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To protect Alaska king salmon, pollock trawlers face new caps

Alaska Dispatch

Trawlers whose nets pull up king salmon in addition to the pollock they target are being watched closer than ever.

Starting Saturday, pollock trawlers working the Gulf of Alaska faced a strict cap on the number of king salmon they can pull in as bycatch before being shut down by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A rule recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service establishes a 25,000 fish limit on the number of king salmon that can be caught each year in the central and western Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries. Any more, and the fishery will be shuttered for the year.

The rule also requires that all king salmon caught by the pollock trawlers be delivered to a processing facility where an observer can count the number of salmon and collect scientific data from them. Because the rule is being implemented midway through the fishing season, the pro-rated limit for the rest of the season will be 14,527 kings.

“The National Marine Fisheries says the trawlers caught nearly 4,000 chinook through mid-August, which is low relative to other years,” said Jon Warrenchuk, an ocean scientist with the advocacy group Oceana.  “Maybe they’re on their toes knowing those regulations were coming.”

Because of declining king salmon harvests in the regional, Oceana lobbied for a stricter cap than the 25,000 kings trawlers are allowed to catch in a full season.

“We advocated for a lower cap of 15,000,” Warrenchuk said.  “We thought with all the uncertainly, 25,000 was a little high and we should have been more precautionary. But at least pollock trawlers not only thinking about pollock but also about how many king salmon they’re catching, and what they have to do to avoid being shut down.”