Newsletter blog

Fall 2019 Admin Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Legislative Report

In September the Council received a request for comments from Representative Rob Bishop regarding HR 1979 (the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act) and HR 2236 (the Forage Fish Conservation Act.) The  Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, introduced by Ted Lieu and Diane Feinstein of California, would extend current California state regulations regarding driftnets to all Federal waters within five years. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce would be required to conduct a transition program to phase out large-scale driftnet fishing and to promote the adoption of alternative fishing practices.

The Forage Fish Conservation Act, introduced by Debbie Dingell of Michigan, would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to require Scientific and Statistical Committees to provide scientific advice on maintaining a sufficient abundance of forage fish populations; adds forage fish populations and distribution as a research priority; calls for Councils to develop lists of unmanaged forage fish species and prohibit development of new fisheries (as the Pacific Council has done); and requires Councils to reduce annual catch limits for forage fish fisheries according to the dietary needs of fish species and other marine wildlife.

The Council also received a request from Senator Maria Cantwell for comments on S 2346, Senator Wicker’s bill “to improve the Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program of the National Marine Fisheries Service.” The letters are on the Council’s legislative correspondence page

Appointments

The Council appointed Bob Dooley and Virgil Moore to the Legislative Committee.  Brian Hooper was appointed to the vacant NFMS seat on the Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup, and Erica Crust was appointed to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seat on the Groundfish Management Team formerly held by Jessi Doerpinghaus.

The Council adopted a final Council Operating Procedure (COP) 22, describing a process to conduct essential fish habitat reviews.  The new COP 22 applies to all Council fishery management plans, and establishes a tiered approach, with the expectation that the Council will develop a more detailed approach for each individual EFH review when initiating the reviews.

The Council was informed that Dr. Rishi Sharma and Dr. Aaron Berger have resigned their at-large seats on the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).  The Council directed staff to solicit nominations for these two seats between now and the November meeting, with a specific request for nominees with expertise in groundfish stock assessment or highly migratory species.  The Council also anticipates that long-time SSC member Dr. David Sampson will be retiring at the end of the year. The Council anticipates working with Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to fill the Oregon SSC seat he will be vacating.

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Fall 2019 Habitat and Ecosystem Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Habitat Report

Jordan Cove

The Council has sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the proposed natural gas pipeline project for the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas facility. The letter comments on the agencies’ proposed changes to their Resource Management Plans, which exempt the pipeline from complying with the agencies’ standards. These changes are described in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) draft Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s joint biological assessment/essential fish habitat assessment for the Jordan Cove Project is now available. 

Klamath River

Klamath River

The Habitat Committee has drafted a letter encouraging the Klamath River Renewal Corporation in their Klamath dam removal efforts. On July 29, 2019, the Corporation and PacifiCorp submitted a license transfer application and plan for decommissioning the four lower Klamath dams to FERC. The dams are currently on track to be removed by 2022.

The letter will be included in the November briefing book for Council approval.

Pre/Post Study in Rockfish Conservation Area 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Habitat Project has partnered with marine scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) to study the habitat impacts of the former trawl Rockfish Conservation Area near Heceta Bank before the area is opened to trawling in January 2020.

The trawl Rockfish Conservation Area off Oregon and California will reopen as a result of Amendment 28 to the groundfish fishery management plan. The areas to be reopened provide new opportunities to study the recovery of habitats and associated species, and the effects of long-term closures for fish populations.

The study will use ODFW’s remotely operated vehicle and OSU’s benthic landers to obtain high-definition video of the substrate, invertebrates, and fish, as well as sediment and bottom water chemistry, before and after trawling restarts in the study area.

The full project will include repeat surveys over several years. The 2019 surveys will establish a permanent record that may be used to evaluate habitat and species recovery after an extended closure, and will serve as a baseline against which to compare habitat conditions in the future. Results from the study are expected to inform the Council’s understanding of the impact of modern groundfish trawling on benthic habitats, and may be valuable in the Council’s next review of groundfish essential fish habitat.

Kelp. Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com

Council adopts revised vision for Fishery Ecosystem Plan for public review 

In September the Council reviewed alternate visions, goals, and objectives for the Fishery Ecosystem Plan. The Council chose the following vision statement, which is available for public review: “The Council envisions a California Current Ecosystem that continues to provide ecosystem services to current and future generations—including livelihoods, fishing opportunities, and cultural practices that contribute to the wellbeing of fishing communities and the nation.” The Council also adopted for public review a revised set of goals and objectives (see page 9 of the link). Final versions of the vision statement, goals, and objectives will be adopted in March. 

 

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Fall 2019 Highly Migratory Species Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Regional fisheries management organizations discuss bluefin tuna stock status, allocations

Photo of bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna (Guido Montaldo/Shutterstock.com)

In September the Council recommended that U.S. Commissioners to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) negotiate an equitable allocation of harvest opportunity for Pacific bluefin tuna between the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The WCPFC is a treaty-based organization established to conserve and manage tuna and other highly migratory fish stocks across the western and central areas of the Pacific Ocean.

The Northern Committee of the WCPFC is mainly relevant to the Council’s highly migratory species. In September, for the first time, it met on the West Coast (in Portland). Up to now, every meeting but one has been held in Japan. This gave Council members and highly migratory species advisory body members a chance to observe its proceedings.

