Final Action on BSAI Halibut

On Monday, November 13, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took final action on BSAI abundance-based management of halibut bycatch.  The council adopted a motion that is a hybrid of alternatives 3 and 4— in other words, the bycatch reductions are not as deep as those included in Alternative 4, but overall the motion was A LOT better than alternative 3. The motion is below. Here are some key points to help you understand the impacts:
 
1. Regardless of abundance, the halibut bycatch cap for the Amendment 80 fleet will not go higher than the current cap (1745 metric tons)
2. Likewise, caps do not go lower than 1,134 metric tons—again regardless of abundance--but that floor was included in ALL alternatives under consideration.
3. Between the bycatch ceiling (1745 metric tons) and the floor (1134 metric tons) bycatch caps will track abundance (indexed to both the halibut setline survey and the Bering Sea trawl survey)
4. Caps at very low levels of halibut abundance are 5% lower than the caps identified in alternative 3 regardless of the trawl survey index, which provides a measure of protection to the directed fishery (bycatch of mature halibut -- which are sampled by the setline survey -- are deducted from the area in which the bycatch is taken and come directly off the top before the directed fishery catch limits are set)
5. When halibut abundance is low (vs. very low), trawl bycatch caps will be reduced 25% (trawl survey index low) or 20% (trawl survey index high) below the existing cap.
 
Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker made the motion and worked hard to build support for this compromise position.  The motion passed 8-3, with Oregon and two of the three Washington representatives voting against it.  Kenny Down and NMFS acting regional administrator Doug Mecum voted in favor.  This is a significant step toward reducing the impact of bycatch on halibut stocks, halibut fisheries, and the fishing communities that depend on the halibut resource. 
 
THANK YOU to everyone who submitted written testimony, called in to testify, or supported ALFA’s work over the past six years while we played a lead role in reducing halibut bycatch.
The action must still be approved by the Secretary of Commerce (likely) and will also likely be challenged in court by the Amendment 80 fleet—so!  More work ahead but still a milestone!

Council cuts Alaska halibut bycatch caps for groundfish fleet

 by Jessica Hathaway in National Fishermen

With four proposed alternatives on the docket to amend the management of halibut bycatch in Alaska’s Amendment 80 groundfish trawl fleet, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Monday, Dec. 13, to approve a compromise between Alternatives 3 and 4.

“The preferred alternative balances the interests of the two largest halibut user groups in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands — the directed commercial halibut fishery and the Amendment 80 sector — by establishing abundance-based halibut [bycatch] limits for the Amendment 80 sector,” said Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, who devised and presented the compromise to the council.

The bulk of public comments called for significant changes, with many halibut stakeholders urging council members to support Alternative 4.

“While that would be a conservation and management action many in the public comments desired, I found it impractical at this time,” said Council Member Kenny Down, former CEO of Blue North Fisheries, of Alternative 4, which called for the deepest cuts to halibut bycatch in the A80 fleet, which harvests a variety of flatfish, rockfish, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch, and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

In the end, the council voted to manage the trawl fleet’s halibut bycatch based on abundance, not cut and dry hard caps, so all halibut user groups would be equally responsible for and responsive to shifts in abundance.

“While not as significant a reduction as was included in Alternative 4, the hybrid retains the existing bycatch limit at times of high abundance and reduces the bycatch limit by 35 percent below the existing limit at very low levels of halibut abundance — both substantial improvement over alternative 3,” Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, told NF.

Linda Behnken

Baker’s compromise (illustrated in the graph below) combines input from the two abundance indices for the halibut fishery — the NMFS Eastern Bering Sea trawl survey and the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s setline survey. If the surveys reflect a high level of abundance, the current level of bycatch would remain in place. The cap would be reduced in kind with a reduction in surveyed halibut biomass.

“This abundance-based approach is much like the management approach for the directed commercial halibut fisheries off Alaska, which establish annual catch limits that vary with established measures of abundance,” Baker added.

In the meeting’s discussion and in public comments following the vote, council members and stakeholders have thanked Baker for her work in creating the compromise, which sought to strike a balance between managing bycatch for abundance and adhering to federal management standards.

“An imbalance was created as the bycatch users took an ever-increasing proportion of the available halibut, and the directed halibut fishermen bore the burden of conservation of the resource,” said Ray Melovidov, COO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and a second-generation halibut fisherman. “This action will result in the two user groups sharing that burden, and will better manage the resource.”

Trawl fleet stakeholders urged the council to approve the first alternative, calling for no changes to halibut bycatch, which does not decrease with reduced halibut abundance. They say significant bycatch reduction would likely push some fleet members out of business, would result in a dramatic reduction of wild domestic seafood in the marketplace, and is unlikely to improve the overall halibut biomass.

“We believe this action does not meet the standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and we are exploring all options due to the unprecedented nature of this decision,” said Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a trade association that represents some members of the Amendment 80 fleet. “We are also concerned that the analysis shows that this decision will not result in the increases in harvest quota that the directed halibut fishery is looking for.”

