The Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference are petitioning for emergency changes to bycatch regulations in the Bering Sea.
The current Bering Sea chinook bycatch cap has two parts: a lower number that is the performance standard of 47,591 and a higher number, the hard cap of 60,000. By joining incentive plan agreements, or IPAs, pollock vessels receive a prorated share of the cap of 60,000. Any vessel that does not join an IPA receives a prorated share of the lower cap. Sectors that exceed the performance standard twice in seven years no longer have access to the higher limit, and must keep their catch under the lower number.
The organizations have asked that the hard cap be reduced to 20,000 kings, and the performance standard be reduced to 15,000.
The Association of Village Council Presidents, or AVCP, and Tanana Chiefs Conference, or TCC, asked for the changes in a Sept. 16 letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The North Pacific council instituted the current caps under Amendment 91.
According to the letter, a 20,000 cap would be less than the five-year average king take by the pollock fleet. In 2013, Bering Sea pollock fishermen caught 13,036 kings.
The request for action comes as the pollock fleet finishes its season. The fleet has caught the majority of its pollock quota for the season, and National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Julie Speegle said in a Sept. 17 email that the fishery was likely to finish within a week or so.
In that email, Speegle wrote that the projected king bycatch for the fleet this year was just under 15,000; as of Sept. 17, Speegle said the catch was about 14,375.
The majority of the king catch occurred in the A season, with about 2,198 kings caught in the Bering Sea since June 10, including 611 in the first week of September.
Last year, the king bycatch rate increased in the fall as the fleet tried to catch the remainder of its pollock quota.
“Dramatically low chinook runs and harvests in recent years have caused severe impacts to the people in our villages and the chinook stocks upon which they depend. Emergency action is necessary to avoid substantial harm to the chinook salmon stocks, Western Alaska salmon fisheries and AVCP and TCC communities,” the groups wrote in their letter.
According to the letter, the Department of Commerce guidelines for emergency action under the Magnuson-Stevens Act require that the action result from unforeseen events or recently discovered circumstances that present serious conservation or management problems in the fishery, and that the value of the emergency regulations outweigh the loss of the typical deliberative process.
The emergency regulation process has been used a handful of times in the past decade. According to Speegle, the emergency regulation process was used in 2011 to remove a crab delivery requirement in the Aleutians because the Adak plant closed and in 2010 to remove unenforceable regulations.
In the letter, the groups wrote that the low returns in recent years were not anticipated when the current caps were instituted.
The letter also requests that the Secretary of Commerce and North Pacific council engage in government-to-government consultations regarding the caps.
At its June meeting in Nome, the council voted to ask for analysis of a lower performance standard, but analysis does not guarantee final action, and any action will not come for at least several months, with lower caps likely not in affect for more than a year. The options out for analysis do not call for as low of a cap as AVCP and TCC requested in their emergency petition.