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Pacific Council News: Winter 2019: Habitat

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Habitat Report

An irrigation canal distributing water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Photo: Richard Thornton/Shutterstock

In November, the Habitat Committee (HC) discussed the Central Valley Project Biological Opinion, Klamath dam removal, the proposed Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas project, salmon reintroduction, offshore wind energy, and critical habitat designations for Southern Resident killer whales and humpback whales.

Central Valley BiOp

The final biological opinion (BiOp) for the long-term operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project was released on October 21, and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is now conducting an analysis of the project’s impacts to essential fish habitat (EFH).

The HC drew the Council’s attention to several changes to the expected effects of project operations on salmon populations. First, the BiOp concludes that the project will not jeopardize the survival of winter run Chinook, spring run Chinook, summer steelhead, or Southern Resident killer whales. However, elsewhere it states, “reductions in the survival and productivity of all [Central Valley] Chinook salmon populations (including fall-run and late fall-run Chinook salmon) are expected to occur throughout the proposed action area, and the greatest effects will occur during the drier water years when effects of the proposed action are most pronounced.” (NMFS BiOp, page 683).

The HC identified several issues in the proposed action, including cold water storage in Lake Shasta, pumping in the delta, and temperature management, that could significantly impact the survival and populations of Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed salmon that constrain Council-managed fisheries, as well as the status and designated EFH of species harvested by Council-managed fisheries.

Based on the HC report, the Council plans to send a letter to NMFS Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver and West Coast Regional Manager Barry Thom, as well as the Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, highlighting these concerns about the BiOp and the impacts of the project on EFH and Council-managed and constraining species. The letter will be posted on the Council website when it becomes available.

Klamath Dam Removal

Federal and state biologists (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NMFS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) met recently to discuss issues related to the removal of the four lower Klamath River dams, their associated infrastructure, and the Iron Gate Hatchery. They identified factors that will directly affect fall Chinook and coho salmon production, field methodologies, abundance estimates, and harvest.

Upon removal of all four dams, fish will freely disperse into hundreds of miles of streams. This will require that new data collection strategies be developed to estimate escapement well before 2021, when the dams are slated for demolition. Water quality issues adjacent to the dam, which were also identified as a consequence of demolition, will need to be addressed, and salmon spawning habitat in many miles of rivers and tributaries above the dams will require restoration or enhancement after the dams are removed. The STT and HC are scheduled to consider these issues at their March meetings.

Jordan Cove LNG Export Terminal and Pipeline Project

In September, the Council approved letters commenting on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) of the Jordan Cove Energy Project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released the final EIS for the project on November 15th with a 30-day comment period. A Council comment letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be posted on the Council website in the near future.

Columbia River System Operation Plan Draft Environmental Impact Schedule

The draft EIS of the Columbia River hydropower system operations should be available for comment in February 2020. The alternatives under consideration have been released to the public. Fish passage, spill, and dam breaching are among the issues considered in the alternatives. The HC will discuss the draft EIS at its March or April meetings, and will likely draft a comment letter for the Council at that time.

Salmon Reintroduction Upstream of Chief Joseph/Grand Coulee Dams

Casey Baldwin, Research Scientist with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, briefed the HC on a proposal for the reintroduction of anadromous fish upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. The project is being conducted by the Upper Columbia United Tribes with support from the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and others.

The project’s Phase 1 Report included habitat modeling for the U.S. portion of the blocked area covering 355 miles of Chinook habitat. If fish are re-established above the dams, the upstream extent of essential fish habitat could be greatly increased.

Phase 2 of the project will investigate options for efficient and cost-effective passage of adults across Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, such as trucking fish or using “salmon cannons” to essentially shoot fish over the dams and into the reservoir. Reintroduction is expected to occur in phases. Ceremonial releases of summer Chinook salmon were conducted in 2019, while large “experimental pilot” releases may not happen for several more years. Reintroduction on a grand scale, with bypass facilities and supporting hatchery programs, depends on successful feasibility tests in Phase 2, as well as funding. For more details, see the project’s Frequently Asked Questions.

A presentation on this project is currently scheduled for the April Council meeting.

