Alaska/Pacific Coast

As Season Wraps, Bering Sea Crabbers Focus on New Rules, Harvest Policy
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Peggy Parker – March 13, 2017
As the Bering Sea crab fleet pulls the last of their snow crab pots, attention is quickly pivoting to the Board of Fish meeting being held next week. The season will likely wrap up with landings very close to the 19.4 million pound allocation. Today, landing of 18.04 million pounds have been posted.

The supplemental March 20-24 Board of Fish meeting is drawing the interest of all crabbers, as the seven-member board will deal with king and tanner crab issues from Prince William Sound west to Kodiak, the Aleutians, and the Bering Sea.

Submitting seven proposals for Bering Sea bairdi, the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC) is focused on crab bycatch, gear efficiencies, and fishing dates.

“But even more important, and what’s not on the agenda,” says Tyson Fick, executive director of ABSC, “are the ongoing conversations with Fish and Game about the stock harvest strategy for bairdi.”

Last January the Board of Fish, by a narrow vote, kept the Bering Sea bairdi season closed because of a shortage of female bairdi according to the summer surveys.

“There’s something of a disconnect between all the people looking at [the data], the scientists and fishermen,” Fick told Fish Radio on January 19, 2017.

“We thought there were enough crab to warrant a small harvest of four million pounds, which would be about four percent of the mature male biomass,” Fick said. “Others thought a more precautionary approach was warranted. That’s where we’re at  – we are certainly disappointed but we will continue to work with Fish and Game and NOAA and crab plan team and continue looking and improving the way we look at the stock.”

Fick is encouraged by the conversations so far, and hoping for a roadmap and timeline for adding another supplemental Board of Fish meeting in late May or June, to stay on track for keeping the option open for a fishery in 2018.

Three of the seven proposals (Prop 250, 255, and 256) the board will look at next week address full retention of legal male opilio that are incidentally caught when boats are targeting bairdi. West of 166 degrees W longitude (Prop 250), crabbers are allowed an opilio bycatch of 5 percent of the weight of current bairdi on board. They say allowing for flexibility above 5 percent would increase efficiencies and decrease needless mortality on the opilio that gets returned after the pot is pulled.

East of 166 degrees W longitude (Prop 255) no opilio bycatch is allowed while targetting bairdi.

Prop 256 allows opilio retention while fishing for Bristol Bay red king crab.

The Department opposes all proposals, citing data issues.

“Increasing the 5 percent rule would cause data quality problems and could subsequently increase assessment model uncertainty,” Department biologists said.

As to allowing any retention east of 166 degrees W long., the department is concerned with crab being harvested with gear not designed to harvest that species of crab as well as accurate catch accounting for incidentally harvested and target stocks in the absence of limitations.

The Department has submitted Proposal 261 to allow for retention of legal sized male snow crab in the Eastern Bering Sea bairdi fishery, of up to five percent of the weight bairdi reported on the fish ticket.

“A five percent retention limit of legal sized males would allow some inadvertent incidental harvest during EBT without penalizing fishermen. The department is opposed to opening up the area east of 166°W long. which is currently closed by regulation to snow crab fishing in the directed fishery (i.e. moving the snow crab directed fishery boundary; proposals 257 and 258) however, it is recommended that an allowance for a small amount of incidental retention separate from the directed fishery be made, but counted towards the total Bering Sea Snow crab harvest.

Proposal 251 asks the Board to extend the season closure date from March 31 to April 15 for bairdi west of 166 degrees W longitude in response to increasing amounts of legal-size bairdi after they’ve converted their gear to catch to smaller snow crab. The Department disagrees, citing no new data to support changes in molting or mating cycles, the reason for the earlier closure date.

Proposals 252 and 253 ask for the ability, on the last pick of the last bairdi trip of the season, to re-rig the pots for opilio, bait and set them, then deliver the bairdi to town.

“This is an efficiency and safety thing,” said Fick. “The Department has a neutral position for both these proposals.”

Proposal 254 asked the Board to amend the description of a hybrid Tanner crab to be “dependent on whichever target Tanner crab fishery the vessel is registered for.”  The Department opposes this proposal and cites their own Proposal 260 to aid in identifying the two species.
http://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1054069/As-Season-Wraps-Bering-Sea-Crabbers-Focus-on-New-Rules-Harvest-Policy

Commercial halibut boats head to sea; fish expected in stores mid-week
Times Colonist by Carla Wilson – March 11, 2017
The countdown is on as halibut lovers wait for their favourite flatfish to show up on seafood counters and in restaurants. The commercial fishery for Pacific halibut — the largest groundfish in the world — opens at today noon.
http://www.timescolonist.com/business/commercial-halibut-boats-head-to-sea-fish-expected-in-stores-mid-week-1.11532660

Pacific Fishery Management Council Chooses Options for 2017 Salmon Season
Pacific Fishery Management Council – March 2017
Vancouver, Washington – The Pacific Fishery Management Council today adopted three public review alternatives for the 2017 salmon seasons off the West Coast of the United States. The Council will select a final alternative at their next meeting in Sacramento, California on April 6-11. Detailed information about season starting dates, areas open, and catch limits for all three alternatives are available on the Council’s website at http://tinyurl.com/salmon2017.
http://www.pcouncil.org/2017/03/46882/pacific-fishery-management-council-chooses-options-for-2017-salmon-season/

State seeks input on Tier 3 designation process
Bristol Bay Times by Molly Dischner – March 10, 2017
No one questions that some of Alaska’s waterways are especially outstanding. But the effort to officially designate any waterbody in the state as an “Outstanding National Resource Water” continues to be a challenge.
http://www.thebristolbaytimes.com/article/1710state_seeks_input_on_tier_3_designation

FYI’s

Marine Mammal Research Newsletter
February 2017
Course Correction: Statistical modeling brings fur seal foraging trips into focus, Understanding Uncertainty, Correcting Convention
http://www.marinemammal.org/2017/02/course-correction/

Stranded Seal Gets First-Class Rescue
KUCB by Zoe Sobel – March 10, 2017
Late on a Friday afternoon Melissa Good sits on her front step filling out labels for a dog carrier. The crate is not for her dog. It holds a yearling ringed seal.
http://kucb.org/post/stranded-seal-gets-first-class-rescue

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March 14, 2017