Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Failure of Restructured Observer Program

The restructuring of the observer program went into effect in 2013 and resulted in the entire groundfish fleet (trawlers, longliners, pot boats) being required at least in part to carry observers.  While this may seem a good thing, it reduced the amount of coverage for trawlers to between 13 and 15 percent down from roughly 30 percent.  Trawlers, due to their large volume catches, have the greatest impact on bycatch species, including PSC (prohibited species catch) of halibut, Chinook, and crab.  NMFS seemed pleased that they found that longliners had a bycatch rate above what they had expected, (remember that the survival rate of bycatch for longliners is around 89% and the survival rate for trawlers is around 25%, according to NMFS.)

One vessel, the CP (catcher/processor) Golden Fleece lost its special exemption to the 100% observer coverage for CPs with the restructured observer progam. (See Old and New 50 CFR below). We have argued that when trawlers are observed, their behavior changes; they hide their bycatch by fishing cleaner grounds and making other changes in order to appear to be clean fishing.  If indeed,  the CP Golden Fleece had now to fish 100% observed, her recorded bycatch should change too.  Golden Fleece would be forced to fish as usual without an opportunity to hide her bycatch.  Using NMFS data let's take a look.

Chinook salmon numbers in blue, the observer numbers in red.

Conclusion.  Allowing trawlers to game when to fish clean, obscures the true impact of their fishing on the resources in the GOA.  When the restructured observer program reduced the percentage of observed trawling, it mostly likely allowed the trawlers to hide their actual bycatch. Therefore, NMFS has colluded to hide the impact of trawling on the GOA, while emphasizing the bycatch of other gear groups.


Old 50 CFR 679.50:

(ii) Amendment 80 vessels in the GOA. Except for the F/V GOLDEN FLEECE (USCG Documentation Number 609951), all Amendment 80 vessels, except when directed fishing for scallops using dredge gear, in the GOA must have onboard at least one NMFS-certified observer for each day that the vessel is used to harvest, receive, or process groundfish in the GOA management areas or adjacent waters open by the State of Alaska for which it adopts a Federal fishing season.

New 50 CFR 679.50:

(2) Groundfish and halibut fishery full observer coverage category—(i) Vessel classes in the full coverage category.The following classes of vessels are in the full observer coverage category when harvesting halibut or when harvesting, receiving, or processing groundfish in a federally managed or parallel groundfish fishery, as defined at §679.2:

(A) Catcher/processors;

The Golden Fleece Hits the Halibut Hard Too.

The graph representing the Golden Fleece's increase in halibut PSC bycatch when fully observed is not as dramatic as it is with King Salmon, but probably deserves airing.  Not quite double the increase, but still telling.

Obviously halibut bycatch was on the upswing in 2012, but when you remove the blinders of selected observation there is a 61% increase in halibut PSC bycatch over 2012, and 900% over their reported  bycatch of halibut in 2011.  Remember, the Golden Fleece has a hold capacity of at least 200,000 pounds, so we are talking roughly 4000 pounds of halibut per trip.  She made 26 trips to the end of September.  100,000 pounds of halibut?

Who is getting fleeced here?

Keep yer flippers wet.


Anonymous said...

So inability to "game" the system reveals a 9-10 fold increase in bycatch over the fake numbers that have been generated in the past.

Looks like the emperor is buck naked.

Might this explain the "missing" halibut from the IPHC's models???

Wiglaf said...

The argument is going to be that one example does not a make a perfect truth. But it does indicate what might happen when you get 100% coverage. Key here is also that the trawlers are pressing now for full ownership (IFQ) to the GOA for their historical catches, promising 100% observer coverage as the reward they are willing to offer up. But then it will be too late to take IFQs back when we get to see the real dirty laundry. They also are pressing for the full retention of their halibut for sale as legal delivery. This has broad implications.

Anonymous said...

So they get rewarded for lying? and NMFS gets to put apologists who know that the data is fake onto the IPHC to make sure draggers get to continue waste the resource instead of cleaning up their act like other trawl fisheries have done???

Anonymous said...

The real ? is why is this left to what NMFS's Julie Speegle calls "not a credible source" to figure out?


If NMFS had any concern about the resource would they have weakened the already pathetic observer coverage for draggers?

A lone blogger can use NMFS's own numbers to show conclusively that draggers are "gaming" the limited observer coverage while NMFS with all their time, money and manpower does nothing and even tries to discredit the blogger.

Can NMFS's credibility get even lower?

Anonymous said...

You've been soaking your flippers for a long while now. I've been curious about this posting though- can you give us any background on why F/V Golden Fleece was exempted in this regulation and why all of the sudden the language was changed (rightfully, in my opinion) to include it? Thank you.