Responsible Offshore Development Alliance

Annie Hawkins, the Executive Director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), spoke to the HC during a webinar in October. RODA has been active in tracking wind energy on the East Coast and is now adding West Coast members. The organization, formed in 2018, includes many sectors and stems from a common concern around the impacts of offshore energy to fisheries, as well as an extraordinarily fast pace of offshore wind development and leasing. Fishing industry leaders believe that the National Environmental Policy Act process used by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) needs to be updated to reflect the potential impacts of offshore wind energy projects. The HC plans to coordinate with RODA to keep track of offshore energy projects, which may affect both the habitat of, and fisheries access to, Council-managed species.

Proposed Critical Habitat Expansion for Southern Resident Killer Whales

The HC received briefings from Lynne Barre and Penny Ruvelas (NMFS Protected Species Division) on the proposed expansion of critical habitat for Southern Resident killer whales. NMFS is seeking comments on the geographic areas and boundaries and potential impacts of designation on existing uses, among other things. The comment period closes December 18.

Critical habitat for Southern Resident killer whales was designated in 2006 for most of the U.S. waters of the Salish Sea (the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and waters around the San Juan Islands). The proposed expansion extends from the U.S.-Canada border south to Point Sur, CA, between the 6 meter (20 ft) and 200 meter (656 ft) depth contours.

As required under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS identified habitat features that are essential to the whales’ conservation: prey (quality, quantity, availability), water quality, and passage.

NMFS does not expect the critical habitat consultation to result in conservation measures beyond what would be needed to protect the whales themselves (as opposed to the whales’ prey). Impacts to Council-managed fisheries are likely to be limited to the administrative aspects of reinitiating consultation. However, the critical habitat designation could be used by the Council in its dealings with other agencies to emphasize the impacts of activities that affect both salmon and killer whales.

Proposed Critical Habitat Designation for Humpback Whales

In addition to Southern Resident killer whales, NMFS is also proposing to designate critical habitat for certain “distinct population segments” of humpback whales. Both the Mexico and Central America population segments forage off the U.S. West Coast, where critical habitat is now proposed. NMFS identified prey (krill, sardine, herring, anchovy) as the essential feature of critical habitat that is necessary for the conservation of the species.

NMFS expects that the critical habitat analysis is not likely to require changes in fisheries management. However, it is possible that  analyses of the effects of the coastal pelagic species fishery on the whales may be necessary.

Given this designation, the Council will be able to cite the need for abundant coastal pelagic and krill species as additional justification for comments on non-fishing actions that adversely affect essential fish habitat.

The public comment deadline for this proposal is December 9.


Pacific Council News: Winter 2019 Coastal Pelagic Species Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Two Coastal Pelagic Species Exempted Fishing Permits Forwarded

In November the Council adopted two proposals to extend current exempted fishing permits for public review. 

The California Wetfish Producers Association proposes aerial survey work in southern California, in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  They also plan to work cooperatively with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) acoustic-trawl survey team to extend acoustic sampling into nearshore waters that are too shallow for the NOAA vessel. The West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group, in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA, proposed acoustic sampling survey work and biological sampling in the Pacific Northwest, also in nearshore waters. Both proposals are aimed at complementing the NOAA survey work to get more accurate estimates of CPS biomass.

The Council is scheduled to give final approval at the April 2020 meeting. 

Management Process for Central Population of Northern Anchovy Considered

At its November meeting, the Council considered a report on a potential framework for a more regular review and evaluation of available information, which then could lead to adjustments in harvest reference points and stock assessments for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy (CSNA). Currently the CSNA is classified as a “monitored” stock. This means the Council tracks trends in landings and compares them to available abundance data, but there are no regular stock assessments or adjustments to target harvest levels. Members of the coastal pelagic species advisory bodies and the Scientific and Statistical Committee’s Coastal Pelagic Species Subcommittee met with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center to discuss these issues in October.

The Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team is considering the process for revisiting management reference points for the CSNA, and will report back to the Council at the April 2020 meeting to recommend a schedule for further consideration of the draft framework.