Although Pacific bluefin is very depleted, the stock is recovering thanks to country- and fishery-specific catch limits meant to spur rebuilding. Japan’s fisheries account for most of the Pacific bluefin catch, and Japan has pushed hard to have catch limits increased in line with stock recovery projections. The U.S and other countries have insisted on a more cautious approach. This year, as a compromise, the Joint Working Group (which coordinates Pacific bluefin management between the WCPFC, the Northern Committee, and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission) recommended that Taiwan be allowed to transfer a portion of its unused catch limit to Japan for 2020, and that Japan be allowed to roll over a larger portion of its unused 2019 catch limit into next year. 

In the Eastern Pacific, the current Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s (IATTC) bluefin tuna measure applies through the end of 2020, so next year’s meeting will be of heightened interest as a new measure for 2021 and beyond must be adopted. The IATTC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) will complete a new benchmark stock assessment for Pacific bluefin in 2020, evaluating several scenarios that model the effect of catch limit increases over the next 20 years. These projections would support decisions by managers next year about possible across-the-board increases. Over the long term, in line with stock recovery, the U.S. is likely to push for increases that achieve a better balance of fishing opportunity between the Western and Eastern Pacific.

Council takes final action on management measures for deep-set buoy gear 

Photo of swordfish

Swordfish (Gorb Andrii/Shutterstock.com)

Since 2016 the Council has been working on a package of management measures for a new, low bycatch fishing gear for swordfish: deep-set buoy gear. Simultaneously, the Council has been reviewing, and NMFS issuing, exempted fishing permits (EFPs) to test this gear. This exempted fishing has provided valuable data to gauge the commercial viability and environmental effects of this new gear.

The September meeting was the culmination of Council deliberations; it adopted a package of management measures that include definitions of two gear configurations, standard and linked; restrictions on where the gear can be used (in Federal waters off of California and Oregon); requirements on the use of the gear, such as “active tending;” and perhaps most contentious, a limited entry permit system to fish in the Southern California Bight (defined as Federal waters east of 120° 28’ 18” W. longitude, or Point Conception). 

The Council’s final proposal adopted all the elements of its preliminary preferred alternative from November 2018 (See Winter 2018 Newsletter) with some modest refinements mainly related to the process for issuing limited entry permits. To support the Council’s decision, NMFS provided a Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which describes the Council’s preferred alternative, along with other alternatives the Council considered, and assesses the anticipated environmental effects stemming from using this new gear. NMFS plans to publish the DEIS for public comment in 2020, incorporating additional data from gear use under EFPs in 2019. Implementing a new gear, and especially a limited entry permit process, requires a long and involved regulatory process, so the regulations are unlikely to be finalized before 2021 at the earliest. Once in place, West Coast fishermen will be able to use this environmentally friendly gear to supply fresh, high quality swordfish to markets, reducing our reliance on less well-managed foreign fisheries.

Council recommends exempted fishing permit on use of deep-set buoy gear at night 

In September the Council approved an exempted fishing permit application submitted by Nathan Perez and Thomas Carson to fish a modified configuration of both standard and linked night-set buoy gear (fishing the gear at night). The Council recommended that National Marine Fisheries Service issue the permit with a 100 percent observer coverage requirement.

So far EFP holders have been required to use deep-set buoy gear during the day, when swordfish stay well below the surface, following their food sources’ daily migration from below the thermocline during daylight to nearer the surface at night. Other gear types that target swordfish at night present a higher risk of bycatch of other species, including protected species. (Deep-set buoy gear has a number of characteristics that make it low-bycatch gear, including the ability to quickly retrieve the gear and release unwanted species in good condition.)

Perez and Carson propose testing the gear at night during winter months. Researchers have tested the gear at night at shallow depths, but found catch was dominated by blue sharks, an undesirable species. However, according to Perez and Carson, anglers using rod and reel have found it possible to catch swordfish at night at about 300 feet, suggesting that deep-set buoy gear could be effective while staying out of the high bycatch daytime surface zone. The proponents argue that night use in December and January could increase the economic viability of the gear.

It is hoped that the EFP will result in useful information to make the gear more economically attractive without compromising its environmentally-friendly characteristics.

 

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Fall 2019 Salmon and Halibut Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Final salmon rebuilding plans approved

Autumn on the Queets River. John T. Callery/Shutterstock.com.

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

A family of Southern Resident orcas travels through Haro Strait, their blows backlit in the early morning light. Photo: Shutterstock.com.

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 boats of Westport’s charter fishing fleet. Photo: Benedictus/Shutterstock.com

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 quoLongleader 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 class 2019 Vessel limit ratio Status quo (10-hour period) (a,b) Alternative 1 (5-day period)(b)
Feet Letter
1-25 A 0.443 4,525 3,017
26-30 B 0.443 4,525 3,017
31-35 C 0.444 4,545 3,030
36-40 D 0.667 6,820 4,547
41-45 E 0.667 6,820 4,547
46-50 F 0.889 9,090 6,060
51-55 G 0.889 9,090 6,060
55+ H 1 10,225 6,817
(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.

 

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Fall 2019 Groundfish Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Cowcod rebuilt; other stock assessments adopted

Deckhand Paul Hansen displays cowcod specimens caught aboard the F/V Aggressor during the 2007 Hook and Line Survey. (Photo by John Harms via NWFSC)

Cowcod has been rebuilt ahead of schedule, the Council announced in September. The cowcod (Sebastes levis) stock south of 40°10’ N. latitude was managed under a strict rebuilding plan that severely constrained West Coast fisheries in California for two decades. Rebuilding cowcod was achieved through large area closures, non-retention rules, and very low allowance for incidental bycatch. “This is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Council Chair Phil Anderson. “The Council’s perseverance, adherence to scientific advice, and partnering with the commercial and recreational stakeholders resulted in the rebuilding of this important groundfish species.”

