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Sablefish Management and Trawl Allocation Attainment Committee to Meet in Portland, OR January 22-23, 2020

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s ad hoc Sablefish Management and Trawl Allocation Attainment Committee (SaMTAAC) will hold a two-day meeting that is open to the public.  The meeting will begin Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 8 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and recess when business for the day is completed.  It will continue at 8 a.m. Thursday, January 23, adjourning when business for the day is completed.

Purpose of the meeting

At its meeting, the SaMTAAC will continue to develop alternatives that address obstacles to achieving the goals and objectives of the groundfish trawl catch share plan related to under-attainment of non-sablefish shorebased trawl allocations.  The SaMTAAC’s work on alternatives will be presented at the June 2020 Pacific Council meeting.


Meeting location

This meeting will be held at the following location:

Holiday Inn Portland Airport
Bridal Veil Room
8439 NE Columbia Blvd.
Portland, OR 97220
Telephone: 503-256-5000
Driving Directions

Additional information

The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt at 503-820-2412, at least ten business days prior to the meeting date.

For further information, please contact Dr. Jim Seger at (503) 820-2416; or toll-free 1-866-806-7204, ext. 416.


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 Administrative Stories

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Appointments and Advisory Body Vacancies

Dr. Melissa Haltuch was appointed to one of the vacant at-large positions on the Scientific and Statistical Committee. The Council will solicit nominations for a remaining at-large vacancy soon with the intent of filling that position at the March 2020 meeting.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified two new designees to the Council, David Teuscher and Tom Sinclair, and plans to discuss their appointment to the Habitat Committee at the March 2020 meeting.

The Council will also solicit nominations for two vacancies on its advisory subpanels, the Washington Commercial position on the Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Daniel Crome, and the Open Access North of Cape Mendocino position on the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel held by Jeffery Miles, who informed the Council of his intent to resign after the March 2020 Council meeting. A request for nominations will be posted on the Council’s advisory body vacancy page.

Legislative Report

The Council discussed a draft NMFS report to Congress on the Modernization Recreational Fisheries Management Act in November and forwarded comments to NMFS that emphasize and clarify the Council’s role in using the best scientific information available. 

In order to comment on legislation, the Council must receive a request from a member of Congress. There were no requests at the November meeting. There were also no new bills to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, although Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) has been conducting a listening tour on the West Coast in preparation for introducing a reauthorization bill in the spring. Representative Don Young (R-AK) has also reintroduced his MSA reauthorization bill (HR 3697), which is the same as HR 200 in the previous session of Congress.

The Legislative Committee is currently tracking a large number of bills, but very few are given a high chance of passage. A few that are considered most likely to pass are summarized below:

Coast Guard Authorization Act

Companion bills have been introduced by Peter DeFazio (D-OR, HR 3409) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK, S 2297). The House bill passed the House on July 24 and the Senate bill has been reported committee (a requirement if the bill is to move forward; most bills are never reported). This bill authorizes appropriations for the Coast Guard for FY 2020-2021 and includes a large number of provisions related to vessel safety, updating of Coast Guard facilities and technologies, and other issues. Learn more here. This bill is likely to pass.

Save Our Seas 2.0 Act

This bill (HR 2372), introduced by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), has been reported by committee. It aims to enhance global engagement to combat marine debris, particularly plastics. The bill has a fairly high likelihood of passage. Learn more here.

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act

This Senate bill (S 877) was introduced by Cory Booker (D-NJ), and House bill (HR 737) was introduced by Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI). It has been reported by committee and is given a fairly high chance of passage. The bill would ban the selling or buying of shark fins nationwide, with a fine of up to $100,000. The bill would permit sharks to be caught for subsistence purposes or scientific research. Dogfish are exempted.