Chris Woodley is executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a United Fishermen of Alaska board member, and former chairman of the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Advisory Committee.

However, reducing bycatch and boosting biomass are not always two sides of the same coin. The inequity the council is addressing with this motion is not as simple as who gets to catch the halibut but rather who shares in catch cap reductions when the biomass is low, given the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s call to reduce bycatch “where practicable.”

“Given all the factors that we have to consider, the motion does provide a balance to try to minimize bycatch at all levels of halibut abundance,” said Council Member Nicole Kimball, vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. “And it really at its core serves to fix the situation in which only halibut fisheries decline when halibut biomass declines. And it remedies this inequity in a way that I think is defensible under the Magnuson Act.”

Council members also spoke to their endeavors to answer to all of the National Standards in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which address bycatch, community participation in fisheries, allocations and the best available science, among other factors.

“We are balancing multiple national standards,” said Council Member Cora Campbell, president and CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, emphasizing the council’s responsibility to adhere to multiple, complicated and sometimes conflicting requirements. “All at once, we’re trying to achieve OY (optimum yield), allocate fishing privileges equitably, provide for sustained participation of fishing communities, and minimize bycatch to the extent practicable. And as difficult as that is, I believe that this motion strikes the appropriate balance and meets all of the national standards.”

With an array of national standards on one side and a complicated biomass with a vast range of user groups on the other, council members were pressed to thread multiple needles in creating a final motion.

“This council regularly tackles difficult issues, and this topic has consistently been one of those really challenging ones, given the large number of variables that impact halibut management,” said Baker. “The process to develop this ABM program reflects the difficulty of addressing a broad diversity of fishing industry, community and tribal interests that we’ve heard about throughout this process and are reflected in our analysis.”

Council members also acknowledged that the cuts would result in some hardships for the trawl fleet.

“The Amendment 80 fleet may have to forego some amount of profitability to reduce halibut mortality,” said Down. “Real efforts to reduce bycatch are net negative for all fisheries initially.”

But hardship alone is not a reason to abandon the call for bycatch reduction where it’s practicable, as is the call of National Standard 9.

“There is a balance in all industrial [regulation] in this world of natural resources between conservation and profit,” said Down, who also acknowledged benefits provided by the catch of the Amendment 80 fleet.

The shift to an abundance-based management program for groundfish bycatch has also resulted in an abundance of attention from Alaska’s coastal communities and fisheries stakeholders, who have been more engaged on social media and in virtual council meetings as a result of pandemic-induced lockdowns and familiarity with virtual meeting technology.

“Public engagement and the public testimony and advocating for positions on issues like this one are a cornerstone of the council process,” said Council Member Andy Mezirow, a charter fishing captain in Seward, Alaska.

Mezirow went on to caution that while public engagement is critical to the process, the level of discourse should remain fact-based and professional.

“On this agenda item at this very meeting,” Mezirow said, “we’ve seen members of this council and its advisory bodies on social media get threatened, calls for their businesses to be boycotted, and their character slandered for supporting a reasoned alternative that in fact results in a huge bycatch reduction.”

Read on National Fishermen

UA and National Lab Guide Two Alaska Communities Closer to Meeting Energy Goals

Alaska Center for Energy and Power

UA and National Lab Guide Two Alaska Communities Closer to Meeting Energy Goals

For the past few months, community members from Ouzinkie and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association have each worked with national laboratories on projects to address their community’s remote energy needs. 

They are two of 11 islanded and remote community energy projects across the country receiving technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project. Ouzinkie and ALFA projects are facilitated by local regional partners from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Institute of Social and Economic Research. 

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association is a collective of fishermen from throughout Alaska, centered in Sitka. The fishing fleet relies on diesel fuel for all of its energy, and its ETIPP project is seeking opportunities to reduce fishermen’s dependence on diesel. ALFA’s Chandler Kemp has been working with the labs, along with ALFA’s executive director, Linda Behnken. “NREL and Sandia National Labs are helping ALFA envision an energy transition for the fishing fleet. The labs are helping design a hybrid diesel-electric vessel and developing a long-term feasibility study of hydrogen fuel cell systems,” said Kemp. 

Meanwhile, the City of Ouzinkie sits off the northeastern coast of Kodiak Island. In efforts to keep electricity flowing for its 150 residents, the Ouzinkie is currently 100% reliant on diesel fuel for generators to power the town — a situation common around Alaska. Mayor Elijah Jackson described it as their “most problematic energy challenge.” Ouzinkie has a hydro turbine, but needed repairs have been postponed by Covid-19 delays, Jackson explained. 

“With the hydro running, our fuel bill is cut in half,” he said. “Right now, we are spending over $17,000 a month on fuel, and this has been a burden to our entire community. The ETIPP project is helping us find renewable energy sources to help offset the reliance on diesel fuel.”

