In high seas groundfish fisheries, where the goal is the catch of pollock by the ton, the controversy over the allowable incidental harvest of Chinook salmon just won’t go away.
On April 8, the final day of the April meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage, the council approved a motion offered by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell for a report to the council on Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.
The measure sees a review of the status of Alaska Chinook salmon stocks, a report of 2011 genetic stock identification, along with stock-based adult-equivalency run reconstruction and prohibited species catch harvest rate analyses for king salmon stocks. It also seeks to evaluate fishing and bycatch performance under Amendment 9 of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fishery management plan by gathering data from 2003 through 2013 on numbers and rates of bycatch taken by month, by sector; use of salmon excluders, by sector and season, and the variability between bycatch rates per vessel within each section in 2011-2012.
The action came as the Alaska State Senate, in its final session days in Juneau, passed a resolution encouraging fishery managers to lower limits on Chinook bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and in support of increased coverage by fishery observers to obtain accurate estimates on bycatch.
Kelly Harrell, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said AMCC hopes that the NPFMC will heed the Senate’s message, as well as letters from the Bush caucus and others, to further reign in bycatch.
The NPFMC’s action came after the council had heard extensive reports from United Catcher Boats and others in the groundfish industry, plus an update on salmon genetics research, and heard passionate pleas for and against another discussion paper on the incidental harvest of Chinook salmon.
From the industry’s perspective, they are doing all they can in development of gear such as salmon excluders and with the practice of avoiding areas where large numbers of king and chum salmon are detected, areas known as rolling hot spots.
“The council should respond to appropriate information,” said Stephanie Madsen, who is the executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association. “The pollock fishery isn’t the only source of the decline in salmon. You could also shut us down and that’s not going to help people in the region in the short term.”
Others, like Becca Robins Gisclair, policy director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, were in support of the discussion paper. Given restrictions on the king salmon fishery to meet treaty obligations with Canada, by 2012 residents of Yukon River communities were less than halfway to meeting subsistence needs, she said. “We are talking about actual people’s food here,” she said.