Analysis for Minimizing Chum Bycatch to Begin in Bering Sea Pollock Fishery

Federal fisheries managers have approved analyzing changes to chum salmon bycatch management measures to minimize bycatch of western Alaska chum salmon bycatch to the extent practicable in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, while achieving optimum yield in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries.

A statement issued Monday, Oct. 9 by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) in Anchorage cited standards 9 (the Bering Sea pollock fishery) and 1 (the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries) of the Magnuson Stevens Act National Standards.

The council is focused on bycatch of western Alaska origin chum salmon. The decline of the chum returning to spawn in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in recent years has had a negative impact on this source of subsistence food for residents of villages along these rivers.

The council acknowledged that the pollock fishery intercepts chum salmon originating from the North Pacific and predominantly hatchery origin Russia and Asia chum. This analysis will focus on chum of Western Alaska origin, a genetic group that extends from Norton Sound to Bristol Bay.

During its October meeting the NPFMC reviewed a preliminary analysis on chum bycatch management measures, then approved analyzing changes to those measures. The next step is an impact analysis, as required by federal law, to analyze potential environmental, social and cultural and economic impacts.

The council’s decisions were based on recommendations from its advisory panel and Scientific and Statistical Committee, as well as public testimony from over 50 people.

Council staff are directed to evaluate four management measures to change the status quo, with the first review of this impact analysis scheduled for mid-2024 and final action by next December.

The first issue is a bycatch cap on the total number of chum salmon taken in the pollock fishery. Potential caps range from 200,000 to 550,000 total chum, or about 35,400 to 97,350 coastal western Alaska chum salmon.

The second item is using annual run strength indicators from the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and Norton Sound region to trigger various caps.

Third, council staff is to evaluate an annual cap on Western Alaska origin chum salmon bycatch, ranging from 40,000 to 53,000 Western Alaska chums.

The fourth consideration is additional regulatory requirements and management measures for the pollock fleet to avoid bycatch by closing areas in near real-time throughout the season in response to when chum are on the fishing grounds.

The council said multiple alternatives can be selected.