Pacific Council News Winter 2019: Groundfish

Council Asks NMFS to Delay Electronic Monitoring Regulations Until 2022

The Council reviewed, but did not finalize, its recommendations on the revised electronic monitoring program guidelines and the draft Electronic Monitoring Manual. Instead, the Council will send a letter to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stating they would like to delay implementation of the regulations until 2022, and will consider an extension of the electronic monitoring exempted fishing permit at their March meeting.  

In addition, the Council asked for more information regarding the appropriate level of video review for vessel “steam time” (when vessels are not fishing). They also asked for an analysis from NMFS so they could better understand the effect of applying vessel-specific halibut discard mortality estimates to non-reviewed trips. Finally, the Council remains concerned about the cost effectiveness of the program and would like the industry to continue to work the NMFS and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to examine ways for industry to fund a portion of the program.

Seven Groundfish Exempted Fishing Permits Recommended

Seven groundfish exempted fishing permits (EFPs) were recommended for consideration as part of the biennial process for setting fishing limits and regulations for 2021-2022, and set-asides were adopted as recommended by the Groundfish Management Team.  Set-asides are deducted from the annual catch limits before those limits are allocated among sectors.

Groundfish EFPs authorize vessels to engage in collection of limited experimental data through activities that would otherwise be prohibited. They are commonly used to explore ways to reduce effort on overfished species, encourage innovation and efficiency, provide access to target species while measuring the bycatch associated with those strategies, or to evaluate current and proposed management measures.

The following EFPs moved forward for public comment and possible final adoption at the June 2020 meeting: 

The Council recommended that the EFPs be modified in response to Groundfish Management Team and Enforcement Consultant guidance. The Council will will check in on the development of the EFPs in March, and in April will consider adding a trawl sector electronic monitoring EFP to the package.

Council Receives Update on Groundfish Gear Switching, Sablefish Area Management

During the 2017 review of the trawl catch share program, the Council identified concerns about the trawl sector’s attainment of its allocations. The Sablefish Management and Trawl Allocation Attainment Committee (SaMTAAC) provided a progress report in November on its work developing alternatives to address these concerns. 

In November, the Council provided feedback on the committee’s proposed purpose and need statement and asked that the analysis look at four possible reasons for the under-attainment of the northern trawl allocations of stocks other than sablefish: 1) use of fixed gears to harvest the sablefish shoreside individual fishing quota, 2) declining trawl vessel participation, 3) lack of markets, and 4) limited infrastructure.  In June 2020, the Council will consider whether or not to adopt a range of alternatives for full analysis. 

The alternatives currently under consideration include, but are not limited to, modifying rules for using fixed gear to harvest the trawl allocation (gear-switching) as well as encouraging increased utilization of sablefish quota pounds allocated to the area south of 36° N. latitude.

The committee will meet again in Portland on January 22-23, 2020, to continue work on alternatives. 

Council Adopts Preferred Alternative to Address Salmon Take in the Groundfish Fishery

In November, the Council adopted final preferred alternatives to address the 2017 NMFS biological opinion on take of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Pacific Coast groundfish fishery. These measures are intended to provide the Council and NMFS options to reduce take of salmon in the groundfish fishery, should they be needed.

The biological opinion focuses on the impact of the groundfish fishery on seven listed Chinook and coho salmon evolutionary significant units. It includes multiple measures (called Terms and Conditions) that the Council and/or NMFS must develop and implement within three years to avoid reinitiation of the ESA Section 7 consultation.  

Some measures were addressed during the 2019-2020 groundfish biennial specifications process, but two have required subsequent Council action. Both provide a way for the Council to reduce incidental salmon bycatch and keep the fishery operational. 

The first measure required the Council to develop and implement salmon bycatch mitigation measures for the groundfish fishery, which can be implemented inseason to reduce the risk of a sector exceeding its bycatch guideline. The other measure required the Council to develop a process to allow a fishery sector access to a “reserve” of 3,500 Chinook salmon. This reserve is to be accessed only when a sector exceeds, or is projected to exceed, its bycatch guideline.  

