Abundance-Based Proposal

Executive Director Jim Johnson and Bob Alverson from the Fishing Vessel Owners Association have advanced the following Abundance-Based Proposal for consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at the April meeting in Juneau, Alaska.


March 27, 2017

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

RE:    Comments to Agenda Item C-7 Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Abundance-Based Halibut PSC

Dear Chairman Hull:

The following comments and recommendation are provided to you from the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (FVOA) and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific (DSFU). The FVOA is a trade association representing 95 family-owned longline vessels. It has been representing fixed-gear interests since 1914. The DSFU was established in 1912 and is not only the oldest, but also the sole, fishing union in Washington and the United States still working tirelessly to advocate for fair wages, safe working conditions, and supporting our widely-recognized, sustainable, and well-managed fixed-gear fisheries. Both organizations have a direct interest in reducing halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. Both organizations have members fishing in all the U.S. IPHC regulatory areas ranging from the Bering Sea to Area 2A off Washington and Oregon.

The following option addresses the interest of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) in the development of an abundance-based halibut PSC mechanism for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The Council’s working committee has identified two, important decision points: the starting PSC use amount for an abundance-based program, and the mechanism that would result in a plus or minus function based on halibut abundance. The ability, annually or otherwise periodically, to allow the PSC use amount to fluctuate based on certain scientific and economic data inputs requires a framework amendment to the Bering Sea Groundfish Plan. Accordingly, the FVOA and DSFU submit the following, proposed, framework plan. 

Our option puts the Council in control at all times when adjusting the PSC use CAP for different sectors of the groundfish fishery.  As industry technology advances, the Council can take precautionary, incremental steps to reduce the use CAP in the interest of bycatch management, without the fear of causing undue economic impact on the directed fisheries.  By the same token, as the densities of halibut and/or groundfish target species change, up or down, the Council can respond.

The approach we offer is to have the Council analyze a range of potential future reductions from the current PSC limits. We recommend the starting point be the current PSC CAPs. We recommend analysis of a range of possible reductions between 35 to 50 percent from the current PSC use amounts. This would represent the maximum potential reduction limit. PSC reductions would be achieved with the Council making annual incremental movements in the PSC usage to achieve long-term reduction goals through their current “specs” process. Reduction of the halibut PSC use limits would be constrained to not more than zero to 3 percent annually. The Council would apply the reductions until the groundfish fleets minimize bycatch and mortality of unavoidable bycatch to the extent practicable until PSC limits equal the amount of bycatch the fleets were actually experiencing at the end of 2016.  After PSC use levels were reduced to current usages, the Council would move the PSC level ±3 percent on an annual basis.  

At the end of 2016, the freezer longline fleet was using 60% of its current CAP.  It might be expected that the Council would ratchet down PSC over a period of four or five years to reach that level of actual bycatch.  For the Amendment 80 fleet, the bycatch for 2016 was 1492 Mt and it might be expected that the PSC would be reduced to that level in three or four years.
This option could be developed as part of any future, abundance-based program or developed as a stand-alone amendment to the current Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Groundfish Management Plan.  Amendments could be offered to it when a holistic abundance-based concept was completed by the Council and IPHC staff. 

Considering that the abundance-based bycatch science will not be completed for as long as ten years, the FVOA and the DSFU suggest the adoption of this option as a stand-alone amendment. The phased approach to CAP reductions would allow the groundfish fleet to calibrate solutions, and would incentivize the fleets by letting them know that PSC reductions are an ongoing concern.

Executive Director
James J. Johnson

Robert D. Alverson    



Report from Sitka

It is being reported that the new head on weight requirement is causing major problems on the first few halibut loads coming into Sitka. Local processors are weighing fish head on, taking fish out of totes, cutting heads, putting fish back in totes, and reweighing, then taking them out of totes to sort for size and weight splits, adding extra handling of the fish, ice and slime issues, and a fair bit of extra time. 

On top of these concerns, NMFS /RAM deducting 1.25% more weight off the fishermen’s QS on the first load that has been weighed head on and processed than the final weight the processor got when the fish were re-weighed head off, which is the weight basis for paying fishermen, which amounts to a $900 difference on a 6,000 pound delivery (of course the fishermen expects to be paid based on what came of his quota but the processor can’t really afford to pay for fish he doesn’t have).  While once thought workable, folks are thinking differently now. 

While no specific solutions are being offered – the IPHC has reminded us that this requirement is to provide a better estimate of total removals of Pacific halibut to improve management of the stock. This requirement removes any bias introduced by the variation in head cuts among ports/processors and provides a consistent coast-wide approach for catch accounting.

