Tuesday, April 17, 2012

NOAA Fisheries Begins Western Steller Sea Lion EIS Process

NOAA Fisheries is asking for public input as it begins to prepare an environmental impact statement, or EIS, on Steller sea lion protection measures for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area groundfish fisheries.

The western distinct population segment of Steller sea lions is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act or ESA. By law, NOAA Fisheries must ensure that the groundfish fisheries are not likely to result in “jeopardy of continued existence, or adverse modification or destruction of designated critical habitat,” or JAM, for these Steller sea lions.

Steller sea lion protection measures have been used to manage the groundfish fisheries since 1999. The current protection measures were put into effect in January 2011, after a biological opinion concluded that primarily Pacific cod and Atka mackerel commercial fishing in part of the Aleutian Islands may be preventing the recovery of the endangered Steller sea lions, and might result in JAM. Atka mackerel and Pacific cod are important prey species for Steller sea lions.

The analysis in the EIS will determine the impacts to the human environment resulting from the proposed action and alternatives to restrict groundfish fishing in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area to ensure the fishing would not likely result in JAM.

“Scoping brings out ideas that help shape what comes through the process,” said Jim Balsiger, Administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries. “I hope people take time to send us their written comments, including potential impacts and alternatives that should be considered in revising the Steller sea lion protection measures.”

NOAA Fisheries intends to work with stakeholders to develop fisheries restrictions that are not likely to result in JAM and minimize the potential economic impact on the fishing industry to the extent practicable while meeting the requirements of the ESA.

In scoping for the EIS, the agency will accept written comments from the public to determine the issues of concern; the appropriate range of management alternatives; and the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. Instructions for submitting written comments and more detail can be found on the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Web site at: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/sslpm/.

The formal public scoping period will close October 15, 2012.
NOAA, in coordination with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, will conduct public meeting(s) to inform the public of the proposed action and alternatives, present issues and potential impacts, and gather public comment. These meetings will be announced by notice in the Federal Register and on the website at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/.

Additional information, and the 2010 environmental assessment and biological opinion prepared for the Steller sea lion protection measures, are also available at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/sslpm/.

Friday, April 13, 2012

NOAA Seeks Public Input on a New Oberserver Program Structure for Alaska Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries Service is accepting public comment on the agency’s new proposal to change the observer program for federal groundfish and halibut fisheries off Alaska.

The proposed rule filed with the Federal Register today. Once published, a 60-day comment period will open up for members of the public to provide input.

Observers are trained biologists who collect information while aboard vessels and at shore-side plants during commercial fisheries. They record information such as the amount of fishing gear set and the location, how much and what kinds of fish are caught, information on prohibited species caught, interactions with protected species like marine mammals, and detailed biological information on the species encountered.

Fisheries managers, scientists and policymakers, use the collected information, which is critical to sustainable management of Alaska’s multi-million dollar fisheries industry.

NOAA put the current observer program in place in 1991. The industry-funded program has worked well, but there are some elements that need improvement.

Owners of small vessels pay observer costs that are disproportionately high relative to their gross earnings. Vessel owners with no observer coverage requirements do not contribute to the cost of observer coverage, though they benefit from management based on the observer-data collected. Vessel owners and operators who are not required to have 100-percent of their operations observed choose when to carry observers, which may not accurately represent their overall fishing behavior. Vessels less than 60 feet in overall length and vessels fishing for halibut are exempt.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) recommended the proposed changes to more equitably distribute industry’s costs, to improve data quality, and to include halibut vessels.

The proposed rule would divide the existing Observer Program into two observer coverage categories—partial and full. All groundfish and halibut vessels and processors would be included in one of the categories.

Vessels and processors in the full observer coverage category—required to have an observer at all times—would retain the current funding and deployment system, and would continue to contract directly with observer provider companies and pay the full cost of their own observer coverage.

Vessels and processors in the partial observer coverage category—not required to have an observer at all times—would have a new funding and deployment system, and would pay a fee based on the value of each landing, similar to a sales tax, to NOAA Fisheries for their observer coverage. NOAA Fisheries is providing the $3.8 million start-up funding for the first year of this partial coverage category program. The fees collected from industry will fund the program in subsequent years.

In the partial coverage category, NOAA Fisheries would select vessels and trips for observer coverage according to a science-based, random design. With the fees paid by industry, NOAA Fisheries would contract with one or more observer provider companies to provide observers for the partial coverage category. Because fishing trips and offloads would be selected for coverage at random to achieve an overall coverage rate, the coverage rate of individual vessels and plants in the partial coverage category could vary.

NOAA hopes to deploy observers under the restructured program by January 1, 2013.
The proposed rule filed with the Federal Register today, and is expected to publish early next week. Upon publication, members of the public will have a 60-days to submit comments.

To view the proposed rule and for more information on how to comment, go to: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/observers

Monday, April 9, 2012

News from the NPFMC

Chum Bycatch:

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC or Council) recently took public comments on measures to reduce the number of chum salmon caught incidentally by the pollock trawl fleet in the Bering Sea.

