Council seeks info on Gulf bycatch tools, quota shares


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Gulf of Alaska rationalization is a step closer after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Oct. 5 action in Anchorage.

The council asked staff to analyze a general structure for rationalizing Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries in an effort to manage bycatch.

The council also took action to collect certain economic data from harvesters and processors in the Gulf of Alaska trawl sector. That effort could inform the council and the public on how a rationalization program will affect communities, fishermen and others involved in the fishery if such a program is implemented.

Such a rule will collect certain data about employment and fishery costs from harvesters and processors that are involved in trawl groundfish fisheries in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska. It also extends the already existing data collection efforts for the fleet, so that they apply to all, rather than just some, vessels.

The new information to be collected includes fuel cost and use, gear purchases, crew compensation, processing crewman hours and payments, and other information.

Eventually, that information could serve as a baseline for fishery economic conditions prior to a new management structure being implemented.

Council member Bill Tweit, who made the motion for action, said he it would be the first time the council set out to collect baseline data before a new management program was implemented. It marked a new step, and he hoped “that it sets a model for the future,” he said.

Alaska Groundfish Data Bank’s Julie Bonney said the scope of the council’s data collection program was appropriate. Bonney said a lot of assertions are made about how rationalization works, and better information could provide the council and the public with a better idea of what actually happens in the Gulf if it is rationalized.

“That’s a positive thing,” she said.

The council’s action on economic data collection was final, meaning that it is now up to the National Marine Fisheries Service to write a proposed rule and implement it.

Rationalization itself — the issuing of harvest shares that would end the race for fish and provide additional bycatch management tools — is still in its early stages, however.

The council’s Oct. 5 action, which was brought forward by council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, asks staff to provide a discussion paper about a program that utilizes cooperatives to distribute fishing privileges.

The primary objective of the program, according to Campbell’s motion, is bycatch management.

A program could allocate pollock and Pacific cod to cooperatives in the western Gulf, central Gulf and west Yakutat based on member’s catch history. The prohibited species catch, or PSC, of species such as chinook salmon and halibut would be apportioned out to cooperatives on a pro rata basis.

Fishery participants could also have the option of operating in a limited access pool. A portion of the target species allocation could be based on performance standards that emphasized low bycatch rates.

Council member Bill Tweit said he supported the motion as a way to work on bycatch.

“We’ve got some caps in place, but we can do better than that,” Tweit said.

The motion also asked for analysis regional delivery requirements, inclusion of processors and communities into the cooperatives and certain cooperative requirements addressing active participation, bycatch management and other issues.

The motion did not layout a path for the open access state waters fisheries, which operate under a guideline harvest level, or GHL.

Campbell said that was purposeful, as she did not believe the council should tell the state how to respond to the possible federal changes. She did note that by outlining a general program, the state might have a better idea of what was coming.

“On the state waters issues, I think the commissioner has it just right,” said council member Ed Dersham.

The Advisory Panel, or AP, had suggested that the council ask staff to analyze 10 possible structures for a rationalization program, and significant public testimony supported that.

Campbell said her motion left room to incorporate those ideas from industry and communities, but also provided some structure for comment going forward.

After making the motion, she said she hoped stakeholders would come back with specific ideas to incorporate into the program being studied.

Campbell’s motion passed unanimously 10-0 with NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger abstaining from the vote although he sat at the table during the staff report, testimony and deliberations.

Balsiger has not previously participated in the Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management discussion, and said he doesn’t have the background to do so. Typically, NMFS Alaska Region Assistant Administrator Glenn Merrill participates in that issue on behalf of the agency.

Balsiger’s wife Heather McCarty is a lobbyist for Kodiak processor Pacific Seafoods, and testified before the council about the gulf program.

Bonney, who testified in support of a cooperative structure, said she was pretty happy with the council’s action.

“Overall, we think it’s moving out of park and into drive,” she said.

Kodiak City Council member Terry Haines, who testified in support of community provisions, said he thought communities would have to come back with ideas of how to ensure that the final program includes community protections.

“It’s so important for out communities to be part of this conversation,” Haines said.

Campbell’s inclusion of communities as a possible cooperative member was “encouraging,” he said, and a possible way to give them a seat at the table.

In testimony, Haines, and others, had supported a community fishing association, or CFA, which would handle fishing quotas. That idea could still be pursued.

“A Community Fishing Association is a way to allow our communities to have a real say,” he said.

During staff tasking, the council also discussed a possible workshop on community fishing associations, an idea brought forward in public testimony and as one of the proposals. There was interest in having such a workshop in conjunction with the February council meeting, as an opportunity for the council members and public to learn more about such associations from those who have experience with them.

Rockfish salmon cap
amendment moves along

The council also took action to create a new option for addressing the rockfish program in the chinook salmon bycatch caps passed in June for the non-pollock trawl fleet, and selecting that as its preliminary preferred alternative, or PPA.

If the council takes final action at a future meeting, the PPA would be a trailing amendment to the June action.

The PPA allows for the rockfish program to roll most of its unused bycatch cap over to other sectors in October of each year, with the remainder being transferred in November, but would exclude it from the uncertainty buffer that other sectors participate in.

That was intended to be a simpler mechanism for addressing the program, which is already rationalized in a cooperative structure, in the forthcoming caps.

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

 

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