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Council votes for new restrictions on bycatch

Posted: June 11, 2013 - 8:13am  |  Updated: June 11, 2013 - 11:09pm
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Eric Olson, chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, speaks as the council talks about the electronic monitoring of fishing vessels for their data collection programs at Centennial Hall on Thursday. The council is meeting in Juneau through Monday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Eric Olson, chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, speaks as the council talks about the electronic monitoring of fishing vessels for their data collection programs at Centennial Hall on Thursday. The council is meeting in Juneau through Monday.

JUNEAU — The Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet faces new restrictions, as fisheries managers seek to limit the number of chinook salmon it unintentionally takes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a policy over the weekend that lowers its cap on bycatch of the fish. It’s expected to take a year and a half before the federal government formally adopts the policy, APRN reported.

The trawl fleet comprises about 50 vessels, fishing for things like cod and rockfish, and bringing their catch to seafood processing plants in communities like Kodiak.

Bycatch in the fishery has ranged from 3,000 to 10,000 fish. The question facing the council was how many chinook salmon the trawl fleet could unintentionally kill before it would have to stop fishing.

Conservation groups wanted a cap near the low end. Fleet representatives wanted a higher limit, arguing a lower cap would put them at risk of fisheries closures.

Fleet representatives said the economic harm they’d face from a low cap would spread to the coastal towns that handle their catch.

The council settled on 7,500 as the new cap.

Concerns have been raised in recent years about the health of Alaska’s Chinook runs.

Bill Tweit, a council member who represents the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the council had no choice but to take a conservation-minded approach. But council member Roy Hyder, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Game, was sympathetic to concerns raised about the economic impact.

“The person in Kodiak that doesn’t get called by the processor to work on a line is the person that’s going to pay the biggest price,” he said.

Cora Campbell, Alaska’s Fish and Game commissioner and a council member, said salmon fishermen have experienced plenty of economic damage already. She said a policy that wouldn’t require the trawl fleet to change its behavior would be unfair.

“If you set the hard cap at a level where it would not have constrained the fishery in the past 10 years, that is not a balanced approach,” she said. “That is not sharing the burden of conservation between the trawl fleet and the directed salmon fishermen.”

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