These are Alaska’s priorities for the fisheries management council

Alaska’s federal fisheries for halibut, pollock, Pacific cod, crab, and other groundfish are economically important at the local, state, and national levels. These fisheries provide an economic foundation for many of our coastal communities through jobs and income from fishing, processing, industry support services, transportation, and shipping. The sustainable management of these fisheries is vitally important to our state.

Alaska shares management responsibilities for federal fisheries, which lie between 3 and 200 miles offshore, with the federal government. Decisions regarding the management of these fisheries are made through the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council). The Council has a four-decade track record of demonstrating that sustainable fish production is possible when based on the best available scientific information and conservative fisheries management policies. The Council has 11 voting seats, of which five are nominated by the State of Alaska and one is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Game and Fish. As a result, Alaska has the opportunity to focus the Council’s work on issues of importance to our state and its fishermen and communities.

Based on discussions with a wide range of user groups, delegations from our coastal communities, fishermen, processor representatives, and other Alaskans, it is clear that our fisheries face a number of challenges. These challenges include unprecedented declines in Bering Sea crab populations and low catch levels of Pacific cod and other economically valuable stocks that are causing economic hardship for fishery participants and affected communities. We also hear ongoing concerns about the impacts of federal fisheries on key species like halibut, salmon, and crab. This input was valuable in better understanding the problems and identifying priorities and possible solutions.

We plan to concentrate our efforts at the Council over the next several years in several areas, each of importance to fishing stakeholders and our coastal communities. The first is to continue the Council’s efforts to reduce the bycatch of Western Alaskan chum salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. We recognize the critical importance of chum salmon to western and interior Alaskan communities and ecosystems and will continue to prioritize consideration of measures to further minimize the bycatch of western Alaskan chum in the pollock fishery in the Council in a manner that does not increase bycatch of other species. .

We plan to continue to address longstanding issues related to the observer program for the groundfish and halibut fisheries. It is essential that managers have a robust observer program that provides high quality data for stock assessment and fisheries management. While about 93% of the federal groundfish catch is monitored by human observers and/or cameras, we recognize that there are ongoing concerns about the limited portion of the harvest that is not monitored by an observer or camera. We intend to work to find improvements to the program that maximize monitoring efforts and use available funds more efficiently. We understand that the program must be affordable and minimize the impacts on fishing and processing operations. As technologies improve, we must continue to incorporate electronic monitoring systems into the program. Finding the right mix will be challenging, but it is essential to ensure that catches and bycatch are precisely controlled and that established limits are enforced in a way that is economically viable for the participants in the fishery.

Ultimately, we plan to move forward with three recommendations provided by the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force to protect crab populations in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. While the best available information suggests that changing ocean conditions are driving declines in Bering Sea crab populations, we are committed to finding ways to better understand and reduce the impacts of demersal fishing on crab populations.

We will continue to work with the Bering Sea crab industry and research partners to better understand seasonal changes in the distribution and migration of the Bristol Bay red king crab. This information will be essential to assess existing protection measures in Council-managed demersal fisheries in the Bering Sea.

We intend to consider a new management program for vessels with pots over 60 feet in length in the Bering Sea Pacific cod fishery. Catch limits remain relatively low and the pace of this fishery has grown to a point where safety and bycatch have become concerns. As we explore management alternatives for this fishery, we will consider options for rationalizing the fishery based on catch histories or other approaches, opportunities for cooperative fishing strategies, improvements in monitoring and data collection of fisheries, and establishing incentives to reduce crab bycatch.

In the Gulf of Alaska, we intend to focus on monitoring and data collection to better understand the impacts of trawl fisheries on Tanner crab. We understand the importance of the Kodiak Tanner crab fishery to Alaskans and want to ensure proper groundfish fishing measures are in place to protect Tanner crab in areas that are important to the population.

Based on discussions with a wide range of users, we will not begin development of a rationalization program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. While there is a consensus that there are significant problems with this fishery, there is not a broad consensus that a rationalization program is the appropriate method to address them. We will continue to work with fisheries participants to improve fisheries processing.

There are many other issues that will require Council time, including routine actions such as setting annual catch limits and developing charter management measures to address stakeholder-requested management changes to individual crab, halibut, and halibut fishing quotas. and Bering Sea sablefish. We understand this and will continue our commitment to these efforts.

In closing, we understand the importance of Alaska’s federal fisheries and their contribution to our coastal economies and fishing participants in the capture and processing sectors. We appreciate the efforts of our Alaska Council team and look forward to working with others on the issues facing these fisheries, including the priorities identified above.