Vessel replacement programs move forward
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved forward with three vessel replacement programs at its Anchorage meeting Oct. 7.
The council took final action on a licensing change for Bering Sea freezer longline vessels, unanimously recommending that those vessels be allowed to build longer replacements.
Under the recommended program, the vessels associated with an LLP can be replaced or rebuilt with larger freezer longlines that have different processing capacities. The new vessels can be as long as 220 feet. They’ll likely be more efficient in addition to safer, and could have a better ability to reduce bycatch, as well.
The council heard from the Freezer Longline Coalition Executive Director Kenny Down on the need for replacements, as well as from the United States Coast Guard and the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health. All stated a need for safer vessels.
Many of the Bering Sea vessels also operate in the Gulf of Alaska, where other freezer longliners are licensed to operate only in that region, and will not be eligible for the replacement program. To protect the Gulf-only vessels not upgrading their boats, the Bering Sea vessels, which are part of a voluntary cooperative, are working towards an agreement with those vessels, Down said.
The fleet also includes some pot cod licenses. Those will have to choose to upgrade the boat and give up the pot cod license, or retain the license without upgrading past their current length limit.
The council also directed staff to bring forward an analysis on a replacement program for the Amendment 80 fleet in the Bering Sea.
The analysis will consider a status quo option, as well as an annual or one-time election to allow AFA catcher-processors to replace Amendment 80 vessels, with the condition that the replacement vessels are subject to most AFA sideboards and other Amendment 80 regulations.
Representatives from the Amendment 80 fleet spoke against the possible program, while AFA representatives were supportive. Council members said it was a hard decision, but seemed worth considering the action even if they don’t opt for a replacement program down the line.
The council also heard about another program, which deals with vessels authorized under the AFA that have Gulf of Alaska sideboards. That was discussed in June, and will come back before the council at a later date – depending on how it fares during staff tasking – after an analysis is done looking at concerns raised by the Scientific and Statistical Committee.
Discussion of various Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab management issues began Oct. 7, and will continue at 8 a.m. Oct. 8. Chair Eric Olson warned that the council may not get to every agenda item based on the current timing.