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North Pacific council working on chinook bycatch protection

Posted: December 15, 2012 - 8:01pm  |  Updated: December 15, 2012 - 8:09pm

Chinook and chum could receive a little extra protection in federal waters when work continues on salmon bycatch efforts.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed Dec. 9 that it is time for public review of a chinook measure for the non-pollock trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. That came after the council asked the Bering Sea pollock fleet to look at ways it could reduce its catch of western Alaska chum salmon. Any action for the Bering Sea is likely farther down the road.

The council passed a cap of 25,000 chinooks for the Gulf of Alaska pollock fleet that took effect in 2012. The pollock fleet uses pelagic, or midwater, gear. The new measure for the Gulf will affect non-pelagic, or bottom trawl, gear for the flatfish and cod fleets.

Council member Cora Campbell, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, motioned to move ahead with public review of the potential chinook protections, with some options added to the alternatives staff had already presented.

Campbell’s motion included additions to the analysis that the Advisory Panel, or AP, and Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC, had recommended. The SSC had also recommended releasing it for public review once the additions were made. The AP, however, had recommended not yet releasing the measure for public review.

The alternatives now up for analysis include hard caps with a variety of options. Those include apportioning a cap between the western and central Gulf of Alaska fisheries, apportion the limit by type of vessel, allowing only part of the limit to be taken early in the season and having a separate limit for the rockfish program. Several suboptions will also be considered, including apportioning the limit based on either historic chinook catch or historic total catch, and various specifications for a limit in the rockfish program.

Campbell said she realized that hard caps are far from an ideal way to control prohibited species catch, but that those tools are farther down the road, and it isn’t responsible to have fisheries with unlimited potential for chinook mortality.

“We have stocks of salmon that are highly valued by fishing communities, we have fisheries that have a potential for unlimited mortality on stocks at a time when there’s great uncertainty about the ability of those stocks to support high levels of mortality, and we have a requirement under the natural standards to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable and also to minimize the adverse affects in our action on fishing communities,” Campbell said.

Council member Duncan Fields offered the amendment, which the council approved, to add the suboption to look at apportioning based on historical harvest in addition to looking at apportioning based on historic prohibited species catch.

During discussion, council member John Henderschedt questioned the method of dividing a prohibited species cap amongst sectors, rather than calculating everyone’s needs and adding them together.

“Trying to use division to do this is just, is not the best way to be doing this,” Henderschedt said.

Council chair Eric Olson disagreed.

“Well, if there was enough fish to provide for the sum of all the needs there would be no problem here,” Olson said. “The problem is we don’t have enough fish. And so now we have to find a way to use division to get there.”

Glenn Merrill, sitting in for National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, said the agency is always supportive of reducing bycatch, but would need to find ways to address enforcement and management issues before they can support final action on the alternatives.

The council is also working on a way to provide more bycatch tools in the Gulf through rationalization, or allocating fishing privileges to eliminate the race for fish, but such a package is far from being ready for action.

The council heard significant public testimony on the action, including those who wanted the smallest cap the council is considering, and those who don’t think the plan is ready to move forward.

John Gauvin said he thought divvying up the prohibited species cap could make compliance more difficult, but that those participating in the fishery want to limit their take of those fish.

“I think the fleets do want to do better,” Gauvin said.

Julie Bonney from the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank said that organization did not support moving forward immediately, and wanted to see the trawl fleet gain tools to comply with bycatch before moving on with caps. She also said stock identification information was needed to better understand what is being caught and the impact the fleet has on the fishery. Those things would help them support an effort, she said.

“This isn’t the action to get us there,” she said.

Homer fishermen Pete Wedin said that while there are many unknowns about what’s happening to salmon, wasting chinook is definitely an issue.

“Many small boat fishermen throw up their hands and say that the corporations that exploit these large fisheries are too big to fight, too big to fail. In the case of chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska, these iconic fish are in short supply.”

For Bering Sea chum bycatch reduction, the council opted to ask industry for a plan outlining how they could work within the existing chinook incentive plan agreements, or IPA, rather than continue work on the current options. IPAs took effect in 2011 for the Bering Sea pollock fisheries and allow a larger share of the chinook salmon cap in exchange for vessels taking additional steps to minimize bycatch.

The council discussed the difficulties of balancing chinook and chum protections for western Alaska extensively, and also heard from staff that the alternatives they had in front of them might not make a sizable difference in chum escapement.

