At its June and September 2019 meetings the Council received public comment requesting relief from the adverse effects of harvest specifications for these two stocks.
Affected trawl participants south of 40°10’ N. lat. requested a higher annual vessel limit of cowcod given the difficulty avoiding incidental bycatch as the stock rebuilds. They expressed concern the fishery will be disrupted if the annual vessel limit is attained prematurely. The Groundfish Management Team and Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommended increasing or eliminating the 2020 cowcod ACT to avoid a disruption of the fishery.
The Council also received public comment regarding an increase in the bycatch of shortbelly rockfish in the Pacific whiting fishery in 2019. This catch increase was unanticipated since shortbelly rockfish rarely occur north of 40°10’ N. lat. but an apparent distributional shift has greatly increased encounters of shortbelly rockfish in northern midwater trawl fisheries. The 2020 shortbelly rockfish ACL of 500 mt was set intentionally low relative to the acceptable biological catch of 5,789 mt in recognition of the stock’s importance as a forage species in the California Current Ecosystem.
At its November 2019 meeting the Council adopted final preferred alternatives to change 2020 harvest specifications for these two stocks. The Council recommended removal of the 2020 annual catch target of 6 mt for cowcod south of 40° 10’ N. lat., coupled with a reduction of the research set-aside to 1 mt, to determine an annual vessel limit of 1,264 pounds for affected participants in the limited entry trawl fishery south of 40° 10’ N. lat.
For shortbelly rockfish the Council recommended increasing the 2020 annual catch limit to 3,000 mt to reduce the risk of closing midwater trawl fisheries north of 40° 10’ N. lat.
National Marine Fisheries Service published the final rule with an effective date of June 18, 2020, to implement the adjustments to 2020 harvest specifications for these two stocks along with the 2020 harvest specifications for Pacific whiting including the U.S. and coastwide Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the 2020 tribal allocation for the Pacific whiting fishery, allocations for three commercial whiting sectors, and set-asides for Pacific whiting research and incidental mortality in other fisheries.