Efforts to amend the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery management plan and federal regulations to establish new measures to reduce chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery now likely won’t be resolved at earliest until 2014.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, during its spring meeting in Anchorage, voted to send the issue back for further analysis. Chris Oliver, executive director of the council, said the matter will probably be on the agenda for the October meeting in Anchorage. If a final decision is made then, it would then go to the US Department of Commerce for approval.
The incidental catch of chum, and also king salmon, in groundfish fisheries has been very controversial for a number of years, pitting a groundfish fishery worth millions of dollars against Western Alaska salmon fishermen, who harvest chum and king salmon for both their commercial value and for subsistence.
On one hand, the groundfish fisheries provide major income for members of the Western Alaska Community Development Association, whose mandate is to provide the 65 eligible villages in Western Alaska with an opportunity to participate and invest in Bering Sea fisheries, support economic development, to provide economic and social benefits to Alaska, and achieve sustainable, diversified local economies.
On the other hand, in a number of villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, commercial fishing income is vital to the economic wellbeing of the community, and an adequate subsistence harvest of fish is strongly tied to cultural heritage and basic survival of the people and often dog teams. When wild salmon runs are so weak that commercial and even subsistence harvests are limited, many people are dependent on food banks and other such resources for their own food.
A summary of National Marine Fisheries Service meetings with Alaska Native tribes, presented to the council by Jim Balsiger, administrator of the Alaska Region for NOAA Fisheries, included specific comments from tribal members regarding their concern for lowering the bycatch of salmon in groundfish fisheries.
A table in the council’s initial review draft environmental assessment of Bering Sea non-chinook salmon prohibited species catch management measures shows that while the number of chum salmon taken in Bering Sea Pollock fisheries declined from a high of 704,552 fish in 2005 to 13,222 fish by 2010 that the bycatch rose again in 2011 to 191,445 fish. That document, written by council plan coordinator Diana Stram, notes that since 2005 the Pollock fishery contribution to the total non-Chinook bycatch has ranged from 88 percent in 2010 to 99.3 percent in 2005.
The Pollock fishery in waters off Alaska is the largest domestic fishery by volume, producing from the Pollock roe (eggs), surimi and fillet products. In 2009 alone, the total value of Pollock was estimated at $1.03 billion, Stram noted. This value increased to $1.06 billion in 2010, she wrote.