Legislature(2021 - 2022)ANCH LIO DENALI Rm

11/15/2021 10:00 AM House FISHERIES

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Audio Topic
10:04:31 AM Start
10:04:54 AM Presentation(s): Bycatch in Alaska's Fisheries
12:56:02 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
+ Presentation: Bycatch in Alaska's Fisheries - TELECONFERENCED
Introductory Informational Presentations by:
- Commissioner, Doug Vincent-Lang, Alaska Dept of
Fish and Game
- Deputy Commissioner, Rachel Baker, Alaska
Dept of Fish and Game <Removed From Agenda>
- David Witherell, Director, North Pacific
Fisheries Management Council
-Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional
Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
              HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON FISHERIES                                                                            
                       Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                        
                       November 15, 2021                                                                                        
                           10:04 a.m.                                                                                           
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
Representative Geran Tarr, Chair                                                                                                
Representative Louise Stutes, Vice Chair                                                                                        
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (via teleconference)                                                                     
Representative Andi Story (via teleconference)                                                                                  
Representative Dan Ortiz (via teleconference)                                                                                   
Representative Sarah Vance (via teleconference)                                                                                 
Representative Kevin McCabe (via teleconference)                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
All members present                                                                                                             
OTHER LEGISLATORS PRESENT                                                                                                     
Representative Mike Prax                                                                                                        
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
PRESENTATION(S):  BYCATCH IN ALASKA'S FISHERIES                                                                                 
     - HEARD                                                                                                                    
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
No previous action to record                                                                                                    
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
DOUG VINCENT-LANG, Commissioner                                                                                                 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G)                                                                                      
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:  As one of the three presenters addressing                                                                
bycatch in Alaska's fisheries, discussed the poor 2021 chum                                                                     
salmon returns in Western Alaska.                                                                                               
DAVID WITHERELL, Executive Director                                                                                             
North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC)                                                                                
Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                                               
POSITION STATEMENT:   As  one of  the three presenters  discussing                                                            
bycatch   in    Alaska's   fisheries,   provided    a   PowerPoint                                                              
presentation   titled,  "Bycatch   Management  in  North   Pacific                                                              
Groundfish Fisheries," dated 11/2021.                                                                                           
GLENN MERRILL, Assistant Regional Administrator                                                                                 
Sustainable Fisheries Division                                                                                                  
Alaska Region                                                                                                                   
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries                                                                
U.S. Department of Commerce                                                                                                     
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT:   As  one of  the three presenters  discussing                                                            
bycatch   in    Alaska's   fisheries,   provided    a   PowerPoint                                                              
presentation titled, "Bycatch," dated 11/15/2021.                                                                               
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
10:04:31 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR GERAN TARR  called the House Special Committee  on Fisheries                                                            
meeting to  order at  10:04 a.m.   Representatives Stutes,  McCabe                                                              
(via  teleconference),  Ortiz  (via   teleconference,  Story  (via                                                              
teleconference), Vance  (via teleconference),  Kreiss-Tomkins (via                                                              
teleconference) and Tarr were present at the call to order.                                                                     
^PRESENTATION(S):  Bycatch in Alaska's Fisheries                                                                                
        PRESENTATION(S):  Bycatch in Alaska's Fisheries                                                                     
10:04:54 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR  TARR announced  that the  only order of  business would  be                                                              
presentations on bycatch in Alaska's fisheries.                                                                                 
CHAIR TARR  explained that outside  of legislative  proposals, two                                                              
specific issues  of interest to committee members  are regulations                                                              
for instream  water reservations  [proposed  by the Department  of                                                              
Natural  Resources]   and  bycatch   in  Alaska.     She   said  a                                                              
presentation  on the  proposed instream  regulations was  provided                                                              
to  the  committee  on [7/27/21],  and  today's  presentations  on                                                              
bycatch  are being  provided by  government agencies.   She  added                                                              
that  a future  presentation  will  be provided  by  stakeholders.                                                              
She invited Commissioner Vincent-Lang to begin his presentation.                                                                
10:07:33 AM                                                                                                                   
DOUG  VINCENT-LANG, Commissioner,  Alaska Department  of Fish  and                                                              
Game (ADF&G),  noted that  the other  two presenters will  address                                                              
bycatch  in federal  water fisheries,  and  he will  focus on  the                                                              
pressing management  issue of what  happened this year  to Western                                                              
Alaska's chum  salmon.  Bycatch  is being identified as  a culprit                                                              
for low  returns, he  said, but  the question  is whether  this is                                                              
the case or whether  it is a piece of the puzzle  that must be put                                                              
together to see  the entire picture of what happened.   Seeing the                                                              
complete  picture  allows  for focusing  management  and  research                                                              
efforts on what will make the biggest difference.                                                                               
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  stated that this year's  Western Alaska                                                              
chum salmon returns  were extremely poor, resulting  in closure of                                                              
in-river and coastal  fisheries, including those  for subsistence.                                                              
He  pointed out  that  Alaska's  constitution and  state  statutes                                                              
require  that all  salmon stocks  be managed  for sustained  yield                                                              
and  benefits.   When  not  enough  fish  return to  the  spawning                                                              
grounds to  ensure future  generations of  salmon, ADF&G  is bound                                                              
to restrict or close fisheries.                                                                                                 
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG pointed  out  that salmon  productivity                                                              
is generally cyclical  and that low returns have been  seen in the                                                              
past.  These  are some of the  lowest returns on record,  he said,                                                              
but  there has  been  recovery from  other  previous low  returns.                                                              
For  example,  chum  and  chinook   salmon  in  the  Arctic-Yukon-                                                              
Kuskokwim (AYK) Region  crashed in the 1990s but  rebounded in the                                                              
early  to  mid-2000s.    However,   he  continued,  the  state  is                                                              
extremely  concerned about  this  summer's low  salmon returns  in                                                              
much  of   Western  Alaska.     He  said  ADF&G   understands  the                                                              
importance of  salmon to the  AYK Region's 50,000  rural residents                                                              
for food security, culture, and economies.                                                                                      
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  told  of  a  trip he  made  this  past                                                              
summer to  several impacted  communities along  the Yukon  and the                                                              
words of distress  were insightful and impactful to  him.  He said                                                              
steps  are being  taken  by the  governor's  office  and ADF&G  to                                                              
mitigate some  of these  impacts, such  as distributing  salmon to                                                              
impacted  communities  this fall,  with  additional  distributions                                                              
being considered  to address  food shortages.   While  nothing can                                                              
replace  the ability  to  participate in  traditional  subsistence                                                              
activities,  he continued,  the hope  is that  these fish  will at                                                              
least partially offset  some of the lost food.  As  well, ADF&G is                                                              
extending hunting  seasons where  possible and  where it  does not                                                              
impact the  long-term sustainability  of resources, and  staff are                                                              
exploring additional opportunities that are available.                                                                          
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  stated  that  ADF&G is  assessing  the                                                              
reasons,  including  bycatch,  behind  the poor  chum  returns  to                                                              
Western Alaska to  better understand the root causes  and what can                                                              
be done  from a management perspective.   He said  1.5-2.0 million                                                              
chum  salmon were  missing from  a pre-season  projection for  the                                                              
Yukon  River's summer  and fall  chum  runs, and  the question  is                                                              
where did these  fish go?  Many people think trawl  bycatch in the                                                              
Bering Sea is a  likely culprit because chum salmon  are caught as                                                              
bycatch  in the  pollock and  cod trawl  fisheries.   Most of  the                                                              
chum  salmon incidentally  caught  are not  adults, he  specified,                                                              
but rather  juveniles that return  in out years.   So, it  is more                                                              
appropriate  and accurate  to look  at what was  caught two  years                                                              
ago as  bycatch, he  continued,  because those  are the fish  that                                                              
would  have  returned  as  adults  this  year.    Two  years  ago,                                                              
trawlers  caught  about 350,000  juvenile  chum salmon.    Genetic                                                              
work shows that  about 16 percent, or 60,000, of  those chums were                                                              
Western  Alaska origin.   Had  they  not been  caught as  bycatch,                                                              
these subadults  would have spent  another two years in  the ocean                                                              
suffering  natural  mortality,  he  explained,  so  about  25,000-                                                              
35,000 of  them would  have returned this  year to Western  Alaska                                                              
rivers.   Therefore, while 350,000  is large, and steps  should be                                                              
taken to reduce  it, it alone does not explain the  gap of 1.5-2.0                                                              
million fish.                                                                                                                   
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  then  asked the  question  of  whether                                                              
these  missing  chum  salmon  could  have  been  caught  in  other                                                              
fisheries.  He said  one place would be fisheries  outside the US.                                                              
Russian  trawlers catch  salmon, but  it isn't  known how  many or                                                              
what the  origins of  the caught  salmon are as  most do  not have                                                              
neutral  observers onboard  their  vessels.   As a  member of  the                                                              
North  Pacific  Fishery  Management Council  ("the  Council"),  he                                                              
related,  [ADF&G] has  written to  the Secretary  of State  asking                                                              
the secretary  to work with  [the Council]  to get a  better catch                                                              
accounting and genetic  analyses of Russian salmon  bycatch.  But,                                                              
he  continued,  assuming the  numbers  are  close to  the  Alaskan                                                              
numbers,  this alone  does not  explain  what happened.   He  said                                                              
Western Alaska  chum salmon  could also be  caught in  mixed stock                                                              
salmon fisheries  in state  waters.   From past  work it  is known                                                              
that Western  Alaska chum  salmon are  caught in Alaska  Peninsula                                                              
fisheries, and  about 2.2 million  chums were harvested  this year                                                              
in  these  fisheries.   Past  genetic  work  shows that  about  30                                                              
percent,  or 600,000  of these,  are  Western Alaska  origin.   Of                                                              
these, about  half are Bristol  Bay origin, leaving  about 300,000                                                              
that are  likely of Yukon-Kuskokwim  and Norton Sound origin.   It                                                              
is also  known that  most of  the harvested  Western Alaska  chums                                                              
occurs during  the June portion  of this  fishery.  But  again, he                                                              
pointed  out, this  alone does not  explain what  happened  to the                                                              
missing 1.5-2.0 million chums from the Yukon alone.                                                                             
10:14:17 AM                                                                                                                   
The committee took a brief at-ease due to audio difficulties.                                                                   
10:15:52 AM                                                                                                                   
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  continued his  presentation.   He noted                                                              
that  these  estimates are  based  on  data collected  during  the                                                              
years  of  relatively  high  summer   chum  abundance  in  Western                                                              
Alaska.   So,  he said,  while it  represents  the best  available                                                              
information at  this time, it  may over-estimate  the proportional                                                              
harvest of  Western Alaska  stocks given  that incidental  harvest                                                              
is generally related  to abundance.  He added  that this reasoning                                                              
is  substantiated  in  that  Alaska  Peninsula  fisheries  do  not                                                              
harvest fall-run  chum salmon,  which also  poorly performed  this                                                              
year.   He  related that  his staff  is putting  together a  study                                                              
proposal  updating the  genetic composition  information from  the                                                              
Alaska  Peninsula fisheries  during the  month of  June.   He said                                                              
his staff  is also  exploring options  for what  he could  do this                                                              
summer  using  his  Executive  Order   (EO)  authority  to  reduce                                                              
intercept  of Western  Alaska summer  chum salmon  during June  if                                                              
low chum  returns are  experienced again  and subsistence  fishing                                                              
is restricted or  closed.  The Board of Fisheries,  he added, will                                                              
be discussing these fisheries during its next cycle.                                                                            
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  said it appears something  is happening                                                              
to  Alaska's  chums  in the  ocean  because  the  missing  1.5-2.0                                                              
million chums  cannot be explained  with the intercept  or bycatch                                                              
fisheries issues.   Several years  ago, he stated,  an exploration                                                              
was begun  of marine survival  and how changing  marine conditions                                                              
are impacting  the returns  of salmon  to Western Alaska  streams.                                                              
A  multi-agency  study  is contributing  to  an  understanding  of                                                              
factors  driving  survival  and  productivity  at  different  life                                                              
stages  for  Western  Alaska  chinook  and  chum  salmon.    These                                                              
studies are  providing clues  about what may  be happening  in the                                                              
ocean and are  providing forecasting tools used  in the management                                                              
of Western Alaska  fisheries.  Preliminary findings,  he reported,                                                              
indicate that the  first several months in the  marine environment                                                              
may be critical.   Options are being explored to  expand this work                                                              
into other areas  of the Bering Sea, southern Bering  Sea, and the                                                              
Gulf of Alaska.                                                                                                                 
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  stated that  ADF&G is participating  in                                                              
various  deep  blue  ocean surveys  to  better  understand  marine                                                              
survival  in  the open  ocean.    Funds  from the  Pacific  Salmon                                                              
Commission  and  the  North  Pacific   Research  Board  have  been                                                              
directed towards  this effort and  ADF&G staff have  been assigned                                                              
to  research cruises.    There is  active  communication with  the                                                              
Alaska Congressional  Delegation  on ways  to secure more  support                                                              
for  these   important  efforts,   he  related.     A   governor's                                                              
stakeholder   taskforce   will  be   convened   to  identify   and                                                              
understand  the   variables  affecting   the  return   of  salmon,                                                              
