Newsletter blog

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/

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/

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. 




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:

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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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Pacific Council News, Summer 2019: Groundfish

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Log of the Cutty Sark.

Council, NMFS Agree on Creating Federal Trawl Logbook Program

Earlier this year, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a new Federal logbook information collection program for the shorebased individual fishing quota trawl fishery that would require a logbook for Federally-managed groundfish species. This proposal was brought to the Council for consideration and recommendations in June. The NMFS proposal came in response to the repeal of California commercial logbook requirements for Federal fisheries by the California Fish and Game Commission. The California requirement for shorebased limited entry trawl vessels to report Federally-managed species by logbook will end July 1, 2019. 

Trawl logbooks have long been required by the states, but currently there is no Federal logbook requirement. While Oregon and Washington will continue to provide logbooks for the trawl fishery, the loss of California data would represent a major loss of information to fisheries managers and scientists.  The data are used in many critical activities such as stock assessments, area management, and bycatch interactions.

The Council agreed with NMFS that creation of a Federal logbook information collection program for the shorebased individual fishing quota trawl fishery was necessary in order to minimize data loss from California ports. The Federal system will ensure the continued coverage of limited entry trawl vessels on the west coast, and should avoid substantial gaps in the trawl logbook dataset from California. Additionally, this program will provide coverage if Oregon or Washington remove their logbook requirement in the future.

Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup Meets

The Pacific Coast Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup met this spring to review incidental take estimates of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Workgroup advises the Council on the ESA compliance of West Coast groundfish fishing, reviewing estimates of incidental take for eulachon, green sturgeon, humpback whales, leatherback sea turtles, and short-tailed albatross. The Workgroup reported to the Council in June that the fishery had exceeded the incidental take guidelines for humpback whales, but was under the limits for eulachon, green sturgeon, short-tailed albatross, and leatherback sea turtles. 

NMFS has begun its reconsultation on the effects of Council-managed fisheries on humpback whales. The Workgroup recommended research into new fishing gear that may reduce whale entanglements, and supported the Council’s efforts to decrease take of ESA-listed seabirds (see article below). To this end, the Workgroup recommended that the Council and NMFS continue to explore ways to improve fixed-gear configurations (particularly for floated longline gear). 

The Council agreed with a Groundfish Advisory Subpanel recommendation that three groundfish industry members be added to the workgroup before the next meeting. 

Additionally, the Workgroup recommended a logbook for the fixed-gear fisheries, as it had in past reports. This would provide critical data to managers and scientists. The Council reaffirmed its support for this idea and recommended that NMFS pursue development of a fixed-gear logbook.

The Council adopted all the recommendations noted above, which are detailed in the Workgroup’s report.

Short-tailed albatross (Wikimedia)

Council Takes Final Action on Albatross Take in Longline Fishery

In June, the Council selected its final preferred alternative to address the take of albatross in groundfish longline fisheries.

Under the alternative, non-tribal vessels 26 feet and greater (overall length) using bottom longline gear in the limited entry fixed gear, open access fixed gear, and Shorebased Individual Fishing Quota Program, must either use streamer lines or deploy gear at night. (See link for technical requirements).

Currently, vessels 55 feet and longer must use streamer lines, which deter seabirds from diving on baited hooks as they are deployed.

Vessels fishing south of 36° N. latitude would be exempt from the requirements. Vessels 26-55 feet could deploy streamer lines at their discretion when a small craft wind advisory (or higher) is in effect.

The Council also encouraged continued collaborative research to develop and test enforceable floated mainline gear configurations that can sink within the streamer line zone to reduce seabird interactions.

The decision was made in response to a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion addressing take of endangered short-tailed albatross in Council-managed groundfish longline fisheries. The opinion required the Council to extend the existing streamer line requirements to smaller vessels. It also allowed vessels to set the gear at night, when albatross are not active, as an alternative to deploying streamer lines. These requirements apply when fishing in Federal waters (3-200 nautical miles).

NMFS expects to finalize regulations implementing the Council proposal by the beginning of 2020.

Inseason Adjustments to Groundfish Fisheries

In June the Council considered routine inseason action on groundfish stocks as well as adjustments to incidental landings of Pacific halibut in the primary sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis. 

