Changes in observer program on council’s agenda

Changes to the observer program and discussion of a possible Gulf of Alaska rationalization program are back on the menu at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s October meeting.

The council, which began meeting in Anchorage on Wednesday, also will approve crab fishery catches, take final action on Pacific cod fishery for the Community Development Quota, or CDQ, fleet and take action on Bering Sea crab fishery provisions. The council’s meeting is scheduled to go through Oct. 14.

The observer and rationalization program discussions are just the latest installations in a long saga.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, has released its 2015 annual deployment plan for the marine observer program, which includes significant proposed changes.

NMFS implemented the revised observer program in 2013. It was intended to increase the statistical reliability of data collected through the observer program, address cost inequality among fishery participants and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries, such as halibut longline vessels, according to a summary from the agency.

NMFS has proposed moving all vessels into trip selection, where they are selected for observer coverage on a trip-by-trip basis. The larger vessel pool will be subject to a 24 percent coverage rate, which includes all trawlers, vessels longer than 57.5 feet and any catcher-processors not subject to 100 percent coverage. Smaller vessels 40 feet to 57.5 feet will have a 12 percent probability of receiving coverage.

The agency has also suggested that vessels participating in electronic monitoring pilot projects would not be subject to observer coverage.

Those changes are similar to what the council suggested at its June meeting.

In addition to reviewing the annual deployment plan, the council will discuss electronic monitoring efforts.

The council will also review a proposal from the charter halibut fleet on how to possibly develop a pool of quota that several operators could access to enable their clients to catch additional fish.

The council will review the latest iteration of a discussion paper on a possible Gulf of Alaska rationalization effort. That came forward as a way to reduce bycatch in Gulf fisheries by slowing down the fishery through harvest allocations. The discussion paper looks at various ways of allocating harvest privileges, how to address active participation, what the role of catcher-processors would be in a new program, and other issues.

The council’s preliminary preferred action on Pacific cod would enable hook-and-line catcher vessels equal or less than 46 feet long to participate in a new directed Pacific cod CDQ fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. 

Vessels would be in the partial observer coverage, and there would be a full-retention requirement.

That proposal has been in the works since earlier this year, and came forward at the request of the CDQ groups.

Pacific cod is also on the table for initial review of a change to the Aleutian Islands allocations and delivery requirements.

The council is also expected to take action on right of first refusal contract terms for the Bering Sea crab fisheries. Those rights enable communities to have the first option to buy processor quota share; the council is looking at changing the terms of the offer.

In conjunction with the council meeting, several additional public sessions are planned. On Oct. 7, the National Marine Fisheries Service had a workshop on a national recreational fishing policy. NMFS has held hearings throughout the country, and Alaska is the final site.


The agency released four draft goals for a policy, which look at fostering and enhancing recreational and non-commercial fisheries and public access, integrating saltwater recreational and non-commercial considerations throughout the federal marine fisheries management system, encouraging partnership, engagement and innovation, and enhancing transparency, follow-through and continuity.


On Oct. 9, the council’s ecosystem committee will host a public hearing on the Bering Sea fishery ecosystem plan effort. The committee held hearings in Seattle and Nome previously, and will also make its recommendation to the council regarding moving forward on development of a plan.


On Oct. 10, the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will hold a listening session.


Each of those sessions will be held at the downtown Anchorage Hilton, and begin at 5:30 p.m.


Molly Dischner can be reached at