including bycatch, and  what can be done in terms  of research and                                                              
management.    This   will  involve  fitting  the   puzzle  pieces                                                              
together to form  a picture of the current situation  from which a                                                              
cross-jurisdictional  management  strategy  can be  developed,  he                                                              
said.   Representatives  of impacted  communities, fisheries,  and                                                              
management  agencies will  be invited,  with the  goal of  holding                                                              
these meetings this winter and spring.                                                                                          
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  concluded   by  offering  sympathy  to                                                              
those  impacted by  this summer's  low  salmon returns.   He  said                                                              
ADF&G is committed  to finding the causes, taking  the appropriate                                                              
management   actions  to   address  it,   and  working  with   the                                                              
appropriate management  entities to  cooperate on needed  research                                                              
and  to  address the  causal  issues.    New information  will  be                                                              
collected as part  of an expanded science relationship,  he added,                                                              
and a stakeholder panel will be convened this spring.                                                                           
10:20:08 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STUTES noted  that  the state  manages all  salmon                                                              
fisheries,  while  the  Council  manages  salmon  bycatch  in  the                                                              
federal  groundfish fisheries.   She  asked how  the state  shares                                                              
information or has a role with the Council.                                                                                     
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG replied  that  the state  has a  voting                                                              
membership  on the  Council  and  participates in  the  management                                                              
planning activities  for federal water fisheries,  including those                                                              
for  bycatch.    Through  that  effort,  especially  with  chinook                                                              
salmon, he  said, substantial progress  has been made  in reducing                                                              
chinook  salmon bycatch  on the  open ocean by  setting hard  caps                                                              
that are  indexed to the projected  escapement ranges  for Western                                                              
Alaska streams.                                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES  inquired about the  kind of system  that is                                                              
set up  for hard caps  to limit salmon  bycatch in the  Bering Sea                                                              
and the Gulf of Alaska.                                                                                                         
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  responded that  in the Bering  Sea hard                                                              
caps  are  set  [for  chinook  salmon]  that  are  dependent  upon                                                              
projecting the  salmon returns in  three river systems  in Western                                                              
Alaska;  as a  result,  the chinook  bycatch  has  gone down  over                                                              
time.  There  isn't a hard cap  for chum salmon, he  continued.  A                                                              
challenge  with  moving  the  trawl fleet  around  to  manage  for                                                              
halibut, crab,  and chinook salmon  bycatch is that there  is only                                                              
so much  ocean and  sometimes collateral impacts  are had  on chum                                                              
salmon.   Right now, chum  salmon bycatch numbers  are increasing.                                                              
The Bering Sea is  a dynamic system, he explained,  and is managed                                                              
on a latitude/longitude  basis for  bycatch, and on a  depth basis                                                              
for bycatch, and,  as well, a temporal basis.  So,  when an effort                                                              
is taken  on "XYZ"  and temporal  timeframe,  and the fleet  moved                                                              
around to  reduce the bycatch  of one species,  it ends  up having                                                              
some  impacts on  the other  species.   It is  very important,  he                                                              
added, that when  making any corrective action in  the Bering Sea,                                                              
time is  taken to  figure out what  is going to  be the  impact on                                                              
other species and try to reduce the harvest on those species.                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES  noted that  there are many  questions about                                                              
climate change and  ocean acidification and how  that is affecting                                                              
things.  She asked  about the questions that are  being focused on                                                              
in the research.                                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  answered it  has  been concluded  that                                                              
ocean survival  is having an impact  on salmon returns  across the                                                              
state.  While  [ADF&G] has control over spawning  numbers, what is                                                              
going in the river,  and the harvest that goes on,  there is not a                                                              
good  understanding  of  what  is   happening  in  the  near-shore                                                              
environment  after salmon  leave the freshwater  systems  nor what                                                              
is happening  in the deep  blue ocean.   He said a  scientist, Dr.                                                              
Katie  Howard,  has   been  hired  to  look  at   marine  survival                                                              
conditions affecting  salmon.  Dr. Howard is  currently working on                                                              
near-shore survival  of chum and  chinook salmon as  they emigrate                                                              
out of the  Yukon River, and it  is being seen that  the first 1.5                                                              
months out in the  ocean can have a dramatic impact  on the return                                                              
of those  fish in out  years.  The  department has put  together a                                                              
couple of proposals  and is working with the  Alaska Congressional                                                              
Delegation  to potentially  expand  that  work into  the  southern                                                              
Bering Sea  and the Gulf  of Alaska.   Near-shore survival  is one                                                              
piece, the  commissioner continued;  gaining a good  understanding                                                              
of what  is happening  in the deep  blue ocean  is another  and is                                                              
going to take  work with other entities.   As part of  his job, he                                                              
related,  he sits  on the  North  Pacific Research  Board and  the                                                              
Pacific Salmon Commission,  and some money has  now been dedicated                                                              
to  work in  the open  ocean.   Working  with  Russia and  Canada,                                                              
transects  are  being looked  at  from  Vancouver to  Russia,  and                                                              
staff  time  has   been  dedicated  to  start   gaining  a  better                                                              
understanding  of movements, distributions,  and the  condition of                                                              
salmon out in the open ocean.                                                                                                   
10:24:58 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  ORTIZ recalled the  commissioner's statement  that                                                              
an  estimated 350,000  chum salmon  were  caught through  bycatch.                                                              
He asked what this number is based on and how accurate it is.                                                                   
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG replied  that  the number  is based  on                                                              
100  percent  observer coverage  for  the  trawl industry  in  the                                                              
Bering  Sea.    The genetic  information  is  collected  from  the                                                              
observer program,  he stated, and  then calculated by  the federal                                                              
government in  the National Marine  Fisheries Science Center.   He                                                              
said he is  fairly confident of  what that number is and  what the                                                              
genetic composition  of those catches are.  But,  he continued, he                                                              
is less confident  of what may be caught across  the international                                                              
state line in the  U.S.-Russian border, which is why  a letter was                                                              
written  to  the  Secretary  of   State  urging  greater  observer                                                              
coverage on  the Russian fleet  and the collecting  of information                                                              
to identify the stock composition of those fish.                                                                                
10:26:28 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  ORTIZ appreciated  that the  commissioner is  less                                                              
confident  in the  numbers for  the international  fisheries.   He                                                              
asked  whether there  is an  observer program  within the  Russian                                                              
fleet of trawlers.                                                                                                              
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  responded that coverage  on the Russian                                                              
side of the  border is very spotty.   He said his opinion  is that                                                              
the estimates are  not accurate for what is being  caught and what                                                              
the composition is of those catches.                                                                                            
10:27:38 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE  inquired  whether  the bycatch  cap  is  a                                                              
quota for each individual boat or a global cap for everyone.                                                                    
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG answered  that it is  a global  cap for                                                              
everyone,  which  forces the  industry  to work  together  because                                                              
that fishery is  fully rationalized in the Bering  Sea for pollock                                                              
and cod.   He stated  that it is  making a difference  in reducing                                                              
the  bycatch,  at  least  of chinook  salmon,  given  the  chinook                                                              
bycatch is below the annual caps.                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE  asked  whether  a global  cap  allows  bad                                                              
actors  to increase  the number  and bring  it right  to the  top,                                                              
whereas  an  individual  boat quota  could  determine  which  boat                                                              
operators are  attempting to reduce  their bycatch and  could find                                                              
observers  that are  not diligently  doing their  job.  He  stated                                                              
that Canada  has individual boat  quotas and has seen  its bycatch                                                              
decrease significantly.                                                                                                         
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  replied that if the other  two speakers                                                              
don't  answer Representative  McCabe's question,  he will  address                                                              
it after their presentations.                                                                                                   
10:30:10 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE  noted  that the  commissioner  spoke  about                                                              
salmon bycatch  but pointed  out that  the upcoming action  before                                                              
the  North  Pacific   Fishery  Management  Council   is  regarding                                                              
halibut  bycatch.    She  asked whether  the  commissioner  has  a                                                              
position from the state's perspective on the Bering Sea bycatch.                                                                
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  responded  that [ADF&G]  is  presently                                                              
reviewing all the  materials for the Council's  coming meeting and                                                              
at this time does  not have a position on what it  is going to do.                                                              
[The department]  is going  to take a step  to have  a significant                                                              
reduction in halibut  bycatch, he stated, but it  is premature for                                                              
him to postulate  which alternative ADF&G will  ultimately support                                                              
until all the materials have been read.                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE  recalled   the  commissioner  stating  that                                                              
ADF&G is still trying  to find an explanation for  the missing 1.5                                                              
million  chum.   She  further  recalled the  commissioner  stating                                                              
that there is no hard cap on chum bycatch.                                                                                      
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG confirmed that that is correct.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE  asked if the commissioner believes  there is                                                              
a correlation  between not  having a hard  cap on bycatch  and the                                                              
unexplained reduction of 1.5 million chum in the Bering Sea.                                                                    
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  answered  that  when the  puzzles  are                                                              
pieced  together,  ADF&G  doesn't   think  bycatch  alone  is  the                                                              
culprit  that  is  causing  the  run failures  in  the  Yukon  and                                                              
Kuskokwim rivers.   That said, he added, ADF&G  is exploring steps                                                              
as to  what can be done  to reduce bycatch  of chum in  the Bering                                                              
Sea trawl fishery.                                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE   VANCE    concurred   with    the   commissioner's                                                              
assessment  and said she  and other  Alaskans are looking  forward                                                              
to a future follow-up on the management plan overall.                                                                           
10:32:35 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS  offered his understanding  that the                                                              
State  of Alaska is  still formulating  its position  on the  four                                                              
alternatives  for  trawl  bycatch   in  the  Bering  Sea  at  [the                                                              
Council's]  December  meeting.    He asked  what  information  the                                                              
state needs to take a position that it doesn't currently have.                                                                  
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  replied that,  in  terms  of making  a                                                              
final decision, the  documents before the department  are vast and                                                              
ADF&G is pouring  through them.  He stressed that  a step is going                                                              
to  be taken  at this  meeting to  reduce halibut  bycatch in  the                                                              
Bering  Sea trawl  fisheries,  and that  [ADF&G]  is committed  to                                                              
that.   Which of those alternatives  ADF&G ends up  supporting, he                                                              
explained,  becomes  a  little  more complex  as  the  pluses  and                                                              
minuses to  each alternative  are considered,  and the  department                                                              
is looking to the analysis to decide the proper path forward.                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS  presumed it is  mostly alternatives                                                              
two,  three,  and   four  that  are  being  talked   about,  given                                                              
alternative one  is the status  quo and  would not be  a reduction                                                              
in the trawl  bycatch.  He asked  what the pluses and  minuses are                                                              
that the commissioner and department are evaluating.                                                                            
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  responded   that  one  issue  to  sort                                                              
through  is how  to link  the abundance  of  halibut to  a cap  on                                                              
bycatch     whether to  use  a  model done  by  the  International                                                              
Pacific Halibut  Commission, which  has three Canadians  voting on                                                              
it,  but this  is  really a  U.S.  domestic allocation  issue,  or                                                              
whether  to link  it to  a broader  level  system and  incentivize                                                              
industry to reduce  it.  Discussions are ongoing  internally about                                                              
which of  those two approaches  is best,  but in his  opinion U.S.                                                              
domestic allocation issues should remain in the U.S.                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS   inquired  whether  the  State  of                                                              
Alaska believes  the Council  should put  a cap  on the  amount of                                                              
chum bycatch taken by the trawl fleet in the Bering Sea.                                                                        
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG answered  he thinks  that is  something                                                              
the Council  should look  at, but  he doesn't  think it  should be                                                              
done without  giving great thought  as to what other  implications                                                              
that may cause.   For instance, he  doesn't want to put  on a hard                                                              
chum bycatch limit  and inadvertently increase the  chinook salmon                                                              
bycatch since they  both are in midwater trawl.   He said he isn't                                                              
necessarily opposed  to a  chum salmon cap,  but an  analysis must                                                              
be done so there aren't unintended consequences moving forward.                                                                 
10:36:46 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY said she  has heard  that incentives  to the                                                              
industry have been  successful in other countries.   She requested                                                              
the commissioner to discuss incentives and how they work.                                                                       
COMMISSIONER   VINCENT-LANG   responded   that  if   industry   is                                                              
incentivized  to stay  below the  cap, rather  than penalized  for                                                              
going above  the cap,  industry stays below  the caps.   Incentive                                                              
programs have  reduced the bycatch  of halibut below  the mandated                                                              
hard  caps, he  said, and  without an  incentive program  industry                                                              
probably  would  be  fishing  up  to the  cap.    With  incentives                                                              
industry looks for  ways to keep its bycatch low.   The Bering Sea                                                              
has rationalized  fishers, he stated, which allows  the fishery to                                                              
operate  over a longer  time and  allows them  to incentivize  how                                                              
they  fish to reduce  their  bycatch on  the ocean.   There  is no                                                              