The City of Ouzinkie continues to collaborate with the Native Village of Ouzinkie tribe and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and others to optimize its use of renewables and storage.

Three additional ETIPP projects in Alaska are facilitated by Renewable Energy Alaska Project as a regional partner. They include a variety of energy storage, hydro and resource assessment projects in Wainwright, Dillingham and Sitka. Communities interested in applying for the second round of projects can do so through spring 2022.

For more information, follow the Alaska Rural Energy Partnership Facebook page. Communities interested in applying for the upcoming cohort can visit the DOE website and contact Patty Eagan at pmeagan@alaska.edu.

 

A fishing boat in Southeast Alaska. Photo by Josh Roper Photography.

Tongass Roadless Rule Comment Period Now OPEN - Submit Your Comments!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the Roadless Rule in 2001. The Roadless Rule prohibited road construction and timber harvest in inventoried roadless areas, including the Tongass National Forest, protecting over 9 million acres of large, relatively undisturbed landscapes.  This action created space for the region’s fish and wildlife for the benefit of the species themselves and human uses such as wildlife viewing, recreation and commercial, sport and subsistence fishing. 

 In 2018, the USDA accepted a petition from the State of Alaska requesting that the agency exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.  The public response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the Roadless Rule in place to protect fish and wildlife values and the region’s socio-economic well-being.  The USDA instead deferred to the industrial logging companies and in October 2020 exempted the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.

 On November 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its proposal to reinstate the Roadless Rule and restore protections to more than nine million acres of inventoried roadless areas on the Tongass National Forest.  The agency determined that reinstating the Roadless Rule would help to conserve the world’s largest remaining, intact, old-growth temperate rainforest and support biodiversity and carbon sequestration.  The USDA also determined that reinstating the Roadless Rule would support Southeast Alaska communities that depend on the fisheries economy.  The public has sixty days – until January 24, 2022 – to comment on the proposed rule.

 ALFA requests that fishermen, fishing support businesses, community members and individuals concerned about climate, salmon habitat and biodiversity write in support of reinstating the Roadless Rule.  The Roadless Rule protects forests that are a global champion in sequestering carbon, benefitting the entire planet.  And the Roadless Rule protects numerous Southeast Alaska watersheds, providing habitat for forest fish harvested by our fishermen.  Comments will become part of the public record and affirm broad public support for Roadless Rule protections. 

Information on submitting comments can be found at:
Submit Your Roadless Rule Comments to the Forest Service Now! -Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov/document/FS-2021-0007-0006

Click Here to read ALFA’s Roadless Rule Fishing Communities Facts

The Truth About Bycatch in Alaska Fisheries Committee of the Alaska State Legislature

November 2021  

On November 15, 2021, the Fisheries Committee held a hearing on bycatch and its significant adverse  effects on Alaskans and Alaska’s fishery resources. Unfortunately, the presentations were very general  and did not present both sides of the issue, and certainly did not reflect the concerns of ordinary  Alaskans who suffer as a result of excessive bycatch.  

The Claim: Management measures have effectively reduced bycatch and already addressed the  problem.  

⮚ In his testimony, Mr. Merrill “highlighted” the reduction in overall halibut bycatch that has  occurred since 2004, wrongly suggesting that the problem of bycatch has been addressed  through effective management.  

Glenn Merrill: “I want to highlight that there has been a substantial reduction in the  amount of halibut bycatch that has occurred in fisheries off of Alaska—roughly a 70%  reduction over the time period from 2004 to 2021.”  

Figure 1. Merrill slide 8  

⮚ Mr. Merrill attributed this “70% reduction in bycatch” to solely management measures, ignoring  both the effects of declining halibut stocks and the effects of bycatch on Alaskans in a low abundance environment. 

The Facts: Due to major declines in halibut stocks, bycatch remains a significant problem that costs  Alaskans tens of millions of dollars each year.  

⮚ Halibut stocks have declined by about 65% since 2000. While management measures (and  threatened regulation) have helped convince the largest culprits to reduce their bycatch, the  reductions shown by Mr. Merrill are partially, if not largely, because there are simply fewer  halibut available to be caught.  

Decline in total bycatch shown by Mr. Merrill Decline in total halibut spawning biomass  estimated by the IPHC.

Figure 2. Decline in halibut bycatch compared to decline in overall halibut abundance  

⮚ Despite the touted reductions, bycatch continues to far exceed the directed fishery catch and  costs Alaskans tens of millions of dollars each year. Since 2015, the Bering Sea trawl fleet has  wasted more than 18 million pounds of halibut bycatch—more than double the entire directed  fishery catch. (Figure 3) Of this bycatch, the halibut over 26 inches alone had an ex vessel value  of more than $62.8 million.  

Figure 3 

The Claim: Bycatch accounts for only 13% of the halibut caught and is not a problem for Alaskans.  

