North Pacific council talks Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch

PORTLAND, Ore. — The North Pacific Fishery Management Council modified its purpose and need statement regarding Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet bycatch at its Portland meeting, and asked for an expanded discussion paper on those issues.

The changes affirmed that the focus of the program is bycatch management, and expanded the scope to include the entire Gulf of Alaska, not just the central Gulf.

In a separate action, the council worked on a discussion paper that looks at how to collect economic data to assess the impacts of whatever action is taken in the gulf. The details of any bycatch management program will be left to a future decision.

The council asked for information about four things in the next iteration of the discussion paper: state waters management and possible state issues associated with a catch share program, benefits and detriments of limited duration quota allocations, expanded discussion of community protections and information on trawl participants.

The council also set a control date for the western Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet of March 1, 2013.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell put forth the motion making the purpose and need more general, and said that the changes don’t mean the council will ultimately opt to include the entire Gulf in a program. It just means there will be analysis on gulf-wide impacts, Campbell said.

The focus on bycatch management also means that the council is not stating from the outset that it will rationalize the fishery or create a catch share program, although that is still a possibility.

The decision came after significant public testimony.

Alaska stakeholders weighed in with a variety of requests. The council heard again from western gulf trawl fishermen who are concerned about the impacts of central gulf rationalization on their fisheries. Non-trawl representatives also expressed concerns about their fisheries, including fishing for history that they say is now under way. Adopting a control date ensures that any fishing history after that date will not be used in making allocations.

Sam Mutch, a Gulf of Alaska trawler, asked the council to consider another round of trawl LLP reduction. Defining fishery participants would help those who are active in the fishery manage bycatch, he said.

Mutch wasn’t the only person concerned about participation. United Fisherman’s Marketing Association Manager Jeff Stephan said Pacific cod pot fishermen are seeing increased entry into that fishery, and will have a proposal of their own when the council next discusses the issues.

Some speakers also talked about how the Pacific Fishery Management Council rationalized west coast trawling, and lessons that can be learned from that effort. The Pacific council manages the federal fisheries offshore from California to Washington.

Ed Bacus, vice president for fisheries of an Oregon non-profit called Ecotrust, talked about that program, and suggested that the council look at creating nonprofit trusts for each port, and allocation of catch shares to those trusts. Operators could have long-term, perhaps 10-year, leases from those entities, he said.

Area governments also presented what they wanted to see in the goals of a new program, and stressed the need to protect communities that are reliant on fishing. There was also testimony that a catch share program seemed like it was already the plan, when the original intent was to address bycatch tools.

Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger said he didn’t think further bycatch reduction should necessarily be part of the program, and the industry does not have the tools to implement past cuts.

No specific alternatives were drafted for future consideration in the bycatch management program, and the expanded discussion paper will likely come back before the council in April or June, depending on the meeting load and scheduling.

The council also talked about drafting a road map for how it will proceed with a gulf program, which it could do at a future meeting.

To eventually evaluate any program that develops, the council drafted a purpose and need statement for a data collection program that assesses the impacts of a catch share program on harvesters, processors and communities.

The council asked for analysis of two alternatives: a no action, and implementation of a fast-track program to collect economic baseline data for the central and western Gulf of Alaska trawl harvesting and processing sectors.

That motion passed with one objection, which came from council member Duncan Fields. Fields wanted to see active participation included in the data collection process.

“In our very construct for information gathering, we’re failing to provide the, to obtain the information that would then allow this council or subsequent councils to have a discussion about what active participation is,” Fields said. “I believe we’ve already taken the first misstep down what I believe to be the wrong path.”

Council member Dan Hull had asked for an analysis of how a data collection effort might include active participation information, but that was ultimately voted down, 5-6.

Most of the data collection is based on information that could easily be captured using current programs, rather than trying to implement something entirely new. In public testimony, fisheries representatives stressed the importance of not making it onerous for harvesters and processors to provide information.

Council member Bill Tweit said the council needed to consider the challenges of asking entities for information. His organization, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is generally admonished when it asks for information.

“There’s a very good reason for that,” Tweit said, in opposing collection of more active participation information. “These are burdensome. And often, they’re unintentionally burdensome.”

Being as specific as possible with requests helps, Tweit said.

Data could be collected on a variety of metrics regarding labor, employment, payments and other costs. The council also wants information about bycatch avoidance, including a checkbox if a vessel changes location to avoid catching chinook salmon and halibut, and if a checkbox excluder is being used. On the community level, the council also wants to know about investments in infrastructure that might be impacted.

Data would be collected by a third party organization under the AP recommendation being considered. Krueger said third party data collection is crucial, and that the industry was glad to see efforts to aggregate the data, rather than provide it on a vessel level.

02/14/2013 - 7:56am