FVOA and DSFU asks NPFMC to take immediate action on Bycatch related matters

May 29, 2018

Mr. Dan Hull, Chairman
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
605 W. 4th Ave., Ste 306
Anchorage, AK 99501-2252

RE: C-1 2017 Observer Report

Dear Chairman Hull:

The following comments and requested actions are on behalf of the members of the Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (FVOA) and the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union (DSFU). FVOA is a trade association of 96-family-owned commercial fishing vessel operations that all have sablefish and halibut quota shares fished off Alaska. The DSFU has represented longline crews for over a hundred years. Crews contribute over 25% of the millage fees for the ADP observer program and are concerned that the lack of accountability for halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska is a major contribution to the decline of our halibut resource. All of our members, from both organizations, contribute to the Council's observer program with landing fees. The following comments express their concerns with the current Adaptive Deployment Plan (ADP) observer program for catcher vessels. The concerns expressed are based on comments expressed in the May 2018 Annual Observer Report from National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

The members of FVOA have expressed similar concerns in the past in numerous letters and public comment. The Council responded in part to our concerns by voting to develop corrections to the "tendering exemption" for taking observers. Our concern is this action of the Council is currently in the "to do box" and the Council needs to instruct the staff to develop the regulations needed to correct the problems associated with this unique and destructive exemption. The members of FVOA and DSFU request that the Council take this action at the June Kodiak meeting.

The following are observations that the Council should be aware of, found in the Annual 2018 Observer Report. Most of these reinforce the need to fix the tendering exemption.

Notes from the review of the 2017 partial coverage NMFS report (May 2018):

1. Pg. 7 - there is a comment that cancellation rates for selected trips to tenders "is 40 % for hook and line tender and the trawl tender strata." There were 4 Pacific Cod hook­ and-line (HAL) trips delivered to tenders in 2017 and 69 trawl trips delivered to tenders.

There were no tender deliveries of sablefish or halibut. Hence this cancellation factor is associated significantly with trawl tendered trips.

2. Total dollars collected based on 1.25% millage fee for catcher vessels in the GOA 3,821,263 dollars/ $2,436,087 from HAL (63.7%)/ $456,847 from pot (12%) $925,494 trawl (24.3%) Hence the fixed gear participants are paying for at least 75% of the trawlers observer time. FVOA members object to the conclusion that the current program fairly distributes costs.

3. The Observer Science Committee (OSC) says, "There were no major differences between observed  and unobserved tendered trips," despite the  following comments in the annual report

  1. a. Pg. 54- "Although there is strong evidence of bias in unobserved trips relative to (tendered) observed trips, and some vessels conducting an entire fishing season without carrying an observer, the NMFS longer-term recommendation for 100 percent coverage of trawl vessels delivering to tenders may be impractical.... "
    b. Pg. 57 - OSC recommends an alternative model of monitoring salmon bycatch be explored in the partial coverage fleet.....For 3 yrs. of deployment performance review, (inclusive of 2017) the observer program has been unsuccessful in achieving its goal of obtaining an unbiased sample from the Pollock trawl fleet for enumerating salmon bycatch and determining stock of origin.... This solution could be achieved by prohibiting vessels that deliver to tenders from discarding salmon at sea, monitoring those vessels and associated tenders for compliance with electronic monitoring and observing or monitoring all tender deliveries at the plant." The OSC's comments are amazing considering the system failure in 2016 with tendered Pollock in Western Alaska.
    c. See Figure 3-11- the trawl row. Non-tendered trips are not quite 3 days long. If one can deliver to a tender with the observer exemption, trips last up to over 30 days. Pg. 92- "Complaints involved a vessel delivering to a location different from what was logged into ODDS and logging a shore-side or tender delivery and delivering opposite of what was logged". {Note if a vessel hopes to continuously deliver to a tender and avoid observer coverage, but draws an observer on their first trip of the Pacific Cod season, the only way to get out of the observer responsibility is to deliver to a shore-based facility and see if the 83% probability of not getting an observer on the following trip will allow you to  resume deliveries to a tender. {This is our opinion of what is likely happening)
    d. Page 93 - Observer complaints listed as "other complaints" went from 88 in 2016 to 242 in 2017. {At the OAC meeting it was suggested by NMFS a significant number of these were due to changing delivery schedules on tenders, which reinforces the conclusion above.)

4. The rate of covering trawl trips was 18 percent in 2017, however, the non-pelagic trawl only showed a 10 percent coverage rate per pounds landed. {Note when a trip begins there is no rule that a vessel must use or declare the use of a pelagic trawl or a non­ pelagic trawl, in fact vessels carry both. Neither is there an amount of fish to deliver that defines a trip.} There were 2022 trawl trips in 2017, 39 of which a trawler vessel used both types of gear. Based on the 39 trips the OSC recommends not having a strata for pelagic and non-pelagic operations. The fixed gear participants of the OAC disagree. (The fixed gear participants on the OAC have been requesting that trawl be broken out by non-Pollock and Pollock trips as the Pollock trips tend to mask where the bycatch of halibut is really taking place and mask observer effects in general.}

5. The Western GOA (NMFS} tender report shows 39% of the Pacific Cod being delivered to tenders in 2017. If the vessels delivering to tenders are doing so in a non-random determination in order to avoid coverage, then the 39% is compromised as well as the 61% delivered elsewhere for determining forecast of bycatch.

6.

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As you can see with the focus on trips being an underlying design structure of this observer program 63 percent of the coverage falls on fixed gear.

1.     The correction to tendering, previously passed by the council for regulation development, should be moved out of the Council's "to do box" and completed. Since this was previously acted on, this direction needs to be done under staff tasking. This has been recommended by the Advisory Panel and the OAC. The SSC has acknowledged data quality problems with the tendering issue.

1.     It would be helpful to have non-pelagic trawl and pelagic trawl strata included in the Annual Report so we could see what is happening with these two trawl strata relative to bycatch.

2.     It would be helpful to have non-pelagic trawl and pelagic trawl strata included in the Annual Report so we could see what is happening with these two trawl strata relative to bycatch.

3.     FVOA asks for a white paper that would leave the fixed gear catcher vessels in the ADP observer program but have trawl in its own program. One focus of such a paper would be, what millage fee would be necessary for fixed gear to be at 30 percent catch observed and what cost to the trawl strata to have 30 % coverages. Random selection could be designed into both formats.

Sincerely,

         Robert D. Alverson                                                       James Johnson         Manager                                                                       Executive Director         Fishing Vessel Owners' Association                               Deep Sea Fishermen's Union

        Robert D. Alverson                                                       James Johnson
        Manager                                                                       Executive Director
        Fishing Vessel Owners' Association                               Deep Sea Fishermen's Union


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