Alaskans have a lot to say about bycatch. Will they speak up where it can really make a difference?

by | April 24, 2023

Filed Under Bycatch | Meetings

Two meetings in May call for public comments and ideas on new bycatch policies

The public has a lot to say about bycatch in Alaska’s fisheries on social media and the opinion pages of newspapers around the state.

Will they share their comments and ideas where it can really count – at May 1 and May 23 teleconferences of the new Bycatch Advisory Council (BAC)?

Bycatch is defined by the State as fish or other marine species which are unintentionally caught that fishermen don’t want, can’t sell, or by law are not allowed to keep. It adds up to multi-millions of halibut, crab, salmon, herring, sablefish and dozens of other species being discarded in Alaska’s fisheries each year.

Much of the overall problem stems from outdated fishing regulations defined in the 1970s, combined with inefficient fishing gears, technologies, and operations that in many cases don’t apply to the realities of today’s changing environment and marine ecosystems.

To advance solutions, a Bycatch Advisory Council (BAC) was created on March 10 by order of the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Its goal over three years is to help ADF&G turn recommendations into reality in areas of bycatch research, management and state engagement policies for fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

The BAC includes six members of a task force convened by Governor Dunleavy in January 2022 to fast track recommendations to reduce bycatch across all fisheries.. That group met 45 times and provided a final report of recommendations to the governor in  December.

[The recommendations are included below.]

The Council members are Karma Ulvi, Chief of the Native Village of Eagle and Tribal Administrator with Tanana Chiefs Conference; Kevin Delaney, a former director for ADF&G’s Division of Sport Fish and a fishery consultant for Kenai River Sportfishing Association; Stephanie Madsen, director of the At-Sea Processors Association and a former chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council;  Brian Gabriel, mayor of the City of Kenai and a Cook Inlet setnetter; Linda Kozak, a fishery consultant from Kodiak; and John Jensen of Petersburg who served many years on the Board of Fisheries and is a member of the NPFMC.

“We’re an advisory council for ADF&G and also a conduit for the public,” said Delaney at the first organizational meeting on March 31 where Kozak was elected chair and Jensen vice-chair.

Getting the state better engaged with Alaskans dominated the first BAC meeting’s discussion.

“How can we best get people engaged and hear their questions and concerns?” asked Kozak. “There are so many different entities, agencies and organizations at the policy level. We need to figure out how to get improved stakeholder feedback so they feel they have a voice. It needs to go beyond a website and links to information.”   

Kozak said at the May meetings the council will “dig into the weeds” of the task force recommendations, identify what items need more public input and discuss ways to collaborate with fishermen and others on research and management ideas.

Crafting a bycatch policy for the State of Alaska is also tops on the Council list.

A recommendation states: “Alaska’s Bycatch Policy would be used by the Alaska Board of Fisheries when addressing state waters bycatch issues and considered by the state’s representative on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) when developing the State’s position regarding bycatch issues in federally managed fisheries.”

By far, most of Alaska’s fish harvests come from federally managed waters from three miles to 200 miles from shore. But Alaskans can have an oversized voice when it comes to what’s going on in those fishing grounds.  

“Six of the 11 voting members on the NPFMC are Alaskans. They carry the state’s water,” Kozak said.

Earlier this year Governor Dunleavy said “Fishing is the beating heart of Alaska. It’s provided food and shaped the culture of Alaska for thousands of years. It’s the largest source of private sector jobs in the state. It generates millions of dollars in revenue for our coastal communities… We must do all we can to sustain our great fisheries and ensure that our resources are managed to benefit Alaskans first and foremost.”

Alaskans can help shape a more sustainable fishing future by being at the table.

Bycatch meeting contact information

Here is the meeting Notice and Agenda.

