March 2023 Decision Summary Document

March 5-10, 2023   

Council Meeting Decision Summary Documents are highlights of significant decisions made at Council meetings. Fishery policy decisions made by the Council are formally transmitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as recommendations and are not final until NMFS approval.  Results of agenda items that do not reach a level of highlight significance are typically not described in the Decision Summary Document.  For a more detailed account of Council meeting discussions, see the Council meeting record and transcripts.  

Pacific Halibut Management  

Incidental Catch Recommendations: Options for Salmon Troll and Final Action on Recommendations for Fixed Gear Sablefish Fisheries 

The Council adopted three alternatives for incidental halibut retention in the 2023 and early 2024 salmon troll fishery, consistent with the Salmon Advisory Subpanel recommendations.  Each alternative included a landing and possession limit of one halibut for every two Chinook, plus one additional halibut in excess of the possession/landing ratio. The possession/landing limit per trip ranged from 25 to 35 halibut among the three options. The Council is scheduled to adopt a final alternative at its April meeting. 

The Council’s final recommendation for the 2023 incidental halibut catch restrictions in the fixed gear fishery north of Point Chehalis beginning April 1 is 150 pounds of dressed weight halibut for every 1,000 pounds dressed weight of sablefish, plus 2 additional halibut in excess of the ratio, which was consistent with the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommendations. 

Salmon Management  

Review of 2022 Fisheries and Summary of 2023 Stock Forecasts 

The Council adopted the stock abundances, overfishing limits, acceptable biological catches, and annual catch limits as presented in the 2023 Preseason Report I, for use in 2023 salmon management.  The Council also received an update on salmon stock status and noted changes based on information reported in the Review of 2022 Ocean Salmon Fisheries.  

Adopt 2023 Management Alternatives for Public Review 

The Council adopted for public review three management measure alternatives for the 2023 ocean commercial and recreational salmon fisheries beginning May 16. The Council also adopted three alternatives proposed by the Tribes for 2023 treaty Indian ocean salmon fisheries. Details of the alternatives can be found on the PFMC 2023-2024 upcoming season management website. The Council is scheduled to adopt final 2023 ocean salmon regulations at its April 2023 Council meeting.  The Oregon and California alternatives included inseason actions that were taken during the Council meeting to modify fisheries previously scheduled to occur prior to May 16, 2023. 

Appoint Salmon Hearings Officers 

The Council appointed officers and reviewed plans for the 2023 public salmon hearings.  The salmon hearings will be held in person.  The Washington and Oregon hearings are scheduled for Monday, March 20 and the California hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21.   Public comment will be accepted in person at each hearing and can also be submitted electronically via the E-portal in advance of the April Council meeting.   

Habitat Issues 

Current Habitat Issues  

The Habitat Committee expressed concern about extremely low Sacramento River egg-to-fry survival rates in 2021 and 2022 and noted that inadequate water temperature standards remain in place, despite the Council’s September 2022 recommendation to adopt improved temperature standards. 

 Groundfish Management 

Implementation of the 2023 Pacific Whiting Fishery under the U.S./Canada Agreement  

The Council received a briefing on the 2023 United States (U.S.)/Canada Pacific Whiting Treaty process.  The Joint Management Committee, the decision-making body in the Whiting Treaty process, recommended a 2023 coastwide (U.S. + Canada) whiting total annual catch (TAC) of 625,000 mt. The anticipated U.S TAC, including carryover, is 461,750 mt. NMFS will publish a proposed rule for a 2023 U.S. whiting TAC and interim sector allocations in the Federal Register

Sablefish Pot Gear Marking – Feasibility Report  

The Council recommended scheduling an agenda item to scope the development of gear marking requirements for all groundfish fixed gear (pot and longline) by the March 2024 Council meeting as recommended in NMFS Report 3

F.4 Non-Trawl Area Management – Final Preferred Alternative 

The Council adopted a final preferred alternative (FPA) as described in Agenda Item F.4.a, Supplemental GAP Report 1  for the non-trawl area management measures package.  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: 

  1. 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. 
  1. Allow vessels to use natural bait when using stationary vertical jig gear. 
  1. 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. 

