The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) has reinstated steps in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to evaluate effects of fisheries managed under the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska, on ESA-listed species and designated critical habitats.
State of Alaska parallel groundfish fisheries are also subject to evaluation.
North Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Simon Kinneen was notified of the change in late November by NOAA Regional Administrator for Alaska Jonathan Kurland.
Kurland said that NMFS determined that allowing groundfish fisheries to continue to operate during this reinitiation period would not violate ESA sections 7(a) (2) or 7(d).
He advised that the consultations would be a significant undertaking and require considerable NMFS staff time and resources, but that such steps are necessary to update compliance with the legislation. Section 7 of ESA grants authority to and imposes requirements regarding endangered or threatened species of fish, wildlife or plants and habitat of such species designated as critical habitat.
NMFS has determined that reinitiation of consultation is required to ensure the anticipated level of incidental take of listed species is authorized under ESA and to consider effects of newly listed species and newly designated critical habitat since the last consultations band to update other information for listed maritime mammal species.
Kurland said at this time NMFS is not aware of any particular new information that suggests the Alaska groundfish fisheries have population-levels on ESA-listed species or critical habitats other than those effects already considered in previous consultations.
NMFS, he said, would keep the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and stakeholders informed throughout the consultation process, beginning with an informational presentation at the Council’s December meeting.
Meanwhile, NMFS is seeking comments through Dec. 23 on a proposed rule to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA). That rule would amend regulations for the individual fishing quota (IFQ) and Community Development Quota (CDQ) programs for pot gear configurations, pot gear tending and retrieval requirements, pot limits, and associated recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
NMFS said the proposed amendments would increase operational efficiency and flexibility for IFQ holders and CDQ groups.
The proposed changes would authorize jig gear as a legal gear type for harvesting sablefish IFQ and CDQ, increasing opportunities for entry-level participants.
The proposed changes would also temporarily remove the Adak community quota entity (CQE) residency requirement for a period of five years. According to NMFS, these actions are intended to promote goals and objectives of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, fisheries management plans for the BSAI and GOA, as well as other applicable laws.
Comments may be submitted electronically or by mail. Electronic public comments must be sent via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal by going to https://www.regulations.gov by entering NOAA-NMFS-2022-0092 in the search box and clicking on “comment.”
Comments may also be submitted by mail, addressed to Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.