Quantifying the impact of chum bycatch on area fisheries is difficult, in part, because genetic identification work so far hasn’t been able to separate out various river systems within western Alaska.


Molly Dischner can be reached at

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sparky 12/16/12 - 02:07 pm

I think that if there was no bycatch of King Salmon,we would have NO issues here on the Kenai River!!None of these high $$$ solutions would be necessary.It sounds like they get as many,or more,fish than returns to the River.

kenai123 12/19/12 - 10:47 am
No Issue? How about 3,315,000 trashed kings salmon each year?

The council passing a cap of 25,000 chinooks for the Gulf of Alaska pollock fleet is totally meaningless. I calculate that between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska they are bycatching about 3,315,000 king salmon each year. So how does a 25,000 king bycatch limit in the gulf and a 60,000 king bycatch limit in the Bering even dent the massive wipe-out effect this industry is trashing our oceans with?

I just came back from attending the Governor's Upper Cook Inlet King Salmon Task Force Meeting at the Kenai Peninsula College on Nov. 16th, 2012, here in Soldotna.
The main thing which I come away with from this meeting is the hollow feeling that most of these Task Force Members do not possess the general knowledge background
as to what is truly driving our statewide king salmon return problems. The reason I make this claim is because of a single question raised by this Task Force. That question was given as follows. "Doe's anyone on this Task Force know why our second run of kings on the Kenai River had a delayed entry pattern this year?" The entire room went dead silent and not a single person even offered a response to this giant question; the group then moved onto other issues.

I first notice a delayed entry pattern for our July kings on the Kenai River back in 1990. This delayed entry back then was a delay from a normal and dramatic arrival of second run kings around July 1 each and every year. By 1991 that arrival timing delayed until around July 3th in 1992, July 8th in 1995, July 12th in 1997, July 16th in 1995, July 18th in 2000, July 20th in 2003, July 25th in 2006, July 27th in 2009, July 29th in 2011 and Aug. 5th in 2012. No member of the Governor's Task Force either knew this information or could recall it, so the room was filled with only silence.

Since 1990 I have observed a general delay in many of our July, second king runs in Cook Inlet's rivers and streams. I have observed a general and progressively increasing delay in these runs. I have raised this delayed entry pattern issue many times with the Alaska Board of Fisheries from 1990 to present day. Each time my question and suggested remedies where listened to but no action was take as the Board went about its main and plain duty of dividing up "alleged surplus fisheries resource" among the many competing user groups. At each meeting I suggested that non-accuracy data received from malfunctioning Kenai River sonar sites from 1990 - 2011 resulted in the general mis-management or "over fishing" of Cook Inlet's commercial gill net fisheries. By mis-management I mean "excessive commercial gillnet sockeye harvest" in Cook Inlet for decades; that excessive fishing has resulted in excessive king salmon by-catch. Most of this excess commercial fishing was 24 hours per day, seven days per week, gill netting in Cook Inlet. This over fishing basically broke the back of our July, Cook Inlet
king runs. Northern fisheries users became so upset at this excess commercial fishing that they asked for and received a concept known as "Window's" which was implemented
to allow brief openings for fish to swim up to the northern districts of Cook Inlet. This change helped but could not even hope to repair the long-term damage to our king runs.
Plus we had ocean commercial users to the south of Cook Inlet which would soon ramp up their fishing efforts to make "Window's" meaningless.

From 2000 to 2003 most people only viewed our king salmon loss within the missing kings within the Kenai River's first run of kings. This run of kings had also become
depleted but not because of July commercial fishing in Cook Inlet. This run of kings was being impacted by other commercial fisheries to the south near and around
Kodiak Island which normally begin fishing in the first week of June. Most Kenai River fisheries users at that time did not even know commercial fisheries were fishing and impacting king salmon in June at the entrance to Cook Inlet. Substantial Cook Inlet freshwater king salmon fishing restrictions were created to try to remedy the effects of increasing commercial interception at the entrance to Cook Inlet. These freshwater restriction basically had no effect and then these same freshwater users began hearing about other saltwater users in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea which were also having an increasing and dramatic impact on the ability of king salmon to migrate back to their nursery rivers and streams in Cook Inlet. We now understand that this commercial trawler fishery is harvesting about 1,000,000 metric tons of Pollock each year and that 3.4 king salmon are accidental by-catch for each metric ton of this Pollock harvest. These kings are being killed and dump back into the ocean. This is all about the potential destruction and
waste of 3,400,000 king salmon each and every year. Our North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has place max. caps on commercial king by-catch of 25,000 kings in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 in the Bering Sea. A potential 3,400,000 king salmon by-catch may be calculated high but the 85,000 annual max. king by-catch cap. set by the NPFMC was calculated extremely low. The actual king salmon by-catch figure is no doubt somewhere in-between these two figures. The difference between the figures is 3,315,000 kings, which is substantial. Which numbers do you believe? Either way the rights of the corporations to harvest & waste is impinging directly upon the rights of the public to harvest and not waste.

