Pacific Council News Fall 2019: Salmon and Halibut

Final salmon rebuilding plans approved

In September the Council adopted rebuilding plans for Strait of Juan de Fuca natural coho, Queets River natural coho, and Snohomish River natural coho, subject to approval by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 

Each plan contained two alternatives for rebuilding the stock.  Under Alternative I, management would remain the same (status quo); during rebuilding, the Council would continue to use management framework and reference points, as defined in the fishery management plan and Pacific Salmon Treaty, to set the maximum allowable exploitation rate on an annual basis.      

Alternative II varied for each plan, but essentially would have either reduced the maximum allowable exploitation rate or increased (buffered) the level of spawning abundance needed to achieve maximum sustainable yield (MSY) while rebuilding. In salmon fishery management, MSY is expressed in terms of the adult spawners needed to achieve MSY (SMSY). 

For Strait of Juan de Fuca natural coho and Queets River natural coho, the Council adopted Alternative 1 (status quo) as the final preferred alternative. The Council adopted Alternative 2 (Buffered SMSY) as the final preferred alternative for the Snohomish River natural coho.

 The three coho stocks and two Chinook stocks (Sacramento River fall and Klamath River fall) were declared overfished in June 2018.  Under the Salmon Fishery Management Plan, a rebuilding plan is required for each of these stocks. A plan must be proposed by the Salmon Technical Team for Council consideration within one year, and developed and implemented by NMFS within two years.  

The two Chinook rebuilding plans were adopted as final in June 2019. The Council chose Alternative I (status quo) as the final preferred alternative for each plan. 

Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Work Group continues to examine effects of Council-managed salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales

In September the Council reviewed a draft risk analysis on the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of southern resident killer whales.  The analysis was provided by the Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup. Although the draft was incomplete and did not provide recommendations, the Council discussed the work to date and provided comments to guide future analysis.  The workgroup will continue to draft the analysis and will provide an updated report at the November Council meeting in Costa Mesa, California.  

The Council formed the workgroup in April 2019, in response to NMFS reinitiating Endangered Species Act consultation on the effect of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  The workgroup was tasked with reassessing the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of the killer whales. NMFS has developed a webpage dedicated to the workgroup which includes meeting schedules, materials shared, etc.

NMFS proposes change to annual salmon management cycle

NMFS has proposed changes to the salmon management cycle, stating that the current cycle does not allow enough time for the agency to approve management measures and put them in place by the start of the fishing season. NMFS West Coast Region proposed a possible solution in September: to schedule fisheries that open before May 16 under the previous year’s management measures, as is currently done for salmon fisheries occurring in March and April. NMFS also proposed setting a fixed, latest date of April 22 for the Council to send the recommended season package to NMFS for implementation.

The change would not affect the way tribal, state, and Federal managers conduct their fisheries, but would provide a way for NMFS to fulfill their obligations without interrupting the long-established schedule for West Coast salmon fisheries.  Since the salmon schedule is part of the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan, the proposed changes would require a change (amendment) to the plan if adopted. Plan amendments are typically considered over a series of three Council meetings. Council and NMFS staff will develop a plan for a possible amendment, and will report back to the Council in November.  

Council approves three topics for salmon methodology review 

As part of its annual review of salmon methodology, the Council approved three topics for review: (1) conduct the technical analysis needed to inform a change of the salmon management boundary line from latitude 40° 05′ (Horse Mountain, California) five miles north to latitude 40° 10′; (2) examine the data and models used to forecast impacts on Columbia River summer Chinook to determine whether a change in methodology is warranted; and (3) provide documentation of the abundance forecast approach used for Willapa Bay natural coho.  

The Salmon Technical Team met with the Scientific and Statistical (SSC) Salmon Subcommittee and Model Evaluation Workgroup on October 22. Results of the meeting will be provided to the full SSC and the Council at the November meeting.   

Council adopts changes to 2020 catch sharing plan; recommends annual regulations for Pacific halibut

The Council adopted for public review proposed changes to the 2020 Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan and annual fishing regulations in Washington and Oregon recreational fisheries. No changes were proposed for California recreational fisheries. 