Cowcod, prized by both California recreational and commercial fishermen, were declared overfished and placed under rebuilding measures in 2000. They are a long‐lived, slow‐growing species, prone to protracted rebuilding progress. Under the original rebuilding plan, the stock was expected to rebuild by 2090. Improved science and understanding of this stock’s population dynamics, coupled with favorable environmental conditions, allowed the Council’s management measures to rebuild the stock much quicker than originally anticipated.

The Council, National Marine Fisheries Service, and fishing industry stakeholders collaborated successfully to rebuild overfished West Coast groundfish stocks. Cowcod is the ninth West Coast groundfish stock to rebuild through stringent management measures, leaving yelloweye rockfish as the only Federally-managed groundfish stock managed under a rebuilding plan.

The cowcod assessment was developed by scientists at National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Fisheries Science Center and was reviewed by a stock assessment review panel, which includes independent scientists, and endorsed by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee. New harvest specifications and regulations informed by this assessment are expected to be put in place beginning in 2021.

Other assessments

The Council adopted the assessments, projections, and catch reports endorsed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee in September. For cabezon, the two California models and Oregon model all estimated depletion levels above the management target, with 2019 estimates of 49 percent (southern California), 65 percent (central/northern California) and 53 percent (Oregon). (A depletion level of 53 percent means that the stock is at 53 percent of its unfished biomass). Longnose skate had an estimated depletion of 57 percent in 2019. Big skate, which was assessed for the first time, was estimated to be at 79 percent depletion. Sablefish was estimated to be at 39 percent of “unfished spawning output” (or 39% of what the egg or larval production would be if the stock were unfished), but abundance is expected to increase, and the spawning output is projected to be above the target (40%) in 2021. The gopher/black-and-yellow rockfish complex was assessed for the first time as a complex. Spawning output has been decreasing since the mid-2000s, when the stock was estimated to be at 77 percent of the unfished level. It is now estimated at 44 percent. The petrale sole assessment was updated for the second time since 2013. Landings have increased in the last four years compared to the previous four years, consistent with the stock being rebuilt. For 2019, the depletion estimate is 39 percent; however, this is expected to decline, as recent recruitments have been below average. The 2015 widow rockfish assessment was updated; the stock is estimated to be at a depletion level of 92 percent. Finally, the yelloweye rockfish catch report stated that recent catches have all been below the 20 metric ton annual catch limit.

These assessments and projections of harvest specifications will inform management of the West Coast groundfish fishery in  2021 and beyond.

Westport fishing vessel. Photo: Benedictus/Shutterstock.com

Council discusses costs, benefits of storing electronic monitoring video

Electronic monitoring was a hot topic at the September Council meeting, when the Council discussed the costs and benefits of storing video collected as part of the electronic monitoring program for various lengths of time, as well as the management, scientific, and enforcement needs of electronic monitoring programs around the country. 

The Council heard public testimony about the cost of the third party review of video and asked NMFS and the Council for more detailed information about how the program will be set up and managed by NMFS. Specifically, the industry requested review of a NMFS electronic monitoring manual that describes at what level providers will need to conduct video review (e.g., 100% or 50%), how long to store data, how to transfer data to NMFS, and other items that will help providers and participants refine cost estimates for participating in the program.

The Council recommended that NMFS consider the changes identified by the Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Policy Advisory Committee in their report on program guidelines and storage procedures. The Council plans to review revised program guidelines and a manual and further discuss the program at their November meeting.

The Council sent a letter to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission asking the Commission to help them find a path forward that would allow the Commission to continue providing video review services for the industry in the future.  

Council adopts alternatives to address take of salmon in groundfish fishery

In September the Council adopted preliminary preferred alternatives to address the 2017 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biological opinion (BiOp) on take of salmon in the Pacific Coast groundfish fishery. 

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

Some measures were addressed during the 2019-2020 groundfish biennial specifications process, but two required Council action in September.

The first measure required the Council to develop and implement salmon bycatch mitigation measures for the groundfish fishery, as necessary. These measures 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.  

Both of these conditions provide a way for the Council to reduce incidental salmon bycatch and keep the fishery operational. 

Currently, a total take of 20,000 Chinook and 1,034 coho are allowed for the entire groundfish fishery. The BiOp set specific bycatch limits of each species for the whiting and non-whiting groundfish sectors. 

The BiOp apportioned Chinook into three parts: the whiting sector, the non-whiting sector, and the “reserve.” The bycatch guideline for the whiting and non-whiting sectors are 11,000 and 5,500 Chinook, respectively, with a “reserve” of 3,500 Chinook. If a fishery exceeds its bycatch guideline it can access the reserve Chinook. If the fishery exceeds its bycatch guideline and takes all the reserve, it will close. The entire fishery closes at 20,000 Chinook. 

Coho amounts for whiting and non-whiting are 474 and 560, respectively. Unlike Chinook, exceeding the limit for coho will not close a fishery, but it would reinitiate Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation. 