The Council’s recommendations, as shown below, will be forwarded to NMFS for their review: 

  • Block area closures would be developed as a routine inseason mitigation tool for midwater trawl fisheries in the whiting and non-whiting sectors. Block area closures are based on depth contours and latitude lines, and can be set for a specific time period.
  • Extension of block area closure for groundfish vessels using midwater trawl gear to the western boundary of the exclusive economic zone, and to the 700 fathom curve for vessels using bottom trawl gear south of 46⁰16’00” N. latitude (WA/OR border).
  • selective flatfish trawl net requirement would be available as a routine inseason mitigation measure for bottom trawl vessels operating in areas of high salmon bycatch.
  • Pacific Whiting Cooperative Agreements would allow each whiting sector participants  to develop and submit salmon mitigation plans to NMFS. These mitigation plans would describe the suite of measures the participants intend to use to reduce incidental salmon take. Additionally, participants would be required to provide an annual season summary reporting to the Council and NMFS describing the use of salmon mitigation measures and an evaluation of the effectiveness of these avoidance measures.
  • Automatic authority for NMFS to close trawl sectors at 19,500 Chinook salmon, and to close non-whiting trawl at 8,500 Chinook. 

Reserve rule: A sector may only access the Reserve if the Council or NMFS take action to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch in that sector before it reaches its Chinook salmon bycatch guideline. For the at-sea whiting sector, the requirement would be satisfied upon NMFS’ approval of those sector’s co-op salmon mitigation plans. For the shoreside whiting sector, the requirement would be satisfied upon NMFS’ approval of that sector’s co-op salmon mitigation plans. Individual vessels are not eligible to submit bycatch mitigation plans. If there are whiting vessels that are not members of a whiting co-op, then additional actions by the Council or NMFS (such as block area closures) will be needed to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch prior to allowing access to the reserve by those vessels.

Vessels fishing under an approved salmon mitigation plan may be exempt from additional salmon mitigation measures. Performance of salmon mitigation plans will be evaluated through scorecards and inseason status reporting. If the salmon mitigation measures are not enough to lower salmon bycatch, the Council may take additional measures, based on inseason review at regular Council meetings.

Inseason Adjustments

In November, the Council considered progress of groundfish fisheries and routine inseason adjustments needed for the fishery to attain, but not exceed, annual catch limits. The Council adopted the eleven recommendations made by the Groundfish Management Team for early 2020 fisheries:


  1. For open access and limited entry fixed gear lingcod north of 42° N. lat., trip limits are 1,200 lbs monthly and 2,600 lbs bimonthly, respectively, all periods.
  2. For limited entry and open access south of 40° 10′ N. lat., trip limits are 1,200 lbs bimonthly (limited entry) and 500 lbs monthly (open access), except both are closed in March/April.


  1. Maintain (do not raise) the 2020 widow rockfish individual fishing quota (IFQ) allocation. 
  2. For limited entry fixed gear, trip limits of slope rockfish and darkblotched rockfish are 6,000 lbs bimonthly each period. 
  3. For Minor Nearshore Rockfish between 42° and 40°10′ N. lat. in January and February, limits are 8,500 lbs per two months, no more than 1,500 lbs of which may be black rockfish. For all other trip periods, limits are 7,000 lb / 2 months, no more than 1,500 lbs of which may be species other than black rockfish.
  4. For Deeper Nearshore Rockfish south of 40°10′ N. lat., limits are 1,200 lbs bimonthly, all periods except March/April.
  5. For limited entry fixed gear bocaccio ​between 40°10′ and 34°27′ N. lat., limits are 1,500 lbs bimonthly, all periods.

Other fish

  1. Maintain a set-aside of 1,500 metric tons (mt) of whiting to accommodate incidental mortality in 2020 research activities and in the pink shrimp fishery.
  2. Big skate trip limits are 70,000 lbs bimonthly for each period for the IFQ sector.
  3. See sablefish trip limits for limited entry north and open access north below. These represent the pre-season 2019 trip limits and do not include the inseason increases.
Limited entry north1,300 lbs week, not to exceed 3,900 lbs / 2 months
Open access north300 lbs day; or one landing per week up to 1,200 lbs, not to exceed 2,400 lb/ 2 months
Open access south300 lbs day; or one landing per week up to 1,600 lbs, not to exceed 4,800 lb/ 2 months

2020 Harvest Specifications for Cowcod and Shortbelly Rockfish 

In September, the Council adopted final preferred alternatives for 2020 harvest specifications for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat. and shortbelly rockfish. The purpose of the action was to lessen the likelihood that certain fisheries would be closed early next year.  

