In March 2016, the Council recommended that trawl gear regulations be updated to reflect the individual accountability provided by the trawl catch share program. Specifically, the Council recommended:
- allowing vessels to carry and use multiple trawl gears types on a single trip (fish caught using different gears must be stowed separately)
- eliminating minimum mesh size regulations for the codend and body of the net
- eliminating restrictions on codends; eliminating chafing gear restrictions
- allowing a new haul to be brought onboard and dumped before all catch from previous haul has been stowed; and
- changing the selective flatfish trawl gear definition and restrictions.
The selective flatfish trawl gear definition would be changed to allow the use of four-seam nets and the restriction that requires use of selective flatfish trawl gear shoreward of the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) in the area north of 40o 10’ N. latitude would be replaced by a restriction that requires use of small footrope trawl in that area.
In June 2016, the Council added to this list a recommendation to allow a vessel to fish in multiple management areas on the same trip and assign catch to management areas in proportion to the vessel’s effort in each area on that trip. The Council also considered recommending a revised procedure for measuring mesh size in the body of the net.
In 2017, the Council approved and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implemented an industry exempted fishing permit (EFP) proposal that allowed participants to use any mesh size and small footrope gear shoreward or the RCAs (two of the provisions the Council has recommended as part of the gear rule). This eliminated the selective flatfish requirement that currently applies to the area north of 40o 10’ N. latitude.
In 2018, the Council recommended an EFP that included these provisions as well as a number of other provisions that were included in the Council’s gear rule recommendations. The 2018 EFP included provisions to allow more extensive use of midwater trawl gear and recommended that NMFS revise the definition of continuous transit in the groundfish regulations.
The proposed rule was published on September 7, 2018 and the public comment deadline was October 9, 2018. NMFS published a final environmental assessment for this action in December 2018, and a final rule on December 3, 2018, effective January 1, 2019.