⮚ Mr. Merrill testified that bycatch makes up only 13% of halibut removals (Figure 4). However,  the statistics he presented were for the coastwide halibut stock, including Canada, which has  instituted a strong bycatch reduction program, and the lower 48 states, where bycatch makes  up a much smaller share of the total halibut catch. In addition, the North Pacific Fishery  Management Council (NPFMC) banned all trawling in Southeast Alaska in 1998.  

Glenn Merrill: “As a proportion of halibut, bycatch represented roughly 13 percent, though  it is likely to be lower this year.”  

Figure 4. Merrill Slide 9.  

The Facts: Bycatch accounts for the overwhelming majority of halibut caught in the Bering Sea, which  reduces the number of halibut available to all Alaskans.  

⮚ Bycatch constitutes the overwhelming majority of halibut removals in the Bering Sea. Shifting to  focus coastwide numbers—and thus including areas that are irrelevant to the effects of bycatch  on Alaskans—creates the false impression that bycatch is not significant.  

⮚ According to the IPHC, bycatch accounted for 61% of all halibut taken from the Bering Sea in  2020, the same year highlighted by Mr. Merrill (Compare Figure 4 with Figure 5)  

⮚ This excessive bycatch directly reduces the amount of halibut available to the directed fishery.  Further, because the Bering Sea is a nursery ground, Bering Sea bycatch reduces the amount of  halibut available throughout Alaska in the future.  

⮚ This is a long-term problem. Bycatch has accounted for the vast majority of the halibut caught in  the Bering Sea for decades (Figure 6). 

Figure 5  

Figure 6


Click here to see images and article

Alaska lawmakers in both parties demand action on excessive fisheries bycatch

Anchorage Daily News

By Laine Welch | Fish Factor

A grilling on fish that is taken as bycatch didn’t satisfy the appetites of a bipartisan group of Alaska legislators at a special hearing on Nov. 15 by the House Fisheries Committee.

We probably could not be more diametrically opposed on many things but we are frustrated with the waste of the resource and we are in lockstep. It’s all about the best economics and the best stewardship of our resources,” said Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, who devoted his entire November Capital Report to the topic.

“The fish don’t care if you’re red or blue,” said Sarah Vance, R-Homer, the catalyst behind the bycatch hearing. “We lay aside everything else and focus on good stewardship and making sure that every fisherman is able to get fish in the freezer and food on the table.”

The bycatch issue came to a head this summer when all Yukon River salmon fisheries were canceled due to so few returning chinook and chums. Along with ocean and climate impacts, villagers questioned the takes by huge trawlers that catch and process fish at sea.

presentation by Glenn Merrill, regional administrator at NOAA Fisheries Alaska, showed that in the 2019 Bering Sea pollock fishery, 20,000 chinook salmon were taken as bycatch and more than 500,000 chums, but only 1% originated at the Yukon River.

The hearing shifted from salmon to the building anger among Alaskans over the amounts of halibut, crab and other creatures taken as bycatch in federally managed waters (3-200 miles out), where nearly 65% of Alaska’s fish volumes are harvested.

Most bycatch is taken by a wrong gear or the fish is caught out of season or it’s too small and federal law dictates that it must be thrown overboard, Merrill explained.

He showed that bycatch totals in 2020 were 3.3 million pounds by pot gear, over 38.5 million pounds by hook and line gear and over 92 million pounds by trawlers, who fish at varying depths down to the bottom.

Federal rules for fisheries “require balancing minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable while achieving the optimum yield from each fishery,” Merrill told the Fisheries Committee and 140 watchers and listeners.

How does that play out on the water? Some examples:

Bering Sea sablefish (black cod) in 2020 ended the year at 7.9 million pounds (519%) over the trawl bycatch limit. Managers responded by increasing the 2021 trawl limit by 65%.

In response to complaints, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council said in June 2021: “When constraints such as high bycatch rates emerge, vessel operators do not have the option to cease fishing completely because cost accrual on such large platforms would be unsustainable.”

Sablefish takes are currently 2 million pounds (165%) over the 2021 bycatch limit, and fishing continues.

In the Bering Sea crab fisheries, trawl bycatch for 2021/22 is higher than what the crabbers can take.

A mishmash of numbers show that trawl caps for snow crab, for example, are 5.99 million individual crabs, while the catch quota for the crab fleet is 5.6 million pounds. At an average weight of 1.3 pounds, the trawl snow crab bycatch could total 7.78 million pounds.

For Bristol Bay red king crab, closed for the first time in 25 years, trawlers are allowed 80,000 animals totaling more than 500,000 pounds.

Many Alaskans are calling for a shift away from protecting “optimum yields” in industrial trawl fisheries toward optimizing the health of the state’s fishery resources and communities.

That will be put to the test in early December when, after six years of discussion and 26.5 million pounds of halibut dumped, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is poised to reduce a fixed cap of more than 4 million pounds by bottom trawlers targeting flatfish in halibut nursery grounds of the Bering Sea.

