Some people are claiming that Alaska is experiencing some kind of salmon crisis but is that what is really happening? If there were a real salmon crisis most would expect the blame to be directed towards either a freshwater or saltwater source problem. Freshwater fishermen would claim the problem to be in the saltwater and saltwater fishermen claim it to be in the freshwater. Some even see it as all sides just catching to many fish.
In general most of our local salmon fisheries have been fishing the same way since about 1980 but there has been a substantial increase in one type of fishery. That fishery is our Commercial Pollock Fishery. This trawler fishery targets pollock and it catches a lot of them but it also accidentally kills about 3.4 king salmon per metric ton of pollock. It is a proven fact that just our legal commercial trawlers take over a million tons of pollock each year. Just doing some basic math shows a possible 3.4 million king salmon being killed and dumped by this fishery each year but the NPFMC has set annual trawler by-catch kill caps on king salmon at 25,000 in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 in the Bering Sea.
While these commercial trawlers were by-catching salmon, they were also by-catching and tossing overboard dead smaller bait fish which salmon feed on; thus also reducing the prey our salmon have access to. Tremendous schools of herring, cod, rockfish, sand fish, hooligan, candle fish, smelt, stickleback, wolf fish and squid have been permanently wiped out with bait fish by-catch dumping. This environmental destruction then forces our salmon to forage longer to meet their daily and future calorie intake needs. As trawlers kill and dump this salmon prey back into the ocean, they dramatically increase a salmon’s chances of never achieving sufficient fat reserves to make it back to their native freshwater rivers and streams.
The result of all this trawlers fisheries abuse are dwindling fish stocks across the board because of the enormous amount of fish being trashed in the North Pacific Ocean. Fish are basically being killed faster than they can reproduce and just like Wall Street finally collapsed itself with poor oversight and mismanagement, our pollock fishery is also headed towards that same fate. If the North Pacific Fishery Management Council does not take decisive action to reduce pollock catch levels, this fishery must also collapse because of its own mismanagement. Of the four Alaska pollock stocks, two are currently shut down to commercial fishing and a third is just a fraction of what it used to be. In spite of all the warning signs, which include five years in a row of low juvenile survivorship, this industry has continued to target pollock spawners by taking huge numbers of pregnant females just before they release their eggs.
The NPFMC has no idea how many salmon are out there cruising the North Pacific or how many are being trashed as a direct result of its trawler fisheries but it has arbitrarily set salmon by-catch limits anyway at 25,000 per year in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 per year in the Bering Sea. How does any fisheries management body set by-catch limits if it has no idea how many fish they are dealing with? With this kind of mis-management it is possible to set by-catch limits equal to total reproduction limits without knowing it, thus resulting in total resource collapse. Setting caps on salmon by-catch is not a management plan, it is only a plan for fisheries disaster.
Do we have a salmon crisis? I believe most can see that the facts point to us actually having a fisheries management crisis. The true problem is that the NPFMC allows its members to have direct financial conflicts of interests. This membership defect reaches to the very core of the Council’s ability to correctly act on the public’s behalf to safeguard our fisheries natural resources. Just like on Wall Street, profit driven Council members are an over-riding consideration within this issue. This is not a salmon crisis, it is a NPFMC membership crisis and if it continues, it will eventually collapse all of our fisheries interests.