The Pacific Council News

Reporting on the March and April Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings

This spring we have a new newsletter feature: mini-podcasts on Council topics, which we call "Thirty Thousand Feet." Check out our first two episodes, where Kerry Griffin updates us on what's going on with coastal pelagic species, and Robin Ehlke talks about salmon management! You will also notice other tweaks to our newsletter. Please send us your feedback here.

We had two very long spring Council meetings. If all goes well, our June meeting may be our last fully-remote Council meeting, but we can't make any promises yet. Meanwhile, we have been enjoying a few funny moments during Council meetings: the ever-growing list of animals in the background of calls (including geese, crows, songbirds, coyotes, and of course dogs and cats); that "Jeopardy" music during the bitter end of the April Council meeting; and the many ways in which people ask, "Can you hear me?" Yes, we can hear you, and we hope to hear you again in June!

Coastal Pelagic Species 

In April, the Council adopted final harvest specifications and management measures for the 2021-2022 Pacific sardine fishery. Because the 2020 acoustic-trawl (A-T) surveys were cancelled and there was no A-T data to inform the planned-for update stock assessment, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) instead produced a catch-only biomass estimate. However, the lack of A-T data plus other factors caused the stock assessment model to produce some implausible results. Therefore, the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommended that management reference points should be based on the previous year’s stock assessment and biomass estimate developed by the SWFSC. The SSC recommended and the Council adopted a larger buffer to account for the increased uncertainty of using an older stock assessment.

The Council also approved three exempted fishing permit proposals designed to support stock assessments for Pacific sardine, and approved moving forward with the next phase of the coastal pelagic species essential fish habitat review.

New! Thirty Thousand Feet, Episode 2: Robin Ehlke talks salmon management. Or read the transcript here.
The Council adopted 2021 ocean salmon management measures in April. See the full story and detailed management measures. The Council also heard an update in March on a project to reintroduce salmon above Grand Coulee Dam, and sent a letter of support to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation for investigating the concept of reintroducing salmon to the upper Columbia Basin. In April, the Council approved a list of potential topics as candidates for methodology review. The Council will review the list again in September to see if any of the topics are ready for review.  If so, work will be done in October and completed in time for the November Council meeting.

In other news, the Klamath Dam removal project continues on track toward removal of the four lower Klamath dams beginning in January 2023. The Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the entity charged with dam removal, recently completed and submitted its biological assessment, which is now being analyzed by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Learn more here!

In a related action, in April the Council planned to discuss a letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland asking her to overturn two Solicitors' Opinions that stated that stored water in Upper Klamath Lake should be used only for agriculture and not for Endangered Species Act management or tribal trust purposes to support Klamath River salmon runs. About fifteen minutes after discussing the letter, the Council received news that the Secretary had just overturned the Opinions.

Marine Planning and Offshore Wind
The Council and its Legislative Committee have been discussing and writing letters in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Among other things, the Executive Order focuses on steps the U.S. should take to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. The Council Coordinating Committee, which represents all eight fishery management councils, sent a letter to the Departments of the Interior and Commerce stating that the Councils have already made significant progress in achieving the goals of the Executive Order. In April, the Council sent its own letter to Interior and Commerce on the Executive Order. A letter to NMFS focused on recommendations to make fisheries and protected resources more resilient to climate change.   

The Biden Administration has released a fact sheet on offshore wind development. In addition, a hearing (“Building Back Better: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs Through Offshore Wind”) was held in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on April 20. A recording is available at the link.

On a state level, legislation to promote offshore wind has been introduced in Oregon and California. California's AB 525 would require agencies to craft a plan to create at least 10 GW of offshore wind installations by 2040. Oregon's HB 3375 establishes a goal of planning for development of three gigawatts of commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy projects in Federal waters off Oregon by 2030. A hearing was held May 13.

For more info, please see the Council's webpage on offshore wind activities.

Groundfish (whiting)

In March, the Council discussed ways to change fishery management regulations to improve utilization of the Pacific whiting fish stock in the mothership sector of the Pacific whiting fishery. The Council discussed several ideas, including a potential change to the existing whiting fishery season start date for all sectors of the whiting fishery, changes to a fisherman’s obligation to catch fish for a mothership processor, changes to the maximum limit a mothership processor can take from fisherman, and potentially allowing a vessel to fish as both a catcher-processor and a mothership processor in the same year. The Council adopted a purpose and need statement and range of alternatives for these issues, which will be analyzed and made available for public review. This issue will be discussed next in September 2021.

The Council also took emergency action in March to allow an at-sea Pacific whiting processing platform to operate as both a mothership and a catcher-processor during the 2021 Pacific whiting fishery. This would prevent disruption to the fishery if a mothership processor decides to abandon that sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That would leave catcher vessels in the mothership sector without a processing platform, which would result in significant economic impacts. 