Tri-State Enforcement Report 

The Tri-State Enforcement Report was provided as a video at the November meeting:

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Friday, November 15th, 2019

Council meeting at the time of the Council vote and often use expedited language and references without the benefit of any final editing or proofing. They may use short-hand language or abbreviations that may not be clear without the context of verbal comments and clarifications made during their development at the meeting, or may contain inadvertent transposition errors. They have not been approved by the Council to represent the final official record of Council action. The final official record will be posted on the Council website after the Council approves the full meeting record at a future Council meeting.


Fall 2019 Habitat and Ecosystem Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Habitat Report

Jordan Cove

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

Klamath River

Klamath River

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

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

Pre/Post Study in Rockfish Conservation Area 

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

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

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

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

Kelp. Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com

Council adopts revised vision for Fishery Ecosystem Plan for public review 

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



Fall 2019 Salmon and Halibut Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Final salmon rebuilding plans approved

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

In September the Council adopted rebuilding plans for Strait of Juan de Fuca natural coho, Queets River natural coho, and Snohomish River natural coho, subject to approval by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 

Each plan contained two alternatives for rebuilding the stock.  Under Alternative I, management would remain the same (status quo); during rebuilding, the Council would continue to use management framework and reference points, as defined in the fishery management plan and Pacific Salmon Treaty, to set the maximum allowable exploitation rate on an annual basis.      

Alternative II varied for each plan, but essentially would have either reduced the maximum allowable exploitation rate or increased (buffered) the level of spawning abundance needed to achieve maximum sustainable yield (MSY) while rebuilding. In salmon fishery management, MSY is expressed in terms of the adult spawners needed to achieve MSY (SMSY). 

For Strait of Juan de Fuca natural coho and Queets River natural coho, the Council adopted Alternative 1 (status quo) as the final preferred alternative. The Council adopted Alternative 2 (Buffered SMSY) as the final preferred alternative for the Snohomish River natural coho.

 The three coho stocks and two Chinook stocks (Sacramento River fall and Klamath River fall) were declared overfished in June 2018.  Under the Salmon Fishery Management Plan, a rebuilding plan is required for each of these stocks. A plan must be proposed by the Salmon Technical Team for Council consideration within one year, and developed and implemented by NMFS within two years.  

The two Chinook rebuilding plans were adopted as final in June 2019. The Council chose Alternative I (status quo) as the final preferred alternative for each plan. 

Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Work Group continues to examine effects of Council-managed salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales

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

In September the Council reviewed a draft risk analysis on the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of southern resident killer whales.  The analysis was provided by the Ad Hoc Southern Resident Killer Whale Workgroup. Although the draft was incomplete and did not provide recommendations, the Council discussed the work to date and provided comments to guide future analysis.  The workgroup will continue to draft the analysis and will provide an updated report at the November Council meeting in Costa Mesa, California.  

The Council formed the workgroup in April 2019, in response to NMFS reinitiating Endangered Species Act consultation on the effect of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  The workgroup was tasked with reassessing the effects of Council-area ocean salmon fisheries on the Chinook salmon prey base of the killer whales. NMFS has developed a webpage dedicated to the workgroup which includes meeting schedules, materials shared, etc.

NMFS proposes change to annual salmon management cycle

NMFS has proposed changes to the salmon management cycle, stating that the current cycle does not allow enough time for the agency to approve management measures and put them in place by the start of the fishing season. NMFS West Coast Region proposed a possible solution in September: to schedule fisheries that open before May 16 under the previous year’s management measures, as is currently done for salmon fisheries occurring in March and April. NMFS also proposed setting a fixed, latest date of April 22 for the Council to send the recommended season package to NMFS for implementation.

The change would not affect the way tribal, state, and Federal managers conduct their fisheries, but would provide a way for NMFS to fulfill their obligations without interrupting the long-established schedule for West Coast salmon fisheries.  Since the salmon schedule is part of the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery Management Plan, the proposed changes would require a change (amendment) to the plan if adopted. Plan amendments are typically considered over a series of three Council meetings. Council and NMFS staff will develop a plan for a possible amendment, and will report back to the Council in November.  

