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My Turn: Support reductions of Chinook salmon bycatch

Posted: April 3, 2013 - 11:00pm

Alaska’s king salmon are facing troubled times. Returns to state rivers stretching from Cook Inlet to the Yukon have been much lower than needed to sustain the health of runs that support commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries. Cook Inlet and the Yukon River have seen closures and/or minimal openings that have resulted in the Secretary of Commerce declaring disasters in those fisheries. The losses to fishermen and local economies have been significant, and extremely painful.

Scientists and fishermen are still perplexed by the reasons for the dramatic downturn in Chinook runs in these river systems, and often point to ocean conditions. In other places in Alaska such as Southeast, king salmon runs are in fairly robust condition. The need for better science and research, as well as action to protect salmon in ways that are within our means, has become starkly clear to those of us whose livelihoods depend on salmon.

To their credit, Alaska’s governor and Legislature are pledging millions for research to understand the problem. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) has also taken action to reduce one source of mortality of king salmon that we can control: bycatch. Yet while Council actions have helped reduce waste of Chinook salmon in Alaskan waters, much more remains to be done to reign in the impact of bycatch at a time of low abundance.

The Council recently placed a 25,000 Chinook salmon cap on the pollock trawl fleet in the Gulf of Alaska thanks, in no small part, to the many comments from commercial, subsistence, and sport groups. Many of us feel this cap was set too high and needs to be lowered. Furthermore, the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the Gulf were not included in this cap and there is still no limit as to how many Chinook they can take.

Fortunately, the Council will be taking final action within the coming months on a Chinook bycatch limit in these trawl fisheries. Among the options being considered is a 5,000 Chinook hard cap and “full retention of all salmon bycatch until the number of salmon has been determined by the vessel or plant observer.”

Alaska king salmon fishing interests have a long history of competing passionately for their perceived share of this iconic species, the largest, hardest fighting, best eating, and most wonderful of all the Alaskan salmon. It is a refreshing change of pace when these interest groups that pass each other every day in communities across Alaska can find common ground and work together for the protection of the fish they depend on. The common ground Alaskan sport, commercial, subsistence, and conservation interests have recently found is their support for reduction of the waste of salmon in the Alaskan trawl fisheries.

Please join us in asking the Council to pass the 5,000 Chinook cap and mandate that all salmon bycatch is counted by an observer in the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments will be accepted soon at the Council, but right now, you can call your Senator and Representative in Juneau and tell them that you support the resolutions to reduce Chinook bycatch, HR6 and SR5, and ask them to do the same. To find out more about the state resolutions visit http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/ and search for the bill numbers. To learn more about the Council action visit http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/

Comments to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council can be emailed to npfmc.comments@noaa.gov.

Ault is the Owner/Operator of Inlet Charters and serves as President of the Alaska Charter Association. Jordan is a commercial salmon troller in Sitka.

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