Thursday, December 27, 2012

NMFS Provides Presentation to AEB Fishermen on New Observer Program

The new year is ringing in an expanded observer program for commercial fishermen in previously unobserved fisheries off Alaska. These fisheries pertain to all sectors of the groundfish fishery, including vessels less than 60 feet length overall and the commercial halibut sector. However, it’s not surprising that there’s still confusion surrounding the restructured federal fisheries program. NMFS has hosted a number of outreach workshops to help alleviate some of the concerns and questions that fishermen, processors and industry representatives have.

Earlier this month, NMFS observer chief Martin Loefflad conducted a presentation at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Last month, Loefflad and Glen Campbell, both from NMFS, made a similar presentation at the AEB Fishermen’s Meeting in Seattle. Loefflad began by providing the nuts and bolts of how the program will operate.

The program is basically split into two parts. One part (full coverage) applies to large catcher processors, AFA catcher vessels, and other large boats. They would be required to have 100 percent observer coverage. They have an observer on board all the time.

The other group is partial coverage. The costs of this program are going to be covered by the federal government the first year. After that, costs will be paid by a fee that will be put in place for processors to pay. Small vessel operators will pay into that program.

Two groups will fall under the partial coverage program: trip selection and vessel selection.

Trip selection applies to all catcher vessels of any length fishing with trawl gear and to hook-and-line and pot gear vessels that are greater than or equal to 57 ½ feet in length. About 15 percent of a vessel operator’s trips will be observed under trip selection. Loefflad said fishermen who are part of the trip selection group can log in online or on the phone beforehand. In addition, they can log up to three trips ahead of time. These trips can be edited as changes occur.

Campbell said with the online system, fishermen will have a username and password.

“So you’ll need to log when your expected leave date is, what port you think you’re leaving from, and your expected return date,” he said. “These dates are kind of place holders if you’re essentially picked for observer coverage.”

Campbell said an email will go to the observer provider, letting the contractor know that a specific fisherman has been picked for observer coverage. Communication between the provider and vessel operator can begin at that point.

“So let’s say you’re picked for an observer, and you’re leaving on the first. But weather comes up,” Campbell added. “The observer, by regulation, has to stay by your boat for at least 48 hours before they can be released. So you actually don’t need to realize that trip until the third. Now if the trip is not realized on the third, you can simply call the provider. The provider will cancel that trip, and then the next logged trip will automatically be observed.”

Loefflad said about one thousand letters went out to vessel owners. About 500 were identified as falling under the trip selection observation program.

“So what if you operate a vessel but you don’t own the boat? The vessel owner needs to either go on the site or call the call center and they need to create what we call ‘captains accounts’”, said Campbell. “The captain can then log his own trip. But the registered owner is ultimately responsible for everything that happens with that vessel. So the owner can log trips or he can create accounts for all his captains.”

One of the biggest questions is what is a trip? According to Loefflad, there are two different definitions. One is for fishermen delivering to tenders. The other is for fishermen who are not delivering to tenders (to a shoreside processors instead.

“So if you’re not delivering to a tender, a trip is defined as when you leave the port and return to port to make a delivery. That’s a trip,” he said. “Not everyone will get picked to have an observer on board. But if you do and you’re delivering to tenders, you just keep that observer on until you get back to port.”

“If you make at least one delivery to a tender and then return to a port that has a shoreside processor,” Campbell added, “that’s a trip.”

The vessel selection pool applies to catcher vessels, fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear that are less than 57 1/2 feet in length and, for the first year, greater than or equal to 40 feet in length. Vessel owners in this pool will not be required to log trips. However, a handful of vessels, randomly selected by NMFS, will be required to take observers for every groundfish or halibut fishing trip that occurs during a specified two-month period. Owners of these selected vessels will be contacted by NMFS at least 30 days in advance of the two-month period.

Every year in June, NMFS is required to present a report to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to discuss what officials from the observer program have learned. Loefflad says at that point, the Council can start providing input as to how NMFS can implement changes to make the program work more efficiently in future years.

“We are committed to making this program work,” said Loefflad, “so there is some flexibility built into the program.”

Contact Information: North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program – Partial Coverage:

NOAA Data Technician Office

(800) 304-4846, option #1

(907) 586-7163

AIS, Inc. (Observer Provider)

(855) 247-6746 (855-AIS-NPGO)

Observer Program (Seattle Office)

(206) 526-4195 (Martin Loefflad, Director)

(206) 526-4194 (Patti Nelson, Deputy Director)

Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS)

ODDS support

What Should Rationalization of Alaska Trawl Fisheries in the Western Gulf Look Like?