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed three changes for public review: provide flexibility for the Puget Sound sub-area to open in April; in years when April 30 falls on a Thursday, provide flexibility for the North Coast, South Coast, and Columbia River Subarea seasons to open on April 30; and revise the current Catch Sharing Plan language to provide the flexibility for all Washington subareas to open up to three days per week.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) proposed five changes for public review:

  1. Oregon Coastwide:  Allow all-depth halibut fishing and longleader gear fishing on the same trip. Status quo: Longleader gear fishing not allowed on the same trip as all-depth halibut. Alternative 1: Allow longleader gear fishing on the same trip as all-depth halibut.
  2. Columbia River and Southern Oregon Subareas:  Revise the Southern Oregon Subarea allocation. Status quo: The Southern Oregon Subarea allocation is 3.91% of the Oregon sport allocation. Alternative 1: The Southern Oregon Subarea allocation is 3.91% of the Oregon sport allocation up to a maximum of 8,000 pounds. Any poundage over that will be allocated to the Columbia River Subarea.
  3. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the start date of the nearshore fishery. Status quo: Opens June 1, seven days per week. Alternative 1: If the Central Coast Nearshore fishery allocation is 25,000 pounds or greater, the season will open May 1; if the allocation is less than 25,000 pounds the season will open June 1.
  4. Central Coast Subarea:  Revise the days per week open in the summer all-depth fishery. Status quo: Open the first Friday and Saturday in August, then every other Friday and Saturday until Oct. 31, or quota attainment. Alternative 1: If the allocation projected to remain in the spring all-depth fishery after its conclusion, plus the summer all-depth allocation, total 60,000 pounds or more after the spring all-depth season concludes, a third open day may be added to the summer all-depth season open days. Alternative 1a: Thursday will be the additional open day. Alternative 1b: Sunday will be the additional open day.
  5. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the spring all-depth season back-up days. Status quo: Available back-up days are every other Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Alternative 1: After the spring all-depth season fixed dates, ODFW, NMFS, the International Pacific Halibut Commission and Council staff can confer and determine if back-up dates can be open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Final action for establishing the 2020 Pacific halibut fisheries is scheduled for the November 2019 Council meeting.  

Council adopts preliminary recommendations for 2020 directed halibut fishery

In September the Council adopted for public review two preliminary recommendations for the 2020 halibut fishery.  

For fishing duration, the two options are status quo (a 10-hour period) and Alternative 1 (a five-day fishing period, probably with reduced vessel limits).

For the season start date, the two options are status quo (the last Wednesday in June) or Alternative 1 (the last Wednesday in May).

Regarding fishing duration, the Council asked that Alternative 1 be accompanied with an estimate of potential vessel limits.  The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) will set vessel limits for 2020 based on the Council’s recommendations.

Estimated vessel limits (for informational purposes only) were based on certain assumptions (vessel limits for a 5-day opening are 2/3 of the current 10-hour openings; 2019 allocation (254,426 pounds) and 2019 vessel trip limit ratios). The estimates are provided in the table accompanying this story. 

The structure of the directed halibut fishery has been a topic of discussion between the IPHC and Council over the past few years.  In June 2019, the Council decided to move forward with the transition of management authority from IPHC to the Council for this fishery.  As part of the transition plan, the Council agreed to use the Council’s September/November Catch Sharing Plan revision process to solicit stakeholder input and consider proposals for the 2020 directed fishery within the existing season structure.

The Council will forward its recommendation for the 2020 season structure to the IPHC for consideration.  The IPHC is to continue to issue licenses, set vessel limits, etc. for this fishery into the near future.

Estimated vessel limits for Area 2A non-Indian commercial directed Pacific halibut fishery for fishery duration scenarios of Status Quo and Alternative 1
Vessel size class2019 Vessel limit ratioStatus quo (10-hour period) (a,b)Alternative 1 (5-day period)(b)
(a) From IPHC news release 2019-009; (b) Estimate for the initial openings, with potential for “mop up” opening(s) with lower trip limits if balance of allocation is sufficient.