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The Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, has made a preliminary determination that three Exempted Fishing Permit applications warrant further consideration. All three applications, two from the California Wetfish Producers Association and one from the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group, request an exemption from the expected prohibition on primary directed fishing for Pacific sardine during the 2022-2023 fishing year to collect Pacific sardine as part of industry-based scientific research. NMFS requests public comment on the applications.
At its April 2022 meeting, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) recommended that NMFS approve three EFP applications for the 2022-2023 Pacific sardine fishing year. All three applications, two from the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA) and one from the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group (WCPCG), are renewal requests for an exemption from the expected prohibition on primary directed fishing for Pacific sardine during the 2022-2023 fishing year; the purpose of the requests are to collect Pacific sardine as part of industry-based scientific research. The Council considered these EFP applications concurrently with the 2022-2023 annual harvest specifications for Pacific sardine because Pacific sardine catch under each EFP would be accounted for under the proposed 2022-2023 annual catch limit (ACL), which is 4,274 metric tons (mt). A summary of each EFP application is provided below:
(1) Proposal for renewal of exempted fishery permit (EFP) to allow take of Pacific sardine (for point sets) in 2022-23 nearshore research program: The CWPA submitted a renewal application for their CPS Nearshore Cooperative Survey (NCS) program. The purpose of this EFP project is to continue to develop sampling methodology for estimating CPS biomass in shallow waters that are not accessible to NOAA survey ships. Since 2012 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with the CWPA, has been conducting aerial surveys to estimate the biomass and distribution of Pacific sardine and certain other CPS in nearshore waters in the Southern California Bight, and in the Monterey-San Francisco area since the summer of 2017. Currently, there is uncertainty in the biomass estimates from aerial spotter pilots. The CPS-NCS survey aims to quantify that level of uncertainty by capturing CPS schools identified by aerial spotter pilots and validating the biomass and species composition of the schools. If approved, this EFP would allow up to six participating vessels to directly harvest a total of 300 mt of Pacific sardine during the 2022-2023 fishing year. A portion of each point set ( i.e., an individual haul of fish captured with a purse seine net) would be retained for biological sampling, and the remainder would be sold by participating fishermen and processors to offset research costs and avoid unnecessary discard.
(2) Request for renewal of exempted fishery permit (EFP) to allow fishing of Pacific sardine for biological samples in 2022-23 nearshore research program: The CWPA submitted a renewal application for their biological sampling EFP project. The primary directed fishery for Pacific sardine has been closed since 2015, and consequently, scientists at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (Science Center) have a limited amount of fishery-dependent data to use in their stock assessment. The goal of this EFP project is to provide fishery-dependent catch data, including biological data ( i.e., age and length data from directed harvest), for potential use in Pacific sardine stock assessments. An additional goal for this year is to collaborate with the Science Center in a research project designed to enhance understanding of stock structure by collecting year-round data. If approved, this EFP would allow up to six participating vessels to directly harvest up to 520 mt of Pacific sardine during the 2022-2023 fishing year. A portion of each landing would be retained for biological sampling by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the remainder would be sold by participating fishermen and processors to offset research costs and avoid unnecessary discard.
(3) Exempted fishery permit to continue an industry-federal-state collaborative acoustic survey for CPS in nearshore waters: The WCPCG submitted a renewal application for their Nearshore Surveillance Acoustic Trawl Methodology Survey of North West Coastal Waters EFP project. Since 2017, the WCPCG has been working with NMFS' Science Center and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to survey CPS in nearshore Oregon/Washington coastal waters. The purpose of the EFP is to collect biological samples in areas inshore of the Science Center acoustic trawl survey to better assess species composition and CPS distribution and abundance. A portion of each individual haul of fish captured with a purse seine net (set) would be retained by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for biological sampling, and the remainder of the set would be released from the purse seine net immediately after collecting the biological samples. If approved, this EFP would allow one research vessel to harvest up to 10 mt of Pacific sardine during the 2022-2023 fishing year.
Altogether, these EFP projects total 830 mt. If NMFS does not issue one or more of these EFPs, the requested tonnage would be available for harvest by other permissible fishing activities during the 2022-2023 fishing year ( e.g., live bait or minor directed harvest).
After publication of this notice in the Federal Register , NMFS may approve and issue permits to participating vessels after the close of the public comment period. NMFS will consider comments submitted in deciding whether to approve the applications as requested. NMFS may approve the applications in their entirety or may make any alterations needed to achieve the goals of the EFP projects and the FMP. NMFS may also approve different amounts of Pacific sardine allocation for each EFP project if any changes are made to the 2022-2023 proposed sardine harvest specifications before final implementation. 59ce067264