North Pacific council releases December agenda, public comments deadline

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will hold its final meeting of 2015 from Dec. 7-15 at the Hilton in Anchorage. The council just released its final agenda for that meeting as well as a public comment deadline of Dec. 1.

Apart from routine final action on harvest guidelines, the council will spend a chunk of time on halibut management. Groundfish harvesters take halibut as incidental catch, and its management has grown increasingly cumbersome, as the amount of legally harvestable halibut has shrunk.

The council will take final action on four items: 2016 Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest quotas, Gulf of Alaska chinook salmon reapportionment between groundfish harvesting sectors, and charter halibut measures for 2016.

The council also will hold an initial review of a charter halibut Recreational Quota Entity program, which would allow recreational groups to purchase commercial halibut quota and hold it for communal use for charter groups.

The council also will review a discussion paper on biomass-based halibut bycatch management.

Currently, halibut bycatch is set at a fixed numbers while the directed halibut fishery is allocated according to shifting biomass by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

This has led to a disparity in the Bering Sea, where the majority of halibut is now used as bycatch by groundfish trawlers rather than as directed catch for Central Bering Sea fishermen.

For this situation, the council plans to review a discussion paper on leasing options for Community Development Quota groups in the Bering Sea, who are disproportionately affected by halibut bycatch disparity.

The agenda and meeting documents are at www.npfmc.org. Submit comments to npfmc.comments@noaa.gov, or mail to North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 605 W 4th Ste 306, Anchorage, AK 99501.

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