Federal Fisheries Council Action on Bycatch Prompts Critical Rebuttal

Chum salmon swimming upriver. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

A group of commercial, sport and subsistence fishing entities are taking issue with a decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to postpone setting limits on chum salmon bycatch and reducing seafloor damage caused by midwater trawl gear. 

Their concerns were summarized in a statement issued Oct. 12 by the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), SalmonState, DeepStrike Sportfishing and the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

During its October meeting in Anchorage from Oct. 2-10, the council approved analysis of additional management measures to minimize chum salmon bycatch. The council acknowledged that about  99% of the chum salmon encountered as bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery are encountered by this fishery.

The council has until its December meeting in Anchorage to select an alternative and take a final vote.

“The council’s decision on chum salmon management at this meeting are a painful reminder of why changes are needed to the guidelines that govern Council actions,” ALFA Executive Director Linda Behnken said. “The council does not seem to hear what Alaskans are saying.”

“Alaskans feel strongly that historic fisheries for salmon, halibut, crab and herring should be prioritized over trawl bycatch, but right now the guidelines favor maximizing harvest and economic returns—and the council does not think change is needed,” Behnken continued. “Our coastal communities depend on access to these fisheries, and we need management that upholds community and resource health.”

“After hearing from many Alaskans who have not fished for at least three years in Western Alaska and across the entire Yukon because of record chum crashes, the council offered up a range of bycatch limits that rewards industry based on the second highest bycatch peak this century,” Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Amy Sparck said.

“Without a hard cap, any of the alternatives the council is considering to allow the pollock fleet to prosecute does nothing to measurably allow more Western Alaska chum back up their rivers,” she added.

Nome, Alaska-based Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. (NSEDC) is one of six community development quota (CDQ) entities that are allocated a percentage of the pollock harvest quota and share their profits with residents of 65 Western Alaska communities. Over the past few years, the CDQs have allocated millions of dollars to their village members to help supplement everything from fuel to storm damage costs.