Opinions

OPINION: A busy summer for Alaska’s bycatch task force

salmon stock

Healthy and sustainable Alaska fisheries are important for everyone in our state. Last November, Gov. Mike Dunleavy took action to build on Alaska’s record as a fisheries conservation leader by creating the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force, or ABRT. As chairman of the ABRT, I want to provide an update on our work and share how members of the public can engage.

Bycatch is an important issue, and Gov. Dunleavy created this task force to ensure that a broad cross-section of Alaskans are involved in reviewing its impacts and making recommendations. The task force is composed of 13 public members — including Western Alaska in-river users, fishermen, community representatives and two legislative non-voting members. All task force members are committed to doing the work the governor set out in Administrative Order (AO) 326.

While the full task force has continued to meet monthly, four distinct subcommittees have also been established. The objective of these subcommittees is to ensure that we examine bycatch from a range of angles, covering different areas and species of interest. Three separate subcommittees are working to review bycatch issues affecting Western Alaska salmon, Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab, and Gulf of Alaska salmon and halibut. The fourth subcommittee is focused specifically on science, technology and innovation. These subcommittees have been meeting multiple times a month, working hard to gather information that can help build alignment around paths forward.

Each phase of the subcommittees’ work is seeking to address tasks set out in the AO. Initially, the subcommittees have endeavored to gain a detailed understanding of the issues at play. Presentations from experts — including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, state of Alaska Fish and Game managers and scientists, research entities and industry — have provided task force subcommittees with a sound basis for understanding stock status, current management regulations and areas of existing research.

The next phase of subcommittee work is developing research recommendations. The subcommittees will work to highlight research gaps, identify possible funding sources, and hopefully encourage collaboration opportunities. The final phase will include recommendations for state of Alaska engagement and management. The task force will review all the subcommittees’ work and look to build on themes that emerge from across multiple subcommittees.

Public participation is also a critical component of the task force’s work. First, I encourage you to visit the ABRT webpage, which contains all the materials and meeting summaries for both the task force meetings and the work of each subcommittee. Here you can also sign up for public notices or send an email to us. Second, all task force and subcommittee meetings provide an opportunity for public comment. This is a chance for the public to share information directly with task force members, and in so doing help shape their work. Third, a timeline has been approved enabling the public to review all subcommittee recommendations on research, state engagement, and management at a public hearing in Anchorage on Oct. 12. As with all task force activities, remote participation will be available. This important hearing will ensure that the task force has the benefit of views from members of the public from all across the state before any recommendations are finalized.

As task force members, we are acutely aware that many Alaskans have strongly-held views about bycatch in our fisheries. Although it will be impossible to meet all expectations, our commitment is to work hard to understand all aspects of the challenge and make recommendations grounded in the best available science. Our hope is that by advancing our work transparently and with public participation at every stage, Alaskans will have confidence in our recommendations, and that our work will serve to strengthen fisheries conservation in our state.

John Jensen is the chairman of the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force, vice-chair of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. He owns a boat rental business and lives in Petersburg.

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