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July-Aug-Sept 2008
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Status of Stocks & Multispecies Assessment Program

NMFS Fisheries and the Environment (FATE) Principle Investigator Meeting

Drs. Anne Hollowed and William Stockhausen participated in the annual NMFS Fisheries and the Environment Program (FATE) Principal Investigator Meeting on 13-14 August in La Jolla, California. The meeting provided a forum for fisheries oceanographers and modelers from across the United States to discuss FATE research. Dr. Art Miller (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) was a guest speaker, and his presentation focused on long-term changes in the climate of the California Current, with biological impacts. Principal investigators provided oral presentations on the progress of their research. A complete list of presentations can be found on the FATE website at The FATE program recently released its annual announcement of opportunity. All interested investigators are encouraged to apply.

By Anne Hollowed

Bering Sea Crab Working Group Progress Report

King and Tanner crab stocks of the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) are managed under the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) King and Tanner Crab Fishery Management Plan of the NPFMC. The plan provides the framework for cooperative management of stocks between the ADF&G and NMFS. Under the plan, certain management controls such as setting of annual catch quotas are deferred to the ADF&G, while NMFS is responsible for the annual status determinations of overfishing and overfished, and for ensuring plan compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Management Act (MSFCMA) and National Standard Guidelines (NSGs). Since 1998, four of the ecologically important and economically valuable crab stocks of the EBS have been declared overfished, and fisheries for several more stocks were closed due to low levels of stock biomass. Overfishing definitions for managed BSAI crab stocks were established in 1998 with a provision for review after 5 years. A working group of the NPFMC's Crab Plan Team consisting of NMFS and ADF&G scientists was formed in September 2003 to evaluate the existing overfishing definitions and to propose revisions to those definitions so as to ensure the conservation and effective utilization of the stocks.

The complex nature of crab reproductive dynamics, mating processes, male only fisheries, and the lack of age and other essential biological information contributed to the difficulties of this work. In February 2006, the NPFMC sponsored a workshop to assist in clarifying some of these complex biological issues. Through the efforts of the working group, simulation models were developed, resulting in improvements to length-based stock assessment methodologies and enabling the evaluation of overfishing control rules and rebuilding strategies of overfished stocks. A principal product of the working group was the definition of a tier system analogous to that employed for the management of NPFMC groundfish stocks.

In April 2006, NMFS funded a peer review of the working group's modeling products and preliminary results by the Center for Independent Experts (CIE). The CIE review resulted in many informative suggestions on the work to formulate new overfishing definitions. Results of preliminary analyses by the working group and the CIE review were presented to the NPFMC's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) in June 2006. Based on these results, the SSC approved the Crab Plan Team and Working Group to proceed with developing a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to amend the existing BSAI King and Tanner Crab fishery management plan. A 191-page Environmental Assessment (Amendment 24 to the BSAI KTC FMP) was approved by the SSC in December 2007. The EA that defined the new process was produced cooperatively by scientists from the AFSC, ADF&G, NMFS Alaska Regional Office, and NPFMC.

The culmination of 5 years of working group meetings, simulation modeling, technical workshops and scientific reviews resulted in the implementation of new overfishing definitions for BSAI King and Tanner crab stocks for the 2008/09 fishing seasons. As prescribed by Amendment 24, annual stock assessments, reference point determinations and total catch overfishing limits are now subject to review and recommendation by the Crab Plan Team, the NPFMC SSC, the industry and stakeholders. The new assessment and evaluation processes will result in the best available science being applied to the setting of annual threshold limits on stock status and fishery performance in a transparent manner similar to the North Pacific groundfish process. The Amendment 24 revisions also establish a framework that will allow future research to be incorporated into stock assessments and OFL determinations without major and time consuming formal revisions to the fishery management plan.

By Jack Turnock and Lou Rugolo

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