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Pacific Council News: Winter 2019 Highly Migratory Species Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Council Chooses Not to Consider Shallow-Set Longline Permit

Swordfish. Photo: Joe Fish Flynn/Shutterstock

In November the Council chose not to continue considering a West Coast permit to use shallow-set longline fishing gear outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at this time.

Members of the fishing industry had been asking the Council to discuss allowing the fishery since 2009. In 2009, the Council chose not to allow the gear, citing concerns over bycatch and that some non-target fish stocks were in decline. Currently, the drift gillnet fishery is being used to target swordfish, but may be phased out in the near future. Therefore, the industry is looking for a productive alternative gear to target swordfish.

At the November meeting, the Council directed the Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Team to analyze existing observer data from the Hawaii shallow-set longline fishery, as well as sources of West Coast swordfish supply, in support of the Swordfish Monitoring and Management Plan. This is in part to better understand the relationship between domestic and foreign sources of swordfish supply, and to explore the possibility of improving conservation and reducing the Nation’s seafood trade deficit through increased West Coast production. The Team will report back to the Council in June.

International Management Recommendations

In November, the Council made the following recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service for consideration when developing negotiating positions for Pacific regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs). The recommendations were based on reports by the Enforcement Consultants and Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel.

  • Strengthen or seek adoption of RFMO measures to require vessels comply with a “garbage plan” to prevent discarding of waste at sea.
  • Seek adoption of RFMO measures to require vessels carry and deploy boarding ladders that allow safe boarding during high seas inspections.
  • Support Permanent Advisory Committee recommendations on South Pacific albacore conservation and management by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
  • Work through the WCPFC to determine if unreported North Pacific albacore catch is occurring in the Convention Area and to better understand the impact of incidental catch of north Pacific albacore, especially by “small island developing state” fleets, not bound by current fishing effort limits.

The U.S.-Canada Albacore Treaty governs access by U.S. and Canadian albacore fishing vessels to the others’ EEZ, and establishes three-year “fishing regimes” that specify access for the purpose of fishing and port privileges. The current U.S./Canada fishing regime ends December 31, 2019, and a new agreement will have to be negotiated before the start of the next fishing season on June 15, 2020. The Council may make recommendations on the next fishing regime at its March 2020 meeting when David Hogan, the Department of State representative on the Council, is present. In the interim the Council adopted the following recommendations related to this issue:

  • Establish a catch attribution system for Canadian North Pacific albacore catch within the U.S. EEZ and vice versa.
  • Work with Canada’s Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans to harmonize paperwork requirements for EEZ and port access.
  • Investigate and provide information on the source of cheap albacore imported into Canada and re-exported to the U.S. under the label “Product of Canada.”

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Pacific Council News: Winter 2019 Halibut Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Washington, Oregon Recommend Sport Halibut Season Changes

Recreational fishing boats in Blaine, Washington. Photo: Cascade Creatives/Shutterstock

In November, the Council adopted the following recommended changes for Washington and Oregon sport halibut fisheries. The changes are consistent with state recommendations after the states of Washington and Oregon held public meetings. No changes were proposed for California recreational fisheries.  

Washington proposed changes:

  1. Puget Sound Subarea: Provide flexibility for this subarea to open in April.
  2. North Coast, South Coast, and Columbia River Subareas: In years when April 30 falls on a Thursday, provide flexibility for the season to open on April 30.
  3. All Washington Subareas: Revise the current Catch Sharing Plan language to provide the flexibility to open up to three days per week.

Specific season dates were also adopted, as described in the Washington report.

Oregon proposed changes:

  1. Columbia River and Southern Oregon Subareas: Revise the Southern Oregon Subarea allocation rule so that any poundage over 8,000 pounds is allocated to the Columbia River Subarea.
  2. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the start date of the nearshore fishery from June 1 to May 1 in years when the allocation is 25,000 pounds or greater.
  3. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the number of days open per week in the summer all-depth fishery from two days to three days if, after the spring all-depth fishery concludes, the remaining spring allocation plus the summer all-depth allocation totals at least 60,000 pounds. The additional open day in the summer fishery would be Thursday.

