As fisheries managers throughout Alaska prepare for low king salmon returns, federal regulators are considering new limits on king bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s June agenda includes final action on a king salmon bycatch cap in the Gulf of Alaska non-pollock trawl fisheries, review of a plan to collect more information on Gulf trawl bycatch, and a discussion paper on bycatch management for the Gulf trawl fleet.
The council began meeting in Juneau Wednesday. The meeting runs until June 11.
The council took final action on king bycatch in Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries in 2011, setting a cap of 25,000 fish.
Now, the council has a suite of options and alternatives to deal with the non-pollock fisheries, including a 5,000, 7,500, 10,000 or 12,500 king salmon hard cap.
Along with a cap, the council could require full retention of salmon. It also has several options regarding whether to apportion the limit between the central and western Gulf, operational type, timing of the cap and how to incorporate the rationalized rockfish program.
King bycatch in the non-pollock groundfish fisheries this spring has been roughly the same as in prior years, although a few vessels have caught most of the bycatch.
The council also is looking at Gulf-wide trawl bycatch management. Eventually, action could be taken to rationalize that fishery as a means to further reduce bycatch.
In February, the council asked for a roadmap of that action. According to the document, the council could institute prohibited species catch limit reductions only, or it could also opt to provide incentives through voluntary cooperation, or quota allocations.
At this meeting, the council will look at a discussion paper on a roadmap and ways to reduce the bycatch, and review a new data collection program.
The council determined earlier this year that it might need better data about what’s happening in Gulf trawl fisheries to have an idea of how bycatch reduction works, including impacts to harvesters, processors and communities. At this meeting, the council will likely select its preliminary preferred alternative for a program.
The options are a no-action alternative, or a fast-tracked program to collect baseline economic information from harvester and processors in the groundfish trawl fisheries. Both the central and western Gulf of Alaska could be included in data collection effort, as bycatch reduction could impact both areas.
The discussion paper on bycatch management looks largely at decisions that would need to be made on the way to a Gulf catch share program, including how to treat western and central Gulf fisheries, what species to include, and several issues surrounding quota allocation.
To institute a program with quota, the council would need to decide who it is allocated to, how long it would be good for, whether or not it could be transferred from one entity to another and the means by which to do so, among other issues.
Those aren’t the only hot topics the council will discuss. The body will hear a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, on the new marine observer program implemented this year, and an update on a strategic plan for electronic monitoring.
The observer program is critical to bycatch management, and fisheries participants are looking for answers about how the new program has fared — particularly whether or not it is accurately accounting for prohibited species catch such as halibut and salmon.
The council also will hear about a tendering issue in the Gulf of Alaska.
Essentially, vessels are thought to have been delivering to tenders in the western Gulf rather than Kodiak processors, perhaps to avoid logging a trip and risk taking on an observer.
NMFS has been sued over the program, in an action that is still working its way through federal court, because of alleged issues with the information being received that make bycatch management more difficult.
Industry participants have also asked for an electronic monitoring, or EM, option, something that has been successfully implemented in areas such as the Canadian west coast, but that has not yet been implemented in Alaska.
The council will hear a report from NMFS on a strategic plan for EM research.
Industry associations and nonprofits have also received their own funding for EM research.
A third party report on the observer program is tentatively on the agenda.
Crab, cod decisions due
The agenda also includes final action on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, crab stocks and Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod sideboards.
The council could remove those sideboards, which were implemented as part of the crab rationalization program, or leave them in place. The sideboards apply to six freezer longliners and five hook-and-line catcher/processors licenses, although most are not currently operating under the sideboards. A change to the sideboards would affect participation in the Pacific cod fishery, however.
Sideboards are limits on vessels operating in a rationalized fishery from gaining a competitive advantage over vessels that operate in an open access fishery such as the Gulf of Alaska.
The BSAI crab stocks up for discussion are the Norton Sound red king crab, Pribilof District golden king crab, Aleutian Islands golden king crab and Adak red king crab.
The council is tasked with setting total allowable catch, or TAC, for each of those fisheries, although Adak red king crab and Pribilof district are closed based on low stock status.
The crab plan team’s recommendation for each of those stocks is similar to past years.
In Norton Sound, the recommended acceptable biological catch, or ABC, is 520,000 pounds, just up from last year. In the Aleutian Islands golden king crab, the suggested catch limit is 11.28 million pounds, the same as the 2012-2013 ABC, which led to a 6.29 million pound TAC.
The council will also talk about the Bering Sea Canyons, cost recovery programs in certain fisheries, an analysis of a definition of a fishing guide, and an update on several quota-related discussion papers.
Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.