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Transparency tops proposed IPHC changes

Posted: May 13, 2012 - 10:35am

A consulting firm recommended sweeping changes centered on improving transparency and increasing stakeholder participation after completing a performance review of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Concur Inc. submitted its review April 30, and conducted a webinar May 7 presenting its findings with 12 recommendations to bring one of the world’s oldest and most well-respected fisheries management bodies in line with the best practices of today.

The IPHC was established by a treaty between the U.S. and Canada in 1923 and manages the Pacific halibut stock through survey assessments, modeling and harvest strategy — and it has largely been successful at achieving sustainability, Concur found.

However, the IPHC process has been exposed as outdated and incompatible with a burgeoning stakeholder base under the current circumstances.

The status of halibut management today is characterized by dramatically smaller average size-at-age, questions about the biological model after retrospective analysis has revealed significant overharvest since 2004, and increasingly severe cuts in quota to compensate.

Trust among stakeholders and with the IPHC is at an ebb, with Canadians questioning the IPHC’s methods for apportioning and near-annually extracting additional quota for British Columbia based on the decades-long failure by U.S. managers to address trawl halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.

U.S. stakeholders are increasingly separated into hardened camps divided among commercial and recreational halibut fishermen and trawlers, all of whose livelihoods are on the line and who battle through the regulatory process accordingly.

Over the past several months, Concur conducted interviews with 43 stakeholders and groups about the IPHC process, reviewed documents and attended the IPHC interim and annual meetings last November and January, respectively.

Concur also sat in on the closed door executive sessions when the six IPHC commissioners — three from the U.S., three from Canada — make their decisions on harvest strategy, stakeholder recommendations and catch quotas.

Conducting the bulk of deliberations in public was among the top recommendations by Concur, along with publishing a set of practices and protocols for IPHC meetings, and advisory bodies the Conference Board, Processor Advisory Group and the Research Advisory Board.

Those were the top two recommendations from Concur. Here are the rest:

No. 3: Revisit stakeholder engagement structure. Concur recommends transitioning to a unified stakeholder advisory group that would merge the Conference Board (mostly commercial fishermen and a small minority of recreational interests) and Processor Advisory Group into a single body.

No. 4: Develop strategic approach to research. Concur recommends the IPHC develop a five-year research plan linked to commission objectives; as well as formalize the Research Advisory Board and protocols.

No. 5: Strengthen stock assessment model. Concur recommends regular peer review of the IPHC stock assessment model, outputs and apportionment, as well as a process for considering changes to the model.

No. 6: Expand commission composition. Concur recommends adding three alternate commissioners for interests not currently represented on the IPHC, and to create a regular rotation to increase user group representation.

No. 7: Develop long-term strategic plan with objectives and performance measures tracked at annual meetings.

No. 8: Strengthen delineation between scientific analysis and policy options. Most notably, Concur recommends the analysts provide a range of options and forecast associated risks and benefits of each. Currently, staff makes catch limit recommendations at the interim meeting each November that are generally adopted at the annual meeting.

No. 9: Greater leadership needed at the commissioner level.

No. 10: Elevate importance of Tribes and First Nations. Concur recommends that any revamping of the IPHC structure include Tribal and First Nation participation at all levels.

No. 11: Strengthen interim and annual meeting process. Concur found that the IPHC current process is “well intentioned but falling short” of facilitating best interactions among commissioners, staff and stakeholders. Concur recommended adding a third meeting annually to foster better meeting preparation, earlier release of materials and more opportunity for public comment.

No. 12: Improve communications. Outreach is considered strong, but has important gaps, Concur found, that reduce public confidence.

It’s a time of transition for the IPHC, as two U.S. seats are up for new members and public comment is being taken on 10 nominees until May 25. It is up to the White House when new appointments will be announced, and the degree of implementation for Concur’s recommendations will be determined by when new commissioners are seated.

National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, the designated government representative and the only U.S. commissioner not up for re-nomination, has said he’d like to have new members seated by the IPHC retreat in September. From there, an implementation schedule would be hashed out at the annual meeting next January in Victoria, British Columbia.

Concur’s final report and its presentation to the IPHC can be found at www.iphc.washington.edu.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

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