NPFMC Reaches Decisions on Catch Sharing, Observers and Freezer Longliners

Federal fisheries regulators meeting in Anchorage Oct. 3-9
approved new halibut catch sharing and vessel observer plans, and cleared the
way for replacement or rebuilding freezer longline vessels to greater lengths.
The halibut catch sharing plan, which increases the
allocation for charter vessels at the expense of the longline fleet,
establishes a clear allocation, with sector accountability for commercial and
charter vessels in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Once the plan is
implemented, both sectors will be tied to the same abundance index and both
will be accountable for their own wastage.
Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition,
estimated the loss in quota share value at $11 million to $23 million in area
3A and $1.6 million to $2.3 million in area 2C, depending on abundance levels.
The stated aim of the North Pacific Fishery Management
Council was to create a halibut catch sharing plan establishing a clear
allocation, with sector accountability, between commercial longliners and
charter halibut sectors in Southeast Alaska’s Area 2C, and Southcentral
Alaska’s area 3A.
Compared to the catch-sharing plan previously adopted by the
NPFMC in 2008, longliners in Southeast Alaska lost 0.8 percent to 1.0 percent
of the combined catch, depending on abundance levels, to the charter vessels,
said members of the Halibut Coalition. In area 3A, commercial harvesters lost
3.5 percent of the combined catch limit, below 20 million pounds, the Halibut
Coalition said.
Rex Murphy, speaking for the Alaska Charter Association,
contended that the council’s action gave no boost to the charter allocation.
Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline
Fishermen’s Association, disagreed, saying Murphy was comparing the new
allocations to what the charter allocation has become in 2012, which is very
different from where the guideline harvest level was set.
Observer Coverage
The council also approved revisions to its observer
deployment plan that reflect a priority for monitoring vessels managed under
prohibited species catch limits in the trip selection pool. The measure asks
the National Marine Fisheries service to reconsider the continuous thee-month
deployment for selected vessels in the vessel selection pool and to implement
instead a two-month deployment.
That measure also asks the National Marine Fisheries Service
to provide a strategic planning document for electronic monitoring that
identifies the council’s electronic monitoring management objective of
collecting at-sea discard estimates from the 40-foot to 57.5-foot individual
fishing quota fleet.
In her testimony to the council, Kodiak fish harvester
Theresa Peterson, representing the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said
that while AMCC supports observer program restructuring, there are concerns
regarding the 2012 annual deployment plan.
“Fisheries with PSC concerns, including Chinook salmon,
halibut and tanner crab, and management needs for accurate PSC counts should be
prioritized for higher coverage levels,” Peterson said. “Coverage rates should
be adjusted by taking coverage from the previously unobserved vessels with less
PSC concerns, consistent with the promised ‘low and slow’ approach,” she said.
“It is apparent from the application of an ‘equal
probability sampling’ plan that fisheries that have higher interaction rates
with species of concern will not have higher coverage rates. This runs directly
counter both to the council specific goals and objectives for the observer
program and the public expectations of the improvements in data collection
which result in the new program,” Peterson said. Such an approach completely
disregards the 20 years of data collected by the observer program and virtually
wipes the slate clean, she said. “We have significant understanding of how
different gear types interact with the marine environment and we need to
incorporate that knowledge with the deployment plan.”
Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline
Fishermen’s Association, asked the council to implement a limited pilot program
approach for the next three to five years for deployment of observers on fixed
gear vessels previously without observers, “with the goal of identifying and
resolving, if possible, the logistical challenges of human observer
“We ask that the pilot program remain in effect until an
integrated electronic monitoring program is developed and implemented as a
viable alternative to meet at-sea monitoring requirements,” Behnken said in
written testimony.
“At the core of ALFA’s concern with the deployment plan is
our certainty that the restructured observer program defined by its deployment
plan will drive substantial quota share consolidation in the small boat fleet
without improving catch accounting in any fleet.”
United Catcher Boats asked the council to initiate an
emergency rule to provide an exemption to the fee-based system for vessels
participating in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Pacific cod catcher vessel
trawl fishery for the first half of 20133, to allow vessel owners the choice of
participating in the pay-as-you-go original program and have observer coverage
all the time, rather than be placed in the new fee-based program.
Freezer Longliners
In addition the council gave freezer longline vessel owners
approval to replace or rebuild their fleet to a greater length, which will make
the vessels more market competitive and safer. The average age of these vessels
is more than 40 years old.
In his testimony to the council Kenny Down, executive
director of the Freezer Longline Coalition, noted that as he was speaking his
son Jake was working on board one of those vessels. “We need to move forward
for the safety of kids like my son Jake,” he said.
It will take a while though.
Now that the council has approved the replacements and
upgrades, the National Marine Fisheries Service must write the regulations to
adjust the maximum length overall specified on the License Limitation Program
license assigned to the freezer longline vessels to accommodate larger
replacement vessels.
Each LLP license is endorsed for management areas, catcher
vessel and/or catcher processor operation type, and the Pacific cod fixed gear
target fishery, and specifies maximum length overall for licensed vessels. The
maximum length for the license was based on the length of the vessels initially
receiving the license.
The plan approved by the council would modify to 220 feet
the maximum length of LLP licenses with catcher processor and hook-and-line
Pacific cod endorsements for the Bering Sea or Aleutian Islands. LLP license
holders with catcher processor and pot cod endorsements will have 36 months
from the date the plan is implemented to either surrender the pot cod
endorsements and receive an LLP license at 110 feet maximum or the current LLP
length restriction would continue to apply.
Jennifer Lincoln, an injury epidemiologist with the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), like Kenny Down,
addressed safety issues regarding freezer longliners. She noted that the US
Coast Guard and freezer longline sector worked together to develop a safety
program – the Alternative Compliance and Safety Agreement – tailored to
mitigate the risks found on these vessels, and to significantly upgrade the safety
regime associated with them.
The jointly developed program focused primarily on hull
condition and water tight integrity, prevention of down flooding, vessel
stability, fire prevention, preventative maintenance for machinery, and
significantly enhanced emergency training lifesaving, and fire fighting
To date, 28 of the 33 active freezer longline vessels are
fully compliant with the compliance and safety agreement, she said.
Newly constructed freezer longliners would be inherently
safer than their 40-plus year old counterparts, Lincoln said. And several
safety improvements related to crew licensing and vessel manning would be
triggered as vessel size increases, she said