Federal fishery managers are taking steps to limit the incidental harvest of Chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery, in the wake of a 2010 season that saw the numbers of king salmon caught by trawlers soar.
During its spring meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council reviewed a scientific analysis of management alternatives to bring king salmon bycatch under control, weighing benefits to salmon conservation and the cost to the Pollock fleet.
The council heard hours of testimony from fishermen, seafood processors and community advocates, then voted yesterday to set a Chinook incidental catch cap in the Pollock fishery at 22,300 kings as a preferred alternative.
The Council is scheduled to take final action on this issue in June in Nome.
"It was a step in the right direction," said Theresa Peterson, a commercial fish harvester and Kodiak outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
"We applaud the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for taking this step toward limiting Chinook bycatch, especially at a time when king salmon returns are so low," she said. "A conservative cap on Chinook bycatch is needed as an incentive for the Pollock fleet to avoid catching them."
Last year the Chinook bycatch rose to over 51,000 salmon in all groundfish fisheries, including 41,000 kins in the Pollock fishery alone, at a time when king salmon returns to rivers and the central and western Gulf of Alaska are below the 10-year average.
Chinook salmon associated with some rivers are designated sotcks of concern by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with far-reaching restrictions on commercial and recreational salmon fishermen. There are currently no limits on Chinook bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries.
All six members of the federal council's Alaska delegation, who hold a majority of the 11 voting seats on the council, were in favor of the 22,500 cap, as was the Alaska regional administrator for National Marine Fisheries service.
Most of the Chinook bycatch on groundfish vessels goes into fish holds and is delivered to shorebased processors, where it it ends up as waste destined for the fish meal plant.
Over 600 coastal Alaskans signed a letter saying this level of king salmon waste is unacceptable and called for a bycatch cap. Duncan Fields, a council member and commercial fisherman, cited the letter as a powerful show of public interest from those who rely on the king salmon for their commercial, sport and subsistence use.
Cora Campbell, recently named commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, champions the motion to select 22,500 Chinook as the likely bycatch cap.
Pollock fleet representatives argued that the issue was being decided hastily and that the industry needs more time to offer its own solution.
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