Council approves three topics for salmon methodology review 

As part of its annual review of salmon methodology, the Council approved three topics for review: (1) conduct the technical analysis needed to inform a change of the salmon management boundary line from latitude 40° 05′ (Horse Mountain, California) five miles north to latitude 40° 10′; (2) examine the data and models used to forecast impacts on Columbia River summer Chinook to determine whether a change in methodology is warranted; and (3) provide documentation of the abundance forecast approach used for Willapa Bay natural coho.  

The Salmon Technical Team met with the Scientific and Statistical (SSC) Salmon Subcommittee and Model Evaluation Workgroup on October 22. Results of the meeting will be provided to the full SSC and the Council at the November meeting.   

Council adopts changes to 2020 catch sharing plan; recommends annual regulations for Pacific halibut

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

The Council adopted for public review proposed changes to the 2020 Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan and annual fishing regulations in Washington and Oregon recreational fisheries. No changes were proposed for California recreational fisheries. 

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed three changes for public review: provide flexibility for the Puget Sound sub-area to open in April; in years when April 30 falls on a Thursday, provide flexibility for the North Coast, South Coast, and Columbia River Subarea seasons to open on April 30; and revise the current Catch Sharing Plan language to provide the flexibility for all Washington subareas to open up to three days per week.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) proposed five changes for public review:

  1. Oregon Coastwide:  Allow all-depth halibut fishing and longleader gear fishing on the same trip. Status quoLongleader gear fishing not allowed on the same trip as all-depth halibut. Alternative 1: Allow longleader gear fishing on the same trip as all-depth halibut.
  2. Columbia River and Southern Oregon Subareas:  Revise the Southern Oregon Subarea allocation. Status quo: The Southern Oregon Subarea allocation is 3.91% of the Oregon sport allocation. Alternative 1: The Southern Oregon Subarea allocation is 3.91% of the Oregon sport allocation up to a maximum of 8,000 pounds. Any poundage over that will be allocated to the Columbia River Subarea.
  3. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the start date of the nearshore fishery. Status quo: Opens June 1, seven days per week. Alternative 1: If the Central Coast Nearshore fishery allocation is 25,000 pounds or greater, the season will open May 1; if the allocation is less than 25,000 pounds the season will open June 1.
  4. Central Coast Subarea:  Revise the days per week open in the summer all-depth fishery. Status quo: Open the first Friday and Saturday in August, then every other Friday and Saturday until Oct. 31, or quota attainment. Alternative 1: If the allocation projected to remain in the spring all-depth fishery after its conclusion, plus the summer all-depth allocation, total 60,000 pounds or more after the spring all-depth season concludes, a third open day may be added to the summer all-depth season open days. Alternative 1a: Thursday will be the additional open day. Alternative 1b: Sunday will be the additional open day.
  5. Central Coast Subarea: Revise the spring all-depth season back-up days. Status quo: Available back-up days are every other Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Alternative 1: After the spring all-depth season fixed dates, ODFW, NMFS, the International Pacific Halibut Commission and Council staff can confer and determine if back-up dates can be open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Final action for establishing the 2020 Pacific halibut fisheries is scheduled for the November 2019 Council meeting.  

Council adopts preliminary recommendations for 2020 directed halibut fishery

In September the Council adopted for public review two preliminary recommendations for the 2020 halibut fishery.  

For fishing duration, the two options are status quo (a 10-hour period) and Alternative 1 (a five-day fishing period, probably with reduced vessel limits).

For the season start date, the two options are status quo (the last Wednesday in June) or Alternative 1 (the last Wednesday in May).

Regarding fishing duration, the Council asked that Alternative 1 be accompanied with an estimate of potential vessel limits.  The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) will set vessel limits for 2020 based on the Council’s recommendations.

