- Undergoing NMFS Review
- Approved by Council
- Under development by the Council
In November 2019, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) directed the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP) to develop the scope of action and draft a purpose and need statement for non-trawl area management during the GAP’s March and April 2020 meetings. The GAP then submitted Informational Report 4 in June 2020 for Council consideration and scheduling of further scoping of the issues. In April 2021, the Council initiated a scoping process to address modifying existing the Non-Trawl Rockfish Conservation Area (NT_RCA) and developing measures to allow groundfish fishing inside the NT_RCA using only select gears that minimize bottom contact (Agenda Item F.3, Attachment 2).
At that meeting, the Council adopted a draft purpose and need statement and directed staff to analyze items related to relaxing restrictions in the NT_RCA as specified in Agenda Item F.3 Motion 3 to: 1) allow limited entry fixed gear (LEFG) and/or open access (OA) fishery sectors to operate within the current boundaries of the NT_RCA with approved hook-and-line gear, and; 2) modify the current seaward and shoreward boundaries of the NT_RCA in specific management areas and allow LEFG vessels to fish within those boundaries.
In November 2021, the Council further refined the purpose and need statement as well as the range of alternatives (ROAs). The Council expanded the action to include changes to the Cowcod Conservation Areas off California (CCA, including commercial and recreational fisheries), added specific measures that would include access to the NT_RCA off Washington, and included potential changes to essential fish habitat conservation area (EFHCA) designations that may be exposed to fishing activity under the alternatives.
In April 2022, the Council revised the range of alternatives as recommended in Supplemental GMT Report 1 and CDFW Report 1 as described in April 2022 Decision Summary Document. The Council eliminated an alternative which would have removed the NT_RCA from 46° 16 N. latitude to 34° 27 N. latitude from the range of alternatives due to the lack of data available for analysis. This alternative was moved to the groundfish workload prioritization list instead, for consideration at a later date. Additionally, the Council recommended developing block area closures for non-trawl gears under each alternative for mitigating bycatch of other groundfish stocks, as well as protected or prohibited species. The Council also recommended that staff revise the Purpose and Need Statement to reflect the development of new area management measures that provide for the protection and conservation of sensitive habitats.
In September 2022, the Council revised and finalized its purpose and need statement. In addition, it adopted a final range of alternatives and preliminary preferred alternatives (PPA). The Council removed an alternative from further analysis that would have moved portions of the seaward boundary of the NT_RCA off Washington for pot gear only. The PPA as described in the September 2022 Decision Summary Document would allow the use of legal non-bottom contact hook-and-line gear off Oregon and California in directed OA, LEFG, and IFQ gear switching fisheries with the option for natural bait and gear modifications for vertical stationary jig gear, move the seaward boundary to 75 fathoms between 46°16’ N. lat. and 34° 27’ N. lat. for commercial groundfish and non-tribal Pacific halibut with some additional protections for EFHCAs off Oregon, would repeal the CCA and establish new NT_RCA lines and groundfish closed areas off California, and develop BACs for commercial non-trawl fisheries coastwide.
The Council took final action in March 2023 and adopted the recommendations in the Supplemental GAP and GMT Reports. Specifically, the FPA included:
Alternative 1: Modify catch restrictions and gear configurations in the non-trawl rockfish conservation area (NT_RCA) between the OR/WA border and the U.S./Mexico border for the directed open access, limited entry fixed gear (LEFG), and individual fishing quota (IFQ) gear switching fisheries as follows:
- Allow LEFG vessels to fish up to their LEFG trip limits and IFQ gear switching vessels to fish their quota pounds (QPs) in the NT_RCA using stationary vertical jig gear or groundfish troll gear.
- Allow vessels to use natural bait when using stationary vertical jig gear.
- Allow stationary vertical jig gear to be suspended no less than 30 ft off the bottom.
Alternative 2: Move the seaward boundary of the NT_RCA to 75 fm between the OR/WA border and 34° 27’ N. lat. for groundfish and directed halibut. Additionally, develop the following:
- New essential fish habitat conservation areas at Nehalem Bank East, Bandon High Spot East, Garibaldi Reef North, Garibaldi Reef South, and Arago Reef as described in Attachment 1 and for Arago Reef (Supplemental GMT Report 1, Figure 1) that would prohibit non-trawl groundfish bottom contact and directed halibut gear.
- Create a new yelloweye rockfish conservation area (YRCA) west of Heceta Bank that would prohibit non-trawl groundfish and directed halibut bottom contact gear and would be active at the time of implementation.
- Create three new YRCAs as described in Supplemental REVISED ODFW Report 1 that would not be active at the time of implementation but would be available in the future for non-trawl groundfish and directed halibut bottom contact gear.
As part of Alternative 2, the 75 fm line would be modified as described in CDFW Report 1 and Supplemental CDFW Report 2. The Council provided guidance to NMFS and State agency staff to coordinate any necessary technical corrections to implement these waypoints.
Alternative 3: Repeal the Cowcod Conservation Area for non-trawl commercial and recreational fisheries.
- Develop new NT_RCA lines around the islands and banks within the current Cowcod Conservation Area boundaries.
- Develop 8 new Groundfish Exclusion Areas that prohibit non-trawl groundfish activity with the following:
a) Allow continuous transit through the proposed closed areas with groundfish onboard, provided gear is stowed (commercial) or not deployed (recreational).
b) Maintain the ability to fish for non-groundfish species in these closed areas without groundfish aboard the vessel.
Alternative 4: Develop Block Area Closures for commercial non-trawl groundfish.