incentive to reduce  bycatch when fishers are trying  to catch all                                                              
their  pollock in  a  period of  two  or three  weeks.   When  not                                                              
rushing for  fish, fishers have  more incentive to move  around to                                                              
try  to reduce  bycatch in  the  open ocean.   Incentive  programs                                                              
have  been very  effective at  reducing  bycatch, especially  when                                                              
combined with  rationalized fisheries, he  noted.  The  Bering Sea                                                              
cod fishery  was rationalized  one and  a half  months ago  at the                                                              
Council's  last  meeting,  and  this is  expected  to  reduce  the                                                              
bycatch of halibut by about 25 percent moving forward.                                                                          
10:39:07 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STORY asked about this being an option for chum.                                                                 
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  replied he  thinks something  should be                                                              
done  for  chum salmon  bycatch  but  advised  that it  cannot  be                                                              
rushed  into  and must  be  evaluated  carefully to  ensure  there                                                              
aren't  unintended consequences  on  other areas  of bycatch;  for                                                              
example, a  hard cap on chum  could increase chinook bycatch.   He                                                              
related that  some crab fishermen  would like to see  an expansion                                                              
of  the crab  bycatch  protection  area on  the  bottom, but  that                                                              
could  push  the   trawl  industry  farther  north   into  halibut                                                              
grounds.  There  must be a good understanding before  an action is                                                              
taken,  he stressed.   That doesn't  mean an  action shouldn't  be                                                              
taken, just  that there  be an understanding  of the  consequences                                                              
of that action on other species.                                                                                                
10:41:09 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES  offered her understanding that,  as opposed                                                              
to the  Russian trawl  fleet, all of  Alaska's waters  mandate 100                                                              
percent observer coverage.                                                                                                      
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG replied that that's his understanding.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES  asked the commissioner what he  sees as the                                                              
legislature's role  in helping ADF&G and other  agencies determine                                                              
why a reduction is being seen in chinook and chum salmon.                                                                       
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  answered it  would be funding  to start                                                              
collecting information  in the  open ocean.   He said it  has been                                                              
concluded that ocean  survival is having impacts on  salmon in the                                                              
Gulf  of  Alaska  and  the  Bering Sea.    What  is  happening  in                                                              
freshwater  environments  can  be controlled,  but  the  variables                                                              
affecting the  survival of fish  in the ocean are  not understood.                                                              
He  said he  hopes  the legislature  will  support ADF&G's  budget                                                              
request to deal with answering those questions.                                                                                 
10:42:38 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ  asked whether it  is the Bering Sea  or Gulf                                                              
of Alaska that doesn't have 100 percent observer coverage.                                                                      
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  answered  that  the Bering  Sea  trawl                                                              
industry  is  100  percent  covered,  but  the  longline  and  pot                                                              
fisheries  don't have  nearly that  much coverage.   He said  more                                                              
details would be provided in the next two presentation.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  ORTIZ recalled the  commissioner stating  there is                                                              
not a  hard cap on  the chum bycatch  numbers.  He  inquired about                                                              
how a  hard cap  works for  chinook salmon  and whether  the trawl                                                              
fleet is shut down once that number is reached.                                                                                 
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG deferred  to  Mr. Merrill  to speak  to                                                              
that because it  is a federal fishery.  He said  his understanding                                                              
is that the fishery shuts down when the hard cap is reached.                                                                    
10:44:29 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE   offered  his  understanding   that  in  a                                                              
rationalized  fishery  there  is   an  extended  period  to  allow                                                              
fishermen  more   time  to  properly  manage  their   fishing  and                                                              
bycatch, rather than having a set length of time such as a week.                                                                
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG explained  that rationalized  fisheries                                                              
occur  when  individual   boats,  processors,  or   fishermen  are                                                              
awarded quotas  based on  their catch  histories, and  that allows                                                              
them to  fish their proportional  catch of those fisheries  over a                                                              
longer duration.   Because they aren't in a rush  in a competitive                                                              
environment, they  can choose not  to fish during times  when chum                                                              
or halibut abundance is high or to fish other areas.                                                                            
10:45:46 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE surmised that  rationalized fishery  is the                                                              
modern term  for individual fishing  quotas (IFQs) that  were done                                                              
years ago and that were so controversial.                                                                                       
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  replied that there are  different types                                                              
of rationalized fisheries,  with IFQ being one type.   He said the                                                              
term applies  to different kinds  of fisheries that  are basically                                                              
prosecuted in a  more orderly manner to hopefully  increase market                                                              
value  of the  fish  coming  out of  it,  increase  the safety  of                                                              
fishermen on the grounds, and reduce bycatch.                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE asked  whether  the  mortality of  bycaught                                                              
fish is 100 percent.                                                                                                            
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  responded that  some of those  fish are                                                              
not dead, and sorting  is done to put back the  live fish; some of                                                              
the  fish  are  dead  and  are  retained  or  not  retained.    He                                                              
explained that  when industry has a  longer time to catch  fish in                                                              
a rationalized manner,  [incentive is provided to]  do things like                                                              
halibut excluders  that reduce  the number  of halibut  coming off                                                              
the bottom  of the  ocean while  trying to  catch pollock  or cod,                                                              
and they  can fish  in areas that  may have  lower catch  rates of                                                              
pollock but also  lower catch rates for halibut.   The fishery can                                                              
operate  in a more  planned manner  that increases  the safety  of                                                              
the fishermen and  incentivizes fishermen to experiment  with gear                                                              
that reduces  bycatch and to  fish in areas  where there is  not a                                                              
high bycatch of salmon, crab, or halibut on the grounds.                                                                        
10:51:19 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS  inquired whether the  research that                                                              
is underway  on ocean survival of  salmon is being  funded through                                                              
the  Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim  Sustainable  Salmon Initiative.    He                                                              
further asked whether that funding is sufficient.                                                                               
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG answered  that an  evaluation is  being                                                              
done on survival  of chum and chinook salmon from  the Yukon River                                                              
in the  north Bering  Sea, with funding  through initiatives.   It                                                              
is  providing insights  as  to the  importance  of  the first  1.5                                                              
months in the  near-shore environment to the  ultimate survival of                                                              
both chum and  chinook salmon.   He advised that there  is need to                                                              
expand that  work into  the southern  Bering Sea  as well  as into                                                              
the north  Gulf of Alaska.   Some near-shore  work on  pink salmon                                                              
in  Southeast Alaska  is giving  a  better ability  to assess  the                                                              
survival  of those  fish in a  near-shore area.   Study  proposals                                                              
are  being  put  together  for federal  funding  to  expand  those                                                              
surveys  into those  new areas  and to  provide funding  certainty                                                              
for the north  Bering Sea work.   He said it is recognized  that a                                                              
better understanding  is needed of  what is happening in  the open                                                              
ocean, which  is expensive and  time-consuming work  that requires                                                              
international  cooperation.   The  Pacific  Salmon Commission  and                                                              
the  North Pacific  Research Board  are  dedicating money  towards                                                              
understanding that,  he related, and  [ADF&G] is putting  in staff                                                              
time and  research vessels to  start exploring and  helping answer                                                              
those  questions.   They  won't  be quick  answers  but without  a                                                              
start there  won't be  any answers  at all.   [The department]  is                                                              
working with  the Alaska  Congressional Delegation  to find  money                                                              
to continue that work moving forward, he added.                                                                                 
10:52:30 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS  requested the  commissioner's  and                                                              
the  state's perspective  on  habitat impact  or  damage that  may                                                              
occur in  the Bering  Sea with  benthic and  bottom trawling.   He                                                              
further  requested  the  commissioner's  comment  on  how  habitat                                                              
impact  or damage  interacts with  crab stocks  and other  species                                                              
that rely on that habitat.                                                                                                      
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG replied  that  he hasn't  given that  a                                                              
great deal of thought,  so will defer answering.   He said he will                                                              
speak to his staff and get an answer to the committee.                                                                          
10:52:58 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE STORY requested an estimate of the expense.                                                                      
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  responded that  ADF&G is  putting those                                                              
proposals together  as part of the governor's budget  that will be                                                              
released in December.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY explained she  is trying  to get a  feel for                                                              
the state's expense as well as the federal.                                                                                     
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  answered that  about $400,000  has been                                                              
dedicated  by the  North Pacific  Research Board  and hundreds  of                                                              
thousands of  dollars are  being looked at  by the Pacific  Salmon                                                              
Commission  for the  deep ocean  surveys.  The  overall effort  in                                                              
the  North Pacific  survey  is tens  of  millions  of dollars,  he                                                              
stated, with  five ships  doing different  quadrants of  the ocean                                                              
between  Russian and  Vancouver, BC.   He allowed  it isn't  cheap                                                              
but said piecing the puzzle together is important work.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY offered her  appreciation for  those numbers                                                              
and said she thinks they are doable.                                                                                            
10:55:11 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE asked whether  rationalized trawl  fisheries                                                              
have been successful at avoiding halibut bycatch.                                                                               
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  said   the  forthcoming  presentations                                                              
will provide  that answer but  stated that significant  reductions                                                              
in halibut bycatch have been seen over the last decade.                                                                         
CHAIR  TARR asked  how genetics  for the  origin of  the fish  has                                                              
been incorporated into the current research.                                                                                    
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG replied  that  the genetic  information                                                              
for trawl industry  bycatch in federal waters is  conducted by the                                                              
federal government  and is ongoing.   He said information  for the                                                              
Alaska  Peninsula is  based  on the  Western  Alaska Salmon  Stock                                                              
Identification  Program ("WASSIP  Study"), which  is now  about 10                                                              
years old.   He said  he therefore has  directed his staff  to put                                                              
together  a  research  proposal  for  updating  that  information,                                                              
given there are differences in run composition in that fishery.                                                                 
10:57:53 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR TARR invited  the second presenter, Mr. Witherell,  to begin                                                              
his presentation.                                                                                                               
10:58:05 AM                                                                                                                   
DAVID  WITHERELL,   Executive  Director,  North   Pacific  Fishery                                                              
Management  Council (NPFMC),  provided  a PowerPoint  presentation                                                              
titled,   "Bycatch   Management   in  North   Pacific   Groundfish                                                              
Fisheries,"  dated  11/2021.    He  turned  to  the  second  slide                                                              
titled, "The  Guiding Law for U.S.  Marine Fisheries."   He stated                                                              
that the  primary law  for managing marine  fisheries in  the U.S.                                                              
is the  Magnuson-Stevens Fishery  Conservation and Management  Act                                                              
("Magnuson-Stevens Act"),  adopted in 1976 and amended  many times                                                              
since then.   He explained that  the Act established  the 200-mile                                                              
limit  known as  the exclusive  economic  zone (EEZ);  established                                                              
national   standards  to   guide   the  development   of   fishery                                                              
management  plans;   and  established  eight   fishery  management                                                              
councils to  provide an  opportunity for  the affected  public and                                                              
fishermen  to have  a say in  the conservation  and management  of                                                              
fisheries in their region.                                                                                                      
MR.  WITHERELL proceeded  to the  third  slide titled,  "Magnuson-                                                              
Stevens Act    National Standards," which listed  the ten national                                                              
standards.   He  said  the Council  balances  these objectives  in                                                              
developing  the fishery  management  plans and  regulations.   For                                                              
example, to  meet national  standard 9 and  reduce bycatch  to the                                                              
extent  practicable, the  Council  must also  ensure that  optimum                                                              
yield  will be  retained from  each  fishery in  the U.S.  fishing                                                              
industry using  the best  scientific information available;  also,                                                              
the Council must  consider the other national  standards including                                                              
11:01:11 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL  discussed the fourth  slide titled,  "North Pacific                                                              
Council Membership."   He related  that the Council has  11 voting                                                              
members  consisting  of  four  agency   representatives  including                                                              
ADF&G.   He  noted  that  Rachel  Baker is  Commissioner  Vincent-                                                              
Lang's  designee and  Ms. Baker's  alternate is  Karla Bush.   The                                                              
seven  other voting  members  are appointed  by  the governors  of                                                              
Alaska  and Washington,  with  Alaska's governor  appointing  five                                                              
members  and Washington's  governor  appointing two.   He  further                                                              
noted that there  are also four [non-voting] members  from federal                                                              
agencies.   Mr.  Witherell stated  that as  executive director  he                                                              
sits at the  table to ensure that  the meeting runs smoothly.   He                                                              
oversees   the  secretary   and   staff  of   15,  including   the                                                              
administrative  assistant  who  facilitates  the meeting  and  the                                                              
fishery analysts  who prepare the  discussion papers  and economic                                                              
and  environmental  assessment  documents  that are  used  by  the                                                              
Council for decision making.                                                                                                    
MR.  WITHERELL   moved  to  the   fifth  slide  titled,   "Council                                                              
Meetings."   He  said  the  Council meets  five  times  a year  in                                                              
