Executive Director: In January 2003, Ed Luttrell was named the new Executive Director of Groundfish Forum. Ed has been involved with factory trawlers in the North Pacific for the past twenty-five years. John Gauvin, our former Executive Director, continues to work for Groundfish Forum on contract status. This move allows John to focus on environmental issues and accommodates staff needed for issues facing the association in the coming years.
Steller Sea Lions (SSL): On August 8, 2000, the a federal court enjoined all commercial groundfish trawl fishing within the waters of the SSL critical habitat areas within the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). Earlier that year, the same court reviewed a Biological Opinion (scientific assessment) on SSLs issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As defined by the ESA, a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) contains actions NMFS believes necessary to reduce the impacts of the federally authorized activity (groundfish fisheries in the BSAI and GOA) on listed species and their critical habitat to an acceptable level. The RPA is designed to minimize the adverse effects of removing sea lion prey species and avoid competition and includes an experimental design to develop scientific information that will facilitate an adaptive management response in the future. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) thus formed the RPA Committee to develop SSL Protection Measure alternatives. As part of the protection measure alternatives, the committee included a provision of “platoon” management in the Atka mackerel critical habitat fishery in Areas 542 and 543 (central and western Aleutian Islands). This “platoon” system was proposed by Groundfish Forum and consisted of splitting the annual Atka mackerel TAC into two equal season allocations, and further splitting that TAC inside and outside of critical habitat (CH). Vessels are required to register with NMFS to fish scheduled A or B seasons and each vessel is randomly assigned to one of two “platoons” within an area. Each platoon is allotted half of the available total allowable catch (TAC) inside CH, for each of these two management areas, establishing 2 directed fisheries, per area, per season. Each platoon is then authorized to fish in the assigned directed fishery in an area for a time period authorized by NMFS. A vessel may register and be randomly assigned to a platoon in both areas, 542 and 543. Vessels registered to fish during a season in both 542 and 543, switch areas after the closure of the first directed fishery. On average, the platoons reduced the 2002 average catch rate per day to about 70% of the 2001 value, and maximum daily catch rates were also reduced by the same amounts. NMFS continued to use the platoon system for the Atka mackerel fishery for 2003 and similar results are expected.
Central Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Rockfish Pilot Program (RFPP): Groundfish Forum worked with the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank (AGDB), a Kodiak fisheries association, to establish a 2-year Rockfish Pilot Program for the GOA. The program will allocate Pacific ocean perch, northern rockfish, and pelagic shelf rockfish harvested in the Central GOA to trawl catcher processors and catcher vessels that fish in the GOA.
Maritime Security: In 2003, Groundfish Forum was part of an ad hoc coalition of fishing industry trade associations who hired Steve Johnson from Garvey Shuber Barer to represent its interests in the Coast Guard (CG) ruling requiring commercial fishing vessels to carry an Automatic Information System (AIS). Specifically, the CG published a final interim rule in July 2003 requiring certain commercial fishing vessels transiting through the Vessel Transit System (VTS) of Puget Sound & Prince William Sound to be equipped with an AIS. The AIS automatically broadcasts vessel and voyage information received by other AIS-equipped vessels and shore locations and is intended to improve communication, safety, maritime security, and information exchange by providing real-time information such as name, position, course, and speed. Since the cost of the AIS would be approximately $10,000 and industry vessels transit the VTS only 1 to 2 times per year, the coalition requested an exemption for these vessels. Specifically, the coalition found the costs of the AIS to be vastly out of proportion to any benefits obtained from carrying the AIS.
Bycatch: Groundfish Forum initiated a weekly bycatch teleconference with the Head & Gut (H&G) industry to discuss real time weekly bycatch rates with the vessels and their operators, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Sea State. These weekly meetings have allowed all participants to work cooperatively together to keep a close eye on bycatch rates, thereby minimizing bycatch and thus extending fishing seasons where possible.