The preliminary preferred alternatives selected by the Council to address these two measures are as follows: 

    • Block area closures (BACs): Consider developing BACs for the whiting sector and non-whiting midwater trawl fisheries as a routine inseason mitigation measure. BACs are area closures based on depth contours and latitude lines, and can be set for a specific time period. (Alternative 1)
    • Extension of block area closure for all trawl gears to the western boundary of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ): Develop regulations to allow for the extension of any block area closure seaward of 250 fathoms south of 46⁰16’00” N. latitude (WA/OR border) for all trawl gears to the western boundary of the EEZ (for midwater trawl) or to the 700 fathom Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Area closure (for bottom trawl). In current regulation, BACs can only be set to 250 fm.  A reason Alternative 1 was selected is it would allow the Council to address any salmon bycatch beyond the 250 fm depth contour. (Alternative 1)
    • Selective flatfish trawl net requirement: Consider the requirement of selective flatfish trawl net gear as a routine inseason mitigation measure for bottom trawl vessels operating in areas of high salmonid bycatch or, potentially, in conjunction with a BAC, to reduce incidental take of salmon. (Alternative 1)
    • Pacific Whiting Cooperative Operational Rules: Allow each whiting sector co-op to develop salmon mitigation plans for approval by NMFS. Require annual season summary reporting to the Council and NMFS describing high-salmon bycatch incident information and avoidance measures taken. (Alternative 2) 
    • Automatic authority for NMFS to close trawl sectors and preserve 500 Chinook salmon for fixed gear and recreational fisheries: Consider adjusting the total Chinook salmon closure points for the whiting and non-whiting trawl sectors that would preserve 500 Chinook salmon for the fixed gear and recreational fishery. (Alternative 1)
    • Development of Reserve rule provision: A sector may only access the Reserve if the Council or NMFS has taken action to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch in that sector prior to it reaching its Chinook salmon bycatch guideline. (Alternative 1)

For the at-sea whiting sector, the requirement for Council or NMFS action to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch for access to the Reserve would be satisfied upon approval by NMFS of each of those sector’s respective co-op salmon mitigation plans.

For the shoreside whiting sector, the requirement for Council or NMFS action to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch for access to the Reserve would be satisfied upon approval by NMFS of that sector’s co-op salmon mitigation plans, provided all participating vessels are members of a shoreside co-op with an approved salmon mitigation plan.

If there are vessels participating in the shoreside whiting fishery that are not members of a shoreside whiting co-op, then additional actions by the Council or NMFS may be needed to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch (e.g., BACs, SFFT) prior to allowing access to the reserve by that sector.

Final action on this agenda item is scheduled for November 2019. 

Council considers ways to increase vessel limit of cowcod in trawl quota fishery, annual catch limit of shortbelly rockfish

In September the Council considered increasing the 2020 annual catch limit for shortbelly rockfish to avoid the need to prematurely close fisheries due to high bycatch next year. The Council also considered eliminating the 2020 annual catch target and reducing the yield set-aside for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat. in order to increase the annual vessel limit of cowcod in the trawl individual fishing quota fishery.

The Council had received public comment from stakeholders in June requesting relief for both of these issues. Affected trawl participants south of 40°10’ N. lat. asked for a higher annual vessel limit of cowcod, since it is difficult to avoid incidental catch of cowcod as the stock rebuilds.  They were concerned the fishery would be disrupted if the annual vessel limit was attained prematurely. In June, the Groundfish Management Team and Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommended increasing or eliminating the 2020 cowcod annual catch target (ACT) to avoid a disruption of the fishery.

Public comment also addressed an unexpected increase in the bycatch of shortbelly rockfish in the Pacific whiting fishery this year. Shortbelly rockfish rarely occur north of 40°10’ N. lat., but an apparent distributional shift has greatly increased encounters with them in northern midwater trawl fisheries.  Because of the stock’s importance as a forage species, the 2020 shortbelly rockfish annual catch limit of 500 mt was set intentionally low compared to the acceptable biological catch of 5,789 mt. Commenters requested an increase in the 2020 annual catch limit (ACL) to avoid fishery disruptions if the bycatch is high again next year.  

The Council adopted a range of 2020 shortbelly rockfish ACLs varying from the status quo (500 mts) to 4,184 mt, which is equal to the 2021 and 2022 acceptable biological catch of shortbelly rockfish.  The Council’s preliminary preferred alternative for a 2020 shortbelly rockfish ACL is 3,000 mt, as recommended by the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel.

The Council also adopted an alternative to the status quo ACT of 6 mt for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat., which would eliminate the ACT.  The three options for adjusting the yield set-aside range from no adjustment to the specified set-aside of 2 mt to a 75 percent reduction of the set-aside (0.5 mt).  The Council’s preliminary preferred alternative for this action is to eliminate the ACT and reduce the set-aside by 50 percent (1 mt). This action would increase the 2020 annual cowcod vessel limit from 858 lbs. to 1,264 lbs. None of the alternatives would change the cowcod ACL.

The Council is scheduled to take final action for both of these initiatives at their November meeting in Costa Mesa, California. 

Petrale sole on display. Photo: Sheen Tan/Shutterstock.com

Initial harvest specifications, management measures adopted for 2021-2022 

In September the Council adopted 2021 and 2022 groundfish harvest specifications endorsed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee.  The Council also recommended exploring alternative harvest control rules and resulting harvest specifications for cowcod south of 40°10’ N. lat., petrale sole, sablefish, shortbelly rockfish, and Oregon black rockfish. 

The Council asked for further public comment on new management measures recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Groundfish Management Team, and Groundfish Advisory Subpanel.  

