The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) is considering a program that provides incentives for the Amendment 80 fleet to minimize mortality of Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) at all times, that could promote conservation of the Pacific halibut stock, and may provide additional opportunities for the directed halibut fishery.
Currently halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits for groundfish fishery sectors are set in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Groundfish Fishery Management Plan at a fixed amount of halibut mortality in metric tons. When halibut abundance declines, halibut PSC becomes a larger proportion of total halibut removals and can result in lower catch limits for directed halibut fisheries. This action would be limited to the Amendment 80 sector, because that sector is responsible for the majority of halibut mortality in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. In light of the continued decline in the halibut stock, both the Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission have expressed concern about impacts on directed halibut fisheries under the status quo and identified abundance-based halibut PSC limits as a potential management approach to address these concerns.
To provide the analytical background for decision-making on this issue, the Council and NMFS prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). A DEIS provides assessments of the environmental impacts of an action and its reasonable alternatives as well as the economic benefits and costs of the action alternatives and their distribution. This DEIS addresses the statutory requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the National Environmental Policy Act, and Presidential Executive Order 12866.
This DEIS analyzes a proposed management measure to link the Pacific halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 commercial groundfish trawl fleet in the BSAI groundfish fisheries to halibut abundance. The objectives of linking the PSC limit are to minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable under the MSA National Standard 9 and to continue achieving optimum yield in the BSAI groundfish fisheries on a continuing basis under MSA National Standard 1. This would also be expected to provide incentives for the Amendment 80 fleet to minimize halibut mortality at all times. Achievement of these objectives could result in additional harvest opportunities in the commercial halibut fishery.
This document is available on the NMFS Alaska Region website at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/bycatch/bering-sea-and-aleutian-islands-bsai-halibut-abundance-based-management or at www.regulations.gov after entering docket number "NOAA-NMFS-2021-0074" in the search bar.
In accordance with provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we are providing a Letter to Reviewers of this DEIS. The letter is attached and is available on the NMFS Alaska Region website at: https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/2021-09/Dear-Reviewer-Letter-halibut-ABM-DEIS-0921.pdf.
NMFS is accepting public comments on this action through October 25, 2021 by any of the following methods:
- Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to https://www.regulations.gov and enter [NOAA-NMFS-2021-0074] in the Search box. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
- Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Records Office. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.