Fish News

The Board of Fisheries Needs to Hear What Your Business Needs

Comment HERE before January 2, 2019, to tell the Board of Fisheries (BOF) whether Proposal 176 works for your business.  Proposal 176 is the first step in adjusting the Southeast Alaska King Salmon Management Plan to comply with changes to the Pacific Salmon Treaty chapters.  These changes include:

  • Replacing the pre-season Abundance Index (AI) with the Early Winter Troll Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE).
    • Possible benefit: the troll CPUE has been more strongly aligned with the post-season AI used to determine treaty harvest, so Alaska might be less likely to exceed its allocation.
    • Possible benefit: the troll CPUE should be available before February, so management measures can be set earlier in the year.
  • Creating seven harvest limit tiers to replace the AI harvest ranges, and reducing the harvest at a graduated scale, with larger reductions taken during times of lower abundance.
    • Possible benefit: in times of high abundance, Alaska fisheries take a significantly smaller cut in harvest.
    • CONCERN: what the management measures look like at each tier.

Proposal 176 proposes new management measures and the BOF needs to know if they work best for YOUR business.  The measures can be adjusted by the BOF so long as they meet the new treaty harvest numbers.  The proposed measures for non-resident anglers include:

  • At higher levels of abundance, a reduction to annual limits from 5-6 fish to 3-5 fish
  • At higher levels of abundance, a reduction or adjustment in bag limits from 2 fish in May or June to 2 fish in May or 1 fish all year.
  • At lower levels of abundance:
    • AI of 1.2 to 1.5 / CPUE of 3.8 to 6.0
      • Prior: 1 fish bag limit, annual limit of 3 fish
      • Proposed: 1 fish bag limit
        • January 1 – June 15: annual harvest limit of 3 fish
        • June 16 – December 31: annual harvest limit of 1 fish
    • AI of 1.0 to 1.2 / CPUE of 2.6 to 3.8
      • Prior: 1 fish bag limit, 3 fish annual limit from January 1 – June 30, 2 fish annual limit from July 1-15, 1 fish annual limit from July 16 – December 31
      • Proposed:
        • 1 fish bag limit, non-retention July 1-31
        • 3 fish annual limit from January 1 – June 15
        • 1 fish annual limit June 16 – December 31
    • AI of 0.875 to 1.0 / CPUE of 2.0 to 2.6
      • Prior: 1 fish bag limit, 3 fish annual limit from May 1 – June 30, 1 fish annual limit July 1 – December 31
      • Proposed:
        • 1 fish bag limit, non-retention July 1 – August 15
        • 2 fish annual limit January 1 – June 15
        • 1 fish annual harvest limit June 16 – December 31

The proposal and public comments will be reviewed at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage, January 15-19.  The deadline for public comments is January 2, 2019.

You Spoke, ADF&G Listened

Ever look at fishing regulations and think: “What the heck does this mean?”

It turns out you’re not alone if you find sport fishing regulations confusing and want an easier way to access them.  Even ADF&G staff turn to each other, instead of regulations, when fishing in a new place.

ADF&G’s Sport Fish Division surveyed staff and nearly 4,000 randomly selected sport fishing license holders this summer to learn how well anglers understand fishing regulations, how anglers find out what the regs are, and what the ADF&G can do better.  They condensed the results into the 7 recommendations below (though the comments are ours).  We’re excited to help ADF&G share them with you and move them forward.

  1. Reduce and simplify regulations
  2. Rephrase regulations
  3. Significantly rewrite news releases for Emergency Orders

Overall, anglers like you are frustrated because they want to do the right thing, but have trouble figuring out what’s allowed under constantly changing regulations.  In addition to finding ways to reduce the number of regulations, ADF&G can make simple changes to help.  Those recommended include reducing jargon, using positive and active language, and displaying information in a table or with bullet points.

  1. Build a smartphone app
  2. Lower the burden of interpretation

An app could:

  • Contain a legally valid copy of your fishing license so you could stop worrying about that loose piece of paper, a change allowed by the passage of HB 260 this year.
  • Display regulations and emergency orders for your location.
  • Allow app users to track and report their catch for themselves and to supplement the Statewide Harvest Survey.
  • Help anglers sort and filter the information for each fishing experience instead of just parroting the regulation booklet.

Apps are an increasingly popular way to inform and communicate with sport anglers.  For example, Mississippi recently launched its Tails and Scales app to track all sport catch of red snapper, and other Gulf of Mexico states have programs in the works with NOAA.