The Council will consider a range of alternative harvest control rules and new management measures for detailed analysis at their November meeting in Costa Mesa, California.  The Council is scheduled to recommend final 2021 and 2022 groundfish harvest specifications at their April 2020 meeting in Vancouver, Washington, and final management measures at their June 2020 meeting in San Diego, California. This sequence of decision-making is scheduled so that the new regulations can be implemented on January 1, 2021.  

Inseason adjustments to groundfish fisheries 

The Council adopted new sablefish daily trip limits as follows:

  • Open access north: 300 lb/day, or one landing per week up to 1,500 lb, not to exceed 3,000 lbs/ 2 months
  • Limited entry north: 1,700 lb/week, not to exceed 5,100 lb/ 2 months

The Council also recommended that NMFS extend the midwater trawl and electronic monitoring exempted fishing permits (EFPs) through 2020. The midwater trawl EFP is designed to collect information about Chinook and coho salmon in the areas south of 42° N. latitude.  This information is needed in order for the Council to consider expanding non-whiting midwater trawl into areas and times of year that are not currently available to these vessels. The Council also examined the status of electronic monitoring EFPs and encouraged NMFS to consider improvements, as described in the GEMPAC report, to this EFP. The EFP is needed to provide vessels, electronic monitoring providers, and NMFS time to transition out of an EFP and into electronic monitoring program regulations that will become effective on January 1, 2021.

Groundfish methodology review topics chosen

The Council adopted methodology review topics recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee for formal methodology reviews next year. These topics include: 1) a combined visual-hydroacoustic survey of Oregon’s nearshore semi-pelagic black, blue, and deacon rockfish; 2) a review of data-moderate approaches that are highly reliant on length data; and 3) a meta-analysis of productivity estimates for elasmobranchs. These methodologies will be reviewed next year and may inform future groundfish stock assessments and management decisions if endorsed. 

 

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Enforcement

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Coast Guard Gives Annual Report on West Coast Activities

U.S. Coast Guard crew, Golden Gate Division, train in massive waves off the coast of San Francisco in 2018.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Thirteenth and Eleventh Districts gave their annual presentation to the Council  in June. Some highlights are provided below; see the full report.

In 2018, there were 877 fisheries boardings and 11 significant fisheries violations in West Coast waters. About a third of the boardings were on commercial fishing vessels, while the rest were on recreational and charter boats. Specific examples include a commercial fishing boat operating illegally in the Cape Perpetua Marine Protected Area, a crab boat deploying gear before the official start of the season, eight halibut aboard a vessel without a commercial fishing license, a tuna troller refusing to respond to the Coast Guard, a salmon troller retaining 18 salmon during a closed season, and an assault on a female crewmember while under the influence.

Many of the Coast Guard’s most effective efforts are the result of working collaboratively with partners from NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Treaty Tribes, and California, Oregon, and Washington state fisheries enforcement personnel. For example, in May, seven Coast Guard Patrol Boats along with NOAA Law Enforcement, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon State Police conducted an interagency operation focused on the salmon opener, boarding 92 commercial and recreational boats.

In addition to fisheries enforcement, the Coast Guard has an active Marine Protected Species protection program. In 2018, Districts 11 and 13 participated in 12 marine protected species response operations, including locating and helping to free entangled whales and responding to Marine Mammal Protection Act violations. The Coast Guard also participated in efforts to protect southern resident killer whales, review stranding protocols, and provide outreach to the public on interacting with Puget Sound killer whales.

One of the Coast Guard’s primary objectives in working with the Council is to identify ways to improve the safety of all fishing activity. In 2018, four lives were lost from West Coast commercial fishing vessels. This is lower than the average from the preceding ten-year period (6 lives lost per year).

In February 2018, a 48’ wood crab vessel with three people on board, fishing 8 nautical miles (nm) off Humboldt Bay, had two crewmen on deck fall overboard. One person was retrieved quickly and brought back onboard by the master. Despite exhaustive search efforts, the other person was not located and the search was suspended.

In May 2018, a crabber’s family reported his vessel overdue from a fishing trip off the southern Washington coast. The Coast Guard conducted multiple air, surface, and shore searches, eventually locating a sheen in the water inside Willapa Bay. While the Coast Guard continued to search for the crabber, the Pacific and Clark County Sheriff’s searched the Bay with divers and sonar, locating the submerged vessel. The search was suspended.

In September 2018, a 32’ fiberglass troller with two persons on board had one person fall overboard 3 nm off Bodega Bay. Despite an extensive search, the crewmember was not found.

In October 2018, a 40’ fiberglass troller in Dana Point was found with the master onboard deceased due to natural causes.

In addition to these losses of life, further examples of significant safety incidents on commercial fishing vessels are summarized below.

In addition to these four lives lost, there were four fires, 19 vessel floodings or sinkings, 11 medical incidents, 12 groundings, four collisions, and 60 incidents of loss of propulsion:

  • In April 2018, a 48’ steel crab vessel 5 nm off Trinidad had a fire in crew berthing due to an unknown cause that quickly spread to the pilothouse. All five crewmembers abandoned ship into the vessel’s life raft and were rescued with no injuries. Vessel was salvaged.
  • In February 2018, a 36’ wood troller began taking on water from loose planks 3 nm west of Mendocino. The vessel’s pumps were unable to keep up with flooding, and the two persons onboard abandoned ship to a Coast Guard motor lifeboat. The vessel sank.
  • In June 2018, a 28’ salmon troller suffered an engine casualty while passing outbound across the Coos Bay Bar and subsequently grounded on the North Spit. The owner was able to safely get off his boat, and the troller refloated at the next high tide.
  • In August 2018, a 56’ fiberglass vessel with one man and a dog ran aground off Santa Cruz in Monterey Marine Sanctuary. The man and his dog made it safely ashore with no injuries. The vessel broke up in the surf and was a total loss.
  • In November 2018, a 36’ fiberglass crabber had a crewmember hit in the head with a crab pot 7 nm off the Golden Gate Bridge. The crewmember was transferred to a patrol boat and then to awaiting paramedics on shore.
  • In August 2018, a Canadian tuna troller and a U.S. tuna troller collided more than 100 nm west of Newport, OR. Both vessels were able to proceed under their own power to Newport, where the Coast Guard boarded both vessels.

