Letters to the Editor

Letter: Salmon bycatch

Over the past two weeks, the federal fisheries managing body, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, or NPFMC, took on the issue of trawler salmon bycatch. Community members from Native villages in Western Alaska provided testimony to the NPFMC describing loss of identity, heritage and tradition with the lack of salmon subsistence access. These community members also expressed anger with the ongoing take of salmon by trawlers in the Bering Sea under the current low salmon conditions.

The salmon bycatch issue is highly complex, but underlying unfairness is simple. Access to resources for industry is allowed, access to resources for people is not allowed. The outcome of the NPFMC meeting session was a commitment to further research and collaboration.

Several Council members also reminded everyone that the NPFMC process is slow, and the public must be patient. Any excuse for the council’s lack of direct action on the salmon bycatch issue is unacceptable. Chum bycatch in the trawl fisheries has been a steadily increasing problem for the past decade and the lack of subsistence has been a problem for years. The last time an analysis on chum salmon bycatch was produced was more than a decade ago.  

The council either dropped the ball or willfully stalled on addressing the chum bycatch issue. It’s not for a lack of resources; the fisheries agencies in Alaska are funded with a combined budget of greater than $100 million. The communities affected by the low salmon numbers should be furious and the public should be outraged. It is unlikely an earlier updated chum study would have led to higher salmon returns, but the Native people suffering deserve the respect and full attention of the council, agency staff and the industry.

— Doug Disquis


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