Thursday, August 26, 2010

NOAA Extends Public Comment Timeline

NPFMC Recommends Less Restrictive RPA for Western, Central Aleutian Islands

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced this week that the agency is extending the public comment period for the draft 2010 Groundfish Biological Opinion (BiOp) until 5 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time on September 3, 2010. The original comment deadline was Friday, August 27, 2010. NMFS received numerous requests to extend the timeline, so the agency pushed the comment deadline back by one week.

In the draft opinion, NMFS proposed closing the Atka mackerel and Pacific Cod fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands and restricting the Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries in the Central Aleutian Islands (Areas 541 and 542). The agency was criticized by the fishing industry for what many said were shortcomings, such as stating as if they were fact, conclusions that have a very high degree of uncertainty associated with them.

Some from the fishing industry expressed concern that widespread closures would result in a large displacement of fishing to the Bering Sea. Currently, some fishermen from Sand Point’s fishing fleet, the largest in the Aleutians East Borough, go to Adak to fish, which spreads out the fleet. However, if NMFS’s recommendations were approved, those restrictive proposals would force them to fish locally, increasing competition.

Last week (Sept. 16 - 20, 2010) the North Pacific Fishery Management Council held a special meeting to review the BiOp. As a result, the Council unanimously passed a motion recommending that NMFS consider another reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) with less restrictive fishery closures in the Western and Central Aleutian Islands. The Council outlined this RPA in its News & Notes August 2010 Newsletter. The Council’s proposed modified protections would protect Steller sea lion rookeries from competition from fishing in the areas and times needed, but would still allow a portion of the Atka mackerel fishery to continue in the Western Aleutians. The modifications would also allow the cod fishery to continue largely as-is.

The Council recommended a 2-year sunset provision for the mitigation measures. The measures could potentially either be renewed or replaced with another set of measures prior to the sunset date. NOAA plans to consider recommendations from the Council and the public when it develops the final 2010 Groundfish Biological Opinion. NMFS will present the final reasonable and prudent alternative at its October 2010 meeting. The agency will also present an updated analysis of fishery impacts associated with any revisions to the implemented RPA. The final BiOp and rulemaking to implement the management measures in the final RPA is scheduled to be completed by January 2011. For more details, visit the links below.

Monday, August 2, 2010

NMFS Releases Draft 2010 Biological Opinion: Greatest concern - Area 543 - Western and Central Aleutians

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has released the long-awaited draft 2010 Groundfish Biological Opinion. It is available online (see link below). The North Pacific Fishery Management Council plans to discuss it during the August 16 - 19, 2010 special meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

The agency found jeopardy in the western and central Aleutian Islands reporting areas. The document includes a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative, a portion of which includes:

• Area 543: closure of the Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fishery.

• Area 542: 3-mile closure at Kanaga Island/Ship Rock for groundfish;
10-mile closure from critical habitat for fixed gear Pacific cod from January 1 to June 10; 20-mile closure from critical habitat for trawl cod year-round; no fishing in the area for Pacific cod between Nov. 1 - Dec. 31 by anyone.
20-mile closure from critical habitat year-round for Atka mackerel; Atka mackerel total allowable catch set at 47 %; eliminate HLA platoon system; change Atka mackerel seasons from January 20 - June 10 for A season and June 10 - November 1 for B season.

• Area 541: 10-mile closure for Pacific cod year round; 10 - 20-mile closure for fixed gear Pacific cod from January 1 - June 10; 10 - 20-mile closure for Pacific cod by trawl gear between June 10 - November 1; prohibit all Pacific cod harvest between November 1 - December 31.