In February, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is expecting to hear more from Western Gulf (WG) fishermen interested in being included in a proposed catch share program (a.k.a. rationalization or limited access program) for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. So far, the Council has only considered tailoring the program for the Central Gulf (CG) trawl fisheries. However, during the December meeting, fishermen who take part in the Western Gulf trawl fishery testified that they would like that particular fishery to be included in the proposed catch share program. They also requested that a control date be included to prevent a race for fishing history. The Council suggested that supporters put forward options that would be appropriate for the Western Gulf fisheries at the February Council meeting.

The proposed catch share program was born out of bycatch limits on halibut and Chinook salmon. Currently, there are hard caps on both of these species during the directed effort on pollock and groundfish. Once these limits (hard caps) are reached, fishing must come to a grinding halt. Kodiak trawlers are concerned they that they’ll have a tough time harvesting their allowable catch as a result of these limits, so they advocated for a new management program. That system could give ownership rights to vessel owners and skippers based on their participation history.

Many fishermen and those in the industry are worried that if one part of the Gulf is rationalized (the Central Gulf – Area 620 and 630), it will have consequences for the remaining part (the Western Gulf – Area 610). For example, if just the Central Gulf is rationalized, Central Gulf quota holders could fish the open access fishery (Western Gulf) until that total allowable catch (TAC) is reached and then go back to the Central Gulf to fish their individual quota. That means Western Gulf fishermen would then have to compete with fishermen who normally would be in the Central Gulf at that time. One possible option would be implementing sideboards. However, that isn’t an easy solution either. The fleet would be limited to their history in the Western Gulf. So if the Central Gulf fleet typically caught 20% of the Western Gulf TAC, then once that figure was reached, those fishermen would have to stop fishing in the Western Gulf. Other scenarios to consider include fishermen who have history in both the Central Gulf and the Western Gulf. They could then be compelled to either give up their CG quota or be restricted to the sideboard limit. If the WG were to be rationalized at a later date, some of the decisions made may not be reversible.

Other considerations include how processors and fishermen would be affected, depending on where they are located. There are about 7 processors in Kodiak. In the Aleutians East Borough (AEB), located in the Western Gulf, there are three (one in King Cove and another processor based in Sand Point and Akutan. A third processor is in False Pass). Approximately 75 percent of the Central Gulf fleet is non-resident. At least half of the participants in the Western Gulf are residents. A concern of the processors is that in the Central Gulf, if the fish are controlled by a co-op, the fishermen end up getting all or almost all of the profit. The processors in Kodiak, on the other hand, have invested in plants, have resident employees, pay taxes and contribute to the local economy. For that reason, without some protections, some plants feel that they could go belly up and those that make it may receive just enough to stay in the game.

Other major differences concern the fleets. The Western Gulf is home to a local fleet with 3 – 5 vessels from King Cove and 10 – 15 from Sand Point. There are 98 trawl LLPs that are eligible to fish in the Western Gulf. Recent activity shows an average of about 18 vessels under 60’, 3 – 8 vessels over 60’ and one vessel over 125’ (in 2008 only). In this case, the major difference between the CG and the WG is that most of the participating vessels and a greater percentage of the participating vessels are locally owned or at least home ported in WG communities.

Elements of the program include:

1. Duration. How long will the program last? Limited access privileges can be removed because they do not award any rights of compensation and don’t create any ownership of a fish before it’s caught. If there is a specific expiration date, people can plan around that. In addition, the Council could make changes without disruption.

2. Which species would be included? It has been assumed that pollock, cod and other groundfish will be included, but that isn’t set in stone. Quota would most likely be issued as a percentage of the TAC or whatever species are included.

3. Eligibility to acquire/hold privileges. The law restricts shares to be acquired or held by persons who substantially participate in the fishery. How the term “substantially participate” is defined is up to the Council. Furthermore, the term “person” may include corporations, fishing communities, regional fishing associations, partnerships, CQEs and individuals, and it must be defined. Another issue that must be resolved is whether processors should be allowed to hold privileges.

