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The FMA Divisionís Role in the Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Pilot Program

Pacific ocean perch being delivered to a Kodiak processing plant
Pacific ocean perch being delivered to a Kodiak processing plant.  Photo by Rob Swanson.

The Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Divisionís (FMA) North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program, the NMFS Alaska Regional Office, and the fishing industry have worked together for several years to meet the challenges of new monitoring regulations brought about by changes in federal fisheries management in Alaska.

This year the new Central Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Rockfish Pilot Program (Rockfish Pilot) is an example of a fishery transitioning from open access to a limited access management system. The Rockfish Pilot was originally tasked to NMFS by Congress as a 2-year project, but the newly reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act expanded the Rockfish Pilot to 5 years. The first fishing under the Rockfish Pilot took place this spring.

In the past, the GOA rockfish fishery was a competitive open-access fishery constrained by species-specific quotas that, when met, closed the fishery for all participants. This open-access competition for fish led harvesters to increase the fishing capacity of their individual vessels and accelerated the pace of the fishery. Similarly, processors competed to increase their capacity to process fish. The rapid pace of competitive fishing provides disincentives to a focus on product quality which requires more time to produce. Additionally, fisheries management is more difficult due to the rapid pace of harvest and the challenges of monitoring catch and projecting a fishery closure within established limits.

The Rockfish Pilot provides harvesting and processing privileges for a specific complex of rockfish species. Details of the specific allocations are complex and are available on the Web at  (.pdf, 329KB).  In general, this limited access program has potential to improve economic efficiencies by allowing market forces to influence the harvest and harvesting capacity rather than the open-access competitive arena. Similar improvements have been made in other North Pacific fisheries management programs, such as the Bering Sea pollock fishery allocated under the American Fisheries Act (AFA). The Bering Sea pollock fishery under the AFA has proved successful in providing economic opportunities for industry and viable processes for management while ending the highly competitive open-access style fishery for pollock. While such programs offer benefits to the participants, they offer monitoring challenges to NMFS.

The key challenge in limited access programs is to monitor quotas at a fine scale. NMFS monitors quotas at the individual vessel level or group cooperative level. For example, in the Rockfish Pilot each vessel is allocated a share of the available rockfish quota. Likewise, processors are allocated privileges to receive and process fish from vessels participating in this program. Vessels may form cooperatives with other vessels to deliver fish to a particular processor. Vessels not in a cooperative still have the opportunity to fish. In many cases, the information used to manage these fine-scale quotas comes from at-sea observers. This requires higher levels of observer coverage and improved ability to transmit data to NMFS quickly. To meet increased information needs, the participants have increased monitoring requirements.

Increased requirements in the Rockfish Pilot are:

  1. Catcher vessel participants must have 100% observer coverage, a change from the usual 30% observer coverage. Catcher vessels are also required to have a vessel monitoring system (VMS) and a computer for observer data entry.
  2. Processing facilities are required to have an observer for each 12-hour period that the facility receives a Rockfish Pilot delivery. Thus, the processor may receive fish from Rockfish Pilot vessels only during a 12-hour window each day, or the processor would need to have two observers assigned to the facility. A Rockfish Pilot observer cannot be assigned to more than one processor during a calendar day. This is a change from the usual coverage levels based on processing volumes and which allows observers to cover two processing facilities on the same calendar day.
  3. Catcher/Processors must have a VMS. Catcher/Processors are required to carry two observers, one of whom has a higher level of training. The vessel must provide a sample station and arrange for a pre-cruise briefing with FMA staff. These vessels already were required to have a computer for data entry and transmission.

In summary, industry must meet new equipment and observer coverage requirements while FMA must handle the increased volume of observers and the data they collect. The monitoring demands of programs like Rockfish Pilot increase the financial burden on industry and NMFS. We are working with industry to explore the feasibility of using video technology for some aspects of monitoring. To meet the immediate fishery needs, FMA is sending additional staff to Kodiak during the rockfish fishery to coordinate and facilitate observer data transmission and quality control.

The FMA provides a model of how industry and government can work together to facilitate data collection by observers to monitor fisheries managed through catch limits. As fisheries management systems continue to evolve toward limited access type programs, FMA, the NMFS Alaska Regional Office, and industry continue to work together to meet the increased information needs for fine-scale monitoring systems.

By Allison Barns

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