During the meeting, information from genetic studies was revealed which could change the direction the Council ultimately takes on this issue. The genetic stock composition (GSC) analysis demonstrates that a large percentage of those chums from the Bering Sea may have been bound for hatcheries in Japan and Russia, rather than rivers in western Alaska.

Genetic Stock Composition Analysis:

1048 samples were taken in 2010 from the Bering Sea.

East Asian: 38%

North Asian 26%

Western Alaska 14%

E. Gulf/Pacific NW 13%

Upper/Mid Yukon 7%

The Council ended up deciding to send the issue back for further analysis. Chris Oliver, executive director of the Council, said the matter will probably be on the agenda for the October meeting in Anchorage. If a final decision is made then, it would then go to the U.S. Department of Commerce for approval. It’s likely the issue won’t be resolved until 2014.

Fish Up – Halibut Shares for Area 4B:

At the March-April 2012 NPFMC meeting, the Council took final action to allow a fish up provision for the IPHC halibut area 4B. Owners of D category IFQ will be able to use this quota on C class vessels. D class vessels are 35’ and under, and C class refers to vessels 60’ – 36’ in length. The fish up provision was previously allowed for areas 3B and 4C back in 2004. Area 4A (including Akutan and Dutch) does not have a fish up provision. Safety is the main reason advocates gave for moving the 4B fish up provision forward. Opponents believe the fish up provision deteriorates entry level opportunities. The Advisory Panel to the NPFMC has been divided on this issue. APICDA has been a constant advocate for the 4B fish up provision.

ROFR Committee Disbanded:

The Bering Sea Aleutian Island Crab Community provisions workgroup, also known as the ROFR (Right of First Refusal) Committee, has been disbanded. The Council followed the Advisory Panel’s lead on this agenda item and accepted the workgroup’s report as the FINAL product of the group. The group found they had thoroughly worked through the issues, but could not reach further agreement, basically agreeing to disagree. Further decision points are now left to the Council. The only question is whether the issue will come up for initial review in June, October or December.

GOA Pacific cod A season dates:

A discussion paper on changing the GOA Pacific cod A-season dates has continued to be an important issue for AEB fishermen. Since the implementation of the sector split at the beginning of 2012, many area fishermen have been dissatisfied with how the fishery is prosecuted. The AEB had some good testimony at the recent NPFMC meeting in support of moving this analysis forward. Aleutians East Borough Assembly Member Paul Gronholdt and Natural Resources Director Ernie Weiss opened up public testimony on the topic of GOA P. cod A-season Opening Dates. The Peninsula Fisherman’s Coalition spokesperson, Beth Stewart, finished up testimony on the agenda item, virtually bookending all opposing testimony. The Council, however, voted to take no action at this time. This is still the first year of the sector. This issue is expected to resurface again in the future.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reminder: BOF April 10th Proposal Deadline is Just Around the Corner

The Alaska Board of Fisheries Proposal Deadline is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Any advisory committees or individuals wishing to submit proposals can still do so by that date. Proposals can be submitted online, by fax or by mail.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to the subsistence, commercial, personal use, sport, guided sport and guided sport ecotourism finfish regulations for the Bristol Bay, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula/Aleutians Islands management areas. Finfish includes: salmon, herring, trout, groundfish, char, burbot, northern pike, whitefish, Pacific cod, sablefish, shark, pollock, etc., but does not include halibut.

Examples of “statewide finfish” regulations can be found in Title 5 of the Alaska Administrative Code and include, but are not limited to, policy for the management of sustainable salmon fisheries, policy for the management of mixed stock fisheries, policy for statewide salmon escapement goals, possession of sport-caught fish, fishing by proxy, etc.

Proposals may be submitted:

Online: http://boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov/

Fax: (907) 465-6094

Mail: ADF&G, Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526.

A postmark is not sufficient for timely receipt. Please use the Board of Fisheries proposal form, available from any office of the Boards Support Section or from the following website: http://www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/fishinfo/index.php. Proposals must contain a contact telephone number and address. Please print or type the individual’s name or organization’s name as appropriate. A fax is acceptable and considered an original. Currently, the Board is unable to accept submission of proposals via email. The Board is working with its information technology section and hopes to be able to offer this option soon.

All proposals are reviewed by the board’s proposal review committee prior to publication. Language that is emotionally charged detracts from the substance of the proposal. It may draw opposition that may not be germane to the element(s) of the proposal and may elicit non-responsive charges from the public/board members. The proposal review committee reserves the right to edit proposals containing offensive language. Proposals published in the proposal book will be referenced with the appropriate Alaska Administrative Code citation and include a brief description of the action requested. Following publication, proposal booklets will be available to advisory committees and the public for review and comment.

Proposals received per the above “Call for Proposals” deadline will be considered by the Board of Fisheries during the October 2012 through March 2013 meeting schedule.

For more information, please contact the Alaska Board of Fisheries Executive Director at (907) 465-4110.