Ad Hoc Crab Committee
CBSFA has been working for two years with harvester and processor representatives as a member of an Ad Hoc Crab Committee to develop agreements with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) and the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) to revise the State’s harvest strategy for Bairdi tanner crab. The crab industry has undertaken this effort in order to allow a commercial tanner fishery when the overall biomass is at harvestable levels. In the fall of 2017, CBSFA attended a workshop sponsored by the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF) that included crab scientists from ADFG, BSFRF, the National Marine Fisheries Service and academia. The results of the workshop were in support of the needed changes to the tanner crab harvest strategy. CBSFA is currently chairing the Ad Hoc Crab Committee, developing the comprehensive management changes in coordination with ADFG for presentation to the BOF in 2019.
Efforts to Develop New Management Approaches for Halibut
The CBSFA/St. Paul team continues to lead efforts to further reduce halibut bycatch and improve management of the halibut stocks. Since the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) action in 2015 to reduce halibut PSC by 21% the focus has been on developing a system for managing halibut that is based on abundance of the resource and equitable sharing of both the ups and downs in the resource between directed halibut fishermen and bycatch users.
Referred to as Abundance-Based Management (ABM), this management program will take several years to develop, as stakeholders, the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NPFMC discuss thresholds and caps affecting the allocation of the halibut resource.
At present, the IPHC takes halibut bycatch mortality off the top of the total harvestable halibut numbers, and the remainder goes to directed fisheries, resulting in the inequitable allocations of recent years.
CBSFA has also worked closely with bycatch users in reducing halibut discard mortality and bycatch rates. This involves allocation and regulatory incentives for the groundfish fisheries to improve mortality rates both on board and after discarded, as well as to reduce halibut bycatch through the use of cooperative fishery controls and excluder devices.
The IPHC and the NPFMC have been coordinating efforts to improve the overall framework for halibut management. This includes improved coordination; joint meetings; better methods for receiving stakeholder input; and the development of harmonized scientific standards and stock assessments among the bodies involved in the management of the halibut resource. Since 2015 there have been two joint meetings of the IPHC and NPFMC. CBSFA has been active in providing input before both bodies.
CBSFA has been actively involved in all of these matters to ensure that the NPFMC and the groundfish industry follow through on their commitments and that the halibut management framework responds to concerns of the halibut resource and directed halibut users.
BSAI Halibut in Pots
CBSFA has been the leading sponsor of an action before the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council), and at the October 2018 meeting, the Council took final action that would allow retention of legal-size halibut in pot gear in the BSAI, provided the operator holds sufficient halibut IFQ or CDQ for the corresponding regulatory area. The purpose of this action is two-fold: to allow for more efficient harvest of the halibut resource by decreasing wastage of legal-size halibut discarded in the BSAI sablefish pot fishery, and to allow for the possibility of reduced whale depredation of halibut removed from hook-and-line gear.
This action includes the following elements: 1) an exemption to the 9-inch maximum width of the tunnel opening on pots, 2) VMS and logbook requirements for all vessels using pot gear to fish IFQ/CDQ, and 3) in the event that the overfishing limit for a shellfish or groundfish species is approached, regulations would allow NMFS to close IFQ fishing for halibut as necessary. Additionally, the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone would be closed to all fishing with pot gear. To the extent practicable, the Council has recommended that halibut fishermen in the BSAI interested in using pot gear under this action consult with crab fishery participants on appropriate crab escape mechanisms to minimize crab bycatch.
Until the action is approved by the Secretary of Commerce and implemented by NMFS, retention of halibut in pots in the BSAI is not permitted. The Council plans to review the effects of allowing retention of halibut in pot gear three years after implementation.
Ecosystem, Community Engagement, and LTK Issues
CBSFA has worked in coordination with the City of Saint Paul and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government (Tribe) on a number of issues relating to fur seal management; community engagement; and local & traditional (LTK) knowledge. Moreover, CBSFA has supported the active participation of the Tribe on committees that the NPFMC is establishing to improve coordination with Bering Sea communities and tribes. In 2016, the NPFMC began to look with increasing concern at the status of fur seal stocks and the potential impacts that further declines might have on the Bering Sea’s commercial fisheries.
At the request of the NPFMC, the NMFS is updating the 2007 Northern Fur Seal Conservation Plan. Through the Tribe, Saint Paul is seeking to provide greater input on fur seal management issues and actions that may be taken, including those based on LTK, to prevent further declines in this iconic species for the Pribilofs.
On another related front, the NPFMC has identified increasing its engagement with rural and Alaska Native communities as a priority. The impacts of decision-making by the NPFMC is in many instances unknown or poorly understood by communities that are most impacted by these decisions. In addition, communities may have valuable input, both empirical and LTK that may better guide the NPFMC scientific and policy process. It is unknown how this process will evolve but for now the NPFMC is establishing the channels for communication and the scope of possible interactions. This is a positive development for fisheries-dependent communities such as Saint Paul Island.