Federal fisheries managers have reduced the allowable incidental catch of Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, in a policy change aimed at boosting returns of kings to western Alaska rivers.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s approval of the action on April 11, at its spring meeting in Anchorage, would reduce the prohibited species catch limit of kings to 45,000 fish and the performance standard limit to 33,318 fish in years of low Chinook salmon abundance.
The council’s decision still must proceed through the federal regulatory process, and is not likely to be activated before 2017, according to Glenn Merrill, head of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region division of sustainable fisheries.
The Bering Sea salmon bycatch motion introduced by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten also included revising regulations to incorporate chum salmon avoidance into the Amendment 91 incentive plan agreements. That would include a requirement that the IPAs include, among other details a rolling hot spot program for salmon bycatch avoidance and an agreement to provide notifications of closure areas and any violations of the rolling hot spot program to at least one third party organization representing western Alaskans who depend on salmon and do not directly fish in a groundfish fishery.
The council’s action came on the heels of letters from fishing and tribal entities representing 118 Alaskan communities, who told the council of the severe socio-economic and cultural impact that depleted salmon runs have had on them.
While spokespersons for the pollock fleet have said repeatedly that they are taking all steps possible to keep salmon bycatch low, tribal and fishery groups in Western Alaska told the council that was not enough.
“There is a trust responsibility here,” said Sky Starkey, an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a trust responsibility of NOAA to assure that Alaska Natives are able to harvest enough fish to preserve their way of life.
“The state successfully persuaded the council to reduce bycatch by about 30 percent, “ said Duncan Fields, a council member from Kodiak. “Now it wasn’t as far as we would have liked to have gone, but the fact that this occurred is a huge win for the state.”
The council’s action adopts abundance indices that trigger the imposition of these revised incentive caps and hard caps. Based on salmon abundance in the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, as determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, they would be implemented.
“This is significant,” he said. “This is a large policy change, a large expansion of the council’s involvement in protecting chum resources, and will prove significant over time in terms of the chum savings for western Alaska fisheries.”
Copies of all written testimony on this issue is online at www.npfmc.org