Pacific Council News, Summer 2019: Groundfish

Log of the Cutty Sark.

Council, NMFS Agree on Creating Federal Trawl Logbook Program

Earlier this year, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a new Federal logbook information collection program for the shorebased individual fishing quota trawl fishery that would require a logbook for Federally-managed groundfish species. This proposal was brought to the Council for consideration and recommendations in June. The NMFS proposal came in response to the repeal of California commercial logbook requirements for Federal fisheries by the California Fish and Game Commission. The California requirement for shorebased limited entry trawl vessels to report Federally-managed species by logbook will end July 1, 2019. 

Trawl logbooks have long been required by the states, but currently there is no Federal logbook requirement. While Oregon and Washington will continue to provide logbooks for the trawl fishery, the loss of California data would represent a major loss of information to fisheries managers and scientists.  The data are used in many critical activities such as stock assessments, area management, and bycatch interactions.

The Council agreed with NMFS that creation of a Federal logbook information collection program for the shorebased individual fishing quota trawl fishery was necessary in order to minimize data loss from California ports. The Federal system will ensure the continued coverage of limited entry trawl vessels on the west coast, and should avoid substantial gaps in the trawl logbook dataset from California. Additionally, this program will provide coverage if Oregon or Washington remove their logbook requirement in the future.

Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup Meets

The Pacific Coast Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup met this spring to review incidental take estimates of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Workgroup advises the Council on the ESA compliance of West Coast groundfish fishing, reviewing estimates of incidental take for eulachon, green sturgeon, humpback whales, leatherback sea turtles, and short-tailed albatross. The Workgroup reported to the Council in June that the fishery had exceeded the incidental take guidelines for humpback whales, but was under the limits for eulachon, green sturgeon, short-tailed albatross, and leatherback sea turtles. 

NMFS has begun its reconsultation on the effects of Council-managed fisheries on humpback whales. The Workgroup recommended research into new fishing gear that may reduce whale entanglements, and supported the Council’s efforts to decrease take of ESA-listed seabirds (see article below). To this end, the Workgroup recommended that the Council and NMFS continue to explore ways to improve fixed-gear configurations (particularly for floated longline gear). 

The Council agreed with a Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommendation that three groundfish industry members be added to the workgroup before the next meeting. 

Additionally, the Workgroup recommended a logbook for the fixed-gear fisheries, as it had in past reports. This would provide critical data to managers and scientists. The Council reaffirmed its support for this idea and recommended that NMFS pursue development of a fixed-gear logbook.

The Council adopted all the recommendations noted above, which are detailed in the Workgroup’s report.

Short-tailed albatross (Wikimedia)

Council Takes Final Action on Albatross Take in Longline Fishery

In June, the Council selected its final preferred alternative to address the take of albatross in groundfish longline fisheries.

Under the alternative, non-tribal vessels 26 feet and greater (overall length) using bottom longline gear in the limited entry fixed gear, open access fixed gear, and Shorebased Individual Fishing Quota Program, must either use streamer lines or deploy gear at night. (See link for technical requirements).

Currently, vessels 55 feet and longer must use streamer lines, which deter seabirds from diving on baited hooks as they are deployed.

Vessels fishing south of 36° N. latitude would be exempt from the requirements. Vessels 26-55 feet could deploy streamer lines at their discretion when a small craft wind advisory (or higher) is in effect.

The Council also encouraged continued collaborative research to develop and test enforceable floated mainline gear configurations that can sink within the streamer line zone to reduce seabird interactions.

The decision was made in response to a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion addressing take of endangered short-tailed albatross in Council-managed groundfish longline fisheries. The opinion required the Council to extend the existing streamer line requirements to smaller vessels. It also allowed vessels to set the gear at night, when albatross are not active, as an alternative to deploying streamer lines. These requirements apply when fishing in Federal waters (3-200 nautical miles).

NMFS expects to finalize regulations implementing the Council proposal by the beginning of 2020.

Inseason Adjustments to Groundfish Fisheries

In June the Council considered routine inseason action on groundfish stocks as well as adjustments to incidental landings of Pacific halibut in the primary sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis. 

