PWCC Catch Management Program
Minimizing and avoiding bycatch is of great concern to the PWCC. Catcher/processor vessels, working cooperatively via the PWCC, use several bycatch avoidance and minimization techniques — such as 200% observer coverage (two NMFS-certified observers aboard each vessel when fishing), real-time sharing of catch and bycatch data, and agreements to avoid “hotspot” areas. Accordingly, bycatch is generally very low in the catcher/processor sector of the fishery, comprising slightly more than 1% of the whiting harvest.
The formation of the PWCC in 1997 rationalized fishing operations in the catcher/processor sector of the whiting fishery. During the season, PWCC vessels communicate information about high bycatch areas to be avoided. Because they no longer race for fish, PWCC vessels can take the time to find areas with high whiting abundance and/or move away from areas with high occurrence of bycatch. To help avoid these bycatch “hotspots,” PWCC members report catch and bycatch data electronically to Sea State, Inc.; which is a private firm specializing in fisheries data collection and analysis. Sea State collates the data and reports back to PWCC vessels on a real-time basis, advising vessel captains to avoid areas in which high bycatch is likely to occur. NMFS-certified observers monitor, record, and report all fishing activities to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Salmon Bycatch Management
New salmon bycatch mitigation measures were adopted in the 2019-2020 groundfish specifications to satisfy mandates in the December 2017 ESA Salmon Biological Opinion. The measures include:
– Automatic for NMFS to (1) close the whiting fishery when it exceeds (or is projected to exceed) 14,500 Chinook or close the non-whiting fishery when it exceeds (or is projected to exceed) 9,000 Chinook; and (2) after (1) happens, the sector that remains open is closed if that sector exceeds (or is projected to exceed) it’s threshold (that is, 11,000 Chinook for whiting or 5,500 Chinook for non-whiting). The goal is to ensure that the overall 20,000 Chinook threshold is not exceeded by the groundfish fishery.
-A new bycatch reduction area (BRA) at the 200-fm depth contour. Council and NMFS monitor salmon bycatch rates inseason. If bycatch rates exceed those considered in the BiOp, the Council and NMFS can take inseason action to implement the BRA for any midwater trawl sector – whiting IFQ fishery, CP sector, MS sector, and non-whiting midwater trawl sector. If 200-fm BRA implemented, vessels would be prohibited from using midwater trawl gear to target either whiting or non-whiting groundfish in waters shoreward of the 200-fm depth contour, but would still be allowed to fish in waters seaward of 200-fm. This action only applies to non-tribal midwater trawl vessels.
In October 2020, NMFS published the proposed rule for additional measures adopted by the Council. The final rule published in February 2021. The new measures include items necessary for access to the 3,500 Chinook salmon “reserve,” including fishery cooperative annual Salmon Mitigation Plans (SMP) that may be submitted to NMFS and detail measures used to manage salmon bycatch. The SMP provides a nexus to a NMFS management action (that is, approval of the SMP) that is necessary for a sector to use the Chinook salmon reserve amount (that is, the 3,500 Chinook available above the 11,000 Chinook threshold for the whiting fishery).
Another new measure, Block Area Closures (BACs), may also be used if NMFS determines a sector of the whiting fishery is catching too much salmon then NMFS may implement a sector-specific spatial closure that is more discrete than closing at 200 fathoms coastwide.
Comprehensive information about salmon bycatch mitigation measures is available from NMFS on their Salmon Bycatch Minimization Measures for the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery page.
Rockfish Bycatch Management
For the catcher-processor and mothership sectors of the Pacific whiting fishery, bycatch of non-whiting groundfish species is managed with set asides that account for historical catch of these species by the at-sea sectors. In the shoreside whiting sector, catch of non-whiting groundfish species is managed via individual fishing quota held by fishery participants. NMFS and the Council have the ability to take inseason actions to address conservation concerns if warranted, primarily through the use of spatial management tools such as depth based closures or block area closures. While spatial management tools are available to fishery managers, both the Council and NMFS recognize that voluntary measures adopted by industry (in near real time) to avoid and minimize bycatch are typically timelier and more effective than measures implemented via regulations
The PWCC Philosophy
The ability to communicate information amongst PWCC vessels and between other segments of the industry helps to facilitate bycatch reduction in the whiting fishery as a whole. For example, the PWCC and the other whiting fishery sectors share daily information detailing known bycatch hotspots to facilitate bycatch avoidance. The hotspots identify areas with high concentrations of species of concern – such as, rockfish, sablefish (black cod), and Chinook salmon. Sharing of fishery information and constant communication ensure fishery participants have the information necessary to find clean schools of whiting and to minimize bycatch.
The PWCC is proud to be a leader in developing and using responsible fishing techniques to ensure sustainable fisheries. We will continue to do what is required to maintain the whiting fishery as one of the cleanest fisheries in the world.
The efforts of the PWCC and our whiting fishery partners demonstrate to fishery managers and other fishery sectors our commitment to the sustainable management of the U.S. whiting fishery. Our commitment to sustainability led to dual certification of the U.S. whiting fishery under both the Marine Stewardship Council and Responsible Fisheries Management certification programs.