Electronic Monitoring Program Changes – Final Preferred Alternative 

The Council adopted the following purpose and need statement along with final preferred alternatives:  

Purpose and Need 

“This action is needed to create and ensure flexibility in the electronic monitoring (EM) program in order to reduce potential costs. Current regulatory deadlines for EM video review providers to submit required feedback reports to fishing vessels, and video review data summary reports as well as logbook data to NMFS may need to be revised to create more flexibility for EM video review providers. In addition, the regulations need clarification to ensure the intended flexibility regarding the process to evaluate and summarize EM video review data via the West Coast EM Program Manual (EM Manual). Therefore, the Council is considering changes to the current deadlines and requirements. The purpose of extending the regulatory deadlines and clarifying regulations regarding the EM Manual is to provide positive benefits to participants and the nation, and to lower overall costs of the program while still meeting the data collection and data quality requirements of the EM program.” 

The Council selected Alternative 2, Alternative 4, and Alternative 5 as the Final Preferred Alternatives. These alternatives would:  

  •  Under alternative 2, EM providers would have up to 60 days to submit feedback reports to vessels and EM summary reports to NMFS. 
  •  Under alternative 4, EM providers would be required to submit logbook data to NMFS within seven business days of receipt from the vessel operator. 
  •  Under alternative 5, the language in section 50 CFR 660.603(m)(1) of the Federal regulations would be revised to direct EM providers to the EM Manual for the prescribed review methodology as specified by NMFS. The proposed changes would also correct the language so that discard estimations are based on hauls for each trip. 

In addition, the Council provided guidance to NMFS to adjust the video review rate to 10 percent for optimized retention fishing as described in the EM Manual. The Council also asked NMFS and Council staff to schedule further discussions with the Groundfish EM Policy Advisory Committee/Technincal Advisory Committee regarding refinement of EM Manual business rules for video review and to explore a timeline for further Council action to adjust the discard species list in Federal regulations. 

Final Assessment Methodologies  

The Council approved the Scientific and Statistical Committee’s (SSC) recommendations regarding accepted practices guidelines for groundfish stock assessments conducted in 2023 and 2024.  The document will be posted on the Council’s groundfish stock assessment documents webpage for reference.   

Amendment 31 Groundfish Stock Definitions  

The Council adopted stock definitions for the following species as Preliminary Preferred Alternatives: 

  • Alternative 1: The following species would be defined as single, coastwide stocks: canary rockfish, Dover sole, Pacific spiny dogfish, petrale sole, rex sole, sablefish, shortspine thornyhead, and squarespot rockfish. 
  • Alternative 2: Lingcod would be defined as two stocks, north and south of 40° 10’ N. lat.  
  • Alternative 2a: Copper rockfish would be defined as two stocks, a combined Washington and Oregon stock and a California stock. 
  • Alternative 3: Black and quillback rockfishes would be defined as three stocks, delineated at state boundaries (Washington, Oregon, California).  

The Council adopted, for public review, three new alternatives to define stocks of the following species: 

  • Vermilion rockfish (single stock, single area): A Washington and Oregon stock 
  • Vermilion/Sunset rockfish (single stock, single area): A California stock 
  • Quillback rockfish: (two stocks, two areas): A combined Washington and Oregon stock and a California stock.  

Workload and New Management Measure Priorities  

The Council revised the list (Table B in Agenda Item F.8.a, GMT Report 1, March 2023) of proposed new groundfish management measures.  

The Council prioritized the following items for scoping and potential development: 

  • B14: The limited entry fixed gear follow-on package combined with considerations for fixed gear marking requirements (see Agenda Item F.3.a, NMFS Report 3, March 2023).  
  • Cordell Bank and associated conservation area revisions (Agenda Item F.8.a, Supplemental CDFW Report 1, March 2023). This measure would revise the regulatory text discussed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and could potentially include considerations related to coral planting in the Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  

The Council added the following items to the non-prioritized list (Table B) 

  • Update to the electronic monitoring discard species list 
  • Create an open access groundfish fishery vessel registration process or permit 
  • Allow for the use of natural bait in the recreational long-leader fishery  
  • Consider revisions to Cordell Bank and associated conservation areas  

The Council removed the following items from the list: 

  • B3: Create 60-Mile Bank RCA Lines 
  • B10:  Petrale sole; Gutted/ Head-on conversion factor 

The Council directed the Groundfish Management Team (GMT) and SSC to review a draft NMFS methodology that could be used to assign unobserved commercial groundfish catch to Federal or State Waters and report back by the September 2023 meeting. 