conjunction with two  of its advisory bodies -  the Scientific and                                                              
Statistical  Committee,   which  provides   peer  review   of  the                                                              
scientific  information used,  and the  Fishing Industry  Advisory                                                              
Panel, which provides  recommendations on policy.   He pointed out                                                              
that  all  meetings   are  public;  people  can   attend,  provide                                                              
testimony, and listen to the proceedings as they are webcast.                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL  continued to the  sixth slide titled,  "Who Manages                                                              
What Fisheries  off Alaska?"  He  referred to the  chart outlining                                                              
the  roles   that  each  agency   has  in  managing   of  specific                                                              
fisheries.  The  Council, he explained, develops  the conservation                                                              
and  management  measures for  the  groundfish fishery  which  are                                                              
approved  by  the   Secretary  of  Commerce  and   implemented  by                                                              
National   Oceanic    and   Atmospheric   Administration    (NOAA)                                                              
Fisheries.   He  said the  state  manages many  of the  groundfish                                                              
fisheries in state waters.                                                                                                      
11:04:30 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  WITHERELL  spoke  to  the  seventh  slide  titled,  "What  is                                                              
bycatch."   He pointed out  that the Magnuson-Stevens  Act defines                                                              
bycatch  as those  fish that  are  not retained;  in other  words,                                                              
bycatch is  discarded fish.   He said fish  are discarded  for two                                                              
reasons  -  either  they  are  not   economically  marketable,  or                                                              
regulations prohibit  fishermen from  keeping the fish.   Economic                                                              
discards  might be  fish like  sculpins that  are not  able to  be                                                              
sold and  regulatory discards  are outside  of the regulated  size                                                              
limit  or  are prohibited  from  retention.    He noted  that  one                                                              
special type  of regulatory  discard is  prohibited species  catch                                                              
(PSC),  which  is valuable  species  that  are targeted  in  other                                                              
fisheries and includes halibut, salmon, and crabs.                                                                              
MR. WITHERELL  showed the eighth  slide titled, "Total  Bycatch by                                                              
Gear Type in  the Groundfish Fisheries," and discussed  the amount                                                              
of  bycatch occurring  in  federal  fisheries.   He  said the  two                                                              
graphs on  the left depict the  catch and discards by  trawl gear,                                                              
and the two graphs  on the right depict the catch  and discards by                                                              
fixed gear; the  upper graphs are for the Bering  Sea and Aleutian                                                              
Islands, and  the bottom graphs  are for the  Gulf of Alaska.   He                                                              
pointed out that,  overall, the majority of fish  are retained and                                                              
only  a  small  proportion  of the  catch  is  discarded.    Trawl                                                              
fisheries  can  be  characterized  by  higher  catch  volume  with                                                              
relatively  low  bycatch  rates,   he  stated.    Fixed  gear,  or                                                              
longline and pot  gear, has lower catches overall  but with higher                                                              
bycatch  rates.   He noted  that, overall,  catch is  down in  the                                                              
Gulf of  Alaska with  the decline  of the  Pacific cod  stock that                                                              
resulted  from  the  warm  water blob  that  persisted  from  2014                                                              
through 2016.                                                                                                                   
11:06:38 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL  drew  attention to  the chart  on the nineth  slide                                                              
titled, "PSC  Limits and Catch."   Drawing attention to  the catch                                                              
limits  by  gear  type  depicted   for  halibut,  chinook  salmon,                                                              
herring,  and  crab,  he  stated   that  limits  are  designed  to                                                              
constrain  the catch  of  these species  such  that obtaining  the                                                              
limit  can close  the entire  fishery  of vast  areas with  higher                                                              
densities of those  species.  Because the fleet  wants to continue                                                              
to fish and catch  the groundfish quota, he continued,  the limits                                                              
provide  real incentive  for the  fleet  to avoid  the bycatch  of                                                              
prohibited species.   He pointed  out that the recent  catches are                                                              
well below the limits in most cases.                                                                                            
MR.  WITHERELL turned  to  the tenth  slide  titled, "Measures  to                                                              
Minimize  Salmon  PSC  in  the   BSAI  [Bering  Sea  and  Aleutian                                                              
Islands]."  He  specified that chinook and chum  salmon are caught                                                              
incidentally  primarily   in  the  pollock  fishery.     Regarding                                                              
regulatory measures,  he stated that the overall  limit on chinook                                                              
salmon constrains  the pollock  fishery which  would be  shut down                                                              
for the  remainder of  the year  if that level  was attained.   To                                                              
provide further  incentives to the  fleet to avoid  chinook salmon                                                              
at  all  levels  of  abundance,   a  lower  limit  or  performance                                                              
standard,  was established  by Amendment  110.   Both the  overall                                                              
limit  and the  performance  standard  are reduced  the  following                                                              
year  if the  index  for  Western  Alaska's chinook  salmon  falls                                                              
below 250,000 fish.   Regarding voluntary measures,  he said these                                                              
are also used  by the fleet to  avoid chinook and chum  salmon and                                                              
includes  hotspot   closures.    These  are   implemented  through                                                              
incentive plan agreements  (IPA) signed onto by  the cooperatives.                                                              
In  rationalized  fisheries  it  is  the  cooperative  level  that                                                              
manages the  bycatch for all the  fleets and provides  penalty and                                                              
other incentives to keep that level as low as possible.                                                                         
11:09:00 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  WITHERELL proceeded  to the  eleventh  slide titled,  "Bering                                                              
Sea Salmon  PSC trends and genetic  breakouts."  He  stressed that                                                              
the  numbers on  the graphs  and pie  charts for  the chinook  and                                                              
chum salmon taken  in the Bering Sea are very  precise because all                                                              
the  vessels  carry  100-200 percent  observer  coverage.    These                                                              
salmon  are  observed and  sampled  on  the  boats in  a  rigorous                                                              
scientific  way for the  genetic composition.   He explained  that                                                              
the figure  for chinook salmon also  shows the capture  of chinook                                                              
relative  to  the  overall limit  and  the  performance  standard,                                                              
which have zig-zagged  in the last couple of years  as the chinook                                                              
salmon  runs  in  the  Western  Alaska  three  rivers  index  have                                                              
dropped below 250,000  fish.  A portion of the  chinook and salmon                                                              
bycatch is from  coastal Western Alaska and a  small proportion is                                                              
from  the middle  and upper  Yukon.   He emphasized  that only  17                                                              
percent of  the chum salmon that  are taken as bycatch  comes from                                                              
Western  Alaska and  Yukon River,  meaning  very few  of the  chum                                                              
salmon  taken  as bycatch  are  Alaska  bound.   The  most  recent                                                              
impact  analysis, which  considers  the age  of  return and  other                                                              
factors of  mortality, indicated  that when  the bycatch  taken is                                                              
compared to relative  run size, bycatch has reduced  the aggregate                                                              
run sizes by less  than 2.5 percent in Western Alaska  and by less                                                              
than 1 percent in upper Yukon runs.                                                                                             
11:11:28 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL  displayed the  graph on  the twelfth slide  titled,                                                              
"Halibut Mortality    Coastwide," which depicts the  time trend of                                                              
halibut  fishing   mortality  from   different  sources   [discard                                                              
mortality  (nontargeted/nondirected),  subsistence,  recreational,                                                              
discard mortality  (targeted/directed), commercial landings].   He                                                              
noted  that  catches of  halibut  have  declined since  the  early                                                              
2000s, and that discard mortality is much lower in recent years.                                                                
MR.  WITHERELL  continued  to  the two  graphs  displayed  on  the                                                              
thirteenth  slide titled,  "Halibut PSC  Trends by  Area and  Gear                                                              
Type."    Drawing  attention  to  the  left  graph  depicting  the                                                              
halibut PSC  in the Bering Sea  and the right graph  depicting the                                                              
halibut  PSC in  the Gulf  of Alaska,  he noted  that bycatch  has                                                              
been  greatly  reduced by  both  trawl  and fixed  gear  fisheries                                                              
operating in  both areas.   Current halibut  bycatch is  less than                                                              
half of what it was in 1990s, he pointed out.                                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL moved  to the fourteenth slide titled,  "Measures to                                                              
minimize halibut  PSC."  He stated  that the fleet works  to avoid                                                              
catching halibut during  operations at sea so as to  not reach the                                                              
fishery  specific PSC  limit which  shuts  down the  fishery.   He                                                              
reported that the  Amendment 80 trawl sector, the 20  or so Bering                                                              
Sea  bottom  trawl   catcher/processors,  account   for  about  50                                                              
percent of  the halibut PSC  limit.  When  a net is  hauled aboard                                                              
these vessels and  dumped on deck, the fishermen  quickly sort out                                                              
the halibut  so they can be  released alive, while  an independent                                                              
at-sea observer  is always  collecting measurements  and condition                                                              
data.   As an accountability measure,  he added, the  Amendment 80                                                              
sector  also provides  an  annual  report to  the  council on  its                                                              
halibut  bycatch performance  for  the previous  year  and on  its                                                              
avoidance program for halibut in the coming year.                                                                               
11:13:56 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. WITHERELL  spoke to the  fifteenth slide titled,  "Halibut PSC                                                              
Measures Over  Time."  He said  halibut has been a  vexing problem                                                              
for  groundfish fisheries  management  starting  with the  foreign                                                              
fisheries  that were  operating in  the Bering  Sea through  1990.                                                              
Halibut bycatch  limits were placed  on foreign and  joint venture                                                              
fisheries,  he explained,  and  the  limits were  carried  forward                                                              
into  the  management   of  domestic  fisheries   operating  under                                                              
fishery  management  plans.   The  halibut  PSC limits  have  been                                                              
adjusted  downward  several  times   with  a  21  percent  overall                                                              
reduction  implemented in  2016;  this was  25  percent for  trawl                                                              
gear  and  a lower  percentage  for  fixed  gear.   For  the  past                                                              
several years the  Council has been evaluating how  to tie halibut                                                              
bycatch limits in  the Bering Sea to abundance of  halibut in that                                                              
management area.                                                                                                                
MR. WITHERELL displayed  the sixteenth slide titled,  "Halibut PSC                                                              
Alternatives."  He  stated that at its coming  meeting in December                                                              
[2021] the  Council is scheduled  to take  final action on  a plan                                                              
amendment  to establish  abundance-based  halibut  PSC limits  for                                                              
the Amendment 80  sector.  Development of this  approach has taken                                                              
years due  to the issue's complexity  and that the  two indicators                                                              
of halibut  abundance show  different trends,  he explained.   The                                                              
Eastern  Bering Sea  Trawl Survey  (top left  graph) conducted  by                                                              
the  National [Marine]  Fisheries  Service  provides  an index  of                                                              
halibut on the  Continental Shelf, which are  mostly smaller fish.                                                              
The  setline   survey  (bottom   left  graph)  conducted   by  the                                                              
International  Pacific Halibut  Commission  (IPHC) surveyed  areas                                                              
of  deeper  waters near  the  slope  where generally  only  larger                                                              
halibut  are  caught.   Given  this  data, the  Council  developed                                                              
alternatives  that  utilize both  sets  of  data to  determine  an                                                              
annual  halibut PSC  limit such  that when both  surveys are  high                                                              
the  PSC limit  would remain  the  same or  be slightly  increased                                                              
from the  status quo.   When both  surveys are  low the  PSC limit                                                              
would be  greatly reduced below  the current  limit.  He  said the                                                              
resulting  PSC amounts  differ among  the  alternatives, shown  on                                                              
the right of the  slide, with the two far right  columns being the                                                              
trawl survey and  the single column on the left  being the setline                                                              
survey.  Alternative  1 is the status quo, he said.   He explained                                                              
that the  status is  indicated by these  two surveys  to determine                                                              
what the  PSC limit would be.   Under Alternative 4,  for example,                                                              
if both  surveys are low  then the bycatch  PSC limit  for halibut                                                              
is reduced  by 45  percent.   He noted  that the  analysis of  the                                                              
alternatives is posted on the Council's agenda.                                                                                 
MR.  WITHERELL  showed  the  seventeenth  slide  titled,  "Council                                                              
addresses  PSC/bycatch minimization  at most  meetings."   He said                                                              
the sample  issues  outlined on  the slide provide  an example  of                                                              
the  types  of  bycatch  issues   that  are  being  addressed  and                                                              
evaluated by the  Council.  Bycatch is not a "one  and done" issue                                                              
that gets  resolved, he  pointed out, it  is something  that takes                                                              
continuous  monitoring and  evaluating ways  to minimize  bycatch.                                                              
The Council, he stressed, is always working to minimize bycatch.                                                                
11:16:55 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  WITHERELL drew  attention  to  the eighteenth  slide  titled,                                                              
"How to Participate  in the Process."  He noted  there are several                                                              
different  ways for  people  to participate  and  learn about  the                                                              
Council  and the  issues being  addressed.   All Council  meetings                                                              
are  broadcast,  and  people  can  provide  written  comments  and                                                              
testify on any issue.                                                                                                           
MR. WITHERELL turned  to nineteenth slide titled,  "Navigating the                                                              
Council  Website: npfmc.org."   He  said the  Council's home  page                                                              
has information on  coming meetings with hyperlinks  to the agenda                                                              
and schedule for  the meeting as well as to the  various committee                                                              
and plan  team meetings.   He brought  attention to  the Council's                                                              
December 2021 meeting.                                                                                                          
MR. WITHERELL  proceeded to  the twentieth  slide titled,  "How to                                                              
be Heard," and  reviewed the procedures and portals  for providing                                                              
testimony  at the meeting  and written  comments.   He noted  that                                                              
during the meeting,  portals are posted for the public  to sign up                                                              
for  testimony.    He  pointed out  that  each  agenda  item  also                                                              
includes the background  documents and analyses,  which allows the                                                              
public  to read  and  become informed  before  making comments  or                                                              
providing public testimony.                                                                                                     
MR.  WITHERELL  concluded  with  the  twenty-first  slide  titled,                                                              
"Additional  Resources."    He   thanked  the  committee  for  the                                                              
opportunity to  provide information  on the North  Pacific Fishery                                                              
Management Council's bycatch program.                                                                                           
11:19:29 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  ORTIZ asked  whether it  is accurate  to say  that                                                              