The Council also discussed the unexpectedly high bycatch of shortbelly rockfish in the at-sea whiting fleet to-date. NMFS decided not to implement accountability measures on the groundfish fishery related to shortbelly rockfish at this time. 

The Council heard from the California Groundfish Collective regarding how annual vessel limits for cowcod may curtail their fishing efforts earlier than expected. The Council took no action on this issue, but did not oppose NMFS reviewing an exempted fishing permit submitted by the Collective that may provide options for them to continue fishing.

The Council adopted the recommendations of the GMT as follows:

  • Increase incidental Pacific halibut landing allowance from 200 to 250 lbs dressed weight Pacific halibut per 1,000 lbs dressed weight sablefish, plus 2 Pacific halibut in the primary sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis.  
  • Increase limited entry bocaccio trip limit for the area between 40° 10′ N. lat. – 34° 27′ N. lat. to 1,500 lbs per 2 months
  • Recommend revised trip limits for big skate in the shorebased IFQ program as shown:
Jan/Feb March/Apr May/June July/Aug Sept/Oct Nov/Dec
5,000 lbs 25,000 lbs 30,000 lbs 70,000 lbs 20,000 lbs 20,000 lbs
  • Open Access sablefish recommendations:
    • Open Access North 300 lb per day, or one landing per week up to 1,400 lb, not to exceed 2,800 lb per 2 months.
    • Open Access South 300 lb per day, or one landing per week up to 1,600 lb, not to exceed 4,800 lb per 2 months.

NMFS Developing Electronic Monitoring Guidelines

NMFS is developing internal guidelines on how electronic monitoring data is stored, and is considering the costs and benefits of video storage, and the management, scientific, and enforcement needs of electronic monitoring programs around the country. NMFS will also consider different types of data storage to reduce costs to industry. NMFS is expected to provide a draft procedural directive on this issue at the September or November Council meeting for review and comment. 

In addition, NMFS recently published a final rule to implement electronic monitoring for the midwater trawl whiting and fixed-gear catch share fisheries on the West Coast. In September, the Council will review a NMFS document that will guide electronic monitoring providers and fishermen on how to participate in the program.

Council Adopts Schedule for Setting 2021-2022 Harvest Specs, Management Measures

In June the Council adopted a schedule for setting 2021-22 groundfish harvest specifications and management measuresThe schedule includes steps such as scientific peer review of data and analyses; preparation of analytical documents; state meetings to solicit public input; and notice and comment rulemaking. The next steps, scheduled for the September Council meeting in Boise, Idaho, are to consider new harvest specifications and management measures. All of these steps need to be timed so that the new regulations can be implemented on January 1, 2021.

The Council also discussed a streamlined process that would allow management measures to be put in place on January 1, 2021 and would free up resources for related Council actions. Final action is scheduled for June 2020.

Council Ponders How to Phase in Conservative Catch Limits

The Council is considering new ways to phase in more conservative catch limits for groundfish stocks in order to ease short-term negative economic impacts when catch limits are significantly reduced. One option is to phase in new acceptable biological catches (ABCs) over three years. Another is to set ABCs for a limited period based on higher overfishing probabilities than the current maximum. These changes will require a fishery management plan amendment.

In September the Council will look at criteria for these new harvest control rules, a time limit for the duration of the phase-in period (or frequency of their use), the types of analyses needed, and the timing of an amendment process. The Council would like feedback on whether this process should synchronize with the 2021-22 biennial specifications process or be considered on another track. The Council also requested a list of stocks that would be good candidates for these alternative rules. 

This issue arose in response to new sigma values recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee for determining ABC buffers. The sigma value represents the scientific uncertainty in estimating an overfishing limit. One feature of the new sigma framework is that the sigma (and hence the ABC buffer) increases with the age of the assessment. These larger buffers will result in lower annual catch limits for some key stocks such as Oregon black rockfish.

The phase-in of an ABC control rule is designed to help stabilize catch levels as stock assessments are updated. Whether to apply such a control rule for stocks in the precautionary zone or for rebuilding stocks will be part of the scoping discussion.

