Sep 28, 201112:43 PMBlog: Fish Bytes
UPDATED: NMFS asks for delay before publishing halibut rule
UPDATE: Council will decide whether to set a special meeting at staff tasking next week.
UPDATE: Sen. Begich weighs in with support for NMFS action
Big news out of Dutch Harbor this morning as National Marine Fisheries Service is asking for more time to consider the public comments submitted on the controversial halibut catch sharing plan. The audio wasn't available, but the reports are already coming out from those in the room. Read the one-page handout from NMFS provided to the council here.
NMFS is asking for the council to add an agenda item for the December meeting or hold a special meeting to advise the International Pacific Halibut Commission on how the charter sector will be managed in 2012 absent implementation of the halibut CSP.
NMFS told the council that it was best equipped to provide guidance on technical issues such as accounting for fish leased by the charter sector from commercial quota shareholders, management measures at low levels of abundance and a need for economic analysis.
It's a big win for the charter sector and a huge disappointment for the commercial sector.
The additional time means the plan is not likely to take effect in 2012. We'll update after the council reconvenes following lunch to consider the B reports. Here's a statement from Heath Hilyard, executive director of Southeast Alaska Guides Organization:
"If they are going to postpone CSP past 2012, we’re pleased because while we’ve always maintained we can fish successfully under a catch share plan of sorts, we cannot fish under the catch share plan as proposed," Hilyard said.
UPDATE (3:30 PM): The council will decide during staff tasking whether to add time at the December meeting in Anchorage to discuss the NMFS recommendations on the halibut catch sharing plan, or to hold a special meeting.
And if there was any doubt, there is no chance the proposed rule will take effect in 2012.
Staff tasking is the last agenda item for the council, and depending on how the schedule works out for the rest of the week that decision will be made next Monday or Tuesday.
Several council members expressed concerns about the additional time required to respond to NMFS’ request for both policy and technical clarifications, and what options the body has for making changes to the proposed rule under the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.
The council was informed that the only changes that could be made were those that were a “logical outgrowth” of the proposed rule.
Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak asked NMFS representative Glenn Merrill if removing the one-fish bag limit, or changing the abundance tiers from which the bag limits are derived, would be logical outgrowths of the proposed rule.
Merrill said he could not speculate, to which council executive director Chris Oliver, a nonvoting member said: “You’ve given us a letter that basically said ‘we can’t proceed to final rule unless you fix certain things.’ The way I understand it, those are things we have to address to support specific actions the council took. If we look at different actions, that Mr. Fields was alluding to, we have to start over with a new package.
“That’s the question that occurred to me. We need more clarity on what you expect from us to process the existing package, much less something different.”
Merrill: “This is based on our review of several thousands comments on the catch sharing plan in the approximate week we’ve had to review them. We’ve seen a number of issues that we believe would, or should require additional clarification from the council before we go to final rule on that package.
“If there are other issues that this council wants to address other than those we brought up here that would significantly modify the package that the council recommended to us, that’s really an APA issue.”
Fields said he was concerned that without specificity about what was possible to change under the proposed rule, a public expectation of reworking the entire proposal could be raised.
Council member John Henderschedt of Seattle said he did not believe the council was signaling intent to scrap the plan, but simply to clarify NMFS’ questions and provide guidance to the IPHC on how to manage the charter sector in the absence of the plan in 2012.
Member Ed Dersham, the lone member of the council to vote against the catch sharing plan in 2008, said the December discussion would not consider allocation under the CSP but would give guidance to the IPHC on how to manage the charter sector within its guideline harvest levels, or GHL, for Southeast and Southcentral.
The charter sector has protested what would have been a 31 percent cut in its GHL under the CSP in 2011. If survey data from IPHC, which will be released at the interim meeting Nov. 30 in Seattle, indicates a continued decline in exploitable biomass it could trigger a 15 percent cut in the GHL under status quo management.
In Area 3A (central Gulf), that would be about a half-million pound cut compared to the 1.1 million pound cut faced under CSP based on 2011 harvest levels.
Merrill said those management recommendations from the council could include those previously implemented such as no retention by skippers and crew, a two fish limit with one required to be under 32 inches, a one fish bag limit or a maximum size limit.
Ultimately, Merrill noted, the IPHC has final authority over management measures to keep sectors within their allocation under the 1923 treaty signed between the U.S. and Canada.
Council Chairman Eric Olson was not enthusiastic about adding the halibut CSP to the December meeting or holding a special meeting.
“I’m definitely not looking to go to more meetings and have more meeting days,” Olson said. “But looking at everything we do in December and how busy that is, this is not an insignificant item that could take some time unless we can really focus it, and despite our best efforts to focus it, it can snowball on us, too. It’s kind of dicey.”
Nevertheless, Olson later acknowledged that NMFS’ request for clarification before moving to final rule left the council little choice but to oblige.
“We have three specific items and a catch-all that says there are other issues,” Olson said. “Without knowing what those other issues are, and which can be resolved by the agency and which ones require attention of the council, I don’t know if we can address Mr. Fields’ concerns. The way I see it, that’s about as far as we can go right now.”
Dersham said he wished there was more clarity on what the council would discuss in December, but “I just don’t see a way we can do that now.”
The council is taking staff reports now on propsed revisions to the salmon FMP.
UPDATE (6 PM): Sen. Mark Begich has weighed in supporting the action, read his full statement here.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at email@example.com.