significant  coverage, or  full observer  coverage, is lacking  in                                                              
the Gulf of Alaska.                                                                                                             
MR. WITHERELL  replied that there  is 100 percent coverage  in the                                                              
Bering Sea  on the entire fishery  for the most part,  and on many                                                              
catcher/processors  there are two observers.   The Gulf  of Alaska                                                              
has  a  different  system,  he said;  the  coverage  is  about  15                                                              
percent and Mr. Merrill's presentation will provide details.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ  asked how much of a problem it  is to assess                                                              
bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska with only 15 percent observation.                                                                 
MR. WITHERELL responded  that the observer program in  the Gulf of                                                              
Alaska  is   structured  to   provide  a  statistically   accurate                                                              
estimate to  catch and bycatch,  so it  is a random  assignment of                                                              
observers.    He  said Mr.  Merrill's  presentation  will  provide                                                              
details  on how  the  data is  aggregated  across specific  areas,                                                              
time, and fisheries.                                                                                                            
11:22:12 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE  drew attention  to  the eighth  slide  and                                                              
offered his  understanding  that bottom trawling  has 100  percent                                                              
mortality of  the bycatch while  pot fishing  has less.   He asked                                                              
why  the eighth  slide does  not  differentiate between  mid-water                                                              
and  bottom pollock  trawling given  that  bottom gear  is a  much                                                              
dirtier trawl and the bycatch different.                                                                                        
MR. WITHERELL responded  that with respect to halibut  all bycatch                                                              
is considered  dead for  purposes of  counting against  the quota.                                                              
He explained  that with  halibut the  catch and discard  mortality                                                              
rate are  based on various studies  and assumptions.   The discard                                                              
mortality  rates are  set by fishery  and are  established  by the                                                              
Council every  three years.  He  confirmed that the  pelagic trawl                                                              
fisheries  and  bottom  trawl  fisheries  have  different  bycatch                                                              
composition  and bycatch  rates; similarly  longline gear  and pot                                                              
gear have  different catch  composition, bycatch composition,  and                                                              
discard rates.   He stated  that the figures  in the  eighth slide                                                              
are not split  out because the  slide is a "10,000-foot  view" for                                                              
getting at the  accusations about one gear type  or another having                                                              
different effects on bycatch.                                                                                                   
11:25:58 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE MCCABE  referred to the  example of herring  on the                                                              
seventeenth  slide and  recalled  Mr. Witherell's  statement  that                                                              
when  a fishery  reaches the  bycatch  limit the  fishery is  shut                                                              
down.  He asked  whether he is correct in understanding  that that                                                              
wasn't true in the case of herring in 2021.                                                                                     
MR. WITHERELL answered  that the herring PSC limit  is established                                                              
at  1 percent  of  the  estimated  or projected  herring  biomass.                                                              
When those  limits are  attained it  closes a  specific area  on a                                                              
seasonal basis in  the Bering Sea.  He related that  when the data                                                              
were examined  by the National  [Marine] Fisheries Service  it was                                                              
felt that there  would be challenges to shutting  down the fishery                                                              
and  closing  that  area  to  the  pollock  fishery  as  it  would                                                              
exacerbate  bycatch of  salmon and  other species.   He  suggested                                                              
the question be directed to Mr. Merrill.                                                                                        
11:28:30 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS  asked how many  vessels participate                                                              
in the Bering Sea crab fish trawl fishery.                                                                                      
MR. WITHERELL estimated  there are about 20  catcher/processors in                                                              
the  bottom-trawl  fishery,  about 20  catcher/processors  in  the                                                              
pollock fishery, and about 100 catcher bottom trawl vessels.                                                                    
11:29:27 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS noted the  Bering Sea  Amendment 80                                                              
bottom trawl,  groundfish trawl  fleet, is  the fleet  in question                                                              
at next  month's Council  meeting.  He  asked about  the ownership                                                              
of the 20 vessels and where their home ports are located.                                                                       
MR. WITHERELL  offered his  belief that they  all are  home ported                                                              
in Seattle.                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS  referenced  the economics  of  the                                                              
entirety  of that  fleet being  home ported  out of  Seattle.   He                                                              
asked many companies  own those 20 vessels, how  consolidated that                                                              
fleet is, and where those companies call home.                                                                                  
MR. WITHERELL  offered  his belief  that six  or so companies  own                                                              
those vessels,  and that  some of those  vessels are  probably not                                                              
home ported  in Seattle  but are  in Alaska.   He  said he  or Mr.                                                              
Merrill will get that information to the committee.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS  remarked  that  while there  is  a                                                              
biological  and ecological  question regarding  impact to  habitat                                                              
and  bycatch, there  is also  an  economic layer  when people  are                                                              
unable to fill their  freezers.  He stated that when  more than 99                                                              
percent of  the GDP  of a fishery  is not coming  to the  state to                                                              
which  that  fishery  is  adjacent,  people react  to  that  in  a                                                              
certain way.  It  would be helpful to get clarity  and granularity                                                              
on  that  economic  data,  he  continued,  as  it  is  a  relevant                                                              
consideration in making policy.                                                                                                 
MR.  WITHERELL  responded  he  is sure  all  that  information  is                                                              
contained  in   the  analysis  for  the  halibut   abundance-based                                                              
management  evaluation, but he  is still  working his  way through                                                              
the document.                                                                                                                   
11:33:46 AM                                                                                                                   
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  added that  this ownership  question is                                                              
interesting  because  while the  vessels  may  be home  ported  in                                                              
Seattle,  they  pay significant  fishery  taxes  in the  state  of                                                              
Alaska as  part of landing taxes.   Also, he noted,  the ownership                                                              
of these  vessels is increasingly  becoming Alaska-based  with the                                                              
community  development   quota  (CDQ)  organizations   in  Western                                                              
Alaska buying into  these industries.  When looking  at where they                                                              
may be  home ported,  he advised,  one needs to  also look  at the                                                              
benefits of fish  taxes and CDQ ownership that may  be coming back                                                              
into local communities as an important factor.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS stated  his appreciation  for those                                                              
points  and agreed  there  are many  interconnections.   He  noted                                                              
that  one of  the companies  in  the Bering  Sea groundfish  trawl                                                              
fleet  has sued  the State  of Alaska  over  the fishery  resource                                                              
landing  tax,  alleging  it is  unconstitutional  and  seeking  to                                                              
strike down  the tax levy.  He  inquired about the status  of that                                                              
litigation and the  state's perspective on that  company trying to                                                              
strike down the tax as far as economic benefit to the state.                                                                    
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  answered that  [the state]  is actively                                                              
engaged in  this and  believes the company  should be  paying fish                                                              
taxes  into  the  State of  Alaska.    He  said he  will  get  the                                                              
committee an update on those legal proceedings.                                                                               
11:36:33 AM                                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  STUTES, regarding  when  the hard  cap bycatch  is                                                              
reached and the  fishery gets closed, asked which  federal fishery                                                              
sectors  in the Bering  Sea have  halibut bycatch  and which  ones                                                              
actually have a hard cap.                                                                                                       
MR.  WITHERELL  referenced  the   slide  he  showed  with  halibut                                                              
bycatch limits  by gear type and  boat.  He said those  limits are                                                              
allocated  by  directed  fisheries   apportioned  out,  and  since                                                              
halibut  are taken  in virtually  every fishery  there are  always                                                              
some  fisheries  affected.    For example,  the  jig  fishery  and                                                              
sablefish fishery  are not affected,  but all trawl  fisheries are                                                              
limited and  the hook-and-line  fisheries for  cod are  limited by                                                              
caps.    In   further  response  to  Representative   Stutes,  Mr.                                                              
Witherell explained  that all  halibut bycatch  limits are  a hard                                                              
cap which  shuts down that  fishery for the  rest of the  year [if                                                              
the hard cap is reached].                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE STUTES  asked whether Mr. Witherell  is saying that                                                              
all fishing  gear types in  all sectors in  the Bering Sea  have a                                                              
hard cap for halibut, including the longline and pot fishermen.                                                                 
MR. WITHERELL  responded that all  the trawl fisheries  do because                                                              
the  cap is  apportioned  by  specific  trawl fisheries,  and  the                                                              
catcher/processor longline  cod fishery has a hard cap.   The pot,                                                              
sablefish, and jig fisheries are exempted from the caps.                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  STUTES  requested  clarification  on  whether  the                                                              
longline has a hard cap or is exempt.                                                                                           
MR. WITHERELL  clarified  that the sablefish  longline fishery  is                                                              
exempt, and the Pacific cod longline fishery has a cap.                                                                         
11:39:51 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY stated  she is interested  in learning  more                                                              
about the different fisheries and methods.                                                                                      
CHAIR TARR asked Mr. Witherell whether he could do this.                                                                        
MR. WITHERELL  replied that  it would take  several data  runs but                                                              
he will get something to the committee.                                                                                         
11:41:00 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR  TARR invited  the third  presenter, Mr.  Merrill, to  begin                                                              
his presentation.                                                                                                               
11:41:16 AM                                                                                                                   
GLENN  MERRILL,  Assistant  Regional   Administrator,  Sustainable                                                              
Fisheries   Division,   Alaska   Region,  National   Oceanic   and                                                              
Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA)  Fisheries, U.S. Department  of                                                              
Commerce, provided  a PowerPoint  presentation titled,  "Bycatch,"                                                              
dated  11/15/2021.   He  proceeded  to  the second  slide  titled,                                                              
"Value  and Volume  of Fisheries  [Off]  Alaska," and  highlighted                                                              
the importance  of fisheries  to the  state of  Alaska.   He noted                                                              
that  the information  on this  slide was  drawn from  information                                                              
produced by  the Alaska  Seafood Marketing  Institute (ASMI).   He                                                              
related that  these fisheries support  over 30,000 jobs,  of which                                                              
about 16,000  are within  Alaska.   Fisheries in Alaska  represent                                                              
roughly  $2 billion  in ex-vessel  value, or  dockside sales,  and                                                              
roughly 5.5  billion pounds of  fishery product.   That represents                                                              
over half  of all the  fishery resources in  the U.S.   He further                                                              
related that salmon,  which is managed by the State  of Alaska, is                                                              
an  important contributor  economically  and  in  total amount  of                                                              
harvest that occurs  off Alaska.  He said the  other fisheries are                                                              
managed in conjunction  with the North Pacific  Fishery Management                                                              
Council  (NPFMC)   ("the  Council")   or  through  delegated   co-                                                              
management  agreements   with  the  State  of  Alaska,   which  is                                                              
particularly applicable  to the crab fisheries in  the Bering Sea.                                                              
So, he  continued, a  considerable amount  of the overall  revenue                                                              
within Alaska  is coming from  federal fisheries that  are managed                                                              
through  the Council  process  in conjunction  with  the State  of                                                              
MR. MERRILL turned  to the third slide titled,  "What Is Bycatch?"                                                              
He  noted  that   these  fisheries  are  important   economic  and                                                              
cultural  drivers throughout  the state  of Alaska.   Bycatch,  he                                                              
explained,  are fish  that cannot  enter commerce  due largely  to                                                              
two reasons  economic discards and regulatory discards.                                                                         
11:43:54 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. MERRILL  moved to the fourth  slide titled, "Why  Does Bycatch                                                              
Occur?"  He noted  that while his slides do not  specifically call                                                              
out the proportion  of bycatch that is regulatory  discards versus                                                              
economic  discards, a  large proportion  of the  discards are  the                                                              
bycatch that occurs  due to regulatory reasons.  He  said this can                                                              
be due to the  limitations on the specific gear that  can be used.                                                              
Many times,  there are specific  markets established  for specific                                                              
fisheries, or long-standing  gear requirements that  have been put                                                              
in  place and  those  can require  the discard  of  fish that  are                                                              
captured by  other fisheries  using other gear  types.   There can                                                              
also be  specific seasons that  are established, he  continued, or                                                              
other requirements  in the  complicated federal management  system                                                              
that may  require regulatory  discards.   He stated that  economic                                                              
discards  can occur  if  fish do  not  have available  markets  or                                                              
poor-quality conditions that affect those fisheries.                                                                            
MR. MERRILL displayed  the fifth slide titled, "How  Do We Receive                                                              
Perspectives on  Managing Bycatch?"   He said the  Council process                                                              
is  essential for  the management  system.   The Council  conducts                                                              
outreach  efforts  that  are separate  from  Council  meetings  to                                                              
gather  additional  information.   The  Council,  through  federal                                                              
government,  undertakes Tribal Consultations  in a  government-to-                                                              
government consultation  process.  The Council also  has extensive                                                              
input into  management systems  through its  rule making  process.                                                              
He related  that there  are many views  on balancing  bycatch with                                                              
other  legal requirements,  so the  Council strives  to ensure  it                                                              
provides multiple opportunities for engagement.                                                                                 
11:46:07 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  MERRILL  spoke  to  the  sixth  slide  titled,  "What  Do  We                                                              
Consider When  Managing Bycatch?"   He  pointed out that  managing                                                              
bycatch  is done in  the context  of the  many other  requirements                                                              
that are  had.   There are  10 national  standards, he  explained,                                                              
and these  are requirements  that must be  met for any  regulatory                                                              
action  the Council  is seeking  to  take, and  those 10  national                                                              
standards sometimes  are at odds.   Sometimes there  are differing                                                              
ways  that  the balance  can  be  achieved between  the  Council's                                                              
