Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Halibut Bycatch Management in the Groundfish Fisheries of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands
NMFS, in consultation with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), announces its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a new halibut bycatch management program for groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The proposed action would create a new method of managing halibut bycatch that links halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits for the groundfish fisheries to data on halibut abundance. The proposed action is intended to provide a responsive approach for managing halibut bycatch at varying levels of halibut abundance. The new program would minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from the groundfish fisheries. The new management program also could provide additional opportunity for the directed halibut fishery at low levels of halibut abundance compared to the status quo and promote conservation of the halibut spawning stock biomass, particularly at low levels of abundance. The EIS will analyze the impacts to the human environment resulting from the proposed bycatch management program. NMFS will accept written comments from the public to identify the issues of concern and assist the Council in determining the appropriate range of management alternatives for the EIS.