The Council gave guidance to staff to develop a best practices document which details the process for submitting a new management measure request for consideration by the Council as described in GMT report 2. This document should be provided for review when this agenda item is next scheduled. The Council also requested that the following proposed management measures be further explored before the next prioritization process: B9 Permitting Commercial Sale of Recreational Fish Waste. Though not recommended for prioritization under this agenda item, under Agenda Item G.6 Future Council Meeting Agenda and Workload Planning, the Council recommended further investigation of B12, Prohibition of Directed Shortbelly Rockfish Fishery,  

The Council also requested more information regarding the status of genetic identification of salmon caught in the midwater rockfish exempted fishing permit (EFP) and the selective flatfish trawl net EFP from NMFS.  This information which will serve to inform Council recommendations discussed under Agenda Item G.6 Future Council Meeting Agenda and Workload Planning to explore developing B2 Removal of Selective Flatfish Trawl requirement between 40° 10′ and 42° N. lat., and B5 Remove Certain Time and Area Management Restrictions for Midwater Trawl Gear Targeting Non-whiting. 

Inseason Adjustments – Final Action  

The Council did not receive any inseason adjustment recommendations from the GMT, Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, or stakeholders, and took no action.   

Ecosystem Management 

California Current Ecosystem Annual Report  

In addition to presentation of the 2022-2023 Annual Ecosystem Status Report, the March Council meeting was an opportunity for the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA) Team to submit a list of candidate ecosystem research topics for Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) review, but the CCIEA Team proposed no review topics for 2023. The Council endorsed the SSC recommendation that its Ecosystem Subcommittee use its September meeting to review methods and materials for implementing the Fishery Ecosystem Plan Ecosystem and Climate Information Initiative or other ecosystem-related topics. 

Fishery Ecosystem Plan Initiative Workplan  

The Council endorsed the Ecosystem Workgroup’s (EWG) workplan for implementing the Ecosystem and Climate Information Initiative (Initiative 4). In the near term, the EWG proposed developing an ecosystem and climate change-informed risk table for petrale sole, which would be presented at the September Council meeting and subsequently could be used in the groundfish harvest specifications process. However, the Council directed the EWG to develop a risk table for at least one additional species for review in September. 

The Council discussed The Nature Conservancy’s offer to sponsor one or two workshops to further the initiative’s objectives. In subsequent discussion under workload planning (Agenda Item G.6), the Council suggested it would provide input on potential workshop content and participation at its September meeting, recognizing scheduling any such workshops in the fall would work better than over the summer. 

Highly Migratory Species Management 

International Management Activities  

The Council adopted the Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel’s (HMSAS) recommendation to communicate the following priorities to NMFS for international decisions in 2023: 

  • North Pacific albacore: Adopt a harvest control rule at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that completes measures passed in 2022 and ensures that management covers the full range of the species, including from 0⁰ to 20⁰ N. latitude throughout the Pacific.  
  • Pacific bluefin tuna: Acknowledging that the stock is approaching the second rebuilding target, the HMSAS recommended the Council continue to support a precautionary approach for Pacific bluefin tuna. The U.S. delegation should focus on making substantive progress on a comprehensive long-term harvest strategy and East-West allocation as a precondition to any discussions on revisions to current management measures.  
  • Swordfish: Propose and adopt a measure at WCPFC to cover management from 0⁰ to 20⁰ N. latitude and ensure it is consistent with the measure passed in 2022. 
  • Circle hooks: Advance a proposal to align guidance on circle hook sizes based on the best available science and advice from relevant working groups. 
  • North Pacific striped marlin: North Pacific striped marlin in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is the primary source stock for West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone waters and is an important recreational fishery target. The U.S. delegation should continue to press hard for regional fishery management organization action to address the depleted status of the stock, as delay is likely to worsen the condition of the stock and transfer the conservation burden to future fisherman. 

