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First-ever king cap placed on Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery

June 13th, 2011 | Margaret Bauman Print this article   Email this article  

Federal fishery managers responding to the record incidental catch of 51,000 king salmon in the 2010 Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery have voted to set a first-ever bycatch limit of 25,000 chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska Pollock fishery.

The action came late on June 12 during the meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Nome.

While a limit on chinook bycatch was established for the Bering Sea pollock fishery in 2009, this will be the first salmon bycatch restriction in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery.

Theresa Peterson, a commercial harvester from Kodiak and community coordinator for Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said the new regulation could go into effect as soon as mid-year 2012. Had they delayed final action, it would not have gone into effect until 2013, Peterson said in an interview from Kodiak after returning from the Nome meeting.

"This is a critical time for getting king salmon bycatch under control," Peterson said. "Central Gulf chinook runs are hurting and salmon fishermen are restricted. This is a time for the groundfish trawl fleet to be part of the solution."

In its deliberations, the council considered a range of caps from 15,000 to 30,000 kings that would be allowed to be taken as bycatch in the pollock trawl fishery. This past April, the council selected a preferred alternative of 22,500 fish, signaling the direction intended by the fishery managers.

At the Nome meeting, the NPFMC heard testimony from the pollock industry calling for the least restrictive cap. The council also heard testimony and received a letter signed by over 500 fishermen and coastal Alaska residents urging fishery managers to adopt the preferred alternative, pointing out that this number was already a compromise and represented middle ground. The 22,500 cap would represent an amount higher than the pollock fleet's 10-year bycatch average.

Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made the motion to adopt the 22,500 king bycatch cap. Other council members argued that the pollock fleet deserved a 25,000 cap to give vessels more cushion to catch the allowable amount of pollock without hitting the king salmon cap. Once the cap on chinook bycatch is reached, the pollock fishery would be shut down.

Debate at the council meeting centered on how much responsibility to place on the pollock fleet to avoid salmon bycatch, versus how much benefit there would be to the salmon resource.

Peterson said that harvesters in favor of the lower cap appreciated Campbell's "valiant effort to keep the bycatch cap low. Their effort was responsive to the needs of salmon fishermen and the salmon resource itself," she said.

The final package kept in place other preferred alternatives, including full retention of salmon caught incidentally, which will have two benefits, Peterson said.

Agreements are in the works that may allow for that salmon to be distributed to food banks as early as this summer. In addition, the Alaska Fishery Science Center will also be able to do some comprehensive genetic sampling analysis to help them determine the rivers of origin of king salmon caught in Gulf of Alaska waters.

In the final vote, council members standing firm with the 22,500 cap were Campbell, Duncan Fields and Sam Cotten. Council chairman Eric Olson was not able to attend the meeting, due to a family emergency.


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