At its September 2021 meeting, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) requested feedback from advisory bodies and members of industry to consider extending the 2021 sablefish primary season in response to unusually high underattainment for the sector. This underattainment is attributed to unforeseen delays related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in severe problems for the harvesting fleet, processors, and sales managers to catch, process, and market sablefish in a timely manner that fit within the current tiered season of April 1 to October 31.
On October 29, 2021, NMFS took emergency action to extend the sablefish primary fishery season for vessels using bottom longline gear from October 31 to December 31 for the 2021 fishing year (86 FR 59873). The Council recommended the emergency extension for the sablefish primary fishery, which includes vessels fishing with longline and/or pot gear. Due to lack of a Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) section 101(a)(5)(E) permit for sablefish pot gear, however, NMFS only issued the temporary season extension for vessels using bottom longline gear.
On October 22, 2021, NMFS published a notice of proposed issuance of a MMPA section 101(a)(5)(E) permit and proposed negligible impact determination (NID) (86 FR 58641). On December 10, 2021, NMFS issued a final MMPA section 101(a)(5)(E) permit (86 FR 70420). This emergency rule will temporarily reopen the 2021 Limited Entry Fixed Gear sablefish primary fishery to vessels using pot/trap gear North of 36° North latitude until December 31, 2021.