Council Adopts Final Recommendation for 2020 Commercial Halibut Season

The Council has adopted a final recommendation for the non-Indian directed halibut season. The proposed season would begin on the fourth Monday in June 2020, and will run for three days, with subsequent periods as necessary to achieve the allowable catch level. The season would start at 8:00 a.m. on day 1 and conclude at 6 p.m. on day 3. This recommendation will be forwarded to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) for consideration, along with other alternatives.

Council Discusses Transfer of Halibut Management Authority 

The Area 2A non-Indian commercial directed Pacific halibut fishery structure 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 transitioning management authority for this fishery from IPHC to the Council.  

As part of the transition plan, the Council used its September/November Catch Sharing Plan revision process to solicit stakeholder input and consider recommendations for the season structure of the directed fishery. The Council encouraged stakeholders to provide comment to the Council and at public meetings held by Oregon and Washington, which resulted in the Council-recommended season described in the article above.

In November, National Marine Fisheries Service presented potential steps and a timeline for completing the transfer. The NMFS timeline suggests January 2022 is the earliest the transition process could be completed. The Council is scheduled to discuss this topic again in March 2020.

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Pacific Council News: Winter 2019 Salmon Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Preseason Salmon Management Schedule Set; Annual Management Cycle to be Discussed in April

In November the Council adopted a 2020 salmon management schedule, including tentative dates and sites for public hearings. Hearings are planned for March 23 in Westport, Washington and Coos Bay, Oregon, and March 24 in Eureka, California.

The Council also decided to begin considering changes to the annual salmon management cycle. The National Marine Fisheries Service has indicated that it is more challenging every year to get the new regulations in place by the typical May 1 fishery start date. Therefore, NMFS has proposed to shift the start date for the new season from May 1 to mid-May. Fisheries that traditionally started May 1 would be managed “inseason” from the previous season, similar to the way March-April fisheries are currently managed. There would not be delays in fishery openings as a result of the shift. The first year of the new season structure would be 2021.

Changes will be made through an amendment to the salmon fishery management plan. The Council is scheduled to discuss this topic again in April 2020.

Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup Will Continue to Meet 

In November the Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup provided a report outlining the progress made since the September Council meeting, and tentative dates for future meetings beyond November. The Council directed the Workgroup to continue its task and report back in the Spring of 2020. 

The Workgroup was formed in April 2019 in response to National Marine Fisheries Service’s reinitiation of Endangered Species Act consultation on the effect of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on Southern Resident killer whales. It was tasked with reassessing the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of the whales. NMFS has developed a webpage dedicated to the Workgroup which includes meeting schedules, materials shared, and additional information.

Salmon Methodology Review Results Presented

In November the Council approved the updated Fishery Regulation Assessment Model (FRAM) user manual, which will be posted to the Council website in the near future. The Council agreed that moving the salmon management boundary line from latitude 40° 05′ (Horse Mountain, California) five miles north to latitude 40° 10′ could be considered as part of Amendment 20 to the salmon fishery management plan, which focuses on the annual management cycle. That process is scheduled to begin in April 2020.   

A review of the methodology used to develop abundance forecasts for Willapa Bay coho will require additional documentation. A meeting of the STT and SSC Salmon Subcommittee will be held over the winter, and the methodology will be brought to back to the Council for approval at its March 2020 meeting.

After a thorough technical review, the Council agreed that the upper Columbia Summer Chinook model inputs will not require a methodology review, and any needed revisions to the data inputs are expected to be in place in time for the 2020 preseason process.  

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Pacific Council News: Winter 2019 Groundfish Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

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.

Morro Bay boats. Photo: Jennifer Gilden

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).
    • A 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.
Fishery Recommendations
Limited entry north 1,300 lbs week, not to exceed 3,900 lbs / 2 months
Open access north 300 lbs day; or one landing per week up to 1,200 lbs, not to exceed 2,400 lb/ 2 months
Open access south 300 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 1, 2 and 3; Groundfish 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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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


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.


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/

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. 



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/

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/

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.



Fall 2019 Salmon and Halibut Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Final salmon rebuilding plans approved

Autumn on the Queets River. John T. Callery/

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:

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/

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.