We have a three fold negative king salmon effect happening here.
1.] One within our own local commercial gillnet sockeye fisheries in Cook Inlet as it is over-fishing thus negatively impacting and by-catching our kings.
2.] One within our Kodiak Island commercial fisheries as they over-fish and negatively impact and by-catch our kings.
3.] One within our commercial Pollock trawler fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska as they over-fish and negatively impact and by-catch our kings.

This three fold "negative king by-catch effect" is resulting in a single negative force to suppress king salmon production both locally and statewide. This has all happen right under our noses and when a member of our King Salmon Task Forces asks why we currently have a delayed king entry pattern in July and nobody in the room even has a guess as to the cause, what chance do we really have of these Task Force members understanding the rest of this very complex issue?
I see few of these Task Force Members possessing the necessary knowledge background to resolve this very complex king salmon loss issue. I can only hope that some how these Task Force members will be educated by our ADF&G regarding this very important king salmon loss issue.

sparky 12/19/12 - 02:19 pm

Sounds like you have a lot of the facts & figures.They reinforce my feelings about the bycatch problem.Simply put,if there was NO Bycatch (of King Salmon) we would have no problem !!!

beaverlooper 12/20/12 - 07:00 pm
And hundreds of boats on the

And hundreds of boats on the river has NOTHING to do with it.......When that part is left out all credibility is lost.
The real problem is none of the user groups want to take any responsibility, not even a little bit,for their part in the problem.
As far as bycacth goes in 2010 pollock accounted for almost 2 billion dollars as opposed to $17 million and change for total king salmon.Who do think is going to win that battle?

Keen-eye 12/20/12 - 05:24 pm

Kenai 123 is clearly a guide with an interest in eliminating commercial fishing in Cook Inlet to increase his own profits. I wonder why he does not ever mention the problems with early run of kings that the commercial fleet has not fished over 40 years.
I used to sport fish this run in the 70's and 80's with great success. Since that time, the run has continually declined to the point it is at today. Has it ever occurred to you that the early COMPONENT of the late run is declining and following the same trend as the early run? It was noted that 36 percent of the late run returned in August this year which corresponds to a time when guides are not targeting them. It is entirely possible that the late run chinook are not entering the system later, it is just that the late component of that run is doing well.
It is funny that your "three fold negative effect" does not mention the 24-7 boat traffic, continual fishing over the spawning beds, and the 100s of thousands of bank fisherman that are not only destroying the riparian habitat but also disrupting the juvenile salmon that are trying to rear.
Just a reminder to anybody talking about "the good ole days", those days included the the same number of commercial fishing permits that exist today.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 12/20/12 - 08:00 pm
Just shut it down

Enough already, just shut it down and maybe they will move on to the next river until it's also ruined like the Kenai.
I bet the Reds are next on the Kenai to vanish.

kenai123 01/06/13 - 05:52 pm
The Alaska King Salmon Task Force Website does not function

I specifically ask that the king salmon task force request, that the state of Alaska request, that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Consul adopt fisheries quota regulations which require all fishermen to bring all catches to port and deduct any discards or by-catch from their quotas. This is how the EU has decided to handle the high seas waste of fisheries by-catch and discard. We should do the same.
I am making my request here because The Alaska King Salmon Task Force Website does not function at
Situation Normal...

EU fish discard ban agreed -- for 2019
Environmental groups say discards waste 1.3 million tonnes of fish a year and wanted an immediate ban on the practice.
The deal for a 2014 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy notably will ban the contested practice of discarding dead fish caught by accident, however not before 2019.
Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian nations favoured forcing fishermen to bring all catches to port and deduct discards from their quotas.

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