Estimated vessel limits (for informational purposes only) were based on certain assumptions (vessel limits for a 5-day opening are 2/3 of the current 10-hour openings; 2019 allocation (254,426 pounds) and 2019 vessel trip limit ratios). The estimates are provided in the table accompanying this story. 

The structure of the directed halibut fishery has been a topic of discussion between the IPHC and Council over the past few years.  In June 2019, the Council decided to move forward with the transition of management authority from IPHC to the Council for this fishery.  As part of the transition plan, the Council agreed to use the Council’s September/November Catch Sharing Plan revision process to solicit stakeholder input and consider proposals for the 2020 directed fishery within the existing season structure.

The Council will forward its recommendation for the 2020 season structure to the IPHC for consideration.  The IPHC is to continue to issue licenses, set vessel limits, etc. for this fishery into the near future.

Estimated vessel limits for Area 2A non-Indian commercial directed Pacific halibut fishery for fishery duration scenarios of Status Quo and Alternative 1
Vessel size class 2019 Vessel limit ratio Status quo (10-hour period) (a,b) Alternative 1 (5-day period)(b)
Feet Letter
1-25 A 0.443 4,525 3,017
26-30 B 0.443 4,525 3,017
31-35 C 0.444 4,545 3,030
36-40 D 0.667 6,820 4,547
41-45 E 0.667 6,820 4,547
46-50 F 0.889 9,090 6,060
51-55 G 0.889 9,090 6,060
55+ H 1 10,225 6,817
(a) From IPHC news release 2019-009; (b) Estimate for the initial openings, with potential for “mop up” opening(s) with lower trip limits if balance of allocation is sufficient.



Fall 2019 Groundfish Stories

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Cowcod rebuilt; other stock assessments adopted

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

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

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

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

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

Other assessments

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

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

Westport fishing vessel. Photo: Benedictus/Shutterstock.com

Council discusses costs, benefits of storing electronic monitoring video

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

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

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

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

Council adopts alternatives to address take of salmon in groundfish fishery

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

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

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

The first measure required the Council to develop and implement salmon bycatch mitigation measures for the groundfish fishery, as necessary. These measures can be implemented inseason to reduce the risk of a sector exceeding its bycatch guideline. 

The other measure required the Council to develop a process to allow a fishery sector access to a “reserve” of 3,500 Chinook salmon. This reserve is to be accessed only when a sector exceeds, or is projected to exceed, its bycatch guideline.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial harvest specifications, management measures adopted for 2021-2022 

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

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

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

Inseason adjustments to groundfish fisheries 

The Council adopted new sablefish daily trip limits as follows:

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

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

Groundfish methodology review topics chosen

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



Ad Hoc Sablefish Management and Trawl Allocation Attainment Committee to Meet October 9-10, 2019 in Portland, OR

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s ad hoc Sablefish Management and Trawl Allocation Attainment Committee (SaMTAAC) will hold a two-day meeting that is open to the public.  The meeting will begin Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 8 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and recess when business for the day is completed.  It will continue at 8 a.m. Thursday, October 10, adjourning when business for the day is completed.

At its meeting, the SaMTAAC will continue to develop alternatives that address obstacles to achieving the goals and objectives of the groundfish trawl catch share plan related to under-attainment of non-sablefish shorebased trawl allocations.  The SaMTAAC’s work on alternatives will be presented at the November 2019 Pacific Council meeting.

Meeting Location

This meeting will be held at the following location:

Sheraton Portland Airport
Mt. Adams Room
8235 NE Airport Way
Portland, OR 97220
Telephone: 503-281-2500
Driving Directions

Additional Information

The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt at 503-820-2411, at least ten business days prior to the meeting date.

For further information, please contact Dr. Jim Seger at (503) 820-2416; or toll-free 1-866-806-7204, ext. 416.


