Incidental harvest of king salmon in the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, a hot button issue for both commercial and sport fishermen, may come before federal fisheries regulators again in April.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council heard 12 hours of testimony at its December meeting in Anchorage as well as discussions about the incidental catch of chum salmon in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.
The council then added the Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch issue to the agenda for its April meeting in Anchorage. The council, which considers bycatch a priority issue, has directed its staff to refine its analysis.
In the final day of its December meeting, the council also decided to give the commercial fishing industry more time to work on plans to reduce the incidental catch of chum salmon among the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fleet. The council asked for a status report on that effort at its April meeting, and may take further action during its October 2013 meeting in Anchorage.
An updated analysis will be released for public comment about three weeks before the council takes up either matter.
Time to reduce bycatch?
Duncan Fields, a council member from Kodiak, said if the Gulf of Alaska bycatch issue comes before the council during its April meeting, action could be implemented in early 2015.
Alternatives for the Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch issue currently include status quo, a hard cap on Chinook salmon and full retention of salmon until the number of salmon has been determined and observers have been able to collect scientific data or biological samples.
Theresa Peterson, a Kodiak harvester who also works for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, told the council it’s time to do something about extensive Chinook bycatch by the non-pollock trawl vessels in the Gulf of Alaska.
"Significant and unrestricted Chinook bycatch has been occurring in the Gulf of Alaska for decades," Peterson said. "We applaud the action the council took to put a limit on Chinook salmon (bycatch) in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries.
"It is now time to follow suit for the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the gulf. These fisheries on average contribute a third of the known Chinook bycatch in the gulf -- and in some years as high as 70 percent of the bycatch. They remain at present unrestricted.
"Given the disastrous state of Chinook salmon runs throughout the gulf, it is clearly time for the council to ... meet its obligation (to) reduce bycatch," she said.
The council also heard from commercial and sport anglers from the Kenai Peninsula to Southeast Alaska, and groups such as the Homer Charter Association, which called for a 5,000 fish cap on the overall incidental catch of king salmon by trawlers.
Arthur Bloom, a commercial halibut fisherman from Tenakee Springs, Alaska, wrote: “National Standard 9 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that bycatch be reduced."
Added Daniel Longman, whose marine insurance firm supports the guided sport fishing industry in Southcentral Alaska: "Chinook salmon is a resource that should not be squandered as bycatch. It is unjust and immoral to let this practice continue."
Margaret Boswroth, a commercial salmon harvester from Kodiak, said: "Chinook salmon is critical to subsistence, sport and commercial fisheries, and a major contributor to the economy and culture of Alaska. All other users have to reduce their harvest to conserve Chinook salmon in years of low returns. The trawl fisheries must do the same."
Brian Lynch, director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, said his organization supports bycatch reductions so long as they’re fair. “It is difficult to do much about reducing bycatch in competitive fisheries, unless it is a gear modification that everybody uses."
And then there was a terse single comment from Steve and Roma Novakovich, lodge owners from Homer, who wrote "hope somebody with a brain limits the bycatch before it's too late."
Chum salmon bycatch
The council asked for a status report on the issue of chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries to be finished for its April meeting, aiming to take up the issue in October.
John Gruver, speaking for United Catcher Boats, told the council that the industry's modified rolling hot spot program is aimed by reducing bycatch of Western Alaska chum salmon -- while achieving optimum yield from the directed pollock fishery and maintaining the objectives of the Chinook salmon prohibited species management program.
"Based on the current best available genetic information, bycatch in the months of June and July contain the highest level of Western Alaska chum salmon," Gruver said. He supports prioritizing chum bycatch protections in June by having hot-spot closures apply to all vessels and, in July, some test fishing during closures.
The council heard from Harry Wilde, an 83-year-old Yukon River subsistence fisherman, who said he came before the council as a voice for people who depend on Yukon River salmon. Wilde said subsistence users who have harvested king salmon for generations have fewer fish along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.
"The amount of king salmon we need for subsistence on the Yukon River has not been harvested in the past five years or more," Wilde said.
And the council heard testimony from Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents; Karen Gillis, executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association; Melanie Bahnke, president of Kawerak, Rebecca Robbins Gisclair, policy director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, and Orville Huntington, director of wildlife and parks for Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The five urged the council to act now to put management measures in place to reduce bycatch of Western Alaska chum salmon.
Margaret Bauman is a reporter for The Cordova Times. Contact her at mbauman(at)thecordovatimes.com. Used with permission.