Those fish will grow and migrate through the Gulf of Alaska and downstream to British Columbia and all the way to California.

That means that over 3,000 commercial halibut fishermen, 955 charter operators, several thousand halibut sport fishermen and over 4,000 subsistence harvesters all are affected by halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea, according to Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a former NPFMC member.

The state of Alaska has a vote on the bycatch reduction options being considered. Rep. Vance asked what that position will be.

“We are reviewing all the materials at the present time but we don’t have a position yet on what we’re going to do,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “We are going to take a step to have a significant reduction in halibut bycatch but which alternative would be premature to postulate what we will ultimately support until we’re done reading all the materials in advance of that meeting.”

The 20 bottom trawlers in this bycatch scenario are all “Seattle-based” and owned by “six or so companies,” said NPFMC director Dave Witherell, who also presented at the hearing.

Vincent-Lang quickly came to their defense.

“Although they may be homeported in Seattle, they pay significant fishery landing taxes to the state of Alaska and what we’re seeing is the ownership of these vessels is increasingly becoming Alaska-based with the Community Development Quota groups in Western Alaska basically buying into this industry,” Vincent-Lang said. “That contributes a lot to those coastal economies.”

There are six CDQ groups that represent 65 communities within 50 nautical miles of the Bering Sea coast. All are allocated portions of the region’s catches; all are owners or part owners of large fishing vessels.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, asked for the state’s perspective on habitat impacts by bottom trawlers on crabs and other species.

“I am going to defer an answer on that because I have not given that a good deal of thought,” Vincent-Lang replied. “I will speak to my staff and promise to get back to you with an assessment on that. But I have not really dug down into that issue to be able to answer in a good manner right now.”

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, questioned the makeup of the NPFMC, notably its lack of indigenous members.

“The appointments of the membership are made by the governors of Alaska and Washington,” said Witherell. “If the governor of Alaska wants to appoint someone who’s Native, the governor can do so.”

The NPFMC makeup is raising eyebrows among Alaskans because a majority of voting members of the NPFMC along with the top executives of its 19-member advisory panel have direct ties to the trawl fleets.

NPFMC chair Simon Kinneen, for example, is the vice president and quota and acquisitions manager for Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., owner of Glacier Fish Co., which operates a 201-foot and a 376-foot trawlers in the Bering Sea.

“The lack of transparency and disclosure of conflicts of interest is a great concern,” said Rep. McCabe.

Rep. Vance agreed.

“My fishermen have stated how it’s changed over the years,” she said. “It used to be more fishermen who have boats and are out there on a regular basis. Now it’s more corporate and attorneys who are not directly engaged in the fisheries. That’s a great concern because they’re losing that perspective of what it’s like to be out there on the water. That’s the voice I’m going to carry.”

The Fisheries Committee members said they were generally dissatisfied with the information they received during the three-hour hearing.

“I was very frustrated with what we saw and I think it’s time for the NPFMC and NOAA to change their presentation. From what I understand, it’s very old and very tired information and it’s time to fix it. It’s time to be transparent with the public,” McCabe said in a phone interview.

“It was a mix of numbers -- what exactly does that all mean? I think the general public wants to know how many pounds, how many fish across the board, and what’s been done to mitigate the bycatch. It’s not my intent to try to shut them down in any manner, but we need to be honest with the public.”

“It wasn’t portrayed in a way that gave the true representation of what’s going out on the water,” echoed Rep. Vance. “That needs to be heard and we need to be able to get clarifications on the information that was provided.”

“I also find it very disappointing for the Dunleavy administration, two weeks out from the NPFMC decision, to not verbalize the alternative they support. We want definitive answers and actions and policy direction from them,” Vance added.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, said she “appreciated the good information” at the bycatch hearing but would like the presenters to provide better answers to the Fisheries Committee’s questions.

“Is there a difference in bycatch depending upon which method is used and/or how deep the trawl industry is allowed to fish? And I’d like to learn more about the effects on the environment,” Story said, adding that she will advocate for answers from Fish and Game.

“Commissioner Vincent-Lang seemed to suggest that our biggest management issues were beyond our control, like other countries’ fisheries. I think it is critical that our commissioner, NOAA and the NPFMC be out front advocating to our congressional delegation on the importance of this, as well as state legislators,” Story added. “They said they felt many factors may be currently out of their hands, but I disagree and feel they can still have an impact. We need specifics on what costs and studies are needed at the federal and state levels.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy was quick to respond.

Within two days of the bycatch meeting, he announced formation of a 13-member Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force “to explore the issue of bycatch and provide recommendations to policy makers.”

The administrative order takes effect immediately and will sunset on Nov. 30, 2022. Applications are being accepted now.

“I have mixed feelings about the task force,” said Vance. “We can always have more information but we need results. How long are we going to wait as fish are literally thrown overboard until we make a decision that moves us to good stewardship?”

Rep. McCabe said the governor gave him and Reps. Vance and Kreiss-Tomkins advance notice about “rolling out the task force.”