In February 2018, during the first month of Dungeness crab season, Coast Guard units in Washington and Oregon responded to 28 incidents of vessels losing propulsion, steering, or other casualties. Many of these responses involved crossing hazardous breaking bars and required the use of the specialized 52’ motor lifeboats located at Grays Harbor and the Columbia River in Washington, and Newport and Coos Bay in Oregon. These aging vessels are more than 60 years old, but continue to be maintained in the inventory because the capability they bring is essential to Search and Rescue operations on coastal Washington and Oregon Bars.

These incidents from 2018, as well as past incidents involving vessel losses and losses of life in commercial fisheries, make clear the hazards in the fishing industry are not isolated to a particular fishery or gear type or a specific geographic area or time of year. The USCG is constantly working to identify trends and take preventive actions in fisheries where incidents occur more frequently; as well as taking steps to attempt to improve the overall safety of the industry.

Mandatory dockside safety examinations are required for certain commercial fishing vessels, including vessels operating outside 3 nautical miles from the baseline, vessels carrying more than 16 individuals on board regardless of where the vessel is operating, and vessels engaged in the Aleutian Trade. These regulations require a USCG commercial fishing vessel safety examination to be completed at least once every 5 years. Having a current safety examination may reduce the extent and time boarding officers will examine safety and survival equipment at-sea. However, successful completion of an exam will not exempt vessels from boardings.

Further details, as well as updates on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act rulemaking and other important commercial fishing vessel safety information are available at: www.fishsafewest.info.

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Pacific Council News, Summer 2019: Habitat

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Habitat Report

Jordan Cove letter

Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas project location near Coos Bay, Oregon

In July the Council sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the proposed Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Terminal and Pipeline, which would transport liquified natural gas (LNG) 229 miles from near Klamath Falls, Oregon to the coastal export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon for shipping across the Pacific. The Coos Bay project includes two storage tanks, five liquefaction processing structures, vessel loading facilities, a large deepwater vessel slip, LNG carrier vessels, a marine access channel, and supporting infrastructure. On March 29th, FERC issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The proposed pipeline would cross or otherwise impact 352 water bodies, including water bodies that are known to support salmon and other Council-managed stocks. In addition to environmental impacts, a security zone 500 meters wide–equal to the width of the existing navigation channel–will be required around LNG carrier vessels. This could impact all other vessel traffic while carrier vessels are present. FERC estimates 120 carrier vessels will transit the area each year.

Construction will require large-scale channel modification and continuous dredging, and will impact estuarine habitats that are important to several Council-managed species (Chinook and coho salmon, sardine, herring, Pacific sanddabs, English sole, starry flounder, lingcod, and rockfishes), and their prey.

Map of proposed Jordan Cove pipeline (click for larger version)

Fishermen and processors believe that the proposed project is likely to disrupt fishing-related business and offloading activities in the vicinity of the terminal site at Coos Bay. Recreational fishing will also be disrupted in the estuary and streams.

An analysis of the social and economic impacts to Council-managed fisheries due to loss of productive habitats, direct mortality on fish species and prey, disruption of fishing activities and port deliveries has not been conducted, but impacts are likely to be significant.

National Marine Fisheries Service has not yet undertaken an essential fish habitat consultation or developed conservation recommendations for the project. For more details, see the Council letter and the related Oregonian article.

Forest Service Standards

In a related matter, the Habitat Committee discussed the U.S. Forest Service’s forest plan standards, which would need to be amended to accommodate the Jordan Cove pipeline. The standards affect rare species and riparian zones, which are also designated as essential fish habitat. The Council directed the Habitat Committee to draft a letter to the Forest Service on this subject for the September briefing book.

Offshore wind turbines

California Offshore Renewable Energy

Chris Potter from the California Natural Resource Agency/Ocean Protection Council gave a presentation to the Habitat Committee on California offshore renewable energy lease efforts. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued a call for information and nomination for three potential offshore energy leasing areas near Humboldt Bay, Morro Bay, and Diablo Canyon, California. The latter two are understood to be in conflict with Department of Defense operations, but political pressure is being applied to move projects forward despite Defense objections. Currently 14 companies have submitted indications of interest to obtain a commercial lease for a wind energy project.

Coastal Sediment Management

Rising sea levels mean more coastal erosion, which means that beaches need to be restored to protect habitats for many species. These include species that spawn on the beach, such as sand lance, surf smelt, and grunion. In June, the Habitat Committee heard a presentation on sediment management and beach nourishment in California and Washington. In California, the Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup is a collaborative state and Federal effort that has helped develop 14 regional sediment management plans covering the California coast.

