Tendering issue target of regulatory amendment
The interplay between observer coverage and tendering in the Gulf of Alaska remained a primary concern for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its October meeting in Anchorage.
During discussion of the marine observer program implemented in January of this year, the council initiated a regulatory amendment to address the tendering issue and asked to prioritize that regulatory focus.
The council also asked the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to continue working on the revised marine observer program and agreed to change the protocol for chinook salmon genetic sampling.
Council member Dan Hull made the motion for action on the observer issues, largely based on the Observer Advisory Committee’s recommendations.
The council did not hear a report from the NMFS staff working on the observer program prior to public testimony and deliberations as they usually would, because the staff could not attend due to the government shutdown. Instead, council staff member Diana Evans used the powerpoint NMFS made for the Observer Advisory Committee, or OAC, and went through the information that was presented to that body in September.
Initially, the council discussed adding the regulatory amendment on tendering to a previously-tasked regulatory amendment discussion paper scheduled to come back before the council in December, but later agreed that if time was limited when staff returned from the shutdown, the tender amendment should take priority.
The amendment will look at tender deliveries as a potential source of bias in observer data and potential options to address the problem.
Essentially, there is gap in observer coverage due to how tendering is treated by the program that is preventing a full accounting of halibut and salmon bycatch. The council heard significant public testimony from people asking for the issue to be resolved.
Only a handful out of more than 50 tendered deliveries to western Gulf were observed in 2013, and the current regulation allows vessels to continuously deliver to tenders throughout the season without having to register for a new trip that may trigger carrying an observer.
“You have a data quality problem, and you’re beginning to have a credibility problem,” Fishing Vessel Owners Association representative Bob Alverson told the council.
The majority of the others speaking to the council agreed.
“We need more coverage on our trawl vessels, not less,” said Bob Krueger, from the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association.
The Advisory Panel, or AP, and the Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC, also supported pursuing a regulatory amendment.
“This omission needs to be addressed with a regulatory change as soon as possible,” said SSC representative Bob Clark.
The new genetic sampling protocol will take samples from every salmon in an observed haul, rather than every 10th fish as the current protocol requires.
During the SSC report, Clark told the council that the SSC felt the change would result in good data. Currently, the systematic sample cannot be extrapolated to represent all salmon bycatch, because not all hauls are observed. The new protocol would be better than the current practice, he said.
The motion also addressed the June 2014 review of the observer program. At that time, the council has asked to see the percentage of catch observed, and for the information from June 2013 to be expanded to include the full year of data. The council will also look at the performance of both the trip pool and selection pool during that review, and could begin discussing creating just one pool at that time.
The “trip” pool is mostly made up of the larger trawl fleet vessels, and the “vessel” pool is mostly small longline boats targeting halibut and sablefish.
Based on the OAC motion, the council also asked for more information on the average number and length of trips in the two-month deployment periods in 2013.
The council motion continued several aspects of the plan that were instituted in 2013, including a priority on the trip selection pool which is mostly made up of the trawl fleet, an allowance for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod fleet be allowed to voluntarily take on 100 percent observer coverage, and conditional releases for vessels to address space and safety concerns. The council also asked that observers not displace IFQ crew members.
The council also asked NMFS to explore whether allowing “cleanup” IFQ trips in multiple regulatory areas should be addressed through a regulatory amendment to the observer program or to the IFQ program. After the council requested such an allowance previously, NMFS responded that it would take a regulatory amendment.
The council also asked NMFS to consider the OAC’s recommendations for prioritizing camera deployment for an electronic monitoring project next year.
The OAC had asked NMFS to consider the objectives of such a program when it decides where to place them.