Fish News

Time For A New Adventure: Saying Good-Bye to Chris Oliver

The administration announced NPFMC’s Executive Director Chris Oliver as the new NOAA Assistant Administrator in May (pending final approval).  In response, the Council organized a heartfelt good-bye to its longest serving Executive Director.  In his roles with the Council, Mr. Oliver staffed 79 meetings with four Council Chairpersons, and spent four months of his life in the air on Council business.  During his presentation, Deputy Director David Witherell recalled Mr. Oliver’s sport fishing skills, hunting prowess, and general overachievement.

The mood was light as NMFS, USCG, and Council staff presented Mr. Oliver with departure gifts, though current Council Chairman Dan Hull teared up discussing Mr. Oliver’s pragmatism, openness to alternative views, and support for all fishing communities.  Echoing Chairman Hull, every speaker emphasized that our region’s loss is a huge gain for the nation.  Oliver stood to speak at the end of the embarrassing stories and heartfelt farewells, looked around, and said, “I sure hope that final approval comes through now.”  He continued on, saying that the reputation of this Council and its staff were the real reason he received this opportunity, and he intends to do them proud.

We’ll reel-y miss you, Chris.  So long, and thanks for all the fish.

2017 Joint Meeting: NPFMC & IPHC

During the June Council meeting, the IPHC met jointly with the Council on halibut issues, like abundance based management for halibut bycatch and observer coverage. As much as these managers enjoy opportunities to work together, this meeting held some underlying tension. Discussing observer coverage of the commercial fleet, a Canadian commissioner noted that the Canadian fleet has 100% observer coverage by humans and electronic monitoring. He said that Canadians objected initially to the costs, but it is now considered a part of doing business because they know behavior changes when someone is watching.

As it stands, observer coverage of trawl vessels is up from 28% in 2016 to 32% in 2017, covering 18% of boats delivering shoreside & 14% of boats delivering to tenders. Hook and line observer coverage is at 36%. These numbers only represent human observers, as electronic monitoring is essentially in its test phase. In response, Council member Andy Mezirow and Chairman Dan Hull made pointed comments about the vast strides the U.S. program has made, largely through grant and interest group funding. Chairman Hull also directed the Commissioner to the long process and thousands of pages explaining current levels of observer coverage and efforts to improve these numbers. Thoughts are that this tension stems from leftover concern expressed about high halibut harvest levels in British Columbia, as compared to Southeast Alaska and the North Pacific United States.

Halibut Bycatch or Groundfish Management?

There’s no question that halibut caught by sportfishermen and the direct commercial fleet are worth more than halibut tossed over the side of a trawl vessel.  What is in question is when this issue is relevant.  For those of us who rely on a healthy halibut stock for our livelihood, the answer is always; for member of the groundfish fleet, the answer is not here, not now.

The Council is well into its process of creating an abundance based management (ABM) for halibut bycatch in the groundfish fleet.  In other words, a tool allowing bycatch to fluctuate based on the overall health of the halibut stock – if there are more fish, the groundfish fleet gets more bycatch; if there are fewer, bycatch goes down.  Figuring out how to do this seems to result in a roomful of people where less than a dozen understand the whole conversation.  Staff is analyzing over a dozen indices and how they would work together to accurately estimate abundance for bycatch rates, while meeting Council aims like protecting spawning stock and providing for the directed fishery.  It’s a heavy conversation considering that the groundfish fleet just reduced bycatch by 25%, to the lowest rates since we began measuring bycatch in the 1960s, at great expense.

At this meeting, the conversation continued to circle around whether ABM is a groundfish management tool or a tool to reduce bycatch.  Members and testifiers also reminded decision makers that any management tool must be careful to avoid creating an incentive to use all bycatch instead of creating an incentive to reduce it.  In sum, the groundfish fleet needs help, and this issue is headed down a long road full of conversations about the value of halibut and where priorities lie.