The Council changed how it determines cost recovery fees for the at-sea sector. The fees will now be based on Pacific whiting ex-vessel values rather than the value of all groundfish. The next time the Council considers groundfish management workload planning, it will discuss whether it wants a review of trawl catch share program costs as part of the trawl catch share review scheduled for 2022, among other topics.

Finally, the Council was briefed on the U.S./Canada Pacific Whiting Treaty process, which did not reach a consensus on a 2021 coastwide total annual catch for whiting. NMFS published a proposed rule for a 2021 total allowable catch in early May. Meanwhile, an interim allocation of whiting was issued on May 15.

Groundfish (nonwhiting)

Three potential groundfish management measures have been added to the Council’s workload list: prohibiting directed fishing on shortbelly rockfish, a lingcod trip limit adjustment north of 40 10 in the salmon troll fishery, and a measure to repeal the Cowcod Conservation Areas (CCA). 

The shortbelly rockfish prohibition may be discussed when the Council tackles 2023-2024 groundfish harvest specifications and management measures. Discussions will begin in September, with a range of management options selected for analysis in November.

As discussed below, the Council considered adjusting the incidental lingcod landing limit in the salmon troll fishery in April under their groundfish inseason agenda item. The CCA measure was not prioritized for action at this time and may be considered at a later date.   

The Council reviewed the recent humpback whale biological opinion from NMFS and adopted recommendations related to reducing whale entanglement, reviewing Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup membership, observer coverage, and electronic monitoring. Read more below.

In April, the Council began scoping new management measures for the non-trawl Rockfish Conservation Area(s) in order to allow some groundfish fishing in those areas using only gear types that minimize bottom contact. Read more below.

The Council made inseason adjustments to groundfish fisheries in April, adjusting the incidental landing limit for lingcod in the salmon troll fishery north 40° 10' N. lat. and requested NMFS correct the shoreward and seaward boundaries of the non-trawl RCA south of 34° 27′ N. lat. in the trip limit tables.

The Council will discuss whether to review trawl catch share program costs as part of the trawl catch share review scheduled for 2022 next time they take up groundfish management workload planning.

The Council has been working to decide whether there should be a limit on gear switching (the use of fixed gear in the trawl individual fishing quota fishery). Some members of industry have concerns about the impacts of gear switching on trawlers’ ability to harvest the full trawl quota. Specifically, there is concern that if gear switchers use sablefish quota pounds, those quota pounds would not be available to trawlers, who need them to catch other stocks that are intermixed with sablefish.  Part of the process has been to identify the maximum level of gear switching that might be allowed if a limit is established.  That maximum would guide further design of the gear switching limitation alternatives. In April the Council specified a maximum of 29 percent of the total trawl sablefish allocation. When the Council takes final action it might or might not decide to limit gear switching. Until that time, the 29 percent maximum could be revised. The Council plans to adopt a range of alternatives for this issue in September but has not yet scheduled a meeting for selection of a preferred alternative. 

Focus: Biological Opinion on Humpback Whales

Last September, the Council reviewed draft conservation measures that NMFS was considering as they completed work on a biological opinion (BiOp) on the effects of the groundfish fishery on humpback whales. The Council offered guidance to NMFS regarding developing these measures.

This April, NMFS returned to the Council with the completed BiOp, and briefed the Council on the results. In the new BiOp, NMFS developed four non-discretionary (required) Terms and Conditions to protect humpback whales. Three of these require Council involvement.

First, NMFS, in cooperation with the Council, will investigate how pot fishing gear is currently marked and whether modifications are necessary to differentiate it from other gear types.

Second, the Council and NMFS will review the Terms of Reference of the Council’s Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup and prioritize the data needs associated with humpback bycatch.

The third term and condition is specific to NMFS and the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program regarding observer coverage.

The fourth requires NMFS, in cooperation with the Council, to consider using electronic monitoring on fishing vessels to gather information on bycatch of humpback whales. 

Focus: Non-Trawl Area Management Measures

The Council began the scoping process for Non-Trawl Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) management measures in April and adopted a draft purpose and need statement for public review.  

The Council is developing a range of alternatives to address modifying existing Non-Trawl RCA boundaries based on recommendations from the GAP. These alternatives will examine measures that could allow groundfish fishing inside the Non-Trawl RCA using select gears that minimize bottom contact.  They will consider both the Open Access and the Limited Entry Fixed Gear groundfish fishery sectors in their analyses.

The Council will consider narrowing  the non-trawl RCA by adjusting the seaward and/or shoreward non-trawl RCA boundaries between Point Conception, CA to 40° 10’ N. lat.; from 40° 10’ N. lat.  to the Oregon/Washington border, and from the 100 fm seaward non-trawl RCA boundary off of Washington.

