Categorical Exclusion for an Exempted Fishing Permit to Test Modified Halibut Handling on Deck of Amendment 80 Vessels
NMFS has received an application for an exempted fishing permit (EFP) from the Best Use Cooperative (BUC). The EFP would allow three vessels in the BUC to sort halibut removed from a codend on the deck of the vessel, and release those fish back to the water after accounting for the halibut condition using standard International Pacific Halibut Commission viability methods for predicting mortality of individual fish. The EFP will allow these vessels to alter the amount of time that halibut are in a codend, on deck and the amount of handling they receive prior to release.
Halibut in this experiment would be sampled during directed groundfish fisheries in which each of these vessels is authorized to fish. Some fishing parameters such as tow length, tow speed, amount of groundfish retrieved in a coded and locations fished may be varied compared with operations typically used by these vessels to test a wide range of fishing practices. This EFP would be of limited scope and duration and would not be expected to appreciably alter trawling by the non-AF A trawl catcher/processing sector, duration of the groundfish fishery, gear, or the total amount or species of fish caught. The EFP would apply for the period of time required to complete the experiment in 2009 in areas open to directed fishing for flatfish. The activities under this EFP would be conducted within the 2009 harvest specifications of groundfish and halibut prohibited species catch. Any credit for reductions in halibut mortality to the BUC will be allowed within the actual halibut limit apportioned to the cooperative, unless the BUC were to reach the 2009 Amendment 80 coop apportion of halibut mortality (1,793 mt). In the event that BUC is likely to reach 1,793 mt of halibut mortality, the BUC could be allowed to continue fishing for groundfish species later in the year if the additional groundfish caught did not exceed the BUCs allocation and the additional amount of halibut caught did not exceed the amount of the halibut mortality savings.