Fisheries Allocation Review: Don’t Get Too Excited

The Council is required to identify triggers for reviewing fishery allocations by 2019, and it’s gotten some charter operators excited that the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan might be reviewed and changed.  Relax.

The issue here is that the Council needs to decide whether allocation will be reviewed because of the passage of time, public input, or some other indicator.  An indicator would be, for example, a significant change in landings.  Time or indicator triggers would lead to an allocation review, where the Council would decide if a plan needed amending.  A public input trigger would require staff to consider various criteria to determine if the Council needs to conduct a review.  If a review shows that allocations need to be changed, the Council process moves forward to amend the relevant fishery management plan.

At this meeting, staff identified the fisheries and possible triggers for review.  According to staff, the “most simple and straightforward” trigger for the fisheries, which includes the Halibut CSP, is probably the passage of time.  This option is clear-cut and free from political dynamics.  If the Council chooses this option, the trigger would occur based on passage of time since the last allocation review.  In the case of the Halibut CSP, allocation was arguably reviewed during the analysis of the Recreational Quota Entity (RQE).  This means that the next time-based review would probably not occur for another ten years – in 2026.

We have a great opportunity to move forward with the RQE and purchase halibut quota shares.  Let’s focus on making this system successful and showing the nation why we have the most innovative and successful fleet in the nation.

Southeast Habitat Protection

SEAGO is proud to have signed on to two Southeast campaigns to protect our salmon habitat within the Tongass National Forest: T77 and maintaining Forest Service management of Tongass lands.  By supporting these efforts, SEAGO joins individuals, conservation groups, commercial fishing vessels, and businesses across Southeast Alaska working to permanently protect the habitat in these key areas.  We, as part of these efforts, emphasize that:

Guided and unguided sportfishing contributes millions of dollars to the economies of Southeast Alaska, the State, and the country.  The sportfishing tradition relies on public access, multiple use management, and healthy habitats.  For businesses to succeed into the 21st century, we must work together to maintain and restore healthy fish and wildlife habitat and make this a high priority in managing the Tongass National Forest.

T77: American Salmon Forest, with Trout Unlimited, has focused our federal government’s eyes on the areas within the Tongass which are vital to the salmon and trout our businesses rely on.  The over 70 watersheds in Southeast Alaska which are currently open to harmful development must be permanently off-limits to those activities while still allowing existing access and uses, such as sport fishing.  More information and a list of supporters can be found here.

Land Management: Groups are pressing Congress to sell or transfer federal lands into private or State hands for development activities, including logging and mining.  These efforts are in addition to threats to reduce Forest Service funding and access to effective management tools.  If they succeed, we will see cuts to public access, elimination of sustainability measures, harm to habitat, and more. SEAGO has signed this petition to tell Congress and our Alaska delegation that these areas must remain protected.  To sign on with us, click HERE.

Taku & Chilkat River Chinook Salmon Symposium

Last night’s Taku & Chilkat River Chinook Salmon Symposium, hosted by Territorial Sportsmen at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, was well attended by Juneau locals wondering what’s going on with our kings.

The overarching answer? We have no clue.

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Despite having 24 years of full stock assessment data, some of the only defensible wild king salmon data in existence, the closest answer science can provide is that there has been a significant drop in marine survival in the critical first few months to a year at sea. It might be predators, water temperature changes, fishing, or any number of interactive causes. The complex and highly variable migration patterns of kings once they hit the ocean doesn’t help us much, either.20170413_192505

The final forecast: it’s going to be a grim couple of years for all of us. We need to band together and look at creative management, research opportunities, and other ways to get over the hump.

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Thanks to Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Official, DIPAC’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, & NOAA Fisheries Alaska for speaking and spending their evening answering everyone’s tough questions!