efforts to  minimize bycatch and  bycatch mortality to  the extent                                                              
practicable while,  for example, also achieving the  optimum yield                                                              
for each  fishery.   He said  the Council  must consider  fair and                                                              
equitable  allocation  but must  be  careful not  to  discriminate                                                              
between  the residents  of different  states, a  provision of  the                                                              
commerce clause of  the U.S. Constitution.  The  Council must also                                                              
provide  for  the  sustained participation  of  communities.    He                                                              
stated  that all  10  of these  national  standards are  important                                                              
factors for  the Council  to consider as  it proceeds  through its                                                              
management  actions.  When  examining bycatch,  he continued,  the                                                              
Council  is examining  it within  the context  of that  regulatory                                                              
and legal framework.                                                                                                            
MR.  MERRILL discussed  the seventh  slide titled,  "What Are  The                                                              
Main  Types of  Bycatch?"   He  stated that  there  is bycatch  of                                                              
groundfish,  which  is  everything  that  isn't  halibut,  salmon,                                                              
herring, and  shellfish.   He pointed out  that the  focus bycatch                                                              
species  are  halibut, salmon,  and  crab,  which are  subject  to                                                              
specific   additional   requirements   in   recognition   of   the                                                              
tremendous  importance  that  these species  have  from  economic,                                                              
cultural, and recreational standpoints.                                                                                         
11:48:13 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  MERRILL  reviewed   the  eighth  slide   titled,  "Groundfish                                                              
Bycatch  by Gear  in Federal  Fisheries  Off Alaska  (2020)."   He                                                              
noted  that 2020  is the  last year  for which  there is  complete                                                              
data,  but said  it is  representative  of the  amount of  bycatch                                                              
that is  seen in  various fisheries  over time.   He advised  that                                                              
most important  to gather  from this slide  is that  the majority,                                                              
roughly 90 percent,  of all the harvests that occur  off Alaska in                                                              
the  federal fisheries  are  undertaken with  trawl  gear and  the                                                              
majority  of   all  the  harvested   groundfish  that   occurs  is                                                              
retained.   There is bycatch  of various groundfish  species, many                                                              
of them due  to regulatory requirements that  require the discards                                                              
of  those fish.   He  stated that  the next  largest component  of                                                              
fishery  harvests  occurs  by vessels  using  hook-and-line  gear,                                                              
longline gear.   This includes jig  gear and other gears  that are                                                              
using  hooks,   he  continued,  and   about  84  percent   of  the                                                              
groundfish that are  harvested using this gear  type are retained.                                                              
He specified that  roughly 97 percent of the catch  that occurs in                                                              
the  pot fisheries  is retained,  with  these fisheries  primarily                                                              
active in the Pacific  cod and sablefish fisheries  in the Gulf of                                                              
Alaska and Bering Sea                                                                                                           
11:50:01 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. MERRILL  addressed the nineth  slide titled,  "Halibut Bycatch                                                              
off Alaska  (2004   2021)."  He  related that there has  been much                                                              
interest in  looking at ways to  address or improve the  amount of                                                              
bycatch  that can  occur  in various  fisheries  off  Alaska.   He                                                              
explained  that the  graph  on this  slide  provides a  high-level                                                              
overview of  the amount  of halibut bycatch  that has  occurred in                                                              
fisheries in all  areas off Alaska from 2004-2021.   He noted that                                                              
there  are bycatch  limits  for  specific components  of  Alaska's                                                              
groundfish  fishery  and  those  have decreased  over  time.    He                                                              
highlighted  that there  has been  a 70 percent  reduction  in the                                                              
amount  of halibut  bycatch that  has occurred  between the  years                                                              
2004 and  2021.  The reasons  for those reductions,  he explained,                                                              
include that  there have  been efforts  to undertake revisions  in                                                              
management  so that catch  share management,  also commonly  known                                                              
as  rationalization programs,  can  be provided.   These  programs                                                              
can  provide some  opportunity for  additional  reductions in  the                                                              
amount  of bycatch  that  occurs in  fisheries.   As  seen on  the                                                              
graph,   he  continued,   reductions   in  the   caps  have   been                                                              
instituted.    Also,  a  program  called  deck  sorting  has  been                                                              
implemented, which  allows for halibut  to be returned to  the sea                                                              
as quickly as  possible under careful observed  conditions.  Those                                                              
halibut  that  have  a  high  probability   of  surviving  can  be                                                              
returned, thereby reducing the overall mortality.                                                                               
MR.  MERRILL  proceeded  to  the   tenth  slide  titled,  "Halibut                                                              
Bycatch as a Percentage  of All Halibut Catch (2020)."   He stated                                                              
that  as  a proportion  of  bycatch,  halibut  bycatch  represents                                                              
roughly 13 percent  of the amount of total catch  that occurs from                                                              
all sources from  halibut.  He noted that the pie  chart shows the                                                              
amount of bycatch in all fisheries in Canada and the U.S.                                                                       
11:52:32 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. MERRILL turned  to the eleventh slide titled,  "Chinook Salmon                                                              
Genetic Composition  Areas."   He explained  that this  slide only                                                              
provides an overview  of the broad geographic areas  that are used                                                              
to identify  specific genetic  compositions  of chinook salmon,  a                                                              
critically  important  bycatch   species  that  [the  Council]  is                                                              
trying  to   minimize  to  the   extent  practicable.     All  the                                                              
information  seen on the  slide identifies  these areas,  he said,                                                              
and  comprehensive  genetic  reviews  of  both  chinook  and  chum                                                              
salmon have been undertaken since 2011.                                                                                         
MR. MERRILL  moved to  the twelfth slide  titled, "Gulf  of Alaska                                                              
Chinook Salmon Bycatch  (2003-2021)."  He noted  he didn't provide                                                              
a similar  slide  for chum  salmon bycatch  because those  numbers                                                              
are very low  as far is known,  so there is no indication  that it                                                              
is  currently a  substantial  issue in  the  Gulf of  Alaska.   He                                                              
explained  that  this slide  provides  an  overview of  the  total                                                              
amount  of chinook  salmon  bycatch  that occurs  in  the Gulf  of                                                              
Alaska.  Drawing  attention to the pie chart,  he highlighted that                                                              
a  large  proportion  of  the  chinook   salmon  bycatch  that  is                                                              
occurring off Alaska  are chinook salmon that are  bound for river                                                              
systems outside of  Alaska.  He said the genetic  sampling program                                                              
is undertaken  on an annual basis  and the numbers  are constantly                                                              
revised  as the  understanding  of genetic  information  improves.                                                              
Overall, the  trends have  been maintained  over the years,  which                                                              
is that  a minority  of the  amount of  chinook salmon  bycatch in                                                              
the Gulf of Alaska is bound for Alaska river systems.                                                                           
MR. MERRILL  discussed the  thirteenth slide  titled, "Bering  Sea                                                              
Chinook  Salmon  Bycatch  (2003-2021)."     He  pointed  out  that                                                              
several  contributors to  chinook  salmon bycatch  are outside  of                                                              
Alaska or in Asia.                                                                                                              
11:55:13 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. MERRILL  displayed the fourteenth  slide titled,  "Chum Salmon                                                              
Genetic Composition  Areas,"  and noted that  genetic sampling  is                                                              
also undertaken  for chum  salmon.  He  stated that  the fifteenth                                                              
slide titled,  "Bering Sea  Chum Salmon  Bycatch (2003-2021),"  is                                                              
for the overall amount of chum salmon bycatch.                                                                                  
MR. MERRILL showed  the sixteenth slide and related  that based on                                                              
current  understanding,  chinook salmon  bycatch  and chum  salmon                                                              
bycatch  [in the Bering  Sea] represent  less  than 3 percent  and                                                              
less  than  1 percent,  respectively,  of  the total  returns  for                                                              
Western  Alaska  rivers.    Although it  is  understood  that  the                                                              
percentage  of  returns  is low,  he  continued,  bycatch  amounts                                                              
remain  a  concern  and the  Council  is  continuing  its  efforts                                                              
towards a better understanding.                                                                                                 
MR. MERRILL  reviewed the seventeenth  slide titled,  "Bristol Bay                                                              
Red  King Crab  Bycatch  (2016-2021)."   He  said  there has  been                                                              
substantial  concern about  the  status of  Bristol  Bay red  king                                                              
crab.   Addressing  the  graph on  the left,  he  stated that  the                                                              
bycatch  of  Bristol  Bay  red king  crab  remains  a  very  small                                                              
proportion of the  total amount of crab that  are harvested within                                                              
the  fishery.    He  said the  graph  on  the  right  provides  an                                                              
overview of  the amount of  red king crab  that occurs  in various                                                              
fisheries and noted  that it can vary from year to  year.  In some                                                              
years pot  gear has had the  highest proportion of bycatch  and in                                                              
some years trawl gear has had the highest proportion.                                                                           
11:57:15 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  MERRILL addressed  the eighteenth  slide titled,  "How Do  We                                                              
Measure Bycatch?"   He pointed out  that [Alaska] has  the largest                                                              
at-sea  monitoring  program  in   the  nation,  with  over  40,000                                                              
observer  days of  observation.    He said  there  is 100  percent                                                              
observer coverage on  vessels that are engaged in  catch share, or                                                              
rationalization,  programs  to ensure  careful  monitoring of  the                                                              
amount  of bycatch  that occurs  in  those fisheries.   All  trawl                                                              
catcher/processors  are  subject to  these  requirements as  well.                                                              
In  the Gulf  of Alaska,  programs  require  100 percent  observer                                                              
coverage, he stated.   A Gulf of Alaska trawl  rockfish fishery is                                                              
subject  to 100  percent observer  coverage.   All trawl  catcher/                                                              
processors  in the  Gulf  of Alaska  are  subject  to 100  percent                                                              
observer  coverage.    An  extensive  electronic  monitoring  (EM)                                                              
program is applicable  for both pot and hook-and-line  vessels and                                                              
the  information  obtained through  this  EM  program  is used  to                                                              
distinguish  specific  species that  are  being discarded  with  a                                                              
high degree  of reliability.   This  successful program  addresses                                                              
concerns  about having observers  on smaller  fixed gear  vessels.                                                              
A  100   percent  EM   monitoring  program   is  currently   under                                                              
development  for  pollock vessels,  he  continued.   It  is  being                                                              
deployed  through  "inventive"  fishing  permits  and  is  another                                                              
mechanism  to  ensure  that  there is  not  discard  occurring  of                                                              
bycatch species  at sea  and allows  for a comprehensive  overview                                                              
of the amount  of bycatch that occurs  in those fisheries.   It is                                                              
applicable  to both  the Gulf  of Alaska  and the  Bering Sea.   A                                                              
portion  of the fishery  is not  subject to  100 percent  observer                                                              
coverage,  but  protocols  are in  place  to  provide  statistical                                                              
reliable  samples  and  that  is done  through  an  annual  review                                                              
process where each of these programs is reviewed.                                                                               
11:59:34 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. MERRILL  turned  to the nineteenth  slide  titled, "How  Do We                                                              
Control Bycatch?"   He reviewed the ways used  to control bycatch:                                                              
caps, limits,  closure areas,  gear requirements,  catch  share or                                                              
rationalization programs,  experimental fishing  permits, constant                                                              
communication  with  the  fleets,  and  facilitation  of  industry                                                              
efforts.  He  said extensive improvements in bycatch  can occur as                                                              
the industry  seeks to avoid bycatch.   Bycatch is not  desired in                                                              
any fishery,  he stressed,  and the  industry undertakes  numerous                                                              
efforts  to reduce  that through  voluntary stand  downs or  other                                                              
protocols that NOAA Fisheries helps facilitate.                                                                                 
MR. MERRILL  proceeded to the  twentieth slide titled,  "What Will                                                              
We Be Doing  in the Future?"   He related that in the  future NOAA                                                              
Fisheries  will   continue  to   examine  all  these   issues  for                                                              
continuing  to  improve  communication.   Programs  are  currently                                                              
underway  to re-evaluate  and  establish  new bycatch  limits  for                                                              
halibut in  the Bering  Sea, and NOAA  Fisheries will  continue to                                                              
encourage and facilitate  those efforts.  As well,  NOAA Fisheries                                                              
will constantly  review performance, will provide  updated data to                                                              
the industry overall,  and will enhance the ability  to ensure the                                                              
most reduction possible with these industries.                                                                                  
MR.  MERRILL  concluded  by  displaying   the  twenty-first  slide                                                              
titled, "More Information & Contacts."                                                                                          
CHAIR TARR, on  behalf of Representative Kreiss-Tomkins,  inquired                                                              
about  the survival  rate for  halibut  that are  returned to  the                                                              
ocean  after  deck  sorting  by  the trawl  fleet.    She  further                                                              
inquired about  the survival  rate for  halibut caught  as bycatch                                                              
via longline or fixed gear.                                                                                                     
MR.  MERRILL offered  his understanding  that that  can vary  from                                                              
year to (indisc. -- audio technical difficulties).                                                                              
12:03:34 PM                                                                                                                   
The committee took an at-ease from 12:03 p.m. to 12:06 p.m.                                                                     
12:06:10 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE   recalled  it  being  stated   in  today's                                                              
presentations  that  there  is a  100  percent  observer  coverage                                                              
requirement in  the Gulf of Alaska.   However, he related,  he has                                                              
heard from  people in  the fishery  that 15  percent of  the boats                                                              
have observers on  them.  He asked whether, given  the 100 percent                                                              
observer  coverage  requirement,  the fishery  or  a boat  in  the                                                              
trawl  fishery is  stopped  from  going out  when  there isn't  an                                                              
observer for it.                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE  expressed  his  concern  with  the  nineth                                                              
slide in Mr. Merrill's  presentation.  He asked why  there isn't a                                                              
line on  the graph  that depicts  the halibut  biomass because  if                                                              
the  biomass is  declining then  the bycatch  would be  declining.                                                              
He said it  seems there is no  baseline, and he would  like to the                                                              
baseline  biomass  instead  of   percentages;  for  example,  this                                                              
bycatch  is 1 percent  of the  fish that  went up  the river,  but                                                              
what was  the total  number of fish?   He said  he and  the public                                                              
would like to see  the total number of fish caught  in the bycatch                                                              
and going up the river.                                                                                                         
