Alaska Press Release: State Responds to Proposed Critical Habitat for ESA-Listed Humpback Whales Alaska Department of Fish & Game - April 20, 2021 (Juneau) — Today, the federal government announced their final rule designating critical habitat for populations of humpback whales in Alaska waters that remain listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today's notice reveals that the total area designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is nearly 300,000 square miles when combined across the three humpback whale populations, with over 150,000 square miles of waters from California up the Pacific coast and out to the Aleutians included in the designation. https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=pressreleases.pr&release=2021_04_20 Cook Inlet fishermen face poor forecast, federal uncertainty Alaska Journal of Commerce by Elizabeth Earl - April 21, 2021 Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen are facing pressure from two directions in the upcoming season: one is the looming potential for a complete federal waters closure, and the other is another poor projection of sockeye returns. https://www.alaskajournal.com/2021-04-21/cook-inlet-fishermen-face-poor-forecast-federal-uncertainty Cordova braces for 2021 Copper River opener Spawning success of wild pink salmon remains an uncertainty Cordova Times by Margaret Bauman - April 21, 2021 State managers for Prince William Sound area commercial fisheries say they plan to issue the first announcement on the Copper River District drift gillnet between April 30-May 7. https://www.thecordovatimes.com/2021/04/21/cordova-braces-for-2021-copper-river-opener/ NPFMC Moves Abundance-based Management of Halibut Bycatch Forward SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - April 21, 2021 The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) took action last week to make final changes in the draft analysis (DEIS) of management alternatives to put halibut bycatch from the Bering Sea bottom trawlers under an abundance-based scheme and stay on schedule for final action this year. The motion, made by Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, passed by a 10-1 vote last Thursday. There were two elements to the motion. First, incorporating changes to the analysis that were suggested by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) before releasing a revised version to the public later this summer. Second, keep all three of the Alternatives that have been on the table for about a year now, but remove one of the four Options that had been discussed. The issue brought 254 written comments and almost 90 oral testimonies. Testimony from the A80 side was clear — the numbers used in the analysis as examples of bycatch limits under a complicated formula using abundance based on a data from two stock surveys were far too low for A80 boats to achieve their Optimum Yield of flatfish in the Bering Sea. Mark Fina of U.S. Seafoods suggested including “reasonable” performance metrics that would serve as an incentive for A80 boats to lower their bycatch even more. But others from the A80 sector said there was very little left to be done to lower halibut bycatch, and that Alternative 1 “No change in current regulations” was their preferred Alternative. For the directed halibut stakeholders, Alternative 4, which set bycatch limits at the lowest level of all three Alternatives, was the only one that responded directly to the Council’s Purpose and Needs Statement of reducing halibut bycatch. Five years ago the newly formed Abundance-based Management (ABM) group, made up of Council members and Commissioners from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, realized the first and crucial decisions to achieve ABM was agreeing on the level of bycatch to start with and the date that would serve as year zero. Since then, the A80 fleet began finding ways to further lower their catch of halibut in the Bering Sea by changing the way the captains fishes, the type of gear they used, and a new initiative called ‘deck sorting’ that reduced mortality of moving the largest and healthiest of the halibut that survived the trawl net over the side as quickly as possible. That practice is now routine in all A80 vessels. Very little agreement has been reached on levels of bycatch, however. Agreeing on those numbers is at the heart of the debate and reflected in the motion that was made on April 15. Very little in the Alternatives changed from the Council's October 2020 meeting. Alternative 2 uses a 3X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from current Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) or bycatch limit to 20% below current limit. Alternative 3 uses a 4X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from 15% above current PSC limit to 30% below current limit. Alternative 4 uses a 4X2 look-up table with PSC limits that range from current PSC limit to 45% below current limit. All three of the above rely on a PSC limit that is determined annually based on the most recent survey values from two indices; the trawl-gear National Marine Fisheries Service survey and the long-line gear International Pacific Halibut Commission survey, from the most recent year available. NMFS's trawl survey shows data for small halibut and IPHC's survey for over 26-inch halibut. There are three additional Options that can be applied to any or all three of the Alternatives above. Options include using a 3-year rolling average, reduce inter-annual variability, apply an annual limit over multiple years, allowing for instance the a80 sector to exceed limits in there of seven years, with a hard cap for the following year. If a hard cap is exceeded, the fishery would shut down. But the first part of the motion addresses the changes needed in the analysis (draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). The SSC made 18 comments and recommendations which need to be implemented before the document would be ready for public review. The Council’s motion states “The Council recommends releasing the analysis for final action after incorporating the SSC comments to the extent practicable….” That four-syllable word "practicable" -- first seen in the Magnuson-Stevens Act -- was used frequently by the A80 stakeholders when referring to the values in the look-up tables. The levels of bycatch were not 'practicable' for them to achieve Optimum Yield. Residents from coastal fishing communities decried the word when describing how their small boat fleets no longer can fish for halibut because of bycatch. Now they are wondering how that word will be applied to the changes asked for by the SSC. The debate has not gotten easier as the years have passed, but it has moved forward. With this motion, final action on ABM may actually happen before December 31, 2021, and be in place for the 2023 Bering Sea fishery. https://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1197152/NPFMC-Moves-Abundance-based-Management-of-Halibut-Bycatch-Forward National Labor shortage leaves restaurants, distributors in the lurch Seafood Source by Christine Blank - April 20, 2021 There appears to be significant pent-up demand for Americans wanting to dine out, but restaurants and foodservice distributors face a weighty new dilemma: how to find enough employees to service returning customers. Food and seafood distributors are also facing a myriad of transportation and supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/supply-trade/labor-shortage-leaves-restaurants-distributors-in-the-lurch International China’s Fishing Fleet, the World’s Largest, Drives Beijing’s Global Ambitions Governments and conservation groups accuse the ships of fishing illegally and advancing military goals Wall Street Journal by Chuin-Wei Yap - April 21, 2021 In Beijing’s push to become a maritime superpower, China’s fishing fleet has grown to become the world’s largest by far—and it has turned more aggressive, provoking tensions around the globe. https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-fishing-fleet-the-worlds-largest-drives-beijings-global-ambitions-11619015507 Russia’s preliminary TAC for 2022 contains changes in pollock distribution Seafood Source by Ivan Stupachenko - April 22, 2021 The Russian Scientific Fishery Institute Council of Directors announced the country’s total allowable catch (TAC) for 2022 will be 3.25 million metric tons (MT), with nearly two million MT allocated to pollock. https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/supply-trade/russia-s-preliminary-tac-for-2022-contains-changes-in-pollock-distribution
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