North Pacific Fishery Management Council Update: rockfish retention requirements to change; observer fee increase delayed

During its April 2019 meeting, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took final action on a fishery plan amendment to require fixed gear vessels (longline and pot) to retain all rockfish incidentally caught in halibut, sablefish and other groundfish fisheries. The amendment will not be in place until 2020 at the earliest. Up to fifteen percent of retained rockfish relative to other species on board may enter commerce. The remainder must be retained and delivered but will be forfeit at the dock. Demeral shelf rockfish full retention rules and percentages allowed to enter commerce will remain in place. The Council’s purposes for the action include improving catch accounting for rockfish mortality and simplifying existing incidental catch limits.

The Council also considered an analysis to increase the observer fee, initially planned for final action in June. ALFA and other industry groups opposed the increase and the Council will most likely wait until its October meeting to further consider increases. ALFA and other stakeholders identified fundamental changes needed to decrease costs. NMFS staff indicated that observer costs could rise to $1,700 per day over the next few years, with no certainty that fee increases would meet Council monitoring objectives for improved coverage on high volume trawl fisheries. The analysis for the fee program failed to adequately address how pending implementation of electronic monitoring might reduce long-term needs for human observer. Additionally, ALFA and other fishery stakeholders expressed concern that NMFS’ planned increase in the fee looked only at increasing the fee in isolation from the larger fiscal problem with the program - the staggering increase in observer day costs. ALFA will continue to oppose the fee increase while working toward meaningful improvements in the program.

The next Council meeting will be in Sitka from June 3 - 9. ALFA and other fishery groups will hold a Council reception on June 5 - interested fishermen can contact the ALFA office to volunteer, donate fish, or get more information about the pending meeting.