2017 Halibut Catch Limits

U44:O80, NO Annual Limit

The news you have all been waiting for is this season’s catch allocation.  At the December Council meeting, we suggested that Southeast management measures at the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) or higher not have an annual limit, and have a reverse slot limit of O80 and a lower limit of U40 or higher.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) held its Annual Meeting this week in Vancouver, British Columbia, to determine catch for 2017.  The amount allocated for guided sportfishing is 915,000lbs, resulting in the above described suggested management measure taking effect.  Based on the ADFG analysis, the IPHC-approved final measure is a reverse slot limit of U44:O80 and no annual limit.  The overall catch for 2C, divided between commercial and guided sportfishing, is 5,250,000.  This is after unguided sport, subsistence, and bycatch are removed from the equation.

This is great news, as the two harvest policy suggestions implied that 2C catch would be reduced slightly for 2017.  This implied reduction confused many people in 2C, where the charter sector came in 13% under its allocation in 2016.  The IPHC staff explained during the Annual Meeting that while the overall stock has remained steady, area 2C decisions must also take into account stock distribution.  The percentage of the halibut stock in Area 2 has decreased slightly this year to 2015 levels, creating the implied reduction at the earlier IPHC meeting.

Area 3A management measures for 2017 are as follows:

  • 2 fish daily bag limit, with one fish less than or equal to 28″
  • 3 closed Tuesdays between July 18-Aug 1
  • Closed Wednesdays
  • Status quo trip limits of 1 per day
  • 4 fish annual limit

“The Blue Line is a tool that has outlived its usefulness.” -Paul Ryall, Canadian IPHC Commissioner

For those of you who have followed the IPHC decision process, the term “blue line” might be a familiar, and frustrating, one.  Tuesday’s meeting began with a review of the existing Harvest Policy and Blue Line numbers, calling the policy outdated, overly complicated, inconsistent, and frequently misunderstood.  Staff and Advisory Boards are reviewing alternative policy approaches, including one based on the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR).  During the comments section, Commissioner Ryall received a round of applause when he said he would be fine with never referring to the blue line again.

This overhaul is in addition to positive advancements in surveys and stock assessments, resulting in more accurate survey results and weighing of various stock modeling methods.  We are excited to see where the IPHC will go from here, and what other improvements they are making for the future!

2017 Legislative Session

SEAGO is following fisheries and budget bills to keep you informed.  As of this week, there are no bills proposed which directly affect the charter sector.  Other Fisheries bills are described below.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has requested that the Legislature review the permitting process for activities affecting streams determined to be fish habitat.  These activities are projects that use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow of a body of water.  Right now, permits are typically granted within four days, and can be issued unless the activity fails to provide sufficient, proper protection for fish and game.  This means that residents may be unaware when permits are granted in their area and are unable to comment before a permit is granted.

The request for the Legislature is to update standards for proper protection of fish and game, public notice requirements, and the public comment process.  The Legislature has not yet taken this request under consideration.

Proposed Fisheries Bills:

Bill Number Description Sponsor Status
HB 14 Requiring specific findings before Legislative approval of large scale Bristol Bay sulfide mines Rep. Josephson (H)FSH
HB 17 Establishing a Fish & Game Conservation Program and Fund Rep. Josephson (H)RES
HB 29 Banning the sale of genetically modified fish Rep. Tarr (H)FSH
HB 32 Requiring the labeling of genetically modified food Rep. Tarr (H)RES
HB 46 Increasing state and local procurement preference for locally harvested agricultural and fisheries products and allowing for sale of non-pasteurized milk products Rep. Tarr (H)STA
HB 56 Increasing the total balance of borrower limitation on certain commercial fishing loans from $300k to $400k Rep. Ortiz (H)FSH
HB 63 Transferring the duties of the fisheries revolving loan funds, processing license bonds, and others from the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to Department of Revenue Rep. Pruitt (H)STA

HB = House Bill

Sponsor = Legislator who proposed the bill

Status = Committee the bill would be heard in next

(H) = House committee

FSH = Fisheries Committee

RES = Resources Committee

STA = State Affairs Committee

2017 Guide Licensing & Registration Changes

You might have received an e-mail from ADFG Sport Fish Division noting that saltwater licensing is back in place, with associated fees supporting the work of our Sport Fish Division, and freshwater guides/businesses are still required to register.  This change relates to legislative action last year that SEAGO worked on with legislators and staff.

