Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Alaska Legislators Tackle King Salmon Bycatch Issue

Alaska legislators this past week took on the king salmon bycatch issue, in efforts to produce House and Senate resolutions urging reduced incidental catch of the valuable fish in Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea trawl fisheries.

The House resolution did not survive, but the Senate resolution was moving forward, in an effort to get it before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting this week in Anchorage.

Current management measures allow for the incidental harvest maximums of 60,000 kings in the Bering Sea and 25,000 kings in Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries.

Last year the king salmon runs were so low that disaster declarations were issued for Upper Cook Inlet and the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. The economic loss to the state for commercial and recreational fisheries were estimated at over $34 million, and that did not include the significant effects on subsistence users. Setnet fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet were almost entirely shut down and recreational fisheries for kings on the Kenai River were completely shut down. Meanwhile subsistence harvesters on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers were under severe restrictions as well. Yet the incidental catch of thousands of king salmon continued in the pollock and trawl fisheries.

The House and Senate have both heard resolutions urging federal fisheries managers to reduce that Chinook salmon bycatch, but on April 2 the House measure was withdrawn by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, a commercial fisherman who chairs the House Fisheries Committee. Seaton’s action came after Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Eagle River, added an amendment supported by three other Republicans that urged the Alaska Board of Fisheries to reduce Chinook salmon bycatch in Cook Inlet by setting new limits on setnet fisheries.

Seaton said there are multiple issues affecting king salmon populations that have nothing to do with the setnetters, from culverts that adversely affect passage of salmon to infections in some lakes, runoff from building construction and the introduction of pike into lakes.

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