MR.  WITHERELL,  regarding  observer coverage,  replied  that  the                                                              
Bering Sea fisheries  are 100-200 percent coverage,  meaning there                                                              
is at least  one observer on [each]  of those boats.   The Gulf of                                                              
Alaska  has a  slightly  different  observer program,  he  stated.                                                              
This past  year, coverage  in the trawl  catcher vessel  fleet was                                                              
about 25 percent  coverage, with a projection of  about 28 percent                                                              
for next year.   Catcher/processors in the Western  Gulf of Alaska                                                              
that fish for rockfish  have 100 percent trawl coverage.   He said                                                              
the observers  collect the  data, and  if it  isn't a 100  percent                                                              
coverage  fleet that  data  becomes  a sample  that  gets used  to                                                              
statistically increase the data across the entire fishery.                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE MCCABE  stated that it  might be a  semantics issue                                                              
with catcher/processors  and  catcher boats.   He maintained  that                                                              
Mr. Merrill said  there is a requirement in most  fisheries in the                                                              
Gulf  of Alaska  for  100  percent  coverage; he  therefore  asked                                                              
whether a  catcher boat  still gets to  fish without  an observer.                                                              
Given what  he is hearing from  fishermen on the grounds,  he said                                                              
he is  concerned that some  of the statistics  are being  left out                                                              
for  what is  actually happening,  so  the entire  picture is  not                                                              
being provided.                                                                                                                 
MR. WITHERELL deferred to Mr. Merrill to respond.                                                                               
MR.  MERRILL  explained  that  larger  vessels,  catcher/processor                                                              
vessels,  or  vessels  actively  engaged  in the  catch  share  or                                                              
rationalization  program are  one  category; the  vessels in  this                                                              
category  are  subject  to  full coverage,  so  are  observed  100                                                              
percent of the time.   He further explained that  a portion of the                                                              
fleet - some  catcher vessels in  the trawl fleet that  operate in                                                              
the Gulf of Alaska  and all catcher vessels that  are operating in                                                              
pot  gear  and hook-and-line  gear  -  are  subject to  a  partial                                                              
observer  coverage  program  requirement.   In  that  requirement,                                                              
vessel  operators must  log their  trips when  they are going  out                                                              
and  a random  selection  of specific  trips  will  be subject  to                                                              
observation  based  on  the  proportion  of  the  trips  that  are                                                              
available for coverage.   He said the amount  of observer coverage                                                              
is  varied  on  those  three  different   categories  of  vessels.                                                              
Higher  levels of  observer coverage  are provided  on trawl  gear                                                              
and  there are  slightly less  observer  coverage requirements  on                                                              
pot and  hook-and-line gear.   He allowed  there has  been concern                                                              
about  whether  that  random  selection  process  is  providing  a                                                              
wholistic or accurate  view of what's happening out  on the water.                                                              
That the  process is reviewed  on an annual  basis to  see whether                                                              
there  are  indications  that  that   level  of  sampling  is  not                                                              
representative  of what  is believed  to be occurring  out  on the                                                              
water.   A wide variety  of different  aspects of information  are                                                              
looked  at,  but  particularly   examined  is  whether  there  are                                                              
differential  harvesting locations  or patterns  for vessels  that                                                              
are engaged with  observers onboard and for those  fisheries where                                                              
they are not subject  to observation.  That has been  a concern in                                                              
the past,  he continued.   However, those  levels of  concern have                                                              
not been seen in  terms of the amount of observer  coverage within                                                              
the  various  fisheries.    Through  the  annual  review  process,                                                              
modifications  or  improvements   can  be  made  to  the  observer                                                              
program to avoid  getting unreliable or unrepresentative  samples.                                                              
Several  committees  are  engaged directly  with  stakeholders  to                                                              
better  improve  and  enhance  observer  coverage  and  monitoring                                                              
requirements.   He  pointed out  that  in addition  to the  active                                                              
observation  process, an  extensive  electronic monitoring  system                                                              
is  in  place  that  covers  about 165  vessels  in  the  pot  and                                                              
longline fleet,  and roughly  5-100 vessels  in the pollock  fleet                                                              
are participating in the electronic monitoring program.                                                                         
12:15:56 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE asked  whether  any  of the  aforementioned                                                              
involves a captain self-reporting.                                                                                              
MR.  MERRILL  answered  that the  observations  made  onboard  the                                                              
vessel  are  made  by  the  independent  observer;  the  captain's                                                              
report  of  catch  is  not  fed   directly  into  the  independent                                                              
observations that are made onboard the vessel.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE  surmised  that  none of  the  100  percent                                                              
observer coverage  involves the captain self-reporting  as part of                                                              
MR.  MERRILL  replied  that  for   the  full  coverage  fleet  the                                                              
observer  is onboard  the vessel  the whole time  and is  sampling                                                              
onboard that  vessel, and  that information  goes to the  observer                                                              
program.   He posed an  example for a  vessel subject  to coverage                                                              
in  the partial  coverage  category -  a vessel  subject  to a  28                                                              
percent observer  requirement would mean  that 28 percent  of that                                                              
vessel's  trips  are  chosen  at   random  for  observation.    An                                                              
observer assigned  to a  trip is  responsible for collecting  that                                                              
biological  data and then  reporting it  directly to the  National                                                              
Marine Fisheries Service.   He said there isn't a  stage where the                                                              
captain is  modifying those  data, those  data are going  directly                                                              
from the observer to the National Marine Fisheries Service.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE MCCABE  said he is  being told by  Kodiak fishermen                                                              
that the  partial observer  coverage is not  working.   He stated,                                                              
"Coverage for  the Kodiak bottom trawl  fleet is so low  that crew                                                              
now  makes  accusations  that  it   is  more  cost  effective  for                                                              
captains to throw  the trip by trawling in different  areas and in                                                              
different ways  while an observer is  onboard than it would  be to                                                              
let the observer  actually see how  dirty the fishery is  and risk                                                              
being shut down earlier in the season."                                                                                         
MR. MERRILL  answered that those  concerns have been  expressed in                                                              
the past  and that is  part of why  the program has  been designed                                                              
with an  annual review  of how observations  are being  conducted.                                                              
He said  the extensive  information had  by [NOAA Fisheries]  does                                                              
not indicate that biasing of data.                                                                                              
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  pointed out that there  is a difference                                                              
between  the Bering  Sea and  the  Gulf of  Alaska.   He said  the                                                              
Bering  Sea is  100  percent coverage  and  basically 100  percent                                                              
rationalized,  while the  Gulf of  Alaska is  not rationalized  so                                                              
does  not  that same  level  of  observer  coverage.   Whether  to                                                              
rationalize Gulf  of Alaska fisheries  is being contemplated.   It                                                              
has been  attempted several  times without  success and  work with                                                              
stakeholders is occurring  right now to figure  out whether that's                                                              
the next  step for providing some  stability into that  fishery in                                                              
terms of  market as well as  the benefits of bycatch  reduction as                                                              
seen in the Bering Sea.                                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE   reiterated  his  interest   in  the  data                                                              
depiction  on Mr.  Merrill's slides.    He drew  attention to  the                                                              
nineth slide  and noted that it  shows the decreasing  bycatch and                                                              
the cap of the  bycatch, but it doesn't show how  much the biomass                                                              
has gone  down.   It stated that  the bycatch  as a percentage  of                                                              
biomass would  be an  important data  point, and  that he  and the                                                              
public would  like to know  how many fish  and how many  pounds of                                                              
bycatch, not what percent escaped up the river.                                                                                 
MR.  MERRILL replied  that he  and  Mr. Witherell  were trying  to                                                              
provide  a  quick,   short  summary  of  issues   related  to  the                                                              
complicated issue  of bycatch, and  additional information  can be                                                              
provided.   He  offered his  belief that  Mr. Witherell  presented                                                              
some indication  of the overall  trends in halibut biomass  of the                                                              
last 100  years, which  is information  drawn from  the IPHC.   He                                                              
stated  that for  2021  the overall  amount  of  bycatch in  these                                                              
fisheries  is  estimated  at  roughly  18,000  metric  tons  or  4                                                              
million pounds.   The total amount of removals in  the fishery for                                                              
2021  is likely  to be  around  40 million  pounds,  so 4  million                                                              
pounds represents  around 10  percent of  the total removals,  but                                                              
final figures are  not yet had.  In past years,  he continued, the                                                              
proportion  of halibut  taken as  bycatch has  been higher,  so at                                                              
least in  recent years  this represents  relatively low  levels of                                                              
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG added  that another consideration  with                                                              
halibut is  that the halibut caught  as bycatch are  mostly small,                                                              
so  not  all  those  halibuts  are   going  to  recruit  into  the                                                              
commercial fishery  because the commercial fishery's  minimum size                                                              
limit  is 32  inches.   Plus, over  95 percent  of the  commercial                                                              
fishery is  composed of female halibut,  so a very  low percentage                                                              
of  males  taken  as  bycatch  would   have  recruited  into  that                                                              
commercial fishery.                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE MCCABE  said the  commissioner is now  getting into                                                              
his next area of  concern, which is high grading,  and he won't go                                                              
to that today.                                                                                                                  
12:24:04 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE  commented that some of the  overages seen on                                                              
the weekly  catch sheet seem to  be re-occurring in  the sablefish                                                              
and Pacific  cod trawl  sectors.   While notes  of these  overages                                                              
are  taken,   she  asked   whether  the   Council  has   addressed                                                              
mechanisms  to  curtail  these sector  overages  given  the  trawl                                                              
fisheries are having  allocation overages with  fully rationalized                                                              
fisheries  that have  100  percent observer  coverage.   She  said                                                              
these  overages have  resulted  in the  preemption  of small  boat                                                              
direct fisheries that are seeing a reduction.                                                                                   
MR.  MERRILL  responded that  there  is  a variety  of  categories                                                              
within  the  management  system.   He  said  a  complicated  issue                                                              
within the fisheries  management system is that  there are certain                                                              
allocated  species  and  other species  that  are  not  allocated.                                                              
Notes  can be  allocated through  rationalization  or catch  share                                                              
programs, he  explained, and within  that management  context care                                                              
is taken  to ensure  that those  fishery limits  are not  exceeded                                                              
because  they are  specific  allocations  to specific  vessels  or                                                              
cooperative.   Then,  there are  several  different other  fishery                                                              
categories  where allocations  are made  to the  sector overall  -                                                              
for example, an  allocation that's made to trawl  vessels that are                                                              
active in specific  areas   and those provisions  are monitored at                                                              
the  larger  sector  level.   A  series  of  different  management                                                              
measures  are undertaken  when  allocation  limits  at the  sector                                                              
levels are approached  and whether those are for  vessels that are                                                              
active  in   longline  fisheries   or  pot   fisheries  or   trawl                                                              
fisheries, and that  can include the prohibition  of the retention                                                              
of that catch and its inability to turn into commerce.                                                                          
MR.  MERRILL continued  his response.    He said  the hundreds  of                                                              
different categories  are a challenge,  and so on an  annual basis                                                              
there  can be  situations where  a specific  sector allocation  is                                                              
exceeded.   A careful  look is taken  at the potential  biological                                                              
impact of  those exceedances and  whether there are concerns  at a                                                              
species level that  could result in additional  management actions                                                              
on that  fishery or  revisions undertaken  through the  regulatory                                                              
process.   Another way of looking  at this, he stated,  is whether                                                              
a fishery  is getting close  to approaching an overfishing  limit.                                                              
That has  substantive management  implications where a  wide range                                                              
of measures  can be  taken, such  as closing  specific sectors  or                                                              
specific   areas.    Overall,   within  the   North  Pacific,   an                                                              
overfishing level has not been reached for at least 10 years.                                                                   
MR. MERRILL confirmed  it is correct that throughout  a year there                                                              
can be  times when a  sector may exceed  a specific amount  of the                                                              
harvest.   He  said a  concern  with sablefish  is  the amount  of                                                              
sablefish that  can be taken  by trawl gear.   He noted  that over                                                              
the past  four or five years  some very large  recruitment events,                                                              
or very large  amounts of new young sablefish,  have been observed                                                              
in a fishery  and some of  those are incidental and  caught within                                                              
the  trawl  fishery.    It is  believed  that  a  very  successful                                                              
recruitment,  or  large  year  classes,  are  coming  through  the                                                              
fishery right  now, and that  can be contributing  to part  of the                                                              
concern.   Also being looked  at is whether  an exceedance  in one                                                              
sector will  affect the  likelihood of  reaching the annual  catch                                                              
limit  within a  sablefish fishery  for  this year.   Mr.  Merrill                                                              
said  the  only exceedance  he  is  aware  of is  some  exceedance                                                              
within the  Bering Sea trawl sector.   He offered his  belief that                                                              
in  the commercial  harvest  overall  there  is still  roughly  15                                                              
million  pounds left,  so it is  highly unlikely  that the  annual                                                              
catch  limit for  sablefish will  be  exceeded this  year, but  it                                                              
will continue to be tracked.                                                                                                    
12:30:01 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE asked Mr.  Merrill to  speak to  the overall                                                              
need  of  the halibut  abundance-based  management  action,  given                                                              
these overages  look at how the  fishery has been  managed overall                                                              
and one species is affecting the other.                                                                                         
MR. MERRILL  answered that this  is an action being  taken through                                                              
the  Council process  under  its Magnuson-Stevens  Act  authority.                                                              
What is  specifically trying to  be accomplished with  this action                                                              