  1. Continue to improve the regulations booklets and ADF&G website
  2. Support indirect forms of communication

We don’t just find information on ADF&G’s website and in regulation booklets, we find out what’s going on from our friends and neighbors, via e-mail, in the newspaper, and on the radio.  By cultivating other relationships and providing new ways of accessing information, ADF&G would be helping all anglers.

Check out the full survey HERE.

December Update: Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization

Those of you tracking national legislation may have heard that Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is pushing forward a rewrite of the bill to reauthorize the MSA. Many of the proposals for change are coming from the recreational sector, which has a stronger national political position than ever before. SEAGO is excited about the opportunities this could bring Alaska in the long run, and remains cautious about some of the proposed changes in light of our unique situation in Alaska.

On its surface, increasing flexibility to modernize the MSA sounds like a great idea to account for the different management needs of the commercial and recreational fleet. When it comes to catching halibut in Alaska, however, the guided sportfishing fleet operates under a catch sharing plan with the commercial fleet.  The allocation under our CSP is directly tied to the abundance of the halibut resource, and the success of the CSP requires an ongoing commitment to scientifically established annual catch limits, intended to protect our stock for the long term. Part of the proposals for amending the MSA ask Congress to disregard the existing science for creating annual catch limits, when what we need in Alaska is better data to work from.

If you want to protect our halibut and Chinook resources, we suggest advocating for improvements:

  • Support Council actions implementing cost-effective electronic monitoring across the commercial fleet
  • Support Council actions reducing bycatch of Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon, and tying bycatch to abundance
  • Create and/or support improved practices for collecting unguided recreational catch data, such as smart phone apps
  • Help create and/or support data collection for stock assessments, including vocally supporting MSA Reauthorization Sections aimed towards improving data collection and analysis
  • Push for improving public access to the Council process

These are only a few of the concrete actions you can take which will contribute to improving the health of our halibut stock. A Commentary recently released by Council member Andy Mezirow also addresses this issue from an Alaskan perspective. Let us know if you have other suggestions!

Latency is a No-Go, Rental Boat Registration Moves Forward

No Action on Latent Capacity

We spoke to many of you about the Council’s ideas for reducing the latent capacity of charter halibut permits (CHP). Having latent capacity roughly means that there are CHP holders who take fewer trips than available in the season (considered to run from February-December). If these CHP holders increase the number of trips they take, the increase in angler effort affects the upcoming season’s management measures. If the Council limits how many more trips CHP holders can take, it could be a step towards stabilizing management measures.  It could also limit the business opportunities of some CHP holders.

Our discussions with you included questions about how likely an increase in trips really is, how CHPs would qualify, how recently purchased CHPs would be affected, and more. Your voice then came through loud and clear at the Council, which decided not to move this issue forward. Sportfishing representative Andy Mezirow explained the decision:

“I do not think the document provided any evidence that reducing a small amount of latency would have any effect. Any more effort in addition to where we are will begin to erode the financial viability of the charter fleet.”  He also noted that moving this forward could “immediately create losers” among recent CHP purchasers, rural communities, and CQE groups, while increasing trips if folks aim to build up their catch history.  The Council agreed with Mr. Mezirow’s motion unanimously.

Taken up at the same time was a proposal to increase the ownership cap on CHPs for the Recreational Quota Entity, which the Council also tabled until the RQE is formed and functioning.

Self-Guided Rental Boat Registration Moving Forward

The Council asked its staff to write an expanded discussion paper on this registration requirement. The paper will focus on the growth of the unguided rental boat industry as a response to the differences in regulations between the guided and unguided sector. The paper will lay out and analyze the administrative and other needs to create a registration for operations affiliated with saltwater guide businesses and estimate catch from this segment of the unguided sector. Having better catch information will help the Council decide whether it should take action in the future. The paper is on the agenda for the June 2018 meeting in Kodiak, but it may be rescheduled for an Anchorage meeting, so business owners can attend.

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.

Electronic Monitoring of the Commercial Fleets

Management decisions rely on accurate accounting of commercial fisheries’ retained and discarded catch.  In Alaska’s fixed gear groundfish and halibut fisheries, this is done through the North Pacific Observer Program.  The Council has been working with the NMFS and industry members to develop an Electronic Monitoring (EM) system since 2013.  The goal is to integrate the EM system into the human observer program, to cover vessels 40-57.5 feet long, which cannot easily or safely fit an extra person on board.  In the long run, using EM could reduce the various costs associated with human observers.

