Overdue Protections for Chinook Salmon Move Forward
A hard cap on salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery moved
closer to reality today. The pollock fishery has been unintentionally
catching alarming numbers of Chinook salmon in recent years, peaking at
more than 130,000 salmon caught in 2007. To address this growing
problem, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is moving forward
on setting a limit of 68,392 as the number of Chinook salmon that
pollock trawlers are allowed to catch before the fishery is shut down.
This cap is contingent on the pollock industry establishing an
incentive program that also addresses bycatch on a vessel-by-vessel
In a series of letters and public testimony, Oceana
and others have been pushing for the Council and National Marine
Fisheries Service to "count, cap and control" bycatch, the
unintentional catching and often killing, of non-targeted fish
species. While conservationists were pleased the Council is moving
forward with setting a cap, they also expressed concerns over the huge
numbers of salmon that pollock trawlers will still be allowed to catch,
and the continuing delay in getting in-the-water protections.
"This is outrageous. People, particularly those who rely on salmon for
subsistence and personal use, have a right to be furious," said Jim
Ayers, Vice President for Oceana. "It is unfortunate that we continue
to manage for collapse instead of sustainability - that we have to be
near calamity before any action is taken to set hard caps and control
the wasteful killing of salmon. It is equally disappointing that NMFS
is saying they can't do anything until next year at the earliest."
While salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery has been reduced
thus far in 2008, it has been an ongoing issue for the last few years.
From 2003 to 2006, the number of Chinook salmon hauled up in pollock
nets rose steadily from 55,594 to 87,771. 2007 saw that number
skyrocket to more than 130,000. To put this 130,000 Chinook salmon in
perspective, the number intentionally caught in the entire commercial
salmon fishery of Chinook salmon in Alaska in 2007 was around 560,000,
and the number of Chinook salmon caught by sport fishermen that same
year was only 76,000.
"Salmon stocks are collapsing
all over the Pacific, and we have got to start managing for the health
of the ecosystem and for what is sustainable for this and future
generations," said Jon Warrenchuk, Ocean Scientist for Oceana. "We've
invested heavily in protecting salmon habitat and sustainably managing
commercial, sport, and subsistence salmon fisheries. We now have to
invest in protecting salmon from bycatch as well."
salmon are the lifeblood of Alaska's commercial, sport, and subsistence
fisheries. According to the Alaska Department of Labor, salmon
generate more jobs than any other fishery in Alaska and accounted for
49% of fishing employment by species in 2004.
In some rural
communities, particularly in Western Alaska, summer salmon harvests are
often the only available source of income. In addition, salmon caught
as bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands include stocks from
the lower 48 that are the subject of long-standing legal disputes in
Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Most of the
salmon in question are from the Yukon River, which winds through Alaska
and eventually into Canada. Salmon are an important food source and
critical to the subsistence way of life for Alaska Native communities
along the Yukon River. In addition, due in part to salmon bycatch in
the pollock fishery, only an estimated 24,585 Chinook made it to the
Canadian border in 2007. This resulted in no commercial fishery, no
sport fishery, and limited subsistence harvest from the Canadian side
of the Yukon River.
"Salmon are central to the lives of many
Alaskans, and critically important to ecosystems and communities along
the Yukon River and up and down the Pacific coast," said Warrenchuk.
"It is long past time for research, management, and enforcement to
truly ensure we count, cap, and control the wasteful bycatch of Chinook
The alternative identified by the Council includes
tasking the pollock industry with establishing an incentive program to
reward vessels that fish cleanly and punish vessels that engage in
dirty fishing practices. The cap of 68,392 would be for those vessels
that agree to participate in this incentive program, while any vessels
that do not agree to participate would have to stop fishing after the
entire industry catches 32,482 salmon. If the pollock fleet cannot or
will not agree to a robust program, the Council recommended a cap of
High volume groundfish fisheries like pollock are
dominated by a few companies. The majority of fishermen employed by
those companies are not Alaska residents: in 2002, 196 non-resident
trawl fishermen landed 91% of the 2.7 billion pounds taken in the trawl
fishery, earning $220 million. That same year, 4,852 Alaskan salmon
fishermen shared $85.2 million.
The Council's preferred alternative will go out for public comment this fall.