Pacific Council News Spring 2020: Other news

Nominations open for advisory body vacancies

Chairs lined up for a meeting

The Council is accepting nominations for a Washington position on the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel and the Northern Charter Boat Operator position on the Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel. Nominations for both are due Monday, May 18.

Advisory body appointments made in March

In March the Council appointed Andrew Babich to the vacant Washington Commercial position on the Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Daniel Crome; Deborah Wilson-Vandenberg to the vacant California position on the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Dr. Pete Adams; Harrison Ibach to the vacant Open Access North of Cape Mendocino position on the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Jeff Miles; Whitney Roberts was appointed to the vacant Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife position on the Groundfish Management Team; and Dr. Will White to the vacant At-Large position on the Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Additionally, Council Chair Phil Anderson appointed Maggie Sommer as both the Council’s alternate representative to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) as well as the Council’s representative on the IPHC Management Strategy Advisory Body.

Council, NMFS discuss observer coverage and illness reporting requirement

On April 15, the NMFS West Coast Region temporarily suspended the requirement for Federally authorized at-sea observer coverage for all West Coast fisheries (including highly migratory species and groundfish at-sea sectors), as well as trawl catch share shoreside catch monitors. 

On March 24, NMFS Headquarters had announced an emergency rule allowing regions to waive observer coverage in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Language in the Federal Register stated “NMFS is issuing this emergency action to authorize actions to prevent any potential health issues caused by spreading the virus to fishermen, observers, technicians, and other persons involved with observer coverage,” with a goal “to protect public health, economic security, and food security, and to safeguard the health and safety of fishermen, observers, and other persons involved with such monitoring programs, while safeguarding the ability of fishermen to continue business operations and produce seafood for the Nation.”

The NMFS West Coast Region action came in response to a unanimous vote and Council letter sent immediately after the April council meeting, when a large number of people expressed concern about the impacts of COVID-19 on West Coast fishing fleets, processors, and coastal communities. NMFS responded the next day by temporarily waiving the requirement for commercial fishing vessels and first receivers in West Coast fisheries to carry a fishery observer or have a catch monitor. The waiver will be in effect beginning on April 16, 2020 for 14 calendar days. (See letter for details).

The Midwater Trawlers Cooperative noted that some regions are interpreting the national rule to allow for waivers only when observers are not available, requiring vessels to carry human observers in the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Individual Transferable Quota Program and in Alaska trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Cooperative sent a letter asking NMFS to clarify that waiving observer coverage requirements is appropriate when having an observer on board would be inconsistent with, or not recommended under, social control guidance issued by local, state, or Federal governments.

During the same discussion, the Coast Guard reported on a Marine Safety Information Bulletin that identified the illness of a person on board any vessel as a hazardous condition that could adversely affect the safety of a vessel or port facility. Vessels are required to immediately notify the nearest Coast Guard Captain if any person on board exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 or other flu-like illnesses.

The CARES Act and other COVID-19 legislation signed into law 

The CARES Act (“Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act”) was signed into law on March 27. It includes $500 billion in funding for various U.S. industries, including $300 million earmarked for fisheries and aquaculture. A coalition of fishing industry representatives from around the nation submitted a letter to the President asking for assistance with the severe economic hardship created by the coronavirus epidemic. With consumers “sheltering in place” and restaurants closed, the $100 billion-per-year demand for U.S. fishery products evaporated overnight, according to the coalition, putting tens of thousands of well-paid jobs at risk. The coalition called for about $4 billion in Federal assistance to maintain the fishery supply chain until the economy recovers.

Section 12005 of the CARES Act focused on fisheries and authorized funds for tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants affected by the coronavirus. This section of the bill was aimed at supporting independent operators who were not otherwise covered by agriculture disaster assistance programs. To be eligible for relief, participants were required to have “revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to the prior five-year average revenue, or any negative impacts to subsistence, cultural, or ceremonial fisheries.” The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will administer the distribution of the Pacific Coast share of the $300 million, which is yet to be determined.

In addition, the bill provided $4 billion to cargo carriers, which help the seafood industry in moving product; $1,200 for Americans with an income below $75,000 per year; adds $600/week in additional unemployment benefits for four months. It provided $100 billion to hospitals and health providers and increased Medicare reimbursements for treating coronavirus; gave $750 million to food banks, to Puerto Rico and the other territories for food assistance, and to programs for food distribution on American Indian reservations; made $500 billion of loans or investments to businesses, states and municipalities, and $32 billion in grants to the airline industry; provided mortgage relief; and delayed student loan payments. A detailed analysis is available on the Saving Seafood website.

On April 24, the President signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act into law. Like the CARES Act before it, the bill responds to the COVID-19 outbreak. It provides additional funding for small business loans, health care providers, and COVID-19 testing. Specifically, it increases the authority for the Paycheck Protection Program, which guarantees certain loans to small businesses, and provides for emergency economic injury disaster loans.

More COVID-19 resources:

Federal guidance for small businesses, including information on the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program:

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