The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) authorizes the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Secretary of Commerce to reduce discards for conservation and management purposes. Prior to Congress passing the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) in 1996, the Council and Secretary adopted significant bycatch and discard reduction management actions. One of these actions was a ban on pollock roe stripping which was implemented in 1991. Another action was Amendment 49 to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP), better known as Improved Retention/Improved Utilization (IR/IU), implemented on January 3, 1998. That action required all vessels fishing for groundfish in the BSAI management area to retain all pollock and Pacific cod beginning January 3, 1998 and retain all rock sole and yellowfin sole beginning January 1, 2003.
In 2001, the Council determined that the head and gut (H&G) trawl catcher processor (CP) sector, or non-American Fisheries Act (AFA) sector, would not be able to fully meet IR/IU flatfish retention requirements under Amendment 49, so they explored the option of relaxing the 100 percent retention requirement for rock sole and yellowfin sole through self-reported retention rates. This option, however, was considered to be difficult to enforce without independent reporting and verification of retention rates so in October 2002, the Council recommended approval of Amendment 75 to the BSAI Groundfish FMP, delaying implementation of IR/IU flatfish regulations for the BSAI until June 1,2004. At the same time, the Council initiated four trailing amendments with the expectation that these amendments could augment or replace IR/IU regulations for flatfish prior to the end of the delay period. However, Amendment 75 was only partially approved by the Secretary. The delay of IR/IU flatfish implementation in the BSAI was approved, but the ending date of June 1,2004 for the delay was not approved. The practical effect of partial approval of Amendment 75 was that it delayed indefinitely the flatfish IR/IU program.
While the Amendment 79 and the Groundfish Retention Standard (GRS) was an alternative being considered by the Council during their initial action on Amendment 75, the Council proposed further analysis of Amendment 79 and the GRS, after it became aware of the partial approval of Amendment 75. In October 2002, the Council initiated Amendment 79 to meet Council and MSA goals of reducing bycatch, minimizing waste, and improving utilization of fish resources to the extent practicable. Thus, this action implemented a groundfish retention standard for the non-AFA (American Fisheries Act), or H&G CPs , 125 ft. and greater harvesting groundfish in the BSAI. The amendment was approved on August 31, 2005.
Amendment 79 authorizes the GRS as a tool for further increasing the retention and utilization of groundfish and responding to bycatch reduction. The GRS balances the requirements for conservation and management of the groundfish fisheries under the MSA with the requirements to minimize bycatch under National Standard 9 and minimize economic burdens under National Standard 7 to the extent practicable. However, Council analysis of groundfish retention rates in the BSAI groundfish fishery revealed that vessels in the non-AFA trawl CP sector had the lowest retained catch rates of any groundfish trawl fishery in the BSAI. This analysis also noted that non-AFA trawl CPs equal to or greater than 125 ft. length over all (LOA) contributed the majority of the harvest and discarded catch by the non-AFA trawl CP fleet. Given the smaller, but still considerable, proportion of overall bycatch and discard of groundfish by non-AFA trawl CPs less than 125 ft. LOA to the overall bycatch and discard of groundfish by all non-AFA trawl CPs, and recognizing that compliance costs associated with observers and scale monitoring requirements would be relatively higher for vessels less than 125 ft. LOA, non-AFA trawl CP vessels less than 125 ft. LOA were excluded from the GRS. The GRS required each non-AFA trawl CP greater than or equal to 125 ft. LOA to retain specific groundfish species at a specified annual minimum rate. The annual minimum retention rate was lowest in 2008, the first year the GRS became effective, and was to be gradually increased to a maximum retention rate for 2011 and in all years thereafter. This graduated approach to increasing the minimum GRS rate was designed to facilitate industry compliance with the GRS by providing vessel operators several years to modify and adapt fishing operations.
For more information, see: http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/frules/72fr52668.pdf