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Pacific Council News Summer 2019: Administrative and Other stories

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019


Legislative Report

In June the Council has received a request from Senator Maria Cantwell for comment on HR 2236, the Forage Fish Conservation Act. The Council responded with a letter emphasizing the actions that the Council has already taken to protect forage fish species. HR 2236 would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to require Scientific and Statistical Committees to provide scientific advice on maintaining a sufficient abundance of forage fish populations; add forage fish populations and distribution as a research priority; require Councils to develop lists of unmanaged forage fish species and prohibit development of new fisheries; and require Councils to reduce annual catch limits for forage fish fisheries according to the dietary needs of fish species and other marine wildlife. The Council has already take several of these steps.

Kelly Ames (NMFS) provided an overview of the Modern Fish Act, which became law on December 31, 2018. The Act aims to “expand recreational fishing opportunities through enhanced marine fishery conservation and management.” It defines management measures for recreational fisheries, creates recreational registry and data collection programs, and requires several new reports and studies. Specifically, Councils may “use fishery management measures in a recreational fishery… such as extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities.” The reports required of the Pacific Council and NMFS West Coast Region relate to cooperative data collection, the Marine Recreational Information Program, and state recreational data collection. The Act also reaffirms existing requirements under the MSA related to overfishing.

In other legislative news, Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Seth Moulton (D-WA) have introduced a bill that would amend the MSA to provide fisheries disaster relief for commercial fishery failures that are due to increases in duties on any United States seafood or fish products; and on June 27, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, introduced by Jeff Merkley (D-OR), passed the House. This Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to assess and improve sanitation and safety conditions at Bureau of Indian Affairs facilities that were constructed to provide affected Columbia River Treaty tribes access to traditional fishing grounds.


The Council re-elected Phil Anderson as Council Chair and Marc Gorelnik as Council Vice-Chair for the 2019-2020 term. In addition, Jessica Watson was appointed to the vacant Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife positions on the Highly Migratory Species Management Team and the ad hoc Ecosystem Workgroup, Bob Dooley was appointed to the Council Coordination Committee’s Council Member Ongoing Development Subcommittee, and Christa Svensson will shadow U.S. Commissioner Dorothy Lowman, the Council’s representative to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, as a means of building understanding and international working relationships.

Allocation Review Procedures Adopted

The Council adopted as final Council Operating Procedure 27, which specifies the triggers the Council will use to determine when intersector allocations should be reviewed.

The Council will consider either public interest or the passage of a specific time period as a potential trigger to determine whether an allocation should be reviewed. Once a trigger is met, and the Council identifies a schedule and resources for the review, the next step would be a preliminary evaluation of whether a change to the allocation should be considered.  If so, the next step would be to develop alternatives and a complete analysis for Council consideration.

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Pacific Council News Summer 2019: Salmon

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Council Adopts Klamath, Sacramento Fall Chinook Rebuilding Plans

The Council adopted Klamath River fall Chinook and Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon rebuilding plans in June, choosing “status quo” as the final preferred alternative for both plans. This means that fisheries will continue to be managed under existing protocols, allowing for maximum flexibility in structuring fisheries while rebuilding both stocks and minimizing negative impacts to coastal communities due to fishery constraints.  In addition to adopting the final preferred alternative, the Council asked the Habitat Committee to investigate habitat-related issues outlined in both plans, and tasked the Salmon Technical Team with scoping new tools to improve stock assessment and fishery modeling of Sacramento River fall Chinook.  

The Council also adopted the three coho salmon rebuilding plans (Strait of Juan de Fuca, Queets River, and Snohomish River) as drafts for public review, and is scheduled to consider these plans for final adoption at the next Council meeting during September in Boise, Idaho. 

These five stocks were declared overfished in June 2018. Under the terms of the fishery management plan, a rebuilding plan must be in place within two years.  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is charged with putting the rules in place, a process which takes about 18 months. The Council must submit all five plans to the Secretary of Commerce by September 2019.

Killer whales and a whalewatching boat (NOAA)

Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup Meets

In March of this year, NMFS announced plans to reinitiate Endangered Species Act consultation on the effect of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on Southern Resident killer whales. NMFS and the Council agreed on a collaborative approach and began establishing work plans and a tentative schedule.

