The Alaska Seafood Cooperative, representing Bering Sea flatfish trawlers, submitted the following response to yesterday's post: Observers report taking abuse over halibut.
Every May, NMFS' Fishery Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) releases a report describing various aspects of observer deployment in fisheries off Alaska. Topics include coverage levels and distribution in the partial coverage fleet, coverage rates given certain budget constraints, and general monitoring compliance among different sectors of the fleet. This latter section was highlighted yesterday in a post on Deckboss.
While the FMA report covered certain compliance issues with the Amendment 80 sector, the effectiveness of efforts by the FMA, NMFS, and industry to address some misunderstandings that spawned those complaints should be understood. Late in 2014, the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC) became aware of a small number of observer complaints relating to halibut accounting within our sector. In addition to discussing these issues, dialogue with Martin Loefflad and Chris Rilling from FMA brought to light some conflicts between observer protocols and the needs of captains for timely information concerning halibut bycatch to effectively avoid halibut. During the meeting, an acceptable solution was reached, and observers now provide raw data to captains. This information is now available in a much more timely manner.
As many may know, AKSC and its members have been collaborating with NMFS on a program to release halibut as soon as possible from a vessel's deck to improve survival. NMFS issued an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for all AKSC member vessels because of their confidence that the issues that led to the complaints are fully and satisfactorily resolved. Absent satisfactory resolution of the issues, vessels would have been prohibited from participating in the EFP.
AKSC is appreciative of NMFS' willingness to proactively work with our co-op and member companies to resolve issues with observers quickly and efficiently. This allows companies to proactively address operational issues that arise under the observer program. The effectiveness of conversations with NMFS is evident, as observers have had no such complaints in 2015.
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