“And all three of us were like, ‘Isn’t it a little late for that?’ ” McCabe said. “Shouldn’t we have had a task force to make recommendations to the state (NPFMC) voting member long before this? Why is the state just now seeming to be waking up? So yeah, we are very concerned. It’s a shame, if you ask me.”

Heather Bauscher, chair of the Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee chair, put it this way in a letter to the NPFMC: “It should not be up to the small-boat fleet to carry the burden of the trawl fleet’s inability to catch their target species without collateral damage.”

Read the article at Anchorage Daily News

ACTION ALERT: Comment Now on Abundance-Based Management of Bering Sea halibut bycatch caps

After five years of work and delay, final action to reduce Bering Sea halibut bycatch is scheduled for December 2021.

The Council’s comment period on Abundance-Based Management of Bering Sea halibut bycatch caps is now open and will be open through November 30th. You have three options for commenting: 1) sign onto this letter 2) submit your own comments; 3) sign up to testify to the Council via their virtual platform (likely December 9th or 10th); 4) sign onto this letter, submit your own comments, AND sign up to testify!

If you are submitting your own comments or preparing to testify, please read the letter that is linked above for background information, then include in your comments:

1) The heading : AGENDA ITEM C-2
2) your name, where you live, and your connection to the halibut fishery
3) your request that the Council correct the analysis (or Environmental Impact Statement) for this action to include the impacts of bycatch on the Gulf of Alaska halibut fisheries and communities
4) your strong support for Alternative 4—the only alternative that comes close to restoring equity in the halibut fishery.
5) anything else you want to add from the letter or your own experience/knowledge/concern about bycatch and the need to reduce it.

You can submit your comments here
To listen/testify to the Advisory Panel and the Council, join the adobe connect link starting December 2nd (AP) and December 9th (Council) and sign up to testify under Agenda Item C-2.

NOTE: The list for public testimony closes once testimony begins; be sure to sign up BEFORE public testimony starts!

REMEMBER- what happens in the Bering Sea has an immediate and a long term effect on halibut stocks in the Gulf of Alaska! Please do not expect someone else to take care of the halibut resource and your fishery! Sign the letter and write your own comments TODAY.

SEE BELOW FOR TEXT OF SIGN ON LETTER:

November 30, 2021

Simon Kinneen, Chairman

North Pacific Fishery Management Council

Anchorage, Alaska

Submitted electronically

Regarding: C2 – Halibut Abundance-Based Management 


Dear Mr. Kinneen and members of the Council:

We, the undersigned Alaskans, strongly support meaningful reduction in halibut bycatch, and for the upcoming Council meeting, that means we strongly support Alternative 4 – the only of the four abundance-based management (ABM) of halibut bycatch alternatives before the Council that would provide any meaningful reduction to halibut bycatch and therefore any meaningful benefit for Alaska’s halibut fisheries.

Never before have Alaskans from all regions and sectors come together in this way to support Council action to protect our fisheries and communities.

BACKGROUND

Alaska is famous for its bountiful fisheries resources, including salmon, halibut, crab, sablefish, and herring. It is also well-known for its sustainable stewardship of fisheries resources. For more than half a century, with inevitable fluctuations, the resources off our shores have been successfully managed, and have provided food and livelihoods for our people and communities.

However, one of the most iconic and valuable of our resources – Pacific halibut – is facing a crisis that threatens the way of life for commercial and sport halibut fishermen, and the economic driver for halibut-dependent communities throughout coastal Alaska.

The Bering Sea (BS) halibut fishery has been crippled by the devastating direct effects of bycatch by large factory trawlers that come north from Seattle to fish for various groundfish species, which are processed at sea and primarily exported to Asia. Bycatch and discard of halibut during those BS groundfish fisheries also affects the availability of halibut to all users throughout the species’ range.

Halibut stocks have declined substantially over the past 30 years. As halibut stocks declined, bycatch mortality consumed a larger and larger share of the available halibut. Bycatch mortality – dead halibut – is “taken off the top” by the managers at the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), and the commercial and sport (“directed”) halibut fisheries get whatever is left.

This is unfair to Alaska and Alaskans.

Bycatch limits must be reduced for Alaska-based commercial and sport fisheries to survive. The future of halibut IFQ holders, sport charter operations, and communities hangs in the balance.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

  • Every Alaskan pays the price for bycatch.

  • Since 2015, trawlers have killed and discarded more than 3.1 million halibut in the Pribilof Island area of the Bering Sea (Area 4CDE). This is eight times more halibut than the Pribilof Island halibut fishery landed, based on mean weight. At an average price of $5.10 per pound, this amounts to $56 million in ex-vessel revenue lost by local halibut fishermen and fishing communities in the Pribilof Island area alone.

  • For 2021, the IPHC projects that bycatch will account for 63% of all halibut removals in Area 4CDE, based on the 3-year average of bycatch mortality. The directed fishery landings will receive only 35%. 