The Council subsequently formed the Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup, which is tasked with reassessing the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of the whales. At its first meeting in May, the Workgroup affirmed its task and timeline, identified data gaps, developed risk assessment criteria and methods, and assigned tasks to members. The Workgroup provided a progress report at the June Council meeting and will meet again in July 2019.

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Pacific Council News Spring 2019 Groundfish Stories

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Changes to groundfish essential fish habitat, Rockfish Conservation Areas approved

In March the Council approved sending groundfish fishery management plan Amendment 28 for Secretarial review. Amendment 28 incorporates changes to groundfish essential fish habitat, trawl rockfish conservation areas, deepwater bottom contact gear closures, and other groundfish fishery and habitat protections. The Council also amended a previous motion to align the Arago Reef eastern boundary with the state waters boundary, and asked the Project Team to consider how best to survey interested persons to gather “lessons learned” and recommendations for future groundfish essential fish habitat reviews.

In addition, the Council approved a new Council Operating Procedure 22 (COP 22), which describes how essential fish habitat reviews for all fishery management plans will be conducted. Final approval of COP 22 is scheduled for this September after advisory body review.

Council makes inseason adjustments, discusses quota carryover, lingcod, blackcod, exempted fishing permit

In March, the Council directed the Groundfish Management Team (GMT) to examine adjustments to commercial non-trawl fixed trip limits for minor nearshore rockfish species, excluding black rockfish, in California; and recreational bag limits for canary and black rockfish. The GMT found that trip limits could be increased for the limited entry fixed gear and open access fisheries.

The GMT also examined proposed bag limit changes to canary and black rockfish recreational bag limits, and found that it was unlikely that increasing the sub-bag limit by one fish for each species would result in harvest guidelines being exceeded.

As a result, the Council recommended the following inseason adjustments for the remainder of the current 2019/2020 biennium:

California commercial limited-entry fixed-gear and open access nearshore rockfish fisheries:

  • For 42° 00’ N. lat. to 40° 10’ N. lat., increase the minor nearshore rockfish (other than black rockfish) sub-limit to 1,500 lbs per two months as soon as possible.
  • For 40° 10’ N. lat. to the Mexico Border, increase the deeper nearshore rockfish trip-limit to 1,200 lbs per two months beginning with trip Period 3 (May-June). Period two (March-April) will remain closed.

California recreational fisheries:

  • Increase the California canary rockfish (Sebastes pinniger) sub-bag limit from two to three fish within the overall 10-fish bag limit as soon as possible.
  • Increase the California black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) sub-bag limit from three to four fish within the overall 10-fish bag limit as soon as possible.

Shorebased Individual Fishing Quota Surplus Carryover

In April, the Council recommended that NMFS issue the maximum amount of carryover quota pounds into the shorebased individual fishing quota program for 2019 for all eligible species. This is usually done in March, but due to the partial government shutdown, NMFS was unable to finalize the data needed to evaluate the remaining 2018 surplus.

Up to 10 percent of the used and unused quota pounds in a vessel’s account may be carried over from one year to the next. However, NMFS will not issue surplus carryover quota pounds for species that have annual catch limits established equal to their acceptable biological catches.

Platt/Emley Exempted Fishing Permit

The applicant of the Platt-Emley exempted fishing permit (EFP) notified NMFS that the EFP was missing the requested 1.5 mt of lingcod for south of 40° 10′ N. lat. The Council reviewed the issue and recommended that one metric ton of lingcod be reallocated to the EFP from the south of 40° 10′ N. lat. research set-aside and 0.5 mt from the Incidental Open Access sector, totaling 1.5 mt annually for 2019 and 2020.


The Council reviewed updated projections for lingcod south of 40° 10′ N. lat. The findings showed increasing commercial limited entry fixed gear and open access trip limits, as well as recreational bag limits, could be adjusted for this area.

