Will “unavailable data that would have been useful” derail trawl chum cap?

New "social impacts" report on trawl chum cap shows biggest loser would be Seattle. A chum cap tops NPFMC agenda next week.

by | March 27, 2024

Filed Under Bycatch | Management | NPFMC | Pollock | Salmon | Trawl

New report cites data gaps on product transfers, fish volumes, salmon run reconstructions, genetics and more

COMMENT ON THE PROPOSED CHUM CAP HERE – Deadline is Friday, March 29

A chum cap for Bering Sea pollock trawlers is (again) on the April agenda for federal fishery managers who have been mulling the issue for years.  Meanwhile, steadily depleting returns of salmon for nearly two decades to Western Alaska (WAK) rivers has resulted in a ban on Native Alaskans from taking salmon as subsistence food for going on five years with no end in sight.

But it’s been business as usual for the fleets of mostly Seattle-based trawlers which have no limit on the number of chum salmon they can take and toss (by law) as bycatch throughout the region’s waters.  

A year ago the North Pacific Fishery Management Council  rejected calls for a chum cap by both its Advisory Panel and newly appointed Salmon Committee, instead opting for “more policing” and “self-regulation” by the pollock trawlers. 

In response to the chum cap recommendations, Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-sea Processors Association, has repeatedly stressed: “There’s no way the pollock fleet can sit here and say we will accept these,” claiming the hard caps “could shut down the Alaska pollock fleet entirely.”  

More “deliberations” will take center stage during the NPFMC meeting April 4-9 in Anchorage.

“Social Impacts” of a chum cap on fisheries and communities

New to the NPFMC  “initial review analysis” is an excellent Staff report outlining the social impacts that a trawl  chum cap might have on all stakeholders and regions. It’s called “Social Impact Assessment for Bering Sea Chum Salmon Bycatch Management.”  

The report evaluates changing the status quo (no cap) during the pollock B season, from June through October, and includes:: 

➔A bycatch cap on the total number of chum salmon taken in the pollock fishery, potentially ranging from 200,000 to 550,000 total chum;

➔Using annual run strength indicators from the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and Norton Sound region to trigger various caps; and,

➔An annual cap on WAK origin chum salmon bycatch (ranging from 40,000 to 53,000 chums.) 

The report identifies six communities as being “highly engaged in or economically dependent on the Bering Sea B season pollock fishery”: Akutan, King Cove, Kodiak, Newport, Seattle, and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

The biggest loser from a chum cap?  Seattle.

The  Analysis of Impacts section, for example, shows:

• 92.77% of Catcher/Processors harvesting pollock during the B season (June through October) have a registered ownership address in Seattle.
• 47.62% of mothership/floating processors have a registered ownership address in Seattle.
• 80.20% of inshore CVs (catcher vessels) have a registered ownership address in Seattle.
• 92.45% of mothership CVs have a registered ownership address in Seattle. 

The report adds: “A central part of Seattle’s identity has always been that of a fishing community…From an outside perspective, the Seattle-based fleet(s) and related support operations might be considered as important components to the pollock fishery but not a place-based community. However, from a Seattle-based perspective, it has been and remains a North Pacific fishing community.” 

It Would Have Been Useful But …” 

Section 3 of the Social Impact report cites many unanswered questions titled  “Data that Would Have Been Useful but Were Unavailable.”  Some examples: 

Product Transfer Reports were identified as a potential data source because they are required to be completed for catcher-processor offloads and submitted to NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. 

The report says:  “It would have been useful to have systematically collected time series data available for fishery support services provided to, and other economic activity associated with, Catcher Processors during port calls or product offloads – fuel purchases, services related to crew changes, cold storage use, longshoring and stevedore services, among others. Additionally, it would have been useful to have reliable information available to understand the distribution and potential magnitude (i.e., amount of product) offloads across communities. 

However, Product Transfer Reports are not a reliable source of information for either a) gauging the relative economic activity associated with a port call because they simply do not collect this information, and b) the magnitude of offloads across communities.” 

The report adds: “A primary problem is with apparent errors in weights which are reported in pounds, metric tons, and kilograms. It is not uncommon for data entries to have been made in kilograms but with the units noted as metric tons, greatly overestimating the weight offloaded.” 

Data for Bering Sea Pollock Crew and Processing Facilities  

The report says:  “It would have been useful to have comprehensive and updated information on  crew members working aboard Bering Sea pollock vessels in each sector and the labor forces at shoreside processing facilities.

“There is some general information available that suggests the workforces at shorebased processing facilities and onboard Bering Sea pollock vessels  may typically be minorities . However, there is no comprehensive, updated, and readily available information on the demographics of these workforces for all sectors of the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

Workers inspect pollock fillets aboard the factory trawler Northern Hawk. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Salmon run strength, genetics are sketchy due to “unavailable data”

Trawl lobbyists constantly deflect discussions on salmon bycatch to the genetic origins of the fish, and insist most are from Asia and wouldn’t be returning to WAK rivers.

But the NPFMC report refutes that claim.

First, the analysts said “a scientifically defensible run reconstruction includes thorough estimates of escapements and harvests. Currently, run reconstructions are only available for the Yukon River summer and fall chum salmon and  the Kwiniuk River chum salmon. This excludes large populations in the Bristol Bay, Kuskokwim, Norton Sound, and Kotzebue Areas.

“The lack of run reconstructions for large portions of WAK chum salmon means an accurate approximation of the total WAK chum salmon abundance cannot be provided. Thus, an estimate of the impact of chum salmon bycatch removals on these total populations cannot be calculated…There is very little genetic differentiation among chum salmon returning to river systems across WAK except for the Yukon River summer and fall chum salmon runs, which are genetically distinct. ” 

Social Impact Assessment for Bering Sea Chum Salmon Bycatch Management

“Given these limitations,” the report says, “There is uncertainty in the absolute impact that modifying the status quo regulations under the proposed action alternatives would have on households, communities, and tribes that depend on chum salmon for subsistence or commercial fishing.”

However, the Social Impact report concludes: “Increased adult chum salmon returns to Western and Interior Alaska river systems achieved through a reduction in bycatch provides the potential for positive impacts on the chum salmon stocks and people across Western and Interior Alaska that depend on them.” 

COMMENT ON THE PROPOSED CHUM CAP HERE – Deadline is Friday, March 29

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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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