4. Transferability. To whom can you transfer and what is transferable? That issue still needs to be resolved. It’s still not clear whether leasing will be allowed. Decisions surrounding any limits on transferability will be made after assessing feedback from stakeholders and goals/objectives that are put in place. Some economists have suggested that there be no limits in order to allow the most flexibility which would end up providing maximum economic performance of the fishery. Others recommend that no transferability be allowed because that would benefit individuals rather than the general public. A middle ground may include some limits that preclude major changes to community structure, excessive consolidation or other social disruptions.

5. Initial allocations. Initial allocations are subject to legal restrictions. Federal law, specifically the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), provided standards for fair and equitable initial allocations, including:

a) Current and historical harvests

b) Employment in the harvesting and processing sectors

c) Investments in and dependence upon the fishery

d) The current and historical participation of fishing communities

e) Cultural and social framework of the fishery

f) Help, where appropriate, with entry-level opportunities

g) Prevent excessive share holdings

There are many other issues that must be taken into consideration as this process moves forward, including:

• State waters. Presently, a large percentage of pollock is taken inside 3 miles and is under the jurisdiction of the State of Alaska. The same is true for Pacific cod. What isn’t clear yet is whether the state will speak up for that jurisdiction.

• Community quotas: There is some interest in quota allocation to communities similar to the CDQ program. Those opposing it say there’s too little quota to get the desired results. In addition, they say it would hurt local fishermen who have historically harvested the fish. Those in favor say that some communities can only survive with the community quotas, and they deserve consideration when conferring fishing rights. Others have suggested that some level of community ownership could prevent quota from leaving the community.

The Council is in the beginning stages on this proposal and welcomes suggestions and feedback from all interested parties.

Congress Approves USCG Reauthorization Legislation

Earlier this month, the U.S. House and Senate passed the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) reauthorization legislation (H.R. 2838) and sent the measure to the President’s desk for his signature. The legislation contains several crucial provisions for commercial fishermen:

NPDES Vessel Discharge Permits:

H.R. 2838 continues the existing moratorium on vessel discharge permits for another year, from December 2013 to December 2014. That means all sizes of commercial fishing vessels and commercial-use vessels less than 79 feet will not be mandated to have an NPDES permit until December 2014.

Commercial Fishing Vessel Dockside Examinations:

The USCG reauthorization legislation requires “all vessels to be examined by October 15, 2015 and at least once every 5 years” after that. That compares to the current provision, which requires “all vessels to be examined by October 2012 and at least once every two years” after that.

Change in Safety Training Program Reporting:

H.R. 2838 eliminates the requirement that the safety training course results (for those operating beyond 3 miles) be made available on a “publically accessible” database.

New Survival Craft Requirements:

H.R. 2838 changes the requirement so that the Secretary can approve use of a survival craft (whose design allowed any part of an individual to be immersed in water) from a drop dead date of January 1, 2015 to “the date that is 30 months after the date on which the report described in subsection (c) is submitted” (180 days after passage of H.R. 2838.

Changes to Load Line Requirements for New Vessels:

H.R. 2838 changes the date requirement for fishing vessel load line requirements from do not apply “unless the vessel was built after July 1, 2012” to “unless the vessel was built after July 1, 2013”. In addition, the law would change the term for a fishing vessel that undergoes a “substantial change” to the term “major conversion”.

Changes to Vessel Certification Requirements:

H.R. 2838 changes the date requirement for ABS-type certification for vessels operating beyond 3 miles and that are at least 50 feet overall length from “after July 1, 2012” to “after July 1, 2013”.

In addition, H.R. 2838 changes the current law date requirement for another provision. Currently, after January 1, 2010, a fishing vessel, fish processing vessel or fish tender vessel operating beyond 3 miles must comply with an alternate safety compliance program if the vessel is at least 50 feet in overall length, is built before July 1, 2012 and is 25 years of age or older. H.R. 2838 changes the date to “is built before July 1, 2013”.

Furthermore, the current law requires a fishing vessel, fish processing vessel or fish tender vessel built before July 1, 2012 that has a substantial change done to the dimension of or type of vessel completed after July 1, 2012 or the date the Secretary establishes standards for on an alternate safety compliance program must comply with the safety program. H.R. 2838 changes two provisions: both the “July 1, 2012” dates are changed to “July 1, 2013” and the term “substantial change” is replaced by the term “major conversion”.

Finally, H.R. 2838 adds a definition of the term “built” to Title 46, which from that point forward, means the vessel’s construction has reached any of the following stages –

1. The keel is laid.

2. Construction has started, including at least 50 metric tons or one percent of the estimated mass of all structural materials, whichever is less.