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Higher quotas spawn need for cleaner groundfish fishing

June 20th, 2011 | Margaret Bauman Print this article   Email this article  

A federal limit set on the amount of king salmon that may be caught in the multi-million dollar pollock fishery in the Gulf of Alaska means the heat is on to find a way to keep those prized chinooks out of pollock nets.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council during its June meeting in Nome set the cap at 18,316 kings in the Central Gulf of Alaska and 6,684 kings in the Western Gulf.

In addition the council is requiring all vessels under 60 feet involved in directed fishing for Pollock to have observer coverage beginning no later that Jan. 1, 2013. This primarily affects vessels in the Western Gulf, where a large proportion of the fleet uses smaller boats. If the restructured observer program the council already approved is implemented beginning in 2013, observers will be deployed under that program. Otherwise vessels under 60 feet will need to comply with existing 30 percent observer coverage requirements until the restructured observer program comes online.

An industry spokesman, John Gauvin, said testing must be done to develop a salmon excluder system to keep the kings out of pollock nets, as is done in Bering Sea pollock fisheries, but these excluders will have to be designed to meet the meets of the Gulf fishery, which is smaller and different in several ways than the Bering Sea fishery.

A lot of the boats used in the Gulf pollock fishery are 60 feet to 90 feet long, while vessel used in the Bering Sea pollock fishery range from factory trawlers and catcher boats down to 90 feet, he said.

So far the only work that's been done is that the North Pacific Fisheries Research Foundation has placed technicians on some boats earlier this year to observe wat the nets look like and how fast the boats are moving, he said.

Gauvin heads the Best Use Coalition, an umbrella group for a number of freezer trawler fishing fims interested in working to improve management of non-pollock fisheries. He was involved in developing the salmon excluders for Bering Sea fisheries, as he likely will for Gulf fisheries.

There is much work to be done, Gauvin said, including securing a federal exempted fishing permit to test areas that have a lot of bycatch and not have that harvest count against the regular fishery. He said he was hopeful that permit could be secured by 2012.

Julie Bonney, speaking for the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, said it is difficult for the pollock industry to be responsive to the hard cap because they don't have the sophisticated tools available for the Bering Sea fishery. "It's going to be a struggle to try to perform appropriately, knowing we are looking at a higher quota for pollock for the next two years at least," she said.

The allowable pollock harvest for the Gulf for 2011 is set at 96,215 metric tons.

The hard cap decision made by the council drew praise from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, which hopes the new regulations will go into effect as soon as mid-year 2012.

In the wake of the 2010 Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, with an incidental catch of 51,000 king salmon, AMCC and others had pushed for a 22,500 hard cap for the gulf. In fact Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made the motion to adopt the 22,500 bycatch cap but other council members argued for a 25,000 fish cap to give pollock vessels more cushion to catch the allowable harvest of pollock without hitting the king salmon hard cap.

Meanwhile, the NPFMC action also will require full retention of all salmon species by all vessels fishing in the Pollock trawl fisheries, allowing for collection of scientific data or biological samples. Full retention is a key prerequisite to estimating the representative composition, by stock of origin, of chinook salmon caught as bycatch in the Gulf Pollock fishery,

Processors of Gulf pollock, which must by regulation, be delivered shoreside also have agreed to participate in SeaShare, an organization participating in the Alaska food bank donation program

 


Margaret Bauman can be reached at mbauman@alaskanewspapers.com, or by phone at 907-348-2449

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