For lingcod south of 40° 10′ N. lat., the Council adopted the following adjustments to commercial and recreational fisheries for the remainder of 2019 and 2020. The Council recommended these adjustments go into effect by June 1:

  • Increase lingcod trip limits for the limited entry fishery south of 40° 10’ N. lat. to 1,200 lbs per two-month trip period for the remainder of 2019 and 2020.
  • Increase lingcod trip limits for the open access fishery south of 40° 10’ N. lat. to 500 lbs per month for the remainder of 2019 and 2020.

For the recreational fishery south of 40° 10′ N. lat., the recreational bag limit was increased to two lingcod for the remainder of 2019 and 2020, effective June 1.

Blackgill Rockfish

The GMT investigated the possibility of increasing limited entry fixed gear and open access trip limits for blackgill rockfish. Their analysis showed increasing trip limits would provide more opportunity to the fleet. Therefore, the Council adopted new blackgill trip limits for the two fisheries south of 40° 10′ N. lat. In the limited entry fixed gear fishery, limits were increased to 4,000 lbs./2 months, and in the open access fishery to 800 lbs./ 2 months.

Council adopts preferred alternative for seabird mitigation measures

In April the Council adopted its preliminary preferred alternative responding to the 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion (BiOp) on short-tailed albatross take in commercial groundfish longline fisheries.

Under the preliminary preferred alternative, non-tribal commercial vessels that are 26 feet and longer and use bottom longline gear to catch groundfish in Federal waters would be required to either use streamer lines according to the Alaska streamer line specifications or to deploy gear at night. (This includes vessels fishing in the limited entry and open access fixed gear fisheries or those fishing with longline gear under the gear switching provisions of shorebased individual fishing quota program.) This action would extend the current requirement for vessels 55 feet and longer to smaller vessels, although night setting would be a new option available to the larger vessels as well. The requirement for larger vessels was implemented in 2015 based on a 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service BiOp.

Commercial groundfish longline vessels would be exempt from these requirements when fishing south of 36° N. lat. Vessels using floated mainline gear, if not using streamer lines that are at least 300 feet in length, could only deploy gear between one hour after local sunset and one hour before local sunrise.

For vessels between 26 and 55 feet, the use of streamer lines would be discretionary during a Small Craft Wind Advisory (sustained winds or frequent gusts ranging between 25 and 33 knots), or more severe weather conditions. This sets a different, lower threshold for discretionary use compared to the current requirement for larger vessels.

The Council is slated to adopt its final preferred alternative in June. NMFS intends to finalize regulations implementing these requirements by the beginning of 2020.

Council adopts alternatives for salmon mitigation measures in groundfish fishery

In April the Council adopted a range of alternatives to address the 2017 NMFS Biological Opinion to mitigate salmonid interactions in the groundfish fishery.

The BiOp assessed the continued impact of groundfish fisheries on seven listed Chinook salmon and four coho salmon evolutionary significant units (ESU) and concluded that they were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these ESUs.

The BiOp required 25 actions that the Council and/or NMFS must comply with within three years to avoid reinitiation. The Council successfully addressed a number of these terms and conditions as part of the 2019-2020 groundfish harvest specifications and management measures; however, two terms and conditions remained outstanding and required Council action.

One of the measures relates to the “reserve” of 3,500 Chinook. The Reserve would be available only as an emergency measure in case of unexpected high bycatch levels, and would be accessed only when a sector (whiting or non-whiting) exceeds its Chinook salmon bycatch guideline. It is not meant to be accessed as part of normal operations and reconsultation will be initiated if the reserve is accessed in three out of any five years. 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 reaching its Chinook salmon bycatch guideline.

The second measure required the Council to reexamine current salmon-bycatch mitigation measures. The Council examined block area closures, net types, and current industry-designed rules used by the whiting fleet to minimize Chinook bycatch. The range of alternatives [includes an analysis of] these measures, including an extension of any block area closure seaward to the western boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone instead of the 250-fathom waypoint line.

Blackgill rockfish remains in Slope Rockfish complex

The Council will not remove blackgill rockfish from the Slope Rockfish complex south of 40° 10’ N. lat., as originally planned, given improved blackgill rockfish stock status and potential impacts to the trawl fishery.