Salmon Advisory Subpanel to Hold Webinar August 14, 2019

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Salmon Advisory Subpanel (SAS) will hold a meeting to discuss and make recommendations on issues on the Council’s September 2019 meeting agenda.  This meeting will be held via webinar, which is open to the public.  The webinar will be held on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, at 2 p.m. (Pacific Time) and will end when business is completed for the day.


Purpose of the Webinar

Major topics include, but are not limited to Salmon related topics:  Salmon Methodology Review, Salmon Rebuilding Plans – final action for Coho and the report on the Sacramento River fall Chinook harvest model development, Southern Resident Killer Whale Endangered Species Act consultation: Risk analysis review, and review of the annual salmon management cycle.  Pacific halibut related topics include:  2A Catch Sharing Plan preliminary changes for 2020, and commercial directed halibut fishery regulations for 2020.

The group may also address one or more of the Council’s scheduled administrative matters, legislative matters, habitat issues, ecosystem topics, groundfish topics, and future workload planning.  Public comments during the webinar will be received from attendees at the discretion of the SAS Chair.

To Attend the Webinar

  1. Join the webinar by visiting this link: https://www.gotomeeting.com/
  2. Enter the Webinar ID: 565-431-373
  3. Please enter your name and email address (required)
  4. You must use your telephone for the audio portion of the meeting by dialing this TOLL number (1-646-749-3122)
  5. Enter the Attendee phone audio access code (565-431-373)

NOTE: We have disabled Mic/Speakers as on option and require all participants to use a telephone or cell phone to participate.

Technical Information

System Requirements

  • PC-based attendees: Required: Windows® 7, Vista, or XP
  • Mac®-based attendees: Required: Mac OS® X 10.5 or newer
  • Mobile attendees: Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet (GoToMeeting Webinar Apps)

You may send an email to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt or contact him at 503-820-2280, extension 411 for technical assistance.

Public Listening Station

A public listening station will also be provided at the Council office.

Pacific Fishery Management Council
7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101
Portland, OR 97220-1384
Driving Directions

Additional information

This meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt at 503-820-2411 at least ten days prior to the meeting date.

Public comments during the webinar will be accepted from attendees at the discretion of the SAS chair.

If you have additional questions regarding the webinar, please contact Ms. Robin Ehlke at 503-820-2410; toll-free 1-866-806-7204, extension 410.


Council Plans Transition for Non-Indian Commercial Area 2A Halibut Fishery; New Season-Setting Process Begins

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) is requesting public comment on structuring the Area 2A (West Coast) non-Indian directed commercial halibut fishery for the upcoming year. The public is encouraged to comment at the September and November 2019 Council meetings as management of this halibut fishery transitions from the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) to the Council.

In June, the Council committed to working closely with the IPHC and stakeholders on the transition. The Council will focus on a smooth transfer of management authority for the commercial directed fishery, and will rely on the IPHC to continue to issue licenses for this fishery in the near-term. The Council intends to maintain the current management structure, but may consider changes to vessel poundage limits and open periods.

At its September and November 2019 meetings, when the Council typically considers changes to its halibut Catch Sharing Plan, it will also make management recommendations for the 2020 directed commercial halibut fishery trip limits and fishing periods. These meetings will provide an opportunity for public, agency, and advisory body comment. The Groundfish Advisory Subpanel meetings held in conjunction with the September and November Council meetings will also provide an opportunity for public comment on this issue. As always, public comment will be accepted through the Council’s e-portal before the meetings.

The September meeting will be held September 11-18 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, Idaho. The November meeting will be held November 13-20 at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa in Costa Mesa, California.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold public meetings August 5-8 to discuss fishing periods and trip limits for the 2020 directed commercial halibut fishery. Meeting dates and locations will be posted online; information is also available at (541) 867-4741. Currently, the Departments of Fish and Wildlife for Washington and California do not have public meetings scheduled to discuss the non-Indian commercial directed halibut fishery season structure for 2020.

See full press release.