Washington DC: Throughout 2003, Groundfish Forum and other industry groups made several trips to DC to visit Washington and Alaska legislators to inform them of special and specific issues affecting the Head & Gut (H&G) fleet. A parallel initiative in DC was to introduce language in an appropriations bill for the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) non-pollock groundfish catcher processor sector, which outlined a fishing capacity reduction program, provided authority to form multi-sector cooperatives and defined fishing sectors.
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH): Recent amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Management Act (MSFCMA) have established new provisions directing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to identify and describe EFH in Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) and require federal agencies to consult with NMFS on activities that may adversely affect EFH. In 2000, a D.C. Court found that the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) groundfish EFH FMP amendments violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), therefore NMFS had to perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). To further this process, in 2001, the National Marine Fishery Management Council (Council) appointed an EFH Committee tasked primarily to formulate alternatives for the EIS which would minimize the effects of fishing on EFH. John Gauvin, representing Groundfish Forum, has been on this committee since its inception. In 2003, the Council adopted an alternative measure proposed by the Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA), representing Groundfish Forum and other industry groups. The alternative chosen was status quo with existing protections, which allow the biggest footprint and area against which to measure the EFH contribution to the population if a species becomes overfished.
American Fisheries Society (AFS): The AFS Annual meeting for 2003 was held in Québec, Canada. John Gauvin presented a paper entitled, “Reviewing the Effectiveness of Industry Partnerships for Cooperative Research in Today’s Fish Management Arena.” The paper reviewed the trawl industrys’ experiences with cooperative research in today’s management context. Steps taken to make the research both scientifically defensible while remaining responsive to management needs were assessed. Successes, failures, and instances where the trawl industry opted not to engage in a research collaboration due to the controversial nature of the question provide guidance on how to make industry partnerships more effective and sound.
Regional Fishery Management Council Conference: In November, the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils held a conference in Washington DC entitled “Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries – Past, Present, and Future”. The conference provided a region-by-region report card on marine fisheries management programs, highlighting the successes and charting a course to address the challenges for the future. Lori Swanson from Groundfish Forum, member of the Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA), presented a poster abstract on North Pacific Bycatch Management. The focus of the presentation was how the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) gives fishermen incentive and tools to minimize bycatch, thus continuing to increase the value of the fisheries and to minimize discards.
Improved Retention/Improved Utilization (IR/IU): In 1998, Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) Amendments 49/49 were implemented, requiring 100% retention of all pollock and Pacific cod (Pcod) in all fisheries, regardless of gear type. This provided incentive for fishermen to avoid catching these species if they were not targeted, and also required that they be retained for processing if they were caught. When the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) approved full retention requirements for pollock and Pcod, their action included a delayed implementation of similar requirements for specified flatfish species which can have a high discard rate in the North Pacific fisheries. Full retention requirements for flatfish were scheduled for implementation in January 2003. In 2002 the Council approved a further delay of these requirements until June 2004, to provide an opportunity to develop alternative requirements which would allow the affected sectors to remain economically viable and still reduce discards. In May of 2003, the Secretary of Commerce partially approved Amendment 75, which in effect continued the IR/IU program for pollock and Pcod, but delayed indefinitely the flatfish IR/IU program by removing reference to the program from the FMP. In June of 2003, the Council approved a minimum groundfish retention standard (GRS) for flatfish in the North Pacific fisheries and has since been developing a fishing cooperative for the sectors targeting flatfish in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI). Groundfish Forum and others were successful in showing that multi-sector cooperatives were essential to achieving discard reductions and were an operational tool essential to adhering to the increased retention standards imposed by the Council.
Seabirds: In 2003, Groundfish Forum members began a fast-paced effort with scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the University of Washington (UW) to identify ways to reduce the possibility of inadvertently “taking” short-tailed albatross during Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) fishing operations. Groundfish Forum members agreed to collaborate with NMFS and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW) to identify possible devices and/or techniques that might be employed to deter bird interactions with a vessels third wire. Groundfish Forum members also began work on an experimental protocol that could evaluate the effectiveness of such mitigation devices and techniques.