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2 the House measure was withdrawn by Rep.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.