Fish board to address bycatch to aid Kodiak king salmon

Mike Campbell

Thirty proposals to amend state fishery policy await the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which begins a three-day meeting this morning in Kodiak.

Among them are proposals targeted at rebuilding Kodiak's devastated king salmon runs.

A Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association proposal would bar commercial seine fishermen from keeping king salmon taken before July 6 in the Kodiak Management Area unless both the Karluk and Ayakulik rivers had met the minimum salmon escapement goals set by state fisheries biologists.

"The Kodiak salmon purse seine fishery catches chinook salmon incidental to the targeted fishery for sockeye and chums during June," reads the proposal. "Given the low returns to the Karluk and Ayakulik rivers and failure to meet minimum escapement goals, the problem at hand is to rebuild these runs."

As recently as 2004, more than 24,700 kings returned to the Ayakulik River. Last summer, about 4,900 came back -- a big jump from 2,615 the previous year and enough to allow the river to reach, for the first time in three years, its minimum goal of 4,800 fish escaping up river to spawn.

Similarly, the Karluk run has cratered, with 2,897 returning last year. It hasn't reached its minimum escapement goal of 3,600 kings since 2006.

"The abundance is likely to remain low for years," Kodiak area management biologist Donn Tracey said last spring. "The one bright spot is the fact that we've seen this kind of downturn before, particularly on the Ayakulik. That was in the late 1970s and early '80s -- and it rebounded from that."

Upticks in the returns to both rivers last season may be the first sign that is happening again.

Another proposal, from Ouzinkie Native Corp., would close some state waters of Marmot Bay north of the island to trawling.

"Local chinook stocks appear to be very low, and some portion of these distressed stocks are believed to be caught in the near shore Marmot Bay trawl fishery," the proposal says.

If nothing is done, "each year several thousand chinook salmon will be killed and discarded in Marmot Bay by the trawl fishery."

Late last year, a federal report said that a bycatch of more than 60,000 king salmon was taken by pollock boats and other commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska.

Josh Keaton, a fisheries manager with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said last year's Gulf of Alaska king salmon bycatch was the most since monitoring began in 1992. Federal observers work on about a third of the commercial vessels. Projections are used for boats without observers.

If adopted, the proposal would displace part of the trawl fleet, costing commercial fishermen fuel and time. But it added that additional state waters off Kodiak would remain open -- as are federal waters farther offshore.

"Closing state waters, Shelikof Straits was also considered as a second 'hot spot' area for chinook bycatch...," according to the proposal. "However, the proposer wanted to first protect Marmot Bay, the area that is right in our backyard."

The meeting, at the Harbor Convention Center, runs through Friday, with staff reports on groundfish, salmon and salmon escapement goals scheduled for this morning.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.