In Washington, beach nourishment is being used to restore beaches that are lacking natural sediment. Ninety percent of Puget Sound’s beaches are fed by sediment from eroding bluffs, and a third of these bluffs have shoreline armoring that prevents sediment from moving naturally to the beach. In beach restoration, sediment is placed above the water level on beaches to protect benthic organisms and to allow the sediment to be distributed by coastal processes. At the same time, shoreline armoring is often removed, and large woody debris is added. These efforts can restore surf smelt and sand lance spawning habitat, both of which are prey species for Council-managed species.

Klamath issues

Since April 1, the Bureau of Reclamation has been operating the Klamath Project under a new Biological Opinion (BiOp), which has caused some issues with water management given the mid-year switch. For example, below-average discharge from Iron Gate Dam has left the Klamath with drought-like flows, while every stream around it has above-average discharge. The Yurok Tribe is suing Reclamation over its methods for calculating the block of environmental water (all water not allocated for agriculture).

The levels of Ceratomyxa shasta, a parasite that contributes to fish kills in the Klamath, started climbing in May. A pulse flow was released to flush the spores from the river and to help ensure hatchery fish survival. Initially, only 65 percent of the Iron Gate Hatchery fall Chinook were going to be released, but because of mortality concerns and to capitalize on the pulse flow, California Department of Fish and Wildlife decided to release the last of the Chinook during this pulse as well, despite the fact that the fish were undersized and only 7 percent were marked with coded wire tags, rather than the typical 25 percent.

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Pacific Council News Summer 2019: Coastal Pelagic Species

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Coastal Pelagic Species Shorts

Pacific sardine

Proposed sardine rules: On July 1, NMFS published harvest specifications and management measures for the 2019-2020 Pacific sardine fishing year based on Council recommendations at the April 2019 meeting. The biomass estimate of 27,547 metric tons (mt) places sardine in the “overfished” category, meaning the Council and NMFS must develop a rebuilding plan within two years after the “overfished” declaration is published by NMFS (July 9, 2019). This is the fifth year biomass was below the 150,000 mt cutoff value, meaning that directed commercial fishing will remain closed for the fifth straight year. The live bait fishery will be allowed to target sardines until 2,500 mt have been landed, at which point a 1-mt landing cap will apply. Once the annual catch target of 4,000 mt is attained, all fisheries will be limited to a 1-mt incidental landing allowance.  

Category change: The “active” and “monitored” categories currently used in the Coastal Pelagic Species Management Plan will be eliminated and replaced with individual descriptions of the management approach for each stock, as directed by the Council in June. The Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team and Council staff are expected to produce a draft revised fishery management plan for consideration at the June 2020 Council meeting.

New prioritization process: A new process for prioritizing coastal pelagic species stock assessments will begin in November 2020, to inform stock assessment priorities beginning in 2022. This biennial process will allow for revisions in intervening years based on new information, and will help with data review and research planning. Pacific sardine will undergo a benchmark assessment in 2020, and the central subpopulation of northern anchovy will be assessed in 2021.

Central Subpopulation of Northern Anchovy harvest specifications:  On May 31, NMFS published a final rule establishing a new overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, and annual catch limit for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy. The finalized reference points include an overfishing limit of 94,290 mt, and an annual catch limit of 23,573 mt (down from the 25,000 mt in recent years). The harvest specifications are effective July 1 for the remainder of the January 1 through December 31 fishing year.

Pacific mackerel

Final Action on Pacific Mackerel Assessment, Harvest Specifications, and Management

In June the Council adopted the 2019 Pacific mackerel stock assessment, reference points and management measures for 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 fisheries. These include the specifications  in the table below, and the following management measures: if the directed fishery reaches the annual catch target, it will close and shift to an incidental-only fishery for the remainder of the fishing year, with a 45 percent incidental landing allowance when Pacific mackerel are landed with other coastal pelagic species (CPS); in non-CPS fisheries, up to 3 mt of Pacific mackerel per landing may be landed.  

Proposed 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Pacific Mackerel Harvest Specifications

2019-2020 2020-2021
Biomass 71,099 56,058
OFL 14,931 11,772
ABC0.45  (Tier 2) 13,169 10,289
ACL (=ABC) 13,169 10,289
HG 11,109 7,950
ACT 10,109 6,950
Incidental 1,000 1,000

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Pacific Council News Summer 2019: Pacific Halibut

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Pacific halibut

Transfer of Halibut Management Authority Moves Forward

Plans to transfer management of the non-Indian commercial directed halibut fishery from the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) to the Council are moving forward. In June, the Council committed to working closely with the IPHC and stakeholders on transitioning the management of this fishery, and outlined the Council’s intentions for the fishery in the near future. 

The Council asked that IPHC continue to issue licenses for the 2A halibut fisheries, including the directed commercial halibut fishery for 2020 and 2021, to provide time to develop and enact a new regulatory framework. The Council will also ask IPHC to enter into a data sharing arrangement for the IPHC 2A halibut licensing system and the commercial directed halibut fishery logbook data.

For the next few years the Council will focus on a smooth transfer of management authority for the commercial directed fishery, and will not be considering any major changes to the current fishery structure.  That said, the Council will consider changes to the fishery within the existing structure (i.e., an open access fishery managed by fishing periods and vessel limits) beginning in 2019 for 2020 regulations. 

Beginning in 2019, the Council will use the September and November meetings (concurrent with the halibut Catch Sharing Plan process) to set directed commercial halibut fishery regulations within the existing season structure. 