The EM Workgroup is in the process of testing EM systems and figuring out how well they work with the fleets.  The EM system is comprised of digital cameras, gear sensors, GPS receivers, and a data control center.  Cameras are triggered by gear sensors to record catch, all of which must be handled within view of the camera.  Back in the data control center, staff review sensor and video data to determine the completeness of video data and record species caught or discarded.  This data can then be used to estimate catch and for in-season management.

EM development is moving forward quickly thanks to the hard work of the Council, agency staff, and the workgroup.  It is very important to everyone involved in fisheries work that our biggest users have their catch and bycatch accounted for in the most accurate way possible.  In the best case scenario, a joint observer/EM monitoring program will be in place by 2018.  Tune in to October’s Council meeting to hear the development of the Workgroup’s plans.

ADF&G Electronic Reporting

This summer, ADFG is running the pilot program for its freshwater electronic logbook, to much reported success.

Getting the Info

The logbook itself collects information the Board of Fish and the NPFMC use to make allocation and management decisions for Chinook salmon, rockfish, lingcod, and halibut.  Typically, guides complete paper logbook pages and send them in to ADFG to review.  Over the course of the next month or two, ADFG staff enters the logbook information into their data system.  In the case of saltwater logbooks, pages are scanned in; software is applied to recognize, extract, and categorize the information; and staff review unrecognizable sections.  Freshwater paper logbooks are scanned and manually entered (for the moment).

Electronic Reporting

ADFG hopes an electronic reporting option will streamline reporting and data entry, and be less burdensome on guides.  Participants in the freshwater testing and pilot programs downloaded an electronic logbook application to their smartphones, which they use to enter all logbook information over the course of the guided excursions.  The program does not require internet connectivity to use; it only requires a connection to upload information.  In response to guide feedback, ADFG wants to eventually update the application for even easier use.  One of the possibilities includes retaining information for specific guides, clients, or fishing locations within the application so that it can be entered with only a few key strokes.

When saltwater testing of the application begins over the fall, participants will complete both the paper logbook and the electronic application on either a smartphone or tablet.  2017 will see the beginning of the saltwater pilot program, where participating guides can opt to only use the electronic application.  For those of you interested in electronic reporting, a few extra minutes of your time means accurate information is available a month or two earlier than it is currently available.  In the long run, this is great for our fisheries.  Furthermore, by participating in testing or the pilot program, you can make suggestions and help advance this application for your own ease of use.

If you would like to participate in the testing or pilot program, e-mail SEAGO at director@seagoalaska.org.

June 2016 NPFMC Meeting – GOA Trawl Fishery

The June 2016 North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) meeting ended today after five days of discussion surrounding Gulf of Alaska (GOA) groundfish trawl fisheries.  The GOA groundfish fishery does not have the quota system most Alaska fisheries are known for, assigning vessels specific amounts of fish.

This meeting consisted of the second review and commenting session on a discussion paper for a Trawl Bycatch Management Program.  The paper is intended to pave the way for an Environmental Impact Statement and eventual implementation of a trawl bycatch management program in the GOA.  Currently, the paper discusses groundfish quota, prohibited species catch, observer coverage, and the concept of forming a Community Fishery Association to allocate quota to communities, instead of the industry.

The Southeast Alaska charter industry is an indirect stakeholder in this program, and SEAGO is watching its progression through the Council for this reason.  Trawlers catch halibut and chinook salmon by the ton while out for groundfish, anywhere from a few metric tons to over a few hundred.  Each of the fish caught subtracts from the migratory schools guided anglers pay to go out and catch in Southeast.  By supporting the reduction of bycatch, we retain more halibut and chinook salmon to rebuild the populations and seek for sport catch.

The meeting focused on catch shares to allocate fishing privileges among the fleet and what this might mean for towns in coastal Alaska which rely on entry to the fishery.  Trawlers arrived by the dozens to testify, and threw a parade in downtown Kodiak to celebrate their fishery.  As the Program moves forward, interested charter industry members are encouraged to contact SEAGO to learn more about what they can do in support of reducing bycatch.

More information on this topic can be found on the NPFMC website: http://www.npfmc.org/goa-trawl-bycatch-management/