When certain programs are voted into law by the legislature, they include a date at which the program ends, called a sunset date.  Typically, if the program is intended to continue, a new bill is proposed to the legislature before the sunset date, which either changes the sunset date or makes the program permanent.  A couple of years ago, due to a small oversight and political complications, the guide licensing program hit its sunset date without being renewed.

The proposed legislation to restart the guide licensing program, known as House Bill 41 (HB 41), updated the licensing fees, which had been stagnant for many years and provide important support for ADFG Department of Sport Fish.  HB 41 was amended as it went through legislative committees.  One of these amendments removed its application to freshwater-only guides.  The final version of the law reinstating the licensing program therefore only applies to saltwater guide operations.

SEAGO Executive Director Samantha Weinstein and former Executive Director Ryan Mackinster participated in advancing this legislation, and helped avoid other, problematic proposed amendments.  SEAGO staff participates on your behalf through public comment opportunities, work with legislative staff, discussions with Legislators, and discussion with ADFG staff.  The more you connect with SEAGO, the better we can convey your thoughts during these discussions.

Currently, we agree with ADFG Sport Fish that immediately advancing the freshwater guide licensing is not necessary for the success of the Department.  We are excited that guided operations are again providing more support for the success of the Department’s research and projects.

Mixing Guided & Unguided Halibut on Vessels

The Council is meeting next week, with one guided sportfishing issue on the agenda.  The issue is possession of mixed guided and unguided halibut on a single fishing vessel, and was raised by the Enforcement Committee.  This issue has the potential to affect mixed-use motherships, floating lodges, rental boats, water taxis, and floating docks with mixed-use processing on the dock.  SEAGO’s main concern is the lack of data on this issue, and the relation to Board of Fish proposals in 2009.

Per the short discussion paper written for the Council, there is no data on:

  • The number of boardings by Enforcement where mixed halibut were possessed.
  • The number of businesses offering multi-day, mixed-use trips.
  • The number of businesses operating mixed-use motherships.
  • The number of businesses allowing missed-use fishing directly off a mothership or floating lodge.
  • The number of businesses operating mixed-use floating lodges where fish are mixed, before or after returning to the lodge.
  • The number of businesses which might be affected by any actions taken on this issue.

Before the Council attempts to analyze this issue, we need to know the way things are, the status quo.  Without a status quo, we cannot know the scope of the problem, or whether there is in fact a problem!  Without the status quo, we cannot meaningfully comment on any actions because we do not know which or how businesses will be affected.

The proposed solutions to this unknown problem are 1) to prohibit simultaneous possession of guided and unguided halibut on any vessel or 2) to require that guided management measures apply to all fish if any are possessed simultaneously.  While SEAGO is not opposed to regulations when necessary, these actions should not be taken without knowledge of whether there is, in fact, a problem, and how the actions would address the problem.

SEAGO is also concerned with the difference between motherships or floating lodges and any other facility used for processing both guided and unguided halibut.  In 2009, the Board of Fisheries received three proposals suggesting that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) and/or the Department of Public Safety (DPS) should have access to vessels, lodges, and land-based or floating processors for inspection.  These proposals raised constitutional concerns, and were rejected by ADFG and the Board.  ADFG comments noted the existing regulatory requirements and those for complying with the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) as reasons the honor system has largely worked for regulating the industry.

The NPFMC prides itself on its science-based management.  The lack of data on this issue combined with the concerns noted above lead SEAGO to question whether this issue is ripe for discussion by the Council.  We suggest that the Council delay discussion until there is hard data to consider.

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