June Council Meeting Schedule Change

Pacific Council News Fall 2020: Highly migratory species

A fishing boat
F/V Gutsy Lady 4, an HMS boat. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Gardon

Nineteen exempted fishing permits for deep-set buoy gear forwarded

At its September meeting the Council reviewed 20 exempted fishing permit (EFP) applications to use standard and linked deep-set buoy gear, and recommended that National Marine Fisheries Service issue all but one. 

Four of the applications proposed using deep-set buoy gear at night, but the Council did not recommend NMFS issue additional permits for this activity. This year, one vessel (the F/V Bear Flag 2) has been testing deep-set buoy gear at night under an EFP. Once the results are available in 2021, the Council could reconsider expanding night-set buoy gear EFPs to other vessels. 

The Council also recommended that NMFS modify the conditions for all of its deep-set and night-set buoy gear EFPs to require reporting of lost gear and clear marking of gear to distinguish permit holders allowed to fish at night from those only allowed to fish during the day.

Council reviews the status of highly migratory stocks

Under the HMS FMP’s biennial management process, starting in September in even years the Council has the opportunity to review “status determination criteria,” which are used by NMFS to determine whether fish stocks are healthy, subject to overfishing, or overfished. Using these criteria, if overfishing is occurring or the stock is overfished, NMFS notifies the Council. When stock  status is primarily the result of foreigh fisheries, the Council may determine no additional domestic measures are needed to address US vessels’ impact on the stock.

Stock assessments for highly migratory species are conducted by international management bodies. Since the Council last reviewed status determinations in 2018, new assessments have been conducted for North Pacific albacore, Pacific bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna (in both the eastern and western Pacific), yellowfin tuna (in both the eastern and western Pacific), skipjack tuna (in the western Pacific), and striped marlin (in the western Pacific).

The stock assessment for Eastern Pacific ocean yellowfin tuna, completed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) in 2020, is most likely to trigger a change in stock status (currently, this stock is subject to overfishing). NMFS cannot use the assessment results until they are adopted for management by the IATTC’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which has not yet scheduled a meeting. 

In November, the Council will receive an update from NMFS on its status determinations and may advise NMFS on the criteria it used.

There is concern that the IATTC may be unable to adopt 2021 measures for the tropical tuna fishery (targeting skipjack, yellowfin, and bigeye tunas) and Pacific bluefin tuna, because of the difficulty of conducting an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without such action, NMFS would be unable to implement domestic measures to address the stock status of Pacific Bluefin tuna and Eastern Pacific ocean yellowfin tuna. 

If that occurs, the Council will need to consider its obligations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. As a precaution, the Council directed the highly migratory species advisory bodies to look at options under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and report to the Council in November.

Council to consider changes to essential fish habitat for highly migratory species

The Council considered the Highly Migratory Species essential fish habitat (EFH) literature review and Highly Migratory Species Management Team report in September and found that there was enough new information to justify considering revisions to EFH. EFH for highly migratory species has not been updated since the fishery management plan was adopted in 2003.  The Highly Migratory Species Management Team will develop a proposed scope of work, schedule, and amendment process for Council consideration in March 2021.

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