Advisory Panel: The Head and Gut ( H&G) sector has retained its seat on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s (Council) Advisory Panel (AP). With the departure mid-year of John Henderschedt, Groundfish Forum member Teressa Kandianis stepped in to continue to provide representation for the H&G sector on the Council’s Advisory Panel. Teressa has done an impressive job of informing the panel on H&G issues and contributing to the development of improvements to management of our fisheries.
Alaska State Legislature Fish Caucus Meeting: Groundfish Forum gave a presentation to the Alaska State Legislature on the industry perspective of the effects of fishing gear on benthic habitat.
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Designation of Critical Habitat: In March 2000, the FWS published a proposed designation of critical habitat for Steller’s eiders, which included the Kuskokwim Bay area. In June 2000, Groundfish Forum responded with a letter requesting a change in the critical habitat boundaries so the impact on the Head &Gut (H&G) fleet would be as minimal as possible. Groundfish Forum pointed out that the initial boundary proposal spanned an area that included depths well beyond the foraging range of Steller’s eiders. Groundfish Forum specifically requested that boundaries be designated at either 25 miles from the shoreline or at the 10-fathom curve, whichever was closer to shore, thereby not including areas fished for yellowfin sole, while still providing adequate protections for eiders. The FWS’ final designation for critical habitat in the Kuskokwim Bay incorporates Groundfish Forum’s proposal.
Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives (RPA) Committee: The RPA Committee is made up of a cross section of industry, government scientists and managers and environmentalists. The committee is the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Council’s) response to Senator Stevens’ amendment to the final Appropriations bill for the 106th Congress, which directed the Council to propose modifications to the November 2000 RPA’s contained in the Biological Opinion. Groundfish Forum is a participant on the committee. The RPA Committee met several times during the year and proposed Alternative 4, the area and fishery specific approach, as the preferred alternative. The draft biological opinion, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7, concluded that the proposed action implemented by this alternative would not be likely to cause jeopardy or adverse modification. Alternative 4 includes a platoon management system for the Atka mackerel fishery participants which should allow that fishery to catch its harvest limit in sea lion critical habitat while adequately protecting sea lions.
National Academy of Science, Research Council Review Panel on Effects of Bottom Trawling: This committee will make national policy recommendations for the management of fishing effects on fish habitat. Groundfish Forum staff and members gave presentations at the Panel’s Anchorage meeting in June. The presentations focused on the history of fishing in Alaska, how fishing gear has been adapted over time, and a boat owner’s perspective.
Experiment Fishing Permit (EFP) Part B (2001): In early April 2001, part B of the 2000 EFP was conducted in the southeast Bering Sea aboard the F/V Northwest Explorer. This part of the EFP was a cooperative research effort between the Groundfish Forum, another industry association and scientists from the Resource Assessment & Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC). In contrast to previous studies, a recapture net was not used and tows with matched nets were alternated with the excluder (experimental tows) and without the excluder (control tows), which allowed testing under actual commercial fishing conditions. Comparisons of the catch per hour from the tows showed that the average cod catch with the excluders was 11% lower than the control tows, while decreases of halibut, pollock and rock sole were 86%, 97% and 99%, respectively. Only the cod difference was not statistically significant. Presence of the excluders did not significantly increase handling time of the net, and the excluders were not damaged by normal fishing operations.
Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA): MCA is an industry group created to take the counter-offensive against anti-fishing campaigns by pooling industry resources to promote science-based management of fisheries. Groundfish Forum joined the group and John Gauvin is on the MCA Board. MCA hired a noted attorney to provide comments on the role of the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) versus the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) in the development of management alternatives for the Programmatic Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (PSEIS). A benthic ecologist, Dr. Franz Mueter, was also hired to review the scientific baseline on the effects of fishing gear on habitat for the PSEIS. There is very little in the way of conclusive evidence regarding the long term negative effects of bottom trawling on habitat, yet the SEIS cited some PR driven studies, commissioned by anti-trawl environmental groups. Dr. Mueter’s work has been incorporated into the trawl industry’s written comments submitted to the Programmatic SEIS, the Supplemental SEIS, and the Draft Bi-op. Groundfish Forum was directly involved with working on these issues and we have been instrumental in working with the MCA to develop and deliver scientific and educational information about the impacts of commercial fishing on the environment.
Improved Retention/Improved Utilization (IR/IU) Modifications: Groundfish Forum presented the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) with an IR/IU modification package. The Council has scheduled the modification package to be analyzed and reviewed. Modifications are scheduled to be made prior to January 1, 2003 when IR/IU goes into full effect and will include yellowfin sole and rock sole. Our proposal keeps the flatfish industry economically viable while reducing flatfish discards considerably.