Additional detailed comments are included in the HMSAS Report

Drift Gillnet Hard Caps Update  

In light of passage of the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which amends the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to prohibit the use of large mesh gillnet gear by December 2027, the Council decided not to proceed with further action to implement hard caps. The Council recognized that hard caps would likely not provide any benefit in terms of reducing high priority protected species mortality/injury over the few seasons they would be in force. In addition, the Council decided its time would be better spent consulting with NMFS on the fishery transition program mandated by the Driftnet Act. 

Administrative Matters 

Marine Planning  

The Council considered several offshore wind energy planning topics including a proposed Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) rule, the status of Oregon Call Areas, and fisheries data to support spatial suitability modeling related to Oregon Wind Energy Areas. The Council directed staff to develop three letters: 

  1. A quick response letter requesting that BOEM rescind the existing Oregon Call Areas and not proceed in issuance of draft Wind Energy Areas. The letter will further request that BOEM restart the process to identify call areas and consider all waters off Oregon from 12 miles offshore and beyond, including waters that are greater than 1,300 meters in water depth, and using marine spatial planning tools to minimize siting impacts to fisheries and ecosystem resources.  All offshore banks and seamounts would be removed from consideration for call areas, with an adequate buffer zone applied. 
  1. A quick response letter to BOEM synthesizing the comments, observations, and suggestions contained in MPC Report 1, under the Discussion and Feedback section.  
  1. A comment letter on the proposed Renewable Energy Modernization Rule as requested in Supplemental MPC Report 2. This letter would not go through the quick response process. 

The Council also expressed concerns that a 30-day comment period on Draft Wind Energy Areas off Oregon would not allow sufficient time for development of a meaningful Council response. The Council noted that a 60 or 90-day comment period, overlapping with a Council meeting, would be preferable.  

Membership Appointments and Council Operating Procedures   

Membership Appointments 

The following changes to the Council’s membership roster were made at the March meeting: 

 Council Officers, Members, and Designees 

  • Jim Fredericks is the new Director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). Virgil Moore remains the primary designee for IDFG. 
  • Lieutenant Devon Zych is a designee for Rear Admiral Bouboulis of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), replacing Lieutenant Lelea Lingo. 
  • Lynn Mattes is a designee for Director Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), replacing Jessica Watson. 

Council Advisory Body Appointments for the 2022-2024 Term 

  • Paul Mirante is appointed to the Washington Charter Boat Operator position on the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP) 
  • Dr. Michael Hinton is appointed to an At-Large position on the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) 
  • Dr. Cheryl Barnes is appointed to the ODFW position on the SSC 
  • Cassandra Leeman is appointed to the ODFW position on the Salmon Technical Team (STT) and Model Evaluation Workgroup 
  • Dr. Alexandrea Safiq is appointed to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife position on the STT 

Council Advisory Body Agency Appointments 

  • Lieutenant Zych is appointed as one of the USCG representatives to the Enforcement Consultants, filling the role of Co-Vice Chair  
  • John Cassinelli is appointed to the IDFG seat on the Habitat Committee  
  • Lilah Ise is appointed to the National Marine Fisheries Service seat on the Marine Planning Committee (MPC) 
  • Crystal D’Souza is appointed to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife seat on the MPC 

Interim Appointment 

The Council appointed Harrison Ibach to the Fishing Representative position on the Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup. This interim appointment ensures representation for the April 12-13 Workgroup meeting. 

 Solicitations for the 2022-2024 Terms  

The Council is soliciting nominations for the following positions for consideration at the June 20-27, 2023 Council meeting. Applications should be submitted by 5 PM on May 22, 2023.  

Council Operating Procedures (COP) 

The Council recommended that the roster for the Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup be revised such that the Fishing Representative Position be updated to a GAP Member that is appointed every two years, consistent with the meeting schedule for this group.   

The Council adopted a Harassment Procedures Policy (Agenda Item G.5, Attachment 3) and edits to COP 1 (Agenda Item G.5, Attachment 6) that reference the Policy and establish expectations for meeting decorum. The Council tasked staff to work with interested Council members to summarize and expand upon the additional ideas brought forward to foster a healthy, productive, and professional environment at Council-related meetings for further consideration at their June meeting.