Industry asked the Council to consider the proposal for commercial salmon troll fishermen to retain shelf rockfish while fishing in the non-trawl RCA as part of this package. However, the Council decided to not address the issue at this time.  Instead, they may consider it during the 2023-2024 groundfish harvest specifications and management measure process.

Current Legislation
A new page on the Council website provides links and updates on the bills the Council is tracking.

The Council and Legislative Committee have been focusing on President Biden's Executive Orders recently (see story above). Representative Don Young has resubmitted his bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and Representative Jared Huffman has released a discussion draft for reauthorizing the Act (see summary). This is a far-ranging bill that could significantly change how fisheries are managed. The Legislative Committee discussed the draft, but the Council has not yet been asked to comment on the bill.

Pacific Halibut 
As it does every year at this time, the Council set limits on the catch of halibut in the salmon troll fishery and the fixed gear sablefish fishery. From May 16, 2021 through the end of this year’s salmon troll fishery, and then starting again on April 1, 2022 until changed by the Council, troll license holders may land no more than one Pacific halibut per two Chinook, except that one Pacific halibut may be landed without meeting the ratio requirement, and no more than 35 halibut may be landed per trip.

In the fixed-gear sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis from April 1 through October 31, the 2021 incidental halibut catch limit is 225 pounds of dressed weight halibut for every 1,000 pounds dressed weight of sablefish, plus two additional halibut in excess of the ratio. 

Highly Migratory Species 
For several years, the Council has been working on a proposal to make deep-set buoy gear legal for commercial fishing. The gear was originally developed by scientists at the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research, and fishermen have been testing it with exempted fishing permits since 2015. The gear targets swordfish destined for high value markets and results in very little unwanted bycatch.

A limited entry permit program for fishing in the Southern California Bight is a big part of the Council’s proposal. Because almost all the deep-set buoy gear test fishing has occurred in this area, the Council is concerned it could get too crowded if there are no limits on the number of people using the gear.

After discussions with NMFS, the Council has designed a system to determine who can get a limited entry permit once the program is implemented. It ranks people based on their experience in the commercial swordfish fishery, mainly by past use of different gear types, and puts them into “tiers” based on that experience. 

In addition, the Council and NMFS have been discussing how limited entry permits will be issued. To keep things simple, NMFS has recommended a one-time application period at the beginning of the program.

It will be at least a year before the regulations to make deep-set buoy gear legal go into effect, and closer to two years before the limited entry program begins. For more details, see the Council’s March decision document.
Advisory Body Appointments 
Sean Stanley, the Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the West Coast Division, will be replacing Michael Killary as the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) alternate Enforcement Consultant. West Coast Division Assistant Director Greg Busch will remain as OLE’s primary Enforcement Consultant. 


Dr. Michele Zwartjes was appointed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife position on the Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup formerly held by Robin Bown.
Upcoming Meetings (all meetings held via webinar)
Ad Hoc Climate and Communities Core Team meeting to discuss the drafting of a final report for the Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate and Communities Initiative. May 21, 2021.
Scientific and Statistical Committee’s Economics and Groundfish Subcommittees meeting to review a new Quota Share Owners’ Cost Survey and do some initial planning on an upcoming review of the limited entry fixed gear sablefish program. May 26, 2021.
Highly Migratory Species Management Team meeting to discuss the contents and production of the HMS Stock Status and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) document. June 3-4, 2021.
Salmon Subcommittee of the Scientific and Statistical Committee meeting to review the SSC’s role in reviewing salmon forecast methodologies and other analyses. June 4, 2021.
Groundfish Management Team meeting to discuss items on the Pacific Council’s June 2021 meeting agenda. June 10, 2021.
Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting and advisory body meetings. The Council is scheduled to meet by webinar on June 22-26 and 28-30, 2021. Subcommittees may begin meeting June 22 or before. 
Pacific Fishery Management Council

Marc Gorelnik

Brad Pettinger
Vice Chair

Chuck Tracy
Executive Director

Mike Burner
Deputy Director

Kit Dahl
Highly migratory species, ecosystem management, National Environmental Policy Act

John DeVore

Robin Ehlke
Salmon, halibut

Jennifer Gilden
Communications, habitat, legislation

Kerry Griffin
Coastal pelagic species, marine planning, and essential fish habitat

Todd Phillips

Jim Seger
Fishery economics, exempted fishing permits

Brett Wiedoff
Groundfish, electronic monitoring, highly migratory species

Kim Ambert
Administrative staff

Patricia Crouse
Administrative officer

Renee Dorval
Meeting planning, hotels

Amy L’Manian
Administrative staff


Kris Kleinschmidt
Information technology

Sandra Krause
Information technology
The Pacific Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils in the U.S. and recommends commercial & recreational fishery management measures for Federal waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. All Council recommendations are subject to approval by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Council has five public meetings a year.

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