Meeting link:

Meeting phone number: 1-253-215-8782 Meeting ID: 854 2121 1653

Submit comments and get on the mailing list by contacting

All future and current meeting information and additional resources will be posted at:



Adopted motions for state engagement: 

  • State of Alaska should establish a process for providing bycatch-related information and resources for Alaskans in a format that is understandable and easily accessible. Website development with bycatch-related links, as well as bycatch informational forums and other forms of outreach are recommended.
  • Using the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force as a template, the State should establish a permanent bycatch advisory entity.
  • State of Alaska Federal Fisheries staff should continue to offer the public an opportunity to provide input on NPFMC issues before each NPFMC meeting. Consideration should be given to additional methods to seek input from stakeholders, tribal entities and communities on bycatch issues.
  • State should support legislative action to remove sunset of the Education Tax Credit Program and consider expanding program to specifically allow gear modification or technology improvements that would help reduce bycatch. 
  • State should work with other entities, including the State Department, to request that the State Department, through bilateral and multilateral diplomatic channels with Russia, request information on the bycatch of Chinook salmon and chum salmon taken in Russian domestic fisheries (specifically, the number of salmon caught in their groundfish and salmon fisheries, and the genetic origin of these salmon).
  • It is recommended that the State of Alaska work with the Alaska Board of Fisheries, stakeholders and a bycatch advisory entity to develop a State of Alaska Bycatch Policy. Alaska’s Bycatch Policy would be used by the Alaska Board of Fisheries when addressing state waters bycatch issues and considered by the State of Alaska’s representative on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council when developing the State of Alaska’s position regarding bycatch issues in federally managed fisheries.

NOTE: The narrative preceding this section will suggest the use of existing advisory bodies as a method of communication and engagement.


General Recommendations for Process in Developing Research Priorities:

            1.  Develop state bycatch research priorities, utilizing input from communities, Alaska     Native tribes, industry, and the public, to share with funding entities that would help identify    and acquire research funds.

2. Implement strategies to encourage and facilitate industry/agency cooperation research to reduce bycatch and associated mortality.

            3.  Create methods for collaboration with Alaska Native tribes, organizations and other research   entities to better track proposed or funded bycatch research, along with developing              opportunities for cooperative projects and combined reporting of findings.

Research Recommendations:

This section seeks to address the first task in the Administrative Order, which is, “Study what impacts bycatch has on fisheries.”

Committee discussions have highlighted the difficulty in identifying research that is strictly bycatch focused.  Most agreed that there were clear research needs to reduce bycatch, but there is also a need to improve our understanding of the target species in order to identify impacts to that species from bycatch.  Gaps were identified that need to be addressed for managers to more fully understand and assess what impacts bycatch may be having on some fisheries. 

Three specific recommendations were made by all of the committees and crosses regions and gear groups:

  1. Gear Modifications/Improved Technology:  One of the areas that was bycatch focused and extended across areas and species was the need for gear research.  Research such as salmon excluder work, pot modifications and use of technology in identifying “hot spots” was discussed. This area requires collaboration with industry and would benefit from agency support.

 Regulatory action may be appropriate when gear modifications prove to be effective in reducing bycatch.

Recommendation:  Fund and support gear modification research for all gear types to reduce incidental take of Chinook and chum salmon, crab and halibut, as well as discard mortality.

2.  Update Assumed Discard Mortality Rates:  Assumed discard mortality rate studies, which inform stock assessments and other management measures are outdated and may not reflect current industry technology and handling practices.

Recommendation:  Discard mortality rate studies are needed in all regions, species and gear groups.

3.  Shifting Distribution Patterns:  Data is necessary for determining the shifts in distribution patterns with the changing climate. Both salmon and crab have experienced shifting distribution patterns and it is critical to understand these patterns, both temporally and spatially, to ensure the best information is being used when developing bycatch mitigation measures.

Recommendation:  Additional survey work is needed, along with tagging studies for crab and halibut.

Specific Recommendations by Species

Salmon Research

Much of the salmon research identified was similar for both the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island and the Gulf of Alaska.  Listed below is the research identified for Western Alaska salmon and research which is unique for the Gulf of Alaska. 

Western Alaska Salmon

Research Goals:

            – Research to improve our ability to determine the stock of origin of chum and Chinook   salmon taken as bycatch.

            – Research to reduce bycatch through improved understanding of distribution and migration         of W. AK chum and Chinook salmon stocks migration patterns to better predict and therefore          avoid bycatch “hot spots” in the BSAI region.

Two areas of research were identified.