In June and September, stakeholders had asked for relief regarding cowcod vessel limits and the shortbelly annual catch limit (ACL). They reported an unanticipated increase in the bycatch of shortbelly rockfish in the Pacific whiting fishery this year – an unexpected event, since shortbelly rarely occur north of 40°10’ N. lat. Apparently, high recruitment and an expansion of the stock’s range has greatly increased encounters of shortbelly rockfish in northern midwater trawl fisheries.  

In recognition of the stock’s importance as a forage species, the 2020 shortbelly rockfish ACL of 500 mt had been intentionally set low compared to the acceptable biological catch of 5,789 mt. Stakeholders requested an increase in the ACL to avoid disruptions if the bycatch continued to be high. In November the Council recommended increasing the 2020 ACL to 3,000 mt to reduce the risk of closing midwater trawl fisheries north of 40°10’ N. lat.  

For cowcod, trawlers south of 40°10’ N. lat. asked for a higher vessel limit, given the difficulty avoiding incidental bycatch as the stock rebuilds.  They were concerned that the fishery would be disrupted if the annual vessel limit was attained prematurely. As a result, the Groundfish Management Team and Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommended increasing or eliminating the 2020 cowcod annual catch target to avoid such a disruption.

The Council action for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat. recommends removal of the 2020 annual catch target of 6 mt, coupled with a reduction of the research set-aside to 1 mt,  for an annual vessel limit of 1,264 pounds for participants in the limited entry trawl fishery south of 40°10’ N. lat.  

The final rule for these actions is expected to be released before the start of Pacific whiting fisheries in mid-May next year.

2021-2022 Harvest Specifications and Management Measures 

​In November, the Council adopted harvest specifications (overfishing limits and allowable biological catches), as well as a range of management measures necessary to implement the harvest specifications, for analysis. Over the winter, these measures will be further developed for Council review in March 2020. Preliminary preferred alternatives will be identified in April. Adoption of a range of alternatives is a step toward choosing a suite of management measures that the Council will recommend to NMFS for implementation in 2021 and 2022.

The harvest specifications for all stocks and stock complexes were adopted using default harvest control rules except for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat., Oregon black rockfish, petrale sole, sablefish, and shortbelly rockfish. Alternative harvest specifications are considered for these stocks.  Preliminary preferred alternatives for these stocks were identified as follows: 

  • Cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat.: annual catch limit (ACL)= acceptable biological catch (ABC) (P* =  0.4)
  • Oregon black rockfish: ACL = ABC = 512 mt in 2021 and 2022
  • Petrale sole: ACL = ABC (P* = 0.4)
  • Sablefish: ABC (P* = 0.45) with options for the five-year average and long-term apportionment methods for determining area-specific ACLs as described by the Groundfish Management Team
  • Shortbelly rockfish: ACL = 3,000 mt in 2021 and 2022

The impacts associated with these alternatives will be analyzed to inform final decisions on 2021 and 2022 harvest specifications in April 2020.

The Council also adopted a range of management measures necessary to implement the 2021-22 harvest specifications, as recommended by the Groundfish Management Team (GMT) (in Supplemental Reports 12 and 3Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, and the Tribes) for over-winter analysis. The Council also adopted a suite of management measure recommendations from California (in Supplemental CDFW Reports 1 and 2) and Washington for analysis by the GMT.  

Additional measures chosen for detailed analysis include modifications to existing allocations for lingcod south of 40°10’ N. lat., slope rockfish south of 40°10’ N. lat. including blackgill rockfish, and widow rockfish; and allowance of yellowtail rockfish retention in the salmon troll fishery south of 40°10’ N. lat. 

The Council is scheduled to review progress on the analysis of management measure alternatives at the March 2020 meeting, and in April, to identify preliminary preferred alternatives for those measures with sufficiently complete analyses.

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