  • If bycatch users take their current full limit,  bycatch would account for 97.5% of halibut removals in Area 4CDE. The directed fishery would receive just 1.7%. This means bycatch users would receive more than 5 million pounds of halibut, leaving only 90,000 pounds for the halibut fishermen. 

  • There is a net migration of halibut from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska, hence halibut bycatch directly affects all who depend on halibut in the Gulf as well as the Bering Sea.

  • The recent average annual catch limit for the entire Southeast Alaska commercial halibut fishery is LESS than the annual Bering Sea halibut bycatch.

  • In Southcentral ports like Homer and Kodiak, commercial and sport harvest of halibut has declined by more than 50% since 2010 to conserve the halibut resource, while halibut bycatch limits have stayed the same.

  • Sport charter operations in all areas of Alaska have reduced allowable halibut size, or lost one or more charter days per week, with each lost day representing thousands in lost revenue to that small business alone, along with associated tax income to the community, and related local expenditures by the businesses and their clients.

  • Each time an Alaska business or community loses income as a response to halibut stock changes, those businesses and communities financially subsidize the trawl fleets, whose halibut bycatch is guaranteed. This subsidy is inequitable, unsustainable and is not supported by Alaska’s fishermen, fishing businesses and communities.

  • Bycatch savings through implementation of an ABM program may provide meaningful differences in annual allocation to the sport sector.

ACTION NEEDED

NPFMC is currently considering an ABM system for the Amendment 80 sector (bottom trawlers) that would tie bycatch limits to halibut abundance, with final action on Halibut ABM at its December meeting. ABM means that as the halibut resource rises or falls, the limits on bycatch by the bottom trawl sector would rise or fall, as the catch limits do for the directed halibut fisheries.

We strongly support Alternative 4 – the only alternative being considered that would provide any meaningful benefit to the directed fishery.

Alternatives 2 and 3 do relatively little to reduce the bottom trawlers’ bycatch limits at low levels of halibut abundance, and offer insignificant improvement from the status quo.

Meaningful ABM creates badly needed conservation incentives. These incentives are lost entirely under the current non-constraining PSC limits because groundfish trawlers feel no effects from low abundance — and have no incentive to reduce halibut bycatch or take steps to conserve the halibut resource — because the impacts of low abundance are borne entirely by halibut commercial and sport fishermen.

We ask — and expect — the State of Alaska to use its leadership position at the NPFMC to select Alternative 4.

Alaskans believe in wise resource management and protecting the fisheries that Alaskans rely on. We ask that the State of Alaska take a leadership position in advancing these principles and selecting Alternative 4.

Sincerely,

[Alaska Stakeholders]

NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON HUFFMAN FISHERIES MANAGEMENT BILL, LEGISLATION SLATED TO MOVE FORWARD

NOVEMBER 16, 2021

Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, chaired by Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02), examined the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, authored by Reps. Huffman and Ed Case (HI-01). The legislation aims to update and reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the primary law governing federal fisheries management and conservation that has made the U.S. a global leader in sustainable fisheries.

Click here to watch a recording of Rep. Huffman’s remarks. A full recording of the hearing can be found here. 

“America is truly a leader in sustainable fisheries management, but the MSA hasn’t been reauthorized in over a decade. And while it’s an important law that has stood the test of time, it needs some updates, particularly concerning the impacts of climate change,” said Rep. Huffman. “Through our uniquely inclusive, transparent process, Rep. Case and I were able to create an MSA reauthorization bill that meets the challenges of the climate crisis and puts the focus back on the needs of fishing communities. From the listening sessions to taking comments, we have genuinely heard from stakeholders all over the board, I’m excited that we were able to take the bill one step further today with this hearing.”

“After a series of stakeholder listening sessions since the fall of 2019, including one in my home state of Hawai‘i, I am pleased that our Subcommittee took this important step forward to improve the management of our oceans and fisheries, which are under accelerating stress.” said Rep Case. “It is more critical now than ever that any extractive practices focus on sustaining and conserving our entire marine ecosystem. The Magnuson-Stevens Act has been and will continue to be our main tool for establishing and administering sound fishing practices and we have to be sure it works now and into the next generations.” 

In an effort to include as many opinions and viewpoints as possible, Reps. Huffman and Case held eight listening sessions and covered seven management regions on their nationwide fisheries listening tour. They heard from 80 different experts and stakeholders, in addition to public comments from dozens of members of the public in person and online.

During the hearing, committee members heard testimony from industry experts and stakeholders.

“HR4690 makes several important changes to improve equity in the fishery management process overall, and for Tribes in particular […] In addition, HR4690 makes important changes to provide more balance in the Council system by requiring broader representation and more balanced appointments. These are essential changes to a broken system, and we support them wholeheartedly,” Ms. Mary Peltola, Executive Director, Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission stated in her written testimony. “We are heartened by the forward-thinking solutions presented in the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act which will give us the tools we need to restore abundant oceans and continue practicing our way of life.”

