Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NPFMC Takes Steps to Reduce Chinook Bycatch in Gulf of Alaska

By Margaret Bauman

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, at its December meeting in Anchorage, identified a number of concerns about bycatch of Chinook salmon in Gulf of Alaska fisheries and initiated two analyses to implement short-term and long-term salmon bycatch control measures.

The council planned a review of its work plan at its meeting in Seattle, beginning Jan. 31, with an initial review at its March meeting in Anchorage and final action at its June meeting in Nome.

Rochelle Van Den Broek, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United, was one of many people submitting testimony. Van Den Broek said in written testimony to the council that her organization is very concerned about the health and sustainability of king salmon in Alaska, and urged the council to take an immediate proactive approach to determine bycatch stocks of origin, support research on Chinook abundance and to investigate options to curtail Chinook bycatch.

Jeff Stephan of the United Fishermen’s Marketing Association in Kodiak, one of a number of people testifying on the issue at Anchorage, said he found the council’s action “a reasonable step forward.

“I believe the council action on this issue is a reasonable step forward on the road to implementing a suite of conservation and management actions that will result in the accomplishment of significantly minimizing Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, and in beginning the process of remediating the cumulative impacts of the past 25 years,” Stephan said. “We hope that the council continues to expedite their focus and attention to addressing this bycatch.

“There is now more attention building to the management, allocation, conservation and utilization effects of the cumulative impacts of this Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon bycatch,” he said. “Commercial seiners, setnetters and driftnetters, subsistence users, aquaculture associations, Fish and Game advisory committees, communities, guided sport-charter businesses, non-guided anglers and others are now awakening to the impacts of this bycatch on their businesses and cultural activities.

“Chinook salmon is the state fish of Alaska (and of Oregon) and it has importance to the cultural, commercial and utilization characteristics of Alaska and its residents,” he said.

The federal council noted it a staff report that bycatch of Chinook salmon over the last five years, from 2006 through 2010, has averaged 20,185 fish, exceeding the 20-year average of 20,185 salmon from 1991 through 2010.

While an expedited review and rulemaking efforts have been initiated for the gulf Pollock fishery, where the bycatch is occurring, the council also is working on a longer-term amendment package to address comprehensive salmon bycatch management in the gulf trawl fisheries.

Alternatives to be considered under the expedited western/central Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery analysis include establishing a Chinook salmon prohibited species limit for the directed Pollock fishery – a hard cap by regulatory area – and increased observer coverage on under 60-foot vessels. Other options are requiring membership in a mandatory salmon bycatch control cooperative in order to fish in a directed Pollock fishery, and status quo.

The council also is initiating a regular track analysis, with four alternatives, including status quo. Other options would be establishing a Chinook salmon prohibited species limit for non-pollock trawl fisheries, required membership in a mandatory salmon bycatch control cooperative, and requiring full retention of all salmon in all western/central gulf trawl fisheries.

The range of prohibited species catch limited to be analyzed for the directed Pollock fishery includes 15,000, 22,500 or 30,000 fish, applied to the western/central gulf fisheries as a whole.

The council said these limits would be apportioned among regulatory areas proportional to the distribution of either Pollock allowable catch, historic average bycatch of king salmon, or historic average bycatch rate of kings.

In order to reduce the uncertainty associated with bycatch estimates, expanded observer coverage could be required for under 60-foot vessels as an interim measure, until the observer program restructuring amendment is implement, the council said.

The council also specified a number of conditions for the mandatory bycatch cooperative, including contractual requirements for full retention of salmon, bycatch control measures, salmon hotspot reporting, and monitoring of individual vessel bycatch performance. The cooperatives would have to provide annual reports to the council.

Council staff has been tasked to look at a number of options with respect to the mandatory cooperative, including issues with respect to thresholds for cooperative membership and appropriate contract elements and reporting requirements.

The council also has tasked staff to discuss several other issues. These include bycatch rate data by fishery and season, correlations between bycatch rate and time of day, flexibility to adjust Pollock season dates, Pollock trip limits, salmon excluder deployment in the gulf, impact on subsistence users, and a discussion of benefits of developing cooperative management structure for gulf Pollock fisheries.

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