(Photo: Unidentified DFSU Brother and Koll Bruce on the Evening Star)

IPHC Annual Meeting

On my first day in the role of the Executive Director of the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union I found myself flying off to Victoria, British Columbia for the 2017 Annual Meeting of International Pacific Halibut Commission. I took as a good omen for things to come that while heading northward I spotted the "schooner fleet" docked at Fishermen's Terminal, located in Ballard's Salmon Bay 

- Jim Johnson | Executive Director | DSFU


The 2017 Annual International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) conference board was the classic epic contest between the various interests of 8 regulatory areas. Of course, Canada led the way sighting a huge discrepancy between IPHC survey results and the commercial Weight Per Unit of Effort (WPUE). Our Alaskan friends followed up with their own claim that for 2C, that the fish in area 2 swam back and forth between 2B and 2C and therefore 2C should get more than the existing sustainability benchmark (the “blue line”) as well. 

The IPHC introduced a new metric called the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR). It is a concept used in many other fisheries and not fully understood by many of us present at the conference board. As a result the "blue line" will be phased out and replaced by the SPR line. 

In this year’s decision table, the SPR lies below the "line formerly known as blue", which means greater catch recommendations by a couple million pounds. The Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union held firm to its resolution to support “the Blue Line” across the board (total removals of 37.91 million lbs), causing some to label us "Debbie Downer.”

The conference board, as well as the processors board, settled at over 44 million pounds, far above the IPHC tipping point of 40 million pounds. Beyond 40 million pounds the risks of rapid decline in the halibut stocks increase significantly. North Pacific Fishermen's Association (Homer) joined us in our support of “the Blue Line” and though we were significantly outvoted, we were able to get a minority report included in the conference board’s final draft report, as well as a verbal statement to the commissioners themselves. 

There was a "mandated agreement" that catch amount motions made should not be put forth by anyone that does not fish in a particular area. The Fishing Vessel Owners Association (FVOA) did not involve themselves in the Area 2 fight and went with slightly higher numbers than “the blue line” from 3A west (an average between the blue line and the SPR line) which came fairly close to the 40 million pound tipping point.

The evening festivities included receptions put on by IPHC and the Halibut Association of North America, a good place to meet and greet the commissioners, scientists, processors, fellow Canadian fishermen and IPHC's new executive director Dr. David Wilson, former director of the tuna fleet. We were able to get our book in his hands and hopefully he reads it.

Our new Executive Director, Jim Johnson, experienced his first week on the job while attending the IPHC Conference. He came away impressed with the open, democratic and collaborative nature of the proceedings. While he was dismayed by the trawler bycatch figures and somewhat disappointed with any deviations from “the Blue Line” measure of sustainability, he was impressed with the leadership demonstrated by members of the DSFU and the FVOA in helping reach the decision of the Commission’s recommendation to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2017 totaling 31.40 million pounds.

- Jan Standaert | Vice-President |  DSFU


IPHC Announces 2017 Catch Limits and Seasons

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) completed its Ninety-third Annual Meeting in Victoria, BC, Canada on 27 January, 2017. More than 200 halibut industry stakeholders attended the meeting, with approximately 80 more participating in web broadcasts of the public sessions.

The Commission is recommending to the governments of Canada and the United States catch limits for 2017 totaling 31.40 million pounds, available here.

Fish Expo

Pacific Marine Expo, commonly referred to as “the fish expo”by mariners in the know  is the largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast, serving commercial mariners from Alaska to California. Mariners will find more than 450 exhibitors including equipment companies, propulsion manufacturers, builders and suppliers. Mariners will also find the fish expo to be an educational experience with education sessions on marine safety, business management, regulatory issues and technical advancements just to name a few. If you’re a hands on kind of person you are apt to find daily events including live demonstrations and the annual Fisherman of the Year Contest. Finally, what is a fish expo without End of day Happy Hours, nothing like free drinks to help fuel the conversation with vendors and colleagues where embellishment leads to bigger seas and larger fish.

Sablefish Stock Assessment

On November 14,2016, I attended the much anticipated Groundfish Plan Team meeting  held at the NOAA Western Regional Center in the Alaska Fisheries Science Center building on Sand Point Way in Seattle. Although the Plan Team meeting covers many different species of fish, the predominant draw for myself and other Union members is the annual stock assessment for black cod or sablefish. In recent years the stock assessment for black cod has not been favorable and as a result, our Total Allowable Catch or TAC has declined. However, at the most recent meeting the stock assessment conducted during the 2016 fishing season  appears to not only become healthier for the upcoming 2017 fishing season, but models show a positive trend in the near future. The Plan Team suggested a 14% increase in the black cod TAC across the board, but for the first time in their stock assessment, the effects of killer and sperm whale predation are being considered. As a result, the black cod TAC is said to be going up by 12% across all regulatory areas. In my opinion we have a bright future on our horizon!