Gulf of Alaska Chinook Salmon Bycatch Limits In Effect

The 25,000 Chinook salmon limit is now in effect for Pollock
boats fishing in the Gulf of Alaska. The rule recommended by the North Pacific Fishery
Management Council and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service established
the limit on pollock trawlers fishing in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska.
If the bycatch exceeds 25,000 kings, the fishery will be shut down.
Chinook harvests and Chinook abundance have been on a declining
trend for over 50 years in Alaska, and on the entire Pacific coast. A number of
groups, from salmon harvesters to international advocacy group Oceana, have advocated
for limiting bycatch of this valuable fish.
For the rest of this year the hard cap for bycatch is 8,929 kings
in the Central gulf and 5,598 kings in the Western Gulf.
Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data
Bank, said this will present a challenge for pollock harvesters because the total
allowable catch on pollock is at a 10 year high of 18,676 metric tons in the Western
Gulf and 32,535 metric tons in the Central Gulf.
Jon Warrenchuk, an ocean scientist with Oceana, said he is optimistic
that the threat of a fishery closure will keep the eyes of the fleet on each other.
Full retention of all bycatch will be required. NMFS will take
tissue samples from some. Processors would then be allowed to donate to food banks
all kings suitable for human consumption.
NMFS is expected to publish final regulations on the related
restructured observer program for this fishery by year’s end. Through the end of
2012, all vessels over 60 feet will need one observer for 30 percent of their fishing
days, and the vessels get to choose when they carry the observers.
Under the new regulations, all vessels fishing for groundfish
and halibut are under the restructured program, although NMFS has said that for
at least the first year the regulations will likely apply to boats at least 40 feet
in length and larger.
All catcher processors and other vessels required to have full
observer coverage at all times will continue to pay for their own observers. The
others – excluding those harvesting individual fishing quotas – are required to
pay 1.25 percent of the ex-vessel value of their harvest into a fund for observer
coverage and NMFS will determine which vessels and when they will carry observers.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been concerned
for some time about Chinook salmon as the species with the highest bycatch rate
in recent years.
Chinook bycatch primarily occurs in trawl fisheries, in the central
and western regulatory areas of the Gulf. Between 2003 and 2010, the pollock target
fishery accounted for an average of three-quarters of intercepted king salmon, while
other trawl fisheries for flatfish, rockfish and Pacific cod accounted for the remainder.