NPFMC To Tackle Halibut Allocation, Crab Rebuild, Advisory Panel Make-Over in Week Ahead

The Council could vote to shift halibut from the commercial sector to recreational charters and plans to rebuild snow crab in the Bering Sea

By Peggy Parker,
February 7, 2022

If you tune in to the electronic meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s first meeting of the year this week, you’ll be hearing the phrase “uncompensated reallocation” soon and frequently.

Tomorrow the 11-member panel will take up the Halibut Catch Share Plan (CSP) allocation review, and proposed shifting of halibut from the commercial sector to the recreational charter sector in Southeast and south-central Alaska.

Another phrase you may hear is “overfishing status.” On Wednesday the Council will address Snow Crab rebuilding in the Bering Sea, after a notification from National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that the Bering Sea snow crab status was changed to overfished last October.

Finally, on Friday the Council will review “Reflections on Council process and ideas for change” in the Staff Tasking section of the agenda. Half of that 10-page discussion paper addresses pre-pandemic and current procedures, potential changes that could include hybrid meetings, less than the five full meetings currently scheduled each year, and shifting agenda items to earlier meetings, among other streamlining changes.

Of these three headliners, the halibut CSP allocation review has triggered the biggest reaction from industry — over 130 letters advocating for or against a full analytical review for transferring a percentage of the combined catch of both directed commercial and recreational charter sectors to the charter sector. The transfer would be uncompensated, defining one of the most controversial actions of fish management, and one that is not done routinely. Uncompensated realloction does occur, however: when rationalization plans are adopted to replace of a ‘derby’ type fishery, and when one jurisdictional authority increases catch limits, there are invariably winners and losers.

When this CSP was adopted in 2014, the charter sector received 125% of their historical use. That extra 25% came out of the commercial allocation. The CSP was adopted after nearly ten years of managing the charter sector under a Guideline Harvest Limit (GHL) a static limit that was exceeded frequently and did not change with stock abundance. The plan provided a higher percentage of the combined catch limit (CCL) during low abundance to protect charter operators’ business models. Two years after the CSP was adopted by the Council, a 2016 NOAA Fisheries policy directive was implemented for period reviews of CSP allocations against their objectives.

The Advisory Panel, meeting last week, failed to pass a motion that originally called for a 3% of CCL increase to the charter sector in  South-central Alaska (Regulatory Area 3A) and a 5% of CCL increase in Southeast Alaska (Regulatory Area 2C), during certain conditions. The Council will likely introduce their own motion tomorrow or Wednesday. The initial Allocation Review is here.

Regarding snow crab and its overfished status in the Bering Sea, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires the Council to implement a rebuilding plan within two years which would rebuild the fishery within ten years.

The Council was scheduled to select alternatives for rebuilding at this meeting, but at last month’s Crab Plan Team (CPT), members agreed the stock assessment model needed “further refinement.” The improved model will be reviewed at the Plan Team’s meeting in May. At this week’s meeting, the Council will be getting a progress report on the BS snow crab rebuilding plan.

Finally, reactions to changes in the Council’s meeting calendar and Advisory Panel are expected to draw verbal testimony on Thursday or Friday. AP members are industry stakeholders, representing gear and species sectors, fleet and processor members, and recreational interests as well as commercial.

Potential changes to the AP that are included in the Discussion Paper are described as:

* nomination/reappointment process and timing, qualifications, term length;

* size and/or composition of the Advisory Panel;

* clarify the purpose, consider operational changes to agenda, and voting; and

* evaluate the purpose and usefulness of all advisory bodies, and consider ways to improve.

The public can access the Council meeting by clicking “Meeting” on the Council Meeting page.