is to  better link halibut  abundance with those  specific bycatch                                                              
limits  that are  applicable to  the  Amendment 80  sector in  the                                                              
Bering  Sea    these are  vessels  that are  primarily engaged  in                                                              
blackfish fishing  within the Bering Sea.   It is hoped  that with                                                              
abundance-based  management, bycatch limits  can be  provided that                                                              
will more closely  match the way in which the  halibut resource is                                                              
occurring or the  availability of that resource  within the Bering                                                              
Sea  area.   There are  indications that  undertaking this  action                                                              
would  result in a  lower bycatch  limit than  the current  limit,                                                              
and  those  additional  savings  could then  be  used  to  provide                                                              
additional  harvest opportunities.   A  particular challenge  with                                                              
halibut management,  Mr. Merrill pointed  out, is that it  is also                                                              
done in  the context of an  international agreement,  a convention                                                              
that  is in place  with Canada.   So,  savings in  bycatch in  the                                                              
U.S.  are fed  into this  overall amount  of halibut  that can  be                                                              
made  available and  distributed  among various  U.S. (indisc.  --                                                              
audio malfunction)  Canada.   The action  being considered  at the                                                              
Council's December  meeting, he  continued, stands to  potentially                                                              
reduce  the bycatch  limits that  are currently  in place,  but it                                                              
does not necessarily  result in a specific amount  of reallocation                                                              
to  a  specific area  because  it  is still  managed  within  this                                                              
international agreement.                                                                                                        
12:33:26 PM                                                                                                                   
COMMISSIONER VINCENT-LANG  added that reducing bycatch  is what is                                                              
being  strived  for,  nobody  wants  to throw  away  a  dead  fish                                                              
unutilized.  Linking  bycatch levels to the amount  of biomass out                                                              
there is  wanted, but  that must  be done carefully  so as  not to                                                              
cause  other  impacts.     The  analysis  is  complex   and  being                                                              
reviewed,  and because  things  are  currently in  a  deliberative                                                              
state [Council members]  cannot talk a lot about what  is going to                                                              
be happening  at the  coming Council meeting.   But,  he stressed,                                                              
clearly  there is  an  interest in  reducing  bycatch and  clearly                                                              
there's  an  interest in  linking  it  to  the general  levels  of                                                              
abundance  out there,  and he is  pleased that  there are  several                                                              
alternatives  that accomplish that.   He said  he is  unsure which                                                              
alternative  is  going  to  be selected  but  at  the  outcome  in                                                              
December it  is going to  be something  that gives a  reduction in                                                              
halibut bycatch,  which is  the goal moving  forward, and  that is                                                              
going to be linked to some level of abundance that's out there.                                                                 
12:34:57 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE noted  there has been  an incredible  amount                                                              
of  overage of  bycatch in  the trawl  sector this  year and  last                                                              
year.   She inquired  about the  consequence  of this overage  and                                                              
the  impact on  the fisheries.    She further  inquired about  the                                                              
mechanism in  place for  when a sector  goes over its  allocation.                                                              
Everyone  wants  all fisheries  and  sectors  to be  healthy,  she                                                              
stated, but everyone  also wants to ensure that  the fisheries are                                                              
sustained for the future.                                                                                                       
MR. MERRILL  answered that a variety  of mechanisms can  be put in                                                              
place.   He said the  conservation impact  of a potential  overage                                                              
will be  looked at,  tools are available  to close specific  areas                                                              
or  times  of  fishing,  and  there   will  be  coordination  with                                                              
fishermen  throughout  the  year  to  ensure  they  are  receiving                                                              
information and are  aware of potential overages.   He stated that                                                              
some of  this can  be due just  to the way  that catch  limits are                                                              
established within  a fishery that  may not necessarily  be linked                                                              
to biological  concerns.   For example, on  a regular  basis there                                                              
are concerns  about exceeding  the amount  of skates allocated  to                                                              
fisheries in  the Bering Sea.   One reason for that  exceedance is                                                              
that there  is a limited  amount of catch  limit assigned  to that                                                              
fishery; there  is not necessarily  any conservation  concern with                                                              
going  over  that  limit.   That  is  an  exceedance  that  occurs                                                              
primarily in  the Bering  Sea longline fisheries.   He  added that                                                              
other sectors can  be in that situation and a  complexity is where                                                              
we set  those annual  catch limits,  which may  be well  below any                                                              
kind of  conservation concern;  catch limits  may be  particularly                                                              
low  to  accommodate  harvest  for other  species.    Mr.  Merrill                                                              
further pointed  out that a  challenge in  the Bering Sea  is that                                                              
the total  amount of catch limit  that can be established  for all                                                              
fisheries  is set at  2 million  metric tons.   Within  that limit                                                              
there  are often fisheries  where  there is a  large biomass,  but                                                              
low  limits are  set to  provide other  harvest opportunities  for                                                              
other commercial fisheries.   That can result in  an exceedance of                                                              
specific  fisheries  in  specific  years  due  to  that  interplay                                                              
between those regulatory requirements.                                                                                          
12:38:29 PM                                                                                                                   
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG  added  that  it  can be  seen  in  the                                                              
presentation  that  progress has  been  made in  reducing  halibut                                                              
bycatch.   He allowed that  some of those  numbers are  related to                                                              
fewer halibut  and therefore less bycatch.   A lot has  to do with                                                              
how the  tools are being  used, such as  bycatch caps  and closure                                                              
areas.    What  is being  talked about  in the Council's  December                                                              
meeting,  he noted,  is  further reducing  bycatch  at the  lowest                                                              
levels of  halibut abundance  out there.   It is not  that bycatch                                                              
limits  are  being  routinely  exceeded,   but  rather  constantly                                                              
adjusting the  fishery to  try to maximize  the amount  of bycatch                                                              
reduction  without  having  bycatch  of other  species  become  an                                                              
issue while doing that.                                                                                                         
MR.  WITHERELL   clarified  that  no  bycatch  limits   have  been                                                              
12:40:12 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  ORTIZ drew attention  to the  fourth slide  in Mr.                                                              
Witherell's presentation  depicting the Council's membership.   He                                                              
asked  whether  it is  problematic  that  there is  no  Indigenous                                                              
representation  on the Council,  which would  affect the  issue of                                                              
subsistence before the Council.                                                                                                 
MR. WITHERELL  replied that  the appointments  for membership  are                                                              
made by  the governor  of Alaska and  the governor of  Washington.                                                              
If  the  governor of  Alaska  wanted  to  appoint someone  to  the                                                              
Council who  is Native, the governor  could do so.  He  noted that                                                              
the Council has had Native members.                                                                                             
CHAIR TARR  noted that  the federal  Magnuson-Stevens Act  created                                                              
the Council and designated the seats.                                                                                           
MR. WITHERELL confirmed that that is correct.                                                                                   
CHAIR  TARR pointed  out  that the  Act would  be  the avenue  for                                                              
changing the seats.                                                                                                             
CHAIR  TARR, on  behalf  of Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins,  asked                                                              
what percentage  of halibut survive  after deck sorting  and being                                                              
returned  to the  ocean by  the trawl  fleet.   She further  asked                                                              
about  the percentage  of halibut  that survive  from longline  or                                                              
fixed gear bycatch.                                                                                                             
MR.  MERRILL replied  that  roughly 50  percent  of the  discarded                                                              
halibut survive  under the  current deck  sorting program  that is                                                              
now widely  used in much  of the fishery.   He offered  his belief                                                              
that for  pot and longline  gear, a 16  percent mortality  rate is                                                              
assumed  for the discarded  fish  in that fishery.   For  longline                                                              
vessels  that are active  in other  fisheries,  he said he  thinks                                                              
the  assumed mortality  is around  10 percent.   For  pot gear  he                                                              
stated he  thinks it  is less than  10 percent.   He said  he will                                                              
provide further information to the committee.                                                                                   
CHAIR  TARR  summarized  what  the  committee  has  requested  for                                                              
follow-up:   hearing  back  from Commissioner  Vincent-Lang  about                                                              
habitat  impact and  damage from  trawling as  it relates  to crab                                                              
fisheries;  receiving additional  information  from Mr.  Witherell                                                              
about ownership  of vessels and  the landing tax  issue; receiving                                                              
more data from Mr.  Merrill on breaking out the data  for the deck                                                              
sorting program in  terms of mortality rates, as  well as breaking                                                              
out the data on biomass.                                                                                                        
12:45:28 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE asked  whether any  of the alternatives  to                                                              
be  discussed at  the Council's  December meeting  will save  more                                                              
halibut  compared   to  what  was   caught  last  year.     It  is                                                              
frustrating,  he opined,  because  Alaska  has abundant  resources                                                              
and there just needs to be good stewardship.                                                                                    
COMMISSIONER  VINCENT-LANG   responded,  "It's  our   interest  to                                                              
reduce bycatch  and you do that  through limits; but  hopefully as                                                              
we reduce  limits, we get  the fleet operating  as we go  more and                                                              
more   towards   rationalized  fisheries   to   cooperative   type                                                              
management that  even stays below  the caps and that's  what we're                                                              
seeing  right now."    The goal  is to  keep  moving downwards  in                                                              
these bycatch  caps, he added.   Analysis  and care must  be taken                                                              
to not set them  so low that other fisheries cannot  occur, or the                                                              
fleet is moved into other areas that cause other bycatch issues.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  MCCABE surmised the  commissioner doesn't  have an                                                              
idea  of the halibut  that  would be saved  with  any of the  four                                                              
COMMISSIONER   VINCENT-LANG  replied  he   is  perplexed   by  the                                                              
question but  said reductions in  bycatch depend on the  levels of                                                              
halibut that  are out  there.  He  said he will  get back  with an                                                              
12:48:22 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE   STUTES  expressed   her   appreciation  for   the                                                              
informative  presentations  and   the  good  questions  that  were                                                              
asked.   She  said  bycatch  in all  of  Alaska's  fisheries is  a                                                              
critical issue and  she supports new and emerging  science on what                                                              
is occurring  in the oceans,  as well as  needed policy  action on                                                              
bycatch.   Bycatch  must be  continually re-evaluated  to be  good                                                              
stewards of  Alaska's fisheries.   She  cautioned that  the reason                                                              
Alaska  wisely  created the  Board  of  Fisheries process  was  to                                                              
separate  the   legislature  from   the  allocation   of  Alaska's                                                              
fisheries  resource,  as  is  the  case  with  the  North  Pacific                                                              
Fishery  Management  Council.    History  has  proven  this  model                                                              
allows  the  process to  focus  on  science  and not  politics  or                                                              
sensationalism.    There  is  a  scientifically  based  regulatory                                                              
process  in  place    the  Council     and  the state  has  voices                                                              
through its  designated seat as  well as other Alaskans  who serve                                                              
on  the body.   She  said she  shares the  concerns of  commercial                                                              
fishermen across  Alaska, many of whom  are in her district.   She                                                              
is greatly  concerned for  Alaska's fishing  stocks, not  least of                                                              
which are  the collapse of  the western  crab, the chum  salmon on                                                              
the  Yukon, as  well as  the ailing  chinook  and halibut  stocks.                                                              
She  urged concerned  stakeholders to  stay tuned  to the  science                                                              
and  engage  with  the public  process  at  Council  meetings  but                                                              
cautioned  not to get  ahead of  this process  that is  addressing                                                              
bycatch  in an  aggressive  manner.   Alaska  has a  voice at  the                                                              
table through  the appointee  process and  the process  itself has                                                              
robust  public  engagement.   Fishery  politics  can  be  terribly                                                              
divisive, she  continued, and she  doesn't want this  committee to                                                              
add to  that ahead of the  process, given it's  already occurring.                                                              
She  said the  state  has  a role  in  ensuring that  bycatch  and                                                              
allocative  issues  are  addressed.    She  therefore  urged  that                                                              
ADF&G's  budget be  fully  funded so  appropriate  surveys can  be                                                              
made to  ensure there is science  behind any regulatory  decisions                                                              
that are made relating to Alaska's fisheries and bycatch.                                                                       
12:51:36 PM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE VANCE  thanked the  chair for holding  this meeting                                                              
and  getting the  insights from  the  different leaders  involved.                                                              
She  offered her  hope that  it will  be taken  into account  that                                                              
this meeting was  held because the people brought  this forward to                                                              
the committee.   She  said the perspectives  of the  fishermen and                                                              
stakeholders need to be heard through public comment.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE   ORTIZ   offered    his   appreciation   for   the                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE  KREISS-TOMKINS  stressed  the importance  of  this                                                              
issue  and noted  that  everybody in  Southeast  Alaska -  tribes,                                                              
charter,  sport,  and  commercial  fishermen, is  concerned.    He                                                              
offered  his appreciation  for  the presentations.    He said  the                                                              
State  of  Alaska  has a  leadership  position  in  the  Council's                                                              
December  meeting and  many  eyes  across Alaska  will  be on  the                                                              
state's vote cast by Rachel Baker.                                                                                              
CHAIR TARR stated that the committee will find time to hear from                                                                
fishermen and stakeholders.  She thanked the presenters and                                                                     
shared that she has 14 pages of notes from the presentations.                                                                   
12:56:02 PM                                                                                                                   
There being no further business before the committee, the House                                                                 
Special Committee on Fisheries meeting was adjourned at 12:56                                                                   

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
House Fisheries Bycatch Presentation - Witherell - 11.15.21.pdf HFSH 11/15/2021 10:00:00 AM
House Fisheries Bycatch Presentation - Merrill 11.15.21.pdf HFSH 11/15/2021 10:00:00 AM
NPFMC Meeting Minutes 2.5.97 - Distributed by Office of Rep. McCabe.pdf HFSH 11/15/2021 10:00:00 AM
Memo - Bycatch Concerns - Distributed by the Office of Rep. Vance.pdf HFSH 11/15/2021 10:00:00 AM