1. Research that helps us understand the relative importance of particular mechanisms for driving abundance of Western Alaska Chinook and chum

Studies that help us understand the relative role of marine interceptions and bycatch

            a)  Improved information on marine migration patterns and its relation to fishery    locations and timing

            1. The projects AFSC mentioned that Sabrina (Chinook) and Wes (chum) are leading in   the Bering Sea: Model ocean distribution and migration of AK Chum and Chinook      salmon stocks in the Bering Sea to predict distribution and hotspots.

            2. A tagging project of immature chum salmon in the North Pacific Ocean to help us             understand their destination, timing and maturity.

            3. A synthesis of marine migration information from fishery dependent data sources,             marine surveys, and tagging studies, and how these patterns have changed with a changing climate.

b)  Improved information on the characteristics of fishery catches

            1. There are still improvements that can be made in the ability to assess age, and   specifically stock-specific age of Chinook and chum salmon caught in any marine        fisheries.

c)  Improved information to help understand fishery impacts

            1. Improved AEQ modeling through ‘stock specific’ chinook and chum salmon    bycatch. Particularly for western AK chum salmon, AEQ analyses are limited by:

                        a) age classification data gaps in adult chum abundance across all of the  WAK stock reporting group. Studies that improve the ability to estimate abundance of all chum in the WAK stock reporting group. Continued genetics work is needed.

                        b) and/or the ability to break up that reporting group. This might be remedied by using technologies that go beyond genetic assignment alone (use of pathogens, stable isotopes, etc.).

2. Research that can provide an additional (non-adult) abundance estimate

This will be really powerful for helping triangulate which life stages are most important for determining good or poor productivity.  The committee recommends that research should span the life-cycle of the salmon species.

            a)  Understand critical survival periods for western Alaska salmon through integrated         ecosystem assessment surveys including expansion of the northern Bering Sea pelagic   trawl survey into the near shore waters north of the Yukon River including Norton     Sound 

                        1. Similar research is being planned in the southern Bering Sea to have a more                             comprehensive assessment of Western Alaska Chinook and chum.

                        NOTE:  Neither of these projects are funded beyond 2023

            2. Ecosystem indicators:  summer sea temperature, phytoplankton/zooplankton    community structure; salmon and pelagic fish catch per unit effort, distribution, energy            density for fitness, size, stomach contents. These indicators are being utilized to   understand climate impact on the northern Bering Sea ecosystem, fish fitness and        survival.  The recent information from the northern Bering Sea pelagic trawl survey suggests that the marine heat wave within the NBS during 2016 to 2019 negatively          affected juvenile Chum salmon fitness (shift to low quality prey, increased metabolic       rates due to higher SST), likely leading to high winter mortality.  The data suggest that      Chinook salmon abundance is impacted by factors affecting them in freshwater and early marine residence.

b) Studies that help understand how ocean/climate conditions impact future runs

            1. Marine pelagic trawl surveys in the northern and southern Bering Sea can help us        address this (see above)

            2. NOAA and ADF&G are collaborating on using International Year of the Salmon         (IYS) catches and samples to examine immature AYK chum salmon in the North         Pacific Ocean during winter. (This is not yet funded.)

            3.  Immature salmon surveys (like the IYS surveys) in the Bering Sea and North Pacific   Ocean.  (There is currently no funding support for charter vessel to conduct the        survey, collecting and processing samples or paying for gear and supplies.)

c) Studies that help us understand the role of diet, health and disease on the survival and spawning success of Western AK Chinook and chum

            1. Understanding vectors of Ichthyophonus infection for Yukon Chinook salmon, and      whether it is causing significant en route mortality during the spawning migration

            2. Understanding diet, nutrition and condition of Western AK Chinook and chum stocks at juvenile (marine pelagic trawl surveys in the northern and southern Bering Sea – see        above), immature (IYS surveys, industry catches, etc.), and adult life stages (returning    samples from lower river test fisheries- pilot work started for Yukon Chinook, but only          funded through 2022)

(Above research is applicable to the Gulf of Alaska, but items below are specific to Gulf of Alaska Chinook salmon)

Gulf of Alaska Chinook Salmon

Conduct annual genetic and spatial assessment of Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Chinook salmon. This recommendation is intended to include, in addition to the genetic assessment that is currently taking place, that efforts should be made to produce estimates of both the spatial and temporal bycatch of Alaskan stocks of Chinook salmon, as well as characterizations of the age, sex and size of the bycatch of Chinook salmon identified as stocks of Alaska origin. If further progress can be made towards identifications of stock of origin of Alaskan Chinook taken as bycatch, that too should be pursued.

