Emergency Request to Halt Salmon Bycatch Denied

Image via NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries has denied a request from six Alaska entities to eliminate Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery and implement hard cap on chum salmon bycatch, on grounds that it doesn’t meet three criteria necessary for implementing an emergency rule.

Petitioners had asked Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to close the Bering Sea Pollock fishery this year, plus requested tribal consultations with Western and Interior Alaska tribes to develop long-term measures to reduce chum salmon bycatch, an effort that NOAA Fisheries said is underway.

The petition was signed by the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island and Bering Sea Elders Group.

The agency said the petition did not contain information indicating it meets all requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, nor did the petition include information indicating that the petitioned action is “practicable,” a statutory requirement, nor was the requested action likely to address the emergency from salmon run failures in Western Alaska.

The best available scientific information indicates that those river failures were the result of broad changes to the marine and freshwater environment, NOAA officials said. Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery comprises less than 3% and chum salmon bycatch comprises less than 1% of returns to Western Alaska river systems. Closure of the Pollock fishery in 2022 would be unlikely to result in substantive increases to the subsistence and commercial harvests in 2022, the agency said.

NOAA Fisheries did acknowledge that residents of Western Alaska have suffered significant cultural and economic losses due to low Chinook salmon runs since 2008, and more recently the 2021 Chinook and chum salmon failures in the Yukon River. No commercial or subsistence harvests were allowed on the Yukon River in 2021. They said they would continue to consult with tribes in Western and Interior Alaska to develop long-term solutions to minimizing salmon bycatch, and with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and other stakeholders on bycatch issues.