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Status of Stocks & Multispecies Assessment Program

Cooperative Workshop on Ocean Acidification and Marine Protected Areas

The AFSC hosted a workshop between NMFS and the Institute of Marine Research (IMR, Norway) on 15-17 April 2009. The workshop was intended to bring together scientists from the two organizations to increase the effectiveness of cumulative research efforts by NMFS and IMR. Discussions focused on 1) understanding the implications of ocean acidification to marine ecosystems, 2) sharing experiences with establishing and evaluating the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs), and 3) developing joint projects for evaluating tools as part of a future management toolbox.

The workshop was organized by AFSC Deputy Science Director Bill Karp, Bernard Megrey (RACE Division), and Susanne McDermott (REFM Division). Twenty-seven scientists participated in the workshop; 21 from the United States and 6 from Norway. The workshop started with presentations from NMFS and IMR on the two topics. Then the participants split into two groups for more in-depth discussion on ocean acidification and MPAs.

The Ocean Acidification group was led by Tom Hurst (AFSC/NMFS) and Knut Yngve Børsheim (IMR). The group recognized that though there are several other parallel research programs occurring in the United States and Europe, the group can play an important role in focusing research efforts related to ocean acidification on fishery species and high latitude fishery-dominated ecosystems. The group recommended organizing a special workshop within the next 12 months to 1) evaluate experimental setups, 2) exchange observations, and 3) evaluate early modeling reviews of system vulnerability.

The Marine Protected Area group was led by Susanne McDermott (AFSC/NMFS) and Erik Olsen (IMR). The initial discussion centered on establishing a clear definition of MPAs. The definition accepted defined MPAs as representing any marine area that receives permanent protection from any human impact that is greater than the protection provided in surrounding areas. The group also identified several potential projects for collaboration.

A future workshop and ICES theme session at the 2010 ICES Science Conference in Nantes, France was proposed. Several topics were identified as priorities for the proposed workshop: 1) compare and contrast the implementation and governance of existing MPAs in the different regions/countries; 2) develop guidelines for establishing MPAs in heavily used ecosystems of the northern boreal continental shelf; and 3) identify currently available tools for MPA design and gaps in those tools such as larval dispersal tools, habitat mapping, gap analysis, life history studies, fishery impact mapping, and socio-economic impact modeling. The group also planned to collaborate on projects comparing impacts and effects of existing MPAs in the different regions and countries.

By Susanne McDermott


Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization: New Challenges for the AFSC

Across the United States, federal fishery scientists and managers are working hard to make sure that their fisheries comply with new rules passed by Congress. These new regulations originate in the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which is the principal law governing federal fisheries management.

One of the major changes made during the reauthorization is a requirement that all target fisheries have annual catch limits (ACLs). This means that it is no longer sufficient to simply limit fishers' effort: there must be an absolute cap on the numbers or weight of a species caught each year in a particular region. In addition, the size of the cap must be based on maximum sustainable yield and other tenets of sustainable fishing theory.

In many parts of the country this is posing serious challenges to regions that must overhaul their approach to fishery management. Alaska fisheries in federal waters are already managed using ACLs, so the AFSC and the NPFMC are having an easier time meeting the primary requirements of the new law.

There are additional aspects of the MSA reauthorization where it is less clear if the current Alaska system satisfies all conditions. New guidelines for complying with the MSA were published earlier this year by NMFS and contain many details related to the prevention of overfishing. These include ACL-related items such as buffers between the overfishing limit and the target level of catch, which are designed to account for scientific uncertainty, as well as accountability measures to ensure that ACLs are not exceeded. In addition, there are changes to the way that fishery management plans are structured.
Fish stocks that are directly targeted or are caught incidentally in large enough quantities to pose conservation concerns are designated as "in the fishery" and require ACLs. Other stocks that are less vulnerable to fisheries but may still require monitoring or other management attention are designated "ecosystem components" (EC). There is no ACL requirement for EC species, but the fishery management councils can impose restrictions to limit EC bycatch. The AFSC and NPFMC are working to clarify these designations for Alaska fisheries.

The new guidelines also contain stricter language for the formation of stock complexes. Complexes are groups of two or more similar species that are managed as a single unit. This may occur because species are always caught together or because insufficient data are available to identify and calculate ACLs for individual species. The new rules tighten the requirements for how species can be combined, and the AFSC will be reviewing the existing complexes to ensure they comply with the MSA.

The coming year will see a great deal of activity as the AFSC and NPFMC strive to meet the 2011 deadline for compliance with the revised MSA. Although the new law creates additional policy and analytical burdens, it is designed to enhance the conservation of Alaska marine fish stocks.

By Olav Ormseth
 

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