New fisheries rule aimed at reducing waste

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Board of Fisheries has passed a rule giving fishery regulators more muscle to stop wasteful discarding of salmon.

The state already has a law prohibiting ''wanton waste'' of salmon, but troopers with the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection wanted additional power to stop fishermen from throwing overboard unwanted salmon such as low-value chums.

The measure passed by the Board of Fisheries last week gives authorities selective power to require fishermen to keep and use all salmon pulled from the water.

It says that in a commercial salmon net fishery, if state officials determine that full retention of all salmon species is necessary, they can issue an emergency order to close and then immediately reopen a fishery, requiring that all salmon species be kept and put to some use.

The new regulation will better enable authorities to charge fishermen who waste unwanted salmon under the guise of ''catch and release.''

State law currently allows fishermen to remove salmon from nets and discard them, even after being brought onboard in some areas of the state. But to prove a case of salmon waste, authorities had to prove that the salmon were dead or near death.

Now, if full retention is ordered in a fishery, it won't matter whether a discarded salmon is dead or alive, said officials attending a Board of Fisheries meeting at the Anchorage Downtown Marriott.

Troopers said they had received many complaints of salmon waste violations from the public and from fishermen, particularly in places such as Southeast Alaska, where chum runs at times have flooded processors. Many of the complaints involved fishermen or processors stripping valuable salmon eggs called roe out of the female fish and then dumping the carcasses.

In other areas, a fishery can be closed if a limit of a particular species of salmon is caught. The concern is that fishermen might release these fish, which might have been killed or injured in the net, to avoid triggering the closure.

Originally, the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection proposed that the board consider a rule requiring all gillnet fishermen statewide to retain all fish. Many commercial fishing groups opposed the proposal as poorly written.

United Fishermen of Alaska, an umbrella group for many commercial fishing organizations, wrote that while it supported the concept of full retention, the original proposal would have been bad for conservation and would have caused undue economic hardships for fishermen.

For example, the proposal would have clashed with state policy to release species such as steelhead and sometimes king salmon for conservation reasons. And United Fishermen questioned why harvesters should be required to keep and kill deteriorating or ''dark'' salmon for which there was no market, as well as species sometimes caught by accident like pollock, cod and squid.

Doug Mecum, commercial fisheries director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the rule ultimately passed by the board was more favorable to both the department and commercial fishermen.

It gives managers the option of requiring full retention of just salmon, and only in areas where abuses are occurring, he said.

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