Chum bycatch work continues, IPHC nominees released

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council continued to refine its alternatives to address chum salmon bycatch by the Bering Sea pollock fleet at its meeting March 30 in Anchorage.

Among the more significant additions to the alternatives is a revision to the rolling hot spot system that would more closely resemble the incentive plan agreements used to avoid chinook salmon bycatch.

The rolling hot spot system, or RHS, closes areas to pollock fishing when chum bycatch rates increase. However, while the results of the rolling closures have shown to reduce bycatch over time, they have also shown that moving the fleet from one area to another can lead to increased bycatch of both chums and chinooks.

The terms of rolling hot spot agreements are defined in regulation without much flexibility for the fleet to choose other methods of chum salmon avoidance. In contrast, the incentive plan agreements for chinook salmon avoidance that began in 2011 have general goals and the IPAs submitted by industry must be approved by National Marine Fisheries Service.

Under the IPAs, the pollock fleet had chinook salmon bycatch of 25,500 in 2011, a little more than half of the cap of 47,591 that was passed by the council in April 2009. The council alternatives now under consideration would create a similar general outline for the rolling hot spot participants to allow more flexibility in designing the program.

In its new alternatives, the council also prioritized chinook salmon avoidance over chums. The balance between avoiding chums and chinooks is a tricky one for the council and the pollock fleet. Western Alaska chum stocks are estimated to be 40 percent or more of the bycatch during June when the pollock “B” season opens.

Alternatives under consideration would close the pollock fishery in June or July if certain chum bycatch thresholds are reached.

However, pushing pollock effort later into the season could lead to an increase in chinook bycatch. About half of the total chinook bycatch taken in 2011 occurred in September and October as the pollock fleet tried to mop of the quota after a sketchy fishing season that saw about 50,000 metric tons of the harvest left in the water at season’s end.

The council also engaged in a discussion relative to the six Nome area tribes that requested an alternative of a 30,000 hard cap for chum bycatch. Duncan Fields of Kodiak said he considered adding the 30,000 cap as alternative for analysis, but decided against it based on his opinion that adding the option wouldn’t move the process forward and added he expected it would create major “push back” from the pollock fleet.

John Henderschedt of Seattle noted that analysis shows average foregone harvest of pollock of some 330,000 metric tons under the current option for a cap of 50,000 and that adding a 30,000 option would upset the balance between national standards requiring optimum yield and to minimize bycatch.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell reiterated her comments from the previous day that the tribes’ concerns are addressed in the current alternatives, and Chairman Eric Olson said he agreed with that rationale.

Nominees released for IPHC seats

The International Pacific Halibut Commission solicited nominations for two seats for U.S. commissioners in February, and released 10 names for consideration March 28.

The IPHC was created by a 1923 treaty between the U.S. and Canada to jointly manage Pacific halibut stocks. It has three commissioners from each nation. One U.S. seat is designated for a federal representative, and NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger will continue in that role.

Philip Lestenkof of the St. Paul Community Development Quota group Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, is not up for another term. Fellow commissioner Ralph Hoard of Icicle Seafoods, who has sat on the IPHC since 1993, is up for another term.

NMFS is taking letters of support for the nominees until May 25, and Balsiger said he’d like to get a package of information with the letters and background information on the nominees to the State Department within short order after that.

IPHC commissioners are presidential appointments, so the White House schedule will dictate when new commissioners may be seated. Balsiger said he’d like to have new commissioners in place by the time of the September retreat and the interim meeting in November.

The IPHC has a full plate over the next few months, with a joint workshop on halibut bycatch in conjunction with the North Pacific council April 24-25 in Seattle, the scheduled release of its third-party performance review by Concur Inc. at the end of the month, and an interim meeting to review the performance report and determine a process for implementing any recommendations.

IPHC also is losing its top qualitative scientist Steven Hare, who has worked for the commission for about 15 years. Hare is stepping down in May.

The 10 nominees for the two U.S. seats are:

• Robert Alverson, Seattle, Fishing Vessel Owners Association

• Kiril Bazargin, Bering Sea halibut fishermen

• Linda Behnken, Sitka, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association

• Richard Deaver, Wrangell, charter operator

• Kevin Delaney, Colorado, Kenai River Sportfishing Association fisheries consultant

• Ralph Hoard, Icicle Seafoods, current IPHC commissioner.

• Roland Maw, Soldotna, United Cook Inlet Drift Association

• Rex Murphy, Homer, retired charter operator

• Tom Ohaus, Sitka, lodge owner/charter operator

• John Whiddon, Kodiak, Pacific Seafoods

Observer program on track

Martin Loefflad of NOAA told the council March 28 said implementation of the revamped observer program for the fishing fleet is on schedule. A presolicitation notice was posted in late March seeking contract bidders for observers.

There will be three field hearings in Seattle, Juneau and Newport, Ore., to take public comment after the proposed rule is published.

The final rule could be published by Nov. 1, and by Dec. 1 at the latest to take effect in 2013. At the fall council meeting, Loefflad will present a preliminary plan of how the agency will deploy observers and the council will have opportunity to give input. The critical part of that conversation will likely center on rates of coverage, and which fleets may be selected as priorities for greater observer coverage.

Council members Dan Hull, Duncan Fields, Ed Dersham and Department Fish and Game Commissioner Campbell expressed strong disappointment that the electronic monitoring component of the rule won’t be implemented along the council’s original intent.

The council’s final action in October 2010 would have allowed for vessels in the 40-foot to 57 ½-foot range to choose electronic monitoring instead of taking an observer.

The council was informed this morning during staff reports that vessels will be notified that not all who request electronic monitoring, or EM, will have it available to them, and if they are selected for coverage they must have an observer on board.

Loefflad emphasized the EM will be deployed in 2013, just not to the extent the agency or council would like. He also noted that the agency’s criteria for waiving a coverage requirement may be a vessel’s willingness to take EM.

The other big issue with the observer program is money. The full $3.8 million in one-time startup costs hasn’t been secured as of yet, although the agency informed the council that it was trying to scrape the funds together from multiple sources.

A letter from Doug DeMaster of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center told the council he was able to secure $175,000 for EM. Another $600,000 has been appropriated from the Observers/Training line item in the 2012 budget Loefflad now has available to work on implementation.

However, only $2.8 million in discretionary funds remains for all of National Marine Fisheries Service, and that number is also subject to change as NOAA has not yet finalized its 2012 budget.

One casualty of the recent budget cuts was the University of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center. The OTC was used for observer training, refresher training and debriefing.

Observer training and most debriefing will now be centralized at the Seattle office, though some refresher training will still be conducted at OTC. Loefflad said the staff has been cut from eight to three employees over the past couple years.

04/16/2012 - 5:48am