“The Fisheries for the Future Act continues this progress by offering comprehensive updates to address current challenges, strengthen sustainable management approaches, and prepare our fisheries for the impacts of climate change,” Ms. Meredith Moore, Director - Fish Conservation Program, Ocean Conservancy stated in her written testimony. “The proposed changes to the MSA contained in the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act would provide a path to address the impacts of climate change on our fisheries and prepare for the changes ahead in the near and long term. These changes to the law are needed because every part of the conservation and management of fisheries—the research and survey process, stock assessments, management decisions and fishing practices—will be affected by climate change”

What Supporters are Saying

“With the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act, Chairman Jared Huffman and Rep. Ed Case have given Congress a good starting point for ensuring that our fisheries management system continues to support American livelihoods and coastal economies and is ready to meet the challenges of the future – including for the first time addressing the effects of climate change on U.S. ocean fisheries by incorporating climate science and adaptation strategies into management decisions. The Marine Fish Conservation Network thanks the House Subcommittee for taking action today to move the Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act forward, and we thank Chairman Huffman in particular for his leadership in listening to stakeholders around the country and addressing many of their needs, hopes, and concerns in this bill,” said Robert Vandermark, Executive Director of Marine Fish Conservation Network.

“By investing in science that supports ecosystem-based fishery management and giving managers the tools they need to act with precaution in the face of climate change, the Huffman-Case bill would help preserve the integrity of our ocean ecosystems and sustain fishing opportunities for future generations,” said Wild Oceans President Rob Kramer. “Sustaining America’s Fisheries for the Future Act of 2021 recognizes that oceans are warming, fish are moving, and managers do not have the adequate tools to address the consequences. Provisions in the Act maintain the conservation gains of past reauthorizations while building more resilient fisheries that support healthy ecosystems and fishing communities in the face of climate change.”

“Climate change is challenging fisheries management as it has never before been challenged. Rep. Huffman’s Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill is an important step toward evolving our fisheries management system to respond quickly to change, buffer stocks against sudden shifts in abundance or distribution, and build resilience into ecosystems by expanding habitat protection.  We look forward to working with Rep. Huffman and the Alaska delegation to address climate change in ways that keep our fisheries and our fishing communities healthy in the years ahead,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

“Congressman Huffman's bill is a good first step toward addressing climate change, creating more resilient fisheries, and ensuring long-term sustainability of fish populations and our national fishing traditions,” said Kevin Scribner, Founder of Forever Wild Seafood.

“Our ocean and its vast resources are put in the hands of our government for all people and need to be well managed to conserve fish populations, protect other wildlife, sustain fishing communities, and protect our children’s inheritance. Public opinion is clear that Americans from across our country – both coastal and in the heartland – care deeply about the ocean and its life. The Ocean Project looks forward to working closely with Chairman Huffman and other leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure that our nation leads the world with strong, science-based fisheries conservation policies,” said The Ocean Project Director Bill Mott.

Additional Resources

Text of the bill can be found here.

A one-pager of the bill can be found here.

A section by section of the bill can be found here.

Operation Fish Drop Delivers Salmon to Yukon River Villagers

FISHERMEN'S NEWS ONLINE, NEWS

Residents of upper Yukon River villages in Alaska who were banned from fishing in the summer of 2021 due to weak runs of keta and Chinook salmon are getting another gift of wild Alaska salmon, thanks to the efforts of a Stanford University senior of Alaska Native heritage

Political science major Sam Schimmel, who is of Kenaitze Indian and St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik Eskimo descent, worked with the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust in Sitka, Alaska, to get 2,000 pounds of filleted Bristol Bay sockeyes to the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks this past week for distribution to villages in need.

Fishing communities from the mouth of the Yukon to the Canadian border were banned from commercial and subsistence fishing this past summer because of weak salmon runs. Schimmel had helped coordinate efforts earlier in the year, with the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, to distribute 3,300 pounds of Bristol Bay sockeye fillets to needy families in the Anchorage area.

Schimmel was also a speaker at the start of United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, urging attendees to get more involved in helping others. After his talk, he said he was soon approached by the CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, who asked how he could help.

His own concern, Schimmel said, came as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Alaska in early 2020, when he realized that core needs of rural residents were not being met, including traditional foods like salmon.

“To address food insecurity, cultural insecurity and to combat poor mental outcome, higher rates of alcoholism and depression, that’s what brought this program together,” he explained.

The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, an affiliate of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, has a similar concern about providing wild Alaska seafood for those in need.

The trust donates fish in Sitka each week for those in need. “We could see there was a real need, especially with the pandemic. Since their effort began in the summer of 2020, the trust has donated some 630,000 meals, program manager Natalie Sattler said.

More information about Operation Fish Drop is online at https://indigenousstrengths.com/operation-fish-drop and about the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust at https://thealaskatrust.org.