AK trawlers say chum cap “will shut down the pollock fleet entirely”

Trawlers divert bycatch reduction discussions to 'genetic origins' of salmon. Do those going without care where the fish originate?

by | March 23, 2023

Filed Under Bycatch | NPFMC | Salmon

“No way we’ll accept it,” Seattle-based trawlers threaten

From Intrafish by Rachel Sapin 
March 22, 2023

Laine Welch comment: Seattle-based trawlers claim they are “partners in Alaska’s fisheries. But they are unwilling to make any sacrifices to protect Alaska’s fishery resources. They are threatening a lawsuit against a new plan that imposes a floating cap to reduce Bering Sea halibut bycatch based on the abundance of the stock…they opposed a six month emergency moratorium on trawling in the Bristol Bay red king crab savings zone to protect mating/molting crab…the impacts of trawl bycatch are completely omitted from the NPFMC 10-year snow crab rebuilding plan…they refute findings that “mid-water” trawl gear is sometimes on the bottom more than 80% of the time, calling it “unscientific”…trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska oppose the call for more observer coverages of their catches…and now, as the write up below by Intrafish shows, they claim a chum cap will put them out of business. The motto of the Seattle-based trawlers – who take 80% of the value of ALL groundfish from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska – should be “conservation is everyone else’s problem.”

From Intrafish by Rachel Sapin 
March 22, 2023

Representatives from Alaska’s tribal subsistence sector are pushing forward with recommendations for a so-called “hard cap” on Alaska salmon bycatch for Alaska pollock trawlers as the state deals with the fallout from a precipitous drop in chum salmon stocks in western Alaska.

Bycatch is the non-targeted fish caught while commercial fishermen are harvesting a different species. A “hard cap” would force the Alaska pollock fishery to close if it reaches a specified number of bycaught chum.

 Among the committee members pushing forward the hard cap range were Serena Fitka, the executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association; Jennifer Hooper with the Association of Village Council Presidents; Mellisa Johnson with the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium; Kevin Whitworth, executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; and Mike Williams Sr. with the Akiak Native Community.

The state’s tribal subsistence sector is scrutinizing the Alaska pollock commercial fishery for reasons why chum and chinook salmon have remained at devastatingly low counts on the Yukon River now for several years in a row.

The issue has caused a severe food crisis and financial hardship for the remote region.

Credit: akmarine.org

At-Sea Processors Association (APA) Director Stephanie Madsen, who is also a committee member, emphasized that identifying chum specific to western Alaska makes creating a hard cap challenging. Her organization represents US pollock fishing giants American Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Arctic Storm, Coastal Villages and Glacier Fish.

“There’s no way the pollock fleet can sit here and say we will accept these,” Madsen said in response to the five members’ recommendations, noting the hard caps could shut down the Alaska pollock fleet entirely, not just her member companies.

Intrafish, march 2023

Madsen has asked for the council to instead consider an alternative action that takes into account that Alaska chum salmon make up a small proportion of total chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock trawl fishery.

There is no chum bycatch limit on the fishery, but US pollock fishing companies are directed to “minimize chinook salmon and chum salmon bycatch to the extent practicable,” according to the NPFMC. The NPFMC manages the Bering Sea-Aleutian Island pollock trawl fleet – including the chinook, chum, and other salmon species incidentally caught and discarded as bycatch by these vessels.

The pollock industry questions the effectiveness of a chum bycatch cap, noting 91 percent of the chum bycatch recorded in 2021 came from outside of western Alaska, largely from Asian stocks, meaning only 9 percent of chum salmon caught by the US pollock fleet comes from western Alaska stocks.

Madsen is asking for the council to consider establishing a chum salmon reduction plan agreement (RPA) during the B fishing season that would require pollock vessels to avoid areas where there has been “an established chum salmon incidental catch rate” and a “historical genetic composition (proportion) of Western Alaska chum salmon to non-Western Alaska chum salmon.”

The committee’s recommendations move next to the NPFMC’s advisory panel, which will take up the issue April 4.

Photo credit: Alaska Public Media

“There’s room for everyone on God’s green earth as long as we are doing it responsibly and sustainably. I’m not quite sure why the anti-trawl voice is increasing in volume.”


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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.


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