Chinook Bycatch Limit Set for GOA Trawl Fleet

Federal fisheries managers meeting in Juneau plan to put a 7,500
fish limit on Chinook salmon bycatch by some 60 bottom trawlers harvesting
flatfish, rockfish and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska.

The action during the June meeting of the North Pacific
Fishery Management Council still needs approval from Commerce Secretary John
Bryson. There will be a public comment period, so when the new limit will go
into effect is still uncertain.

The Chinook, prized by all salmon harvesters, has been on
the decline in abundance and harvests for over 50 years in Alaska, and on the
entire Pacific coast.

National Marine Fisheries Service is required by law to the
extent possible to minimize bycatch, and minimize mortality of bycatch that
cannot be avoided.

“Overall, it is a good thing,” said Jon Warrenchuk, a senior
scientist for the environmental organization Oceana, based in Juneau. “Not
catching salmon will be the first thing on the trawlers’ minds, or they will
risk being shut down for the season. It will force these guys to work together,
share information, maybe tow shorter distances,” said Warrenchuk, whose
organization had advocated for a Chinook salmon bycatch cap of 5,000 fish.

But Julie Bonney, executive director of the Groundfish Data
Bank in Kodiak, said that from a trawl perspective “it is going to be very
painful. We’re looking at between $28 million and $40 million in economic loss,
assuming the fleet can’t change its behavior,” she said. That loss would hit
hard at Kodiak, with the residential processing labor force seeing the biggest
impact, she said.

What would have been better, she said, would be to have
individual vessel accountability, stop the race for fish and build a
cooperative system.

“Basically there is nothing the vessels can do. We will hit
the cap and will get shut down,” she said. “From a fleet perspective, it is
scary as hell because there are so many kings on the grounds right now. It’s
pain for no gain,” she said. “I am sympathetic to what is happening to other
resource users for king salmon, but this is not going to solve the problem.”

Salmon in the Gulf of Alaska come from over 100 river
systems, the bulk of them in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and
Southeast Alaska, but there is no science to know which rivers are hit hardest,
Bonney said. “We do know there is no presence of western Alaska stocks in the
Gulf of Alaska, so we are not affecting those river systems at all.”

The decline in king salmon runs statewide has been a matter
of growing concern for Alaska’s commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters. Salmon
harvesters’ concern mounted extensively in 2010 when the number of king salmon
caught incidentally to the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries reached 54,449