Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Council Puts Cap on King Salmon Bycatch in Gulf of Alaska

Federal fishery managers, prompted by the incidental catch of more than 51,000 Chinook salmon in the 2010 Gulf of Alaska Pollock fishery, have placed a 25,000 king bycatch cap on the fishery. The action came on June 12 during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Nome.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made the motion to adopt the 22,500 Chinook bycatch cap, but other council members argued that the Pollock fleet deserved a 25,000 cap to give vessels more cushion to catch the allowable amount of Pollock without hitting the king salmon cap.

Their debate centered around how much responsibility to place on the Pollock fleet to avoid salmon bycatch versus how much benefit there would be to the salmon resource.

Kodiak fish harvester Theresa Peterson, a community coordinator for Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said Campbell’s effort to keep the bycatch low was appreciated because it was responsive to the needs of salmon fishermen and the salmon resource itself.

In her testimony to the council, Peterson said that Chinook salmon account for the highest bycatch and are the least abundant salmon species. “Significant and unrestricted Chinook salmon bycatch has been occurring in the gulf of decades,” she said. “This level of bycatch is unacceptable, particularly at a time when many salmon users are struggling and puts undue hardship on Alaska’s commercial, sport, recreational, personal use and subsistence harvesters.”

More than 500 people signed a letter delivered to the council that supported the cap of 22,500 kings, she said.

At length, the majority of council members opted to change the cap to 25,000 kings, to allow for the Pollock fleet to operate with more cushion.

Peterson noted that the council kept in place other portions of the preferred preliminary alternative, including increased monitoring of vessels under 60 feet fishing for Pollock only, and full retention of salmon caught incidentally in the Pollock fishery.

Agreements being worked out will allow that king salmon to go to food banks as early as this summer. It will also allow the Alaska Fishery Science Center to do comprehensive genetic sampling analysis to determine rivers of origin of king salmon harvested in Gulf of Alaska waters.

Julie Bonney, also of Kodiak, speaking for the Groundfish Data Bank, also applauded efforts to put the bycatch salmon into food banks and for research to determine stock origins.

But Bonney said it will be difficult for the pollock industry to be responsive to a hard cap because the pollock feet in the Gulf of Alaska doesn’t have the sophisticated tools used by the Bering Sea pollock fleet.

“It’s going to be a struggle to try to perform appropriately knowing we are looking at higher quota for Pollock for the next two years at least,” Bonney said.

Bonney said much work is needed to know how to modify salmon excluders being used with success in the Bering Sea for the net size and horsepower of Pollock boats in the Gulf of Alaska. “We hope we can piggyback on what the Bering Sea (fleet) has done,” she said.

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