The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) recommended that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implement an abundance-based approach to setting halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits that would provide incentives for the Amendment 80 participants to minimize mortality of Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) at all times, promote conservation of the Pacific halibut stock, and may provide additional harvest 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. Because of this, 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 recent period of low halibut stock abundance, 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.
A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) provides assessments of the environmental impacts and economic benefits and costs of the proposed action and the other alternatives considered. To provide the analytical background for decision-making on this issue, the Council and NMFS prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which was published in the Federal Register (86 FR 171, September 8, 2021), and received public comments on that draft. The Council took final action at their December 2021 meeting and recommended a Preferred Alternative to NMFS. The Council and NMFS have now prepared a FEIS that includes the Preferred Alternative, general updates and clarifications to the DEIS, and incorporates responses to public comments on the DEIS. The FEIS 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 FEIS analyzes the proposed action 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 halibut PSC limit to halibut abundance are to minimize halibut PSC mortality 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, under section 303(a)(11). 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.
The FEIS 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