Federal fisheries managers have taken a big step toward better environmental management of vast marine resources with adoption of a new Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan, in the face of dynamic climate changes impacting this vast ocean area.
The plan, which sets the stage for developing a work plan for action modules critical to ecosystem protection, was approved during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage. Along with passage of the plan itself, the council tasked its Bering Sea fisheries ecosystem plan team with developing work plans for three action modules.
These include a gap analysis of Bering Sea management with ecosystem-based fishery management best practices, interdisciplinary conceptual models for the Bering Sea ecosystem and aligning and tracking council priorities with research funding opportunities.
Environmental changes, including temperature changes and increased acidification, have figured in significant loss of sea ice in recent years and changes in where various species are to be found in the Bering Sea.
“The Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem plan continues the council’s leadership in moving to sustainable, ecosystem-based fisheries management, which is critical in a region that is already being affected dramatically by climate change,” said Becca Robbins Gisclair, senior director for Arctic programs for the nonprofit environmental entity Ocean Conservancy. “It provides a path forward to improve understanding and to guide the management changes needed to ensure that fisheries management continues to be sustainable in the face of these changes,
“Sustainable fisheries are vital to Alaska’s economy, culture and way of life and the incredibly productive Bering Sea ecosystem produces more than half of Alaska’s seafood,” she said. “It supports large- and small-scale fisheries, local, state and national economies, and coastal and indigenous communities.”
In earlier correspondence to the NPFMC, Gisclair also noted that the fishery ecosystem plan would facilitate a more holistic approach to fisheries management in the Bering Sea through the incorporation of traditional knowledge, “The Bering Sea EP itself reflects significant advances in incorporating traditional knowledge into the council decision making process and provides an entry point for tribes and communities to provide information and observations directly into the council process,” she wrote. “In that way, it complements processes that have been and should continue to be ongoing, such as ecosystem workshops and discussions at the ecosystem committee.”
In other action during the week-long Anchorage meeting the NPFMC set the total allowable catch of groundfish for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.
Opportunities to harvest both Alaska Pollock and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska will be down for the 2019 fisheries, due to the council’s decision to lower the total allowable catches for both species. Cod catches were also lowered for the Bering Sea, while the TAC for Alaska Pollock got a boost there.
The Alaska Pollock TAC for the GOA dropped from 166,228 MT a year ago to 141,227 MT for the upcoming season beginning in January and from 13,096 MT to 12,368 MT for Pacific cod.
The TAC for sablefish rose slightly, from 11,505 MT to 11,571 MT, and there were slight increases also in the TACs for shallow-water flatfish and deep water flatfish, while the TAC for Rex sole went from 15,373 MT to 14,692 MT. The Arrowtooth flounder TAC got a boost from 76,300 MT to 99,295 MT and the flathead sole TAC rose from 26,388 MT to 26,489 MT.
The Alaska Pollock TAC for the Eastern Bering Sea rose to 1,397 MT, up from 1,364 million MT in 2018, while staying at 19,000 MT for the Aleutian Islands and dropping from 450 MT to 75 MT in the Bogoslof. The Pacific cod TAC for the Bering Sea meanwhile dropped from 188,136 MT to 181,000 MT, and in the Aleutian Islands slid from 15,695 MT to 14,214 MT.
The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Arrowtooth flounder TAC went from 13,621 MT to 8,000 MT. For Atka mackerel in the BSAI the TAC dropped from 71,000 MT to 68,500 MT, but the Pacific Ocean perch TAC for the BSAI rose from 37,361 MT to 44,069 MT.
The NPFMC also recommended a two-fish daily bag limit of halibut for clients of charter boat industry in Southcentral Alaska, with one halibut of any size and a maximum size of one of the two fish being 28 inches. For Southeast Alaska, the council recommended a one fish per day bag limit. Those recommendations now go to the International Pacific Halibut Commission for final action at its January meeting in Victoria, British Columbia.