheries; no final action is expected.

The council will see another draft of a discussion paper on Bering Sea chum and king salmon bycatch. The paper looks at the management measures already in place to reduce chum and king bycatch, changes under consideration, the amounts taken currently and the impact of that bycatch.

The possible changes include an earlier end to the summer/fall “B” season —when there is more salmon bycatch — requiring salmon excluders, modifying the rolling hot spot program that requires vessels to avoid pockets of high salmon bycatch, and modify how prohibited species catch is accounted for to track the salmon lifecycle rather than the calendar year.

None of those actions will be taken at this meeting, although the council could request further analysis of any of them.

At the last council meeting in Nome in June 2011, dozens of Norton Sound residents testified asking the council to limit chum bycatch. In that region, many of the king salmon runs are weak, but there is still opportunity to catch chums, and residents have said they want the chums protected before there is a decline to worry about.

The council will also review an application from John Gauvin to continue work on excluders, which are devices intended to enable salmon to escape from trawl nets in the Bering Sea pollock fishery while minimizing the pollock loss.

Gauvin’s application proposes to continue refining the excluders to help kings and chums escape from the pollock hauls.

The application asks to test the excluders in late summer and early fall of 2014 for chum escapements and winter 2014 for kings, with catch limits of 2,500 metric tons of groundfish in each test, 250 kings and 2,500 chums during the chum test, and 600 kings and 250 chums during the king test.

The National Marine Fisheries Service recommended approving the application.

The council will also review a discussion paper and hear from industry about halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. The discussion paper was written by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and considers how Bering Sea halibut bycatch affects the stock.

Included in the paper are 2013 catch limits re-figured at different levels of bycatch. The paper found that the catch limits would not have changed significantly even under a 20 percent reduction of bycatch either locally in the Bering Sea or coastwide extending to Northern California.

The paper also acknowledges that the commercial catch per unit of effort has been significantly larger than the IPHC survey indicates over the past decade, a fact commercial fishermen have used to argue against quota cuts at recent meetings.

Crab questions

The council will also review a discussion paper on Norton Sound red king crab considering participation in the fishery. The paper was developed after hearing from an area resident who was concerned about overcapitalization and growth in the fishery.

According to the paper, there are 62 licenses for the fishery, with 38 active in 2013. Although there is no residency requirement, 38 of the licenses were registered to an address in Norton Sound including 18 in Nome, and the remaining 24 were registered outside the area, including eight registered outside of Alaska.

Smaller vessels do not have to have a license, and six vessels smaller than 32 feet have participated in the last several years.

The council will also set catch limits for Norton Sound red king crab, Aleutian Islands golden king crab and Adak red king crab. The golden king crab harvest is set by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at 6.29 million pounds, Adak red king crab isn’t likely to be opened and there is a recommended harvest for Norton Sound red king crab of about 420,000 pounds.

Observer review scheduled

The council will conduct its first full-year review of the revised observer program. That’s scheduled for June of each year; last June, the council had just a partial year of data to review the new program implemented in January 2013.

The new program expands observer coverage to a wider range of smaller, previously unobserved vessels, but has reduced the amount of coverage on certain fishing boats such as trawlers.

According to the report, in 2013 the new program met its goal for coverage on vessels in the trip selection pool — larger vessels such as trawlers that are covered randomly on a trip-by-trip basis — but did not meet its coverage goals for the vessel selection pool, or for dockside sampling.

The vessel selection pool, typically the previously unobserved longliners, have an observer onboard for 60 days at a time, and are generally boats less than 60 feet. In terms of dockside sampling, salmon from 91 percent of all pollock deliveries was sampled versus the goal for 100 percent sampling.

Now, NMFS is recommending that the boats in the vessel selection pool may be moved to the trip selection pool and receive coverage on a fishing trip basis, rather than for 60 days at a time.

In addition to reviewing the observer program, the council will receive a report on an issue with tendering in the Gulf of Alaska. Deliveries to tenders have gone unobserved, and there is a concern that vessels are using tenders to avoid returning to shore and logging another trip. Although that was seen in the trip length numbers presented in last June for the start of 2013, according to the report that pattern is not as apparent in the full year of data.

Pacific cod, crab changes considered

The council will also conduct its initial review on analysis of changes to crab contract provisions and in allowing the Community Development Quota halibut fleet to retain Pacific cod.

The CDQ groups asked for that in public testimony, and the council has asked for the review as the first step toward possibly allowing it. The analysis looks at allowing hook-and-line vessels less than 46 feet to keep a larger portion of the Pacific cod caught while targeting halibut with CDQ quota, and ways to accomplish that in regulation.

The crab issue addresses how communities, processors and others interface in terms of the right of first refusal. That’s a provision that was intended to help protect fishing communities by preventing Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and tanner crab processing quota from leaving an area without the community having the chance to keep it there.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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