NOAA Fisheries is implementing Amendment 123 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) management area. The Final Rule, which was filed in the Federal Register today, November 22, 2023, establishes abundance-based management of Amendment 80 trawl sector prohibited species catch (PSC) limit for Pacific halibut.
This action was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its December 2021 meeting as a necessary action to minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable without compromising the ability to attain optimum yield in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. This action is in accordance with National Standards under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
Amendment 123 replaces the Amendment 80 sector static halibut PSC level of 1,745 metric tons with a process for annually setting the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector based on the most recent halibut abundance index estimates.
- Those limits would range from a 1,745 metric ton halibut PSC limit when abundance is “high” for the index derived from International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) setline survey, referred to as the IPHC index, to 35 percent below the 1,745 metric ton limit when abundance is “very low” for the IPHC index.
- At other states the PSC limit would vary across a range of intermediate values depending on if the IPHC index was medium or low and if the NMFS EBS index is below 150,000 mt (low) or is greater than or equal to 150,000 mt (high).
- The value at the intercept of the survey indices in Table 58 to Part 679 will be the Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit for the following calendar year.
Amendment 123 and the final rule balance the interests of the two largest halibut user groups in the BSAI, the directed commercial halibut fishery and the Amendment 80 sector, as well as other users including subsistence and recreational users, by implementing abundance-based halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector.
A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was prepared for this action. The FEIS may be found at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/bycatch/bering-sea-and-aleutian-islands-bsai-halibut-abundance-based-management.
This final rule is effective on January 1, 2024, and the PSC limits established by this action will apply to fishing by the Amendment 80 sector in 2024.