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Pacific Council News Summer 2019: Highly Migratory Species

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Highly Migratory Species Shorts

Deep-set buoy gear: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) presented an analysis of the biological impacts of a deep-set buoy gear fishery in June. The data comes from observer records and logbooks for deep-set buoy gear exempted fishing permit activity from 2015 through early 2019, and shows how many targeted and non-targeted species were caught with deep-set buoy gear during that period (see Table 1). The Council plans to choose a final preferred alternative on deep-set buoy gear in September. It has identified potential socioeconomic effects stemming from the number of permits that would be issued to fish in the Southern California Bight under the Council’s proposed  limited entry program. An analysis of these potential effects would help the Council decide in September how many limited entry permits should be issued for this new fishery, assuming it moves forward.

Final rule on commercial Pacific bluefin tuna: On May 2, 2019, NMFS published a final rule implementing Inter-American Tropical Tuna Committee resolutions on Pacific bluefin tuna. The final rule includes catch limits for U.S. commercial vessels that fish for Pacific bluefin tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean during 2019 and 2020. The rule implements a 630 metric ton (mt) catch limit for both years combined, with catch not to exceed 425 mt in a single year, and establishes a trip limit of 15 mt until catch is within 50 mt of the catch limit, and a 2 mt trip limit when catch is within 50 mt of the catch limit.

The final rule also creates reporting requirements. When the trip limit is 15 mt, purse seine vessel owners or operators must submit a pre-trip notification to NMFS 24 hours before starting a trip that will result in landing more than 2 mt of Pacific bluefin tuna (in other words, more than 2 mt of Pacific bluefin tuna may not be landed unless NMFS received a pre-trip notification). The rule also implements new procedures for taking inseason action. Legal notices for inseason actions will be posted on the NOAA Fisheries website, which will be followed up by radio call broadcasted by the U.S. Coast Guard. 

In addition, as of July 1, 2019, fish buyers will be required to submit electronic landings receipts with Pacific bluefin tuna landings in California ports using the “E-tix” system within 24 hours of landing.

West Coast bluefin tuna harvest strategy: In 2018, the Council directed its advisory bodies to bring forward ideas for a long-term harvest strategy for Pacific bluefin tuna, and in May, NMFS hosted a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the future of the bluefin commercial fishery on the west coast. This NMFS report  includes a summary of discussions at the meeting along with a process to allow the Council to contribute to future Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) Pacific bluefin tuna resolutions.

Sea turtle bycatch: The United States plans to submit a proposal to strengthen the IATTC’s existing sea turtle bycatch resolution (C-07-03), recognizing that this would require foreign fleets to take measures that are similar to those currently required by U.S. pelagic longline vessels, such as use of circle hooks and finfish bait.

Management strategy evaluations: The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean is conducting management strategy evaluations for North Pacific albacore and Pacific bluefin tuna. In June the Council reiterated its support of U.S. stakeholder participation in these processes. 

Bluefin tuna meetings. The Council agreed to fund travel costs for two Highly Migratory Species Management Team members and four Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel members to attend the Pacific bluefin IATTC-Northern Committee Joint Working Group and Northern Committee meetings during the week of September 2, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. This will allow advisory bodies to better understand the regional fishery management organization process and communicate those lessons to the Council.

Drift gillnet performance. Each June, the Council receives a report from its Highly Migratory Species Management Team (HMSMT) comparing estimated bycatch of prohibited species in the large mesh drift gillnet fishery against historical benchmark levels. According to the latest report, in 2016, take of northern right whale dolphins slightly exceeded the benchmark level, while in 2017 take of risso’s dolphin and sperm whale exceeded the benchmark. In its report the HMSMT also described an alternative way to assess bycatch in the fishery. This method, which was reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee in 2018, will be used at the June 2020 Council meeting.

Yellowfin tuna diving (NOAA)

Yellowfin Tuna Regulations Discussed

Additional yellowfin tuna regulations are not needed at this time, the Council concluded in June. In 2018 NMFS notified the Council that the Eastern Pacific Ocean stock of yellowfin tuna was subject to overfishing, and that the Council must make recommendations by November 2018 to address the problem. The overfishing determination was based on a 2018 IATTC stock assessment which found that the fishing level was just barely over the level that defines this condition. The IATTC completed a new assessment in 2019, but there are major uncertainties about the results, meaning that NMFS is unlikely to consider it the “best scientific information available.” 

Because West Coast catch of yellowfin is a tiny proportion of total eastern Pacific Ocean catch, the Council concluded that additional constraints in West Coast fisheries aren’t needed now. In terms of international action, the Council focused its recommendations on efforts to make sure next year’s IATTC “benchmark” assessment produces reliable results. To that end the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee met with the IATTC staff scientists who worked on the assessment to identify potential improvements.

Seventeen Exempted Fishing Permits Forwarded

The Council reviewed 18 deep-set buoy gear exempted fishing permit (EFP) applications submitted for the June Council meeting and forwarded 17 applications to NMFS for issuance. It also preliminarily approved an EFP for night-set buoy gear under 100 percent observer coverage, with a final recommendation coming in September.

Beyond considering these new applications, the Council recommended that NMFS renew the current twenty-one standard deep-set buoy gear and ten linked deep-set buoy gear EFPs for 2020. Since many previously reviewed and recommended permit applications haven’t been issued, the Council asked NMFS to put the current batch of applications at the head of the line. 

Other EFPs reviewed in 2017 and 2018 haven’t been issued because the applicant hasn’t followed through on steps needed for NMFS to issue a permit. For that reason, the Council recommended that NMFS stop considering these applications if the applicant hasn’t followed through by the end of this year.

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