Sunday council wrap up
SEATTLE — The North Pacific Fishery Management Council made short work of the rest of its agenda this morning and will wrap up the meeting with staff tasking Monday morning at 9 a.m. local time.
The major action of the day was advancing alternatives to clear up ambiguities about rules for vessel replacement of American Fisheries Act pollock catcher vessels. The council opted to take no further action at this point on a proposal to eliminate the pollock "D" season in the Gulf of Alaska and is holding off on analysis of allowing greater flexibility for harvesting flatfish in the Bering Sea by the Amendment 80 fleet. The Amendment 80 fleet is represented by catcher-processor trawl platforms that harvest groundfish, mainly in the Bering Sea.
The idea for eliminating the pollock "D" season in the fall and consolidating that harvest into the earlier "C" season in August was premised on reducing chinook salmon bycatch encounters late in the year. Such an action would raise a number of issues, as the seasons are divided as they are now based on Steller sea lion protection measures and any change in management of the fishery would likely trigger a consultation with National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act.
The Amendment 80 fleet would like more flexibility in harvesting yellowfin sole, rock sole and flathead sole in the Bering Sea to meet market needs and achieve the maximum harvest of all species. Under current management, much of the allowable harvest oftentimes is left in the water because of numerous constraints such as bycatch rates. The fleet would like to be able to shift harvest among the three flatfish species while not exceeding the overall Bering Sea harvest cap of 2 million metric tons or the acceptable biological catch for the individual species.
As pollock and cod quotas increase, as they are now with 1.46 million of the 2 million metric tons allocated to those species in 2012, there is less quota for flatfish. For flatfish species, the harvest quota is typically set well below the acceptable biological catch, and being able to use some of that cushion is a goal of the Amendment 80 proposal.
The council elected to defer any further analysis of the proposal until the Amendment 80 fleets present their annual co-operative reports at the April meeting in Anchorage.
On vessel replacement, the work before the council involves dealing with those vessels that operate in both the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. For those that operate only in the Bering Sea, vessels may replace their vessel with no size restrictions. However, the revisions to AFA do not specify what if any size restrictions should be applied to those that also operate in the GOA. Because there are no fishing rights assigned in the Gulf, a bigger, more powerful vessel could increase its capacity to the detriment of other harvesters who aren't eligible to replace their vessels.
Also, because quota may be transferred or leased, the council has to address the sideboard issue. Sideboards are restrictions on the amount of harvest available to vessels who operate in more than one fishery. Sixteen vessels are currently exempt from those sideboard restrictions as they had more history in the Gulf than the Bering Sea, and the council indicated that if a vessel is replaced and then retired, the quota will be allowed to be transferred but the sideboard exemption will not. Of those 16 vessels exempt from sideboard restrictions, the council alternatives would restrict them to increasing the size of their vessel by no more than 10 percent to keep fishing in the Gulf.
For those fluent in acronym, here's the motion on vessel replacement (I've provided a key below):
Groundfish sideboard protections are included in the AFA to prevent participating AFA vessels from increasing fishing effort beyond historical catch in the GOA. Ambiguities exist pertaining to groundfish sideboards in the AFA vessel replacement provisions of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. For vessels with multiple licenses, it is unclear whether the MLOA on the Bering Sea LLP or the GOA LLP applies to a replacement vessel when fishing in the GOA. Additionally, if an AFA vessel exempt from the GOA sideboards is removed from the fishery and assigns its pollock quota to another vessel, the Act is unclear whether the GOA exemption is transferable in addition to the pollock quota. Action is needed to clarify vessel replacement provisions of the Act and prevent increased capacity in the GOA groundfish fisheries by AFA vessels.
The council requests staff to prepare an analysis for initial review including the following action alternatives and options:
Issue 1: Replacement/rebuilding provisions
For AFA non-exempt vessels to fish in the GOA, a replacement/rebuilt vessel:
Alt. 1: May not exceed the most restrictive MLOA specified on any GOA LLP assigned to the vessel at the time the vessel owner applies to NMFS for replacement or rebuilding. (The MLOA of any BSAI LLP assigned to the vessel to be replaced does not apply)
Alt. 2: May not exceed the most restrictive MLOA specified on any GOA LLP assigned to the vessel at the time the Act was approved (Oct. 15, 2010). (The MLOA of any BSAI LLP assigned to the vessel to be replaced does not apply)
Alt. 3: Abide by current 10% limit on increasing the existing length, horsepower and tonnage, at the time the Act was approved (Oct. 15, 2010).
For AFA exempt vessels to fish in the GOA, a replaced/rebuild vessel:
Alt. 4: May not exceed the LOA specified on the FFP for the vessel to be replaced or rebuilt at the time the Act was approved (Oct. 15, 2010)
Issue 2: Vessel removal provisions
Upon removal of an exempted vessel, the sideboard exemption is extinguished and cannot be transferred to another vessel.
AFA: American Fisheries Act (1998 legislation assigning pollock quota among shore-based catcher vessels, offshore processors, and motherships)
MLOA: Maximum length overall
GOA: Gulf of Alaska
LLP: Limited license permit
FFP: Federal fishing permit
LOA: Length overall
Andrew Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.