ADF&G Priorities:

            a) Studies that help us understand the relative role of marine interceptions and bycatch                              

                        1. Improved information on marine migration patterns and its relation to fishery                           locations and timing. Extend the distribution and timing projects using bycatch data in                 the Bering Sea to include the western GOA.

                        2. Improved demographic information that will enable assessment of stock specific                      impacts

                                    i. Collect samples to improve demographic information such as stock, age, sex,                           size and maturity for Chinook and chum salmon caught in any marine fisheries.

                        ii. Improved information to help understand fishery impacts through AEQ or                   similar analyses.

            b) Research that can provide an additional (non-adult) abundance estimate. This is powerful for helping triangulate which life stages are most important for determining       productivity

                        1.Juvenile salmon surveys – A survey occurs annually in the eastern GOA to monitor                 SEAK salmon stocks (Southeast Coastal Monitoring project).

                                     i. ADF&G will pilot a juvenile salmon survey in the western Gulf of Alaska in 2023. This will align with surveys in the northern and southern Bering Sea and Southeast Alaska to give a comprehensive assessment of Alaska Chinook and chum early in the marine life stage.

NOTE: (Neither the GOA nor the Bering Sea projects are funded beyond 2023)

            c) Studies that help us understand how ocean/climate conditions impact future runs

                        1.Marine pelagic trawl surveys in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska (including                          western/central Alaska and SEAK surveys)

                        2. Immature salmon surveys (like the IYS surveys) in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska,                  and North Pacific Ocean

Crab Research

Following are bycatch research recommendations specific to crab in all regions of the state, with projects listed to address the issue.

1. Address observed and unobserved mortality caused by gear interactions

a) Study the impacts of repeated capture/discarding of females, sublegals and legal males
b) Assumed discard mortality rates should be studied and updated for all gear groups
c) Address data gaps regarding uncertainties in the directed crab fishery and unobserved state pot Cod fishery
d) Research habitat disturbance utilizing tools such as the fishing effects model to study effects of bottom contact gear on mating and molting crab

2. Continued research on critical crab habitat to better inform on open and closed areas for commercial fishing activity

a) Conduct tagging studies and other research to determine seasonal crab movement and distribution

b) Work to improve understanding of preferred habitat at various life stages, including mating and molting time and areas

c) Examine VMS use in developing Essential Fish Habitat models and ways to improve this data

Halibut Research

Top Priority:  Investigate better ways to estimate total removals and discard mortality.

Other issues identified by the Gulf of Alaska Halibut and Salmon Committee:

            a) Research Gulf statistical areas to update/revise closed areas for trawling

            b) Impacts of fish gear types on halibut habitat
            c) Increase tagging studies to better understand movement between areas
            d) Investigate halibut diet and growth rate to better understand changes in length at age

            e) Studies on size limit and trade-offs (ongoing at IPHC and report due in October 2022)

            f) Determine relative fecundity of halibut based on size and age, and estimate impact on   halibut stock of removals from all sources


Management Recommendations – Adopted for both GOA and BSea

Gulf of Alaska


  • As a means of reducing and managing bycatch and associated mortality of high value species within the Gulf of Alaska, it is recommended that rationalization-type management tools be considered.


  • Address the lack of monitoring in the directed Tanner crab and state waters pot cod fisheries.
  • To better quantify removals of prohibited species, it is recommended that trawl catcher vessels in the Gulf of Alaska be required to have 100% observer coverage when engaged in non-pelagic trawling.  It is further recommended that the State of Alaska work to obtain funding, either through specific appropriations and/or grants for the additional coverage.
  • It is recommended that a regulatory requirement be approved for the Gulf of Alaska pelagic trawl fleet, including any tenders of pelagic trawl caught fish, to have 100% electronic monitoring. It is further recommended that the State of Alaska work with National Marine Fisheries Service, our federal delegation, and others to work to acquire funding to install electronic monitoring equipment on all GOA catchers and tenders.

Gulf of Alaska Fixed Gear

  • Following gear modification research, consider regulations for the directed crab fishery and pot cod fishery to reduce incidental take and discard mortality.

Gulf of Alaