Olson gavels out last meeting as North Pacific council chair

Photo/Molly Dischner/AJOC

NOME — As chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Eric Olson wielded a gavel hundreds of times to call the council to order and end dozens of days of meetings.

At the end of his final meeting June 9, he used a brand new gavel — an oosik given to him by Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. Vice President Simon Kinneen, who will likely be the newest member at the table when the council meets again in October.

Council members are limited to three, three-year terms. Olson served for the last seven years as chairman.

“Thanks to all you,” he said. “Nine years goes by in a shot. It’s just been an incredible pleasure, an incredible honor, to serve with all of you over the years ... With this gavel, the June 2014 meeting is now over.”

The oosik was just one of several going away gifts Olson received — others included a bow and arrow for shooting down amendments destined for failure, a picture of himself that he had once gifted to a former council member, a can of Area M salmon, and several plaques, including one with a gavel on it.

Council members and lobbyists also serenaded Olson at his going away reception.

During his last meeting, the council took up king and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, and it Olson said that while he wouldn’t be at the table for future meetings, he hoped the council would take action to help the Western Alaska stocks that are in decline — even if that meant fundamental changes to how the caps work, or a program that industry wasn’t 100 percent supportive of.

“We don’t have to come up with a program that the industry likes,” he said. “It’s up to the council to set the regulations.”

Crab catches set

The North Pacific council also set the 2014-15 catches for the Norton Sound red king crab and Aleutian Islands golden king crab fisheries.

For Norton Sound red king crab, the council set an overfishing limit, or OFL, of 460,000 pounds and an acceptable biological catch, or ABC, of 420,000 pounds. For the Aleutian Islands golden king crab, the OFL is 12.54 million pounds, and the ABC is 9.38 million pounds.

Council staff member Diana Stram told the council that the catch rates were down in both of those fisheries last year.

State managers are responsible for setting the actual catch limits in those fisheries, and the Alaska Board of Fisheries has set the Aleutian Islands golden king crab limit at 6.29 million pounds, so that catch likely won’t decline despite the council’s action. Under board action taken in March, that fishery will open Aug. 1, rather than Aug. 15 this year.

For Norton Sound, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sets the catch. Last year’s guideline harvest level was 500,000 pounds, less than the 520,000 pound ABC.

Stram told the council that the model has shown a decline in that stock, and the control rule that helps calculate the OFL automatically accounts for that.

Eventually, the plan is to move the Norton Sound red king crab assessment so that the limits can be set before the fishery opens, which sometimes occurs in May. Stram said that will likely require a half-day winter crab plan team meeting to discuss that stock specifically. Currently the team meets in September and May, but neither time works for the fishery.

The council followed its Scientific and Statistical Committee’s recommendation for the OFLs and ABCs. The recommended limits were largely the same as the crab plan team’s recommendations, although the committee recommended a lower ABC for Aleutian Islands golden king crab due to uncertainty in the information available about the stock status.

The council also discussed the Western Aleutians red king crab fishery, which has not opened in recent years. The OFL was set at 50,000 pounds and the ABC was set at 30,000 pounds.

At the end of its meeting, the council also discussed the permit situation in the Norton Sound red king crab fishery.

Last October, stakeholders asked the council to consider eliminating latent permits from the fishery. The council heard mixed testimony on that from Norton Sound residents June 9, and ultimately asked stakeholders to work together on a possible solution.

Currently, about half of the permits in the fishery are active, and some are concerned that the fishery would not be viable if all permits were used. However, community members said it was also important to have room for others to get into the fishery.

Bycatch changes, initial review of new Pacific cod fishery

The council also took action to move some halibut bycatch to the yellowfin sole sector, and approved a permit for continued research on salmon excluders.

The council asked NMFS to move 60 metric tons of halibut bycatch from the Bering Sea Pacific cod sector to vessels targeting yellowfin sole. Industry requested the apportionment earlier in the meeting, noting that a higher than usual amount of halibut had been encountered early in the season.

Some of the participants in the yellowfin fishery later in the year, who need the bycatch, were not active during the early season.

The council also approved John Gauvin’s application to continue work on excluders, which are devices intended to enable king and chum salmon to escape from trawl nets in the Bering Sea pollock fishery while minimizing the pollock loss.

The application asks to test the excluders in late summer and early fall of 2014 for chum escapements and winter 2014 for kings, with catch limits of 2,500 metric tons of groundfish in each test, 250 kings and 2,500 chums during the chum test, and 600 kings and 250 chums during the king test.

The council also conducted its initial review of regulations to create a community development quota fishery for Pacific cod on smaller vessels, which would essentially allow participants to catch exisiting Pacific cod quota using hook-and-line gear.

The council also added more options to that package addressing how halibut bycatch will be treated in the fishery, and the potential for Pacific cod retention in any small-vessel hook-and-line groundfish fishery other than sablefish.

06/12/2014 - 8:31am