Amendment 26 to the groundfish fishery management plan considered that action, in addition to changing the trawl/non-trawl allocations of blackgill rockfish and the remaining species in the southern Slope Rockfish complex.

At Council direction, the Groundfish Management Team explored higher non-trawl trip limits in April to provide greater access to blackgill rockfish (see article, inseason adjustments). Further, the Council discussed removing the formal trawl/non-trawl allocations for the southern Slope Rockfish complex from the fishery management plan and making biennial allocations in the 2021-2022 biennial specifications process.

NMFS reports on trawl catch share cost recovery program

Each year (usually in April) the Council receives a report from NMFS on the trawl catch share program cost recovery, which charges fees to industry to pay for administrative costs. The report covers costs and fee collections from the previous year along with fee rates for the current year.

Constituents have generally expressed a desire for more detail in these cost recovery reports, and Council and NMFS staff and industry representatives have met to discuss ways to increase transparency. In response to this year’s substantially improved report, the Council asked that NMFS explore ways to reduce observer and catch monitor costs, that Council analytical documents include an assessment of impacts of cost recovery prior to any future management actions affecting the trawl catch share fishery, and that NMFS continue to hold meetings with industry to evaluate the costs of the catch share program and make recommendations on where efficiencies can benefit both the fishing industry and NMFS.

New approach to prioritizing groundfish management takes shape

Groundfish management measures will be prioritized using a new process in the future. Rather than prioritizing actions every two years, there will now be a separate agenda item on new management measures at most meetings, under which staff will report on progress and the public may present new candidate measures.

This spring the Council identified several new management measures as top priorities for Council attention as soon as time becomes available. The items include non-trawl rockfish conservation area modifications, trawl/non-trawl Amendment 21 allocations, mothership sector utilization, and moving the midwater jig exempted fishing permit into regulation to allow its use within the non-trawl rockfish conservation area.

Groundfish shorts

Whiting stock healthy: A 2019 Pacific whiting assessment has indicated the stock is healthy at 64.1 percent of its unfished spawning biomass, which is slightly lower than estimated last year. The stock has remained at a relatively high abundance since 2013 due to the strength of large 2010 and 2014 cohorts. The 2019 coastwide total allowable catch of 597,500 mt is the same as in 2017 and 2018, resulting in an allocation of 441,433 mt for U.S. fisheries.

New sigma methodology: The Council has adopted new sigma values for groundfish and coastal pelagic species stocks recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee, including updated baseline sigma values and an increase in sigma due to stock assessment age. Sigma, coupled with the overfishing probability (P*), is used to determine acceptable biological catch buffers for these species. The sigma value addresses scientific uncertainty in estimating the overfishing limit, and varies by the uncertainty associated with the stock category and the age of the stock assessment.

Other science improvements: The Council accepted the recommendations of the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Groundfish Management Team on science and methodology improvements that will inform future Council groundfish management decisions. The recommendations related to a “rockfish steepness prior” (recruitment productivity) to be used in 2019 stock assessments, a revised Accepted Practices Guidelines for Groundfish Stock Assessments document, which details accepted practices for conducting groundfish stock assessments this year, and additional sigma recommendations for determining the uncertainty in estimating overfishing limits using assessment projections older than ten years (see above). The 2009 greenstriped rockfish assessment is one of the rare cases where such a sigma consideration may apply.

Enhanced” VMS systems not allowed: “Non-type-approved” vessel monitoring system units will not be allowed in West Coast fisheries, based on a Council decision in April. In 2016, the Council recommended NMFS allow vessels to use less expensive “enhanced” VMS units that are not on the official list of NMFS-approved units. However, NMFS stated in April that the option to use enhanced VMS would increase agency costs to develop and maintain a new VMS program. Specifically, NMFS would need to establish a redundant infrastructure to accommodate both approved and non-approved units. NMFS will report in June on potential cost reductions in the VMS program.

The Council recommended that NMFS implement other measures and alternatives, including an increase in the VMS reporting rate from 1 to 4 times per hour, with some exceptions. Other measures allow vessels to change their fishery declarations while at sea, and allow pot gear vessels to move fishing gear to other management areas before returning to port to deliver their catch. See the NMFS report here.

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