The Council also discussed the unexpectedly high bycatch of shortbelly rockfish in the at-sea whiting fleet to-date. NMFS decided not to implement accountability measures on the groundfish fishery related to shortbelly rockfish at this time. 

The Council heard from the California Groundfish Collective regarding how annual vessel limits for cowcod may curtail their fishing efforts earlier than expected. The Council took no action on this issue, but did not oppose NMFS reviewing an exempted fishing permit submitted by the Collective that may provide options for them to continue fishing.

The Council adopted the recommendations of the GMT as follows:

  • Increase incidental Pacific halibut landing allowance from 200 to 250 lbs dressed weight Pacific halibut per 1,000 lbs dressed weight sablefish, plus 2 Pacific halibut in the primary sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis.  
  • Increase limited entry bocaccio trip limit for the area between 40° 10′ N. lat. – 34° 27′ N. lat. to 1,500 lbs per 2 months
  • Recommend revised trip limits for big skate in the shorebased IFQ program as shown:
Jan/Feb March/Apr May/June July/Aug Sept/Oct Nov/Dec
5,000 lbs 25,000 lbs 30,000 lbs 70,000 lbs 20,000 lbs 20,000 lbs
  • Open Access sablefish recommendations:
    • Open Access North 300 lb per day, or one landing per week up to 1,400 lb, not to exceed 2,800 lb per 2 months.
    • Open Access South 300 lb per day, or one landing per week up to 1,600 lb, not to exceed 4,800 lb per 2 months.

NMFS Developing Electronic Monitoring Guidelines

NMFS is developing internal guidelines on how electronic monitoring data is stored, and is considering the costs and benefits of video storage, and the management, scientific, and enforcement needs of electronic monitoring programs around the country. NMFS will also consider different types of data storage to reduce costs to industry. NMFS is expected to provide a draft procedural directive on this issue at the September or November Council meeting for review and comment. 

In addition, NMFS recently published a final rule to implement electronic monitoring for the midwater trawl whiting and fixed-gear catch share fisheries on the West Coast. In September, the Council will review a NMFS document that will guide electronic monitoring providers and fishermen on how to participate in the program.

Council Adopts Schedule for Setting 2021-2022 Harvest Specs, Management Measures

In June the Council adopted a schedule for setting 2021-22 groundfish harvest specifications and management measuresThe schedule includes steps such as scientific peer review of data and analyses; preparation of analytical documents; state meetings to solicit public input; and notice and comment rulemaking. The next steps, scheduled for the September Council meeting in Boise, Idaho, are to consider new harvest specifications and management measures. All of these steps need to be timed so that the new regulations can be implemented on January 1, 2021.

The Council also discussed a streamlined process that would allow management measures to be put in place on January 1, 2021 and would free up resources for related Council actions. Final action is scheduled for June 2020.

Council Ponders How to Phase in Conservative Catch Limits

The Council is considering new ways to phase in more conservative catch limits for groundfish stocks in order to ease short-term negative economic impacts when catch limits are significantly reduced. One option is to phase in new acceptable biological catches (ABCs) over three years. Another is to set ABCs for a limited period based on higher overfishing probabilities than the current maximum. These changes will require a fishery management plan amendment.

In September the Council will look at criteria for these new harvest control rules, a time limit for the duration of the phase-in period (or frequency of their use), the types of analyses needed, and the timing of an amendment process. The Council would like feedback on whether this process should synchronize with the 2021-22 biennial specifications process or be considered on another track. The Council also requested a list of stocks that would be good candidates for these alternative rules. 

This issue arose in response to new sigma values recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee for determining ABC buffers. The sigma value represents the scientific uncertainty in estimating an overfishing limit. One feature of the new sigma framework is that the sigma (and hence the ABC buffer) increases with the age of the assessment. These larger buffers will result in lower annual catch limits for some key stocks such as Oregon black rockfish.

The phase-in of an ABC control rule is designed to help stabilize catch levels as stock assessments are updated. Whether to apply such a control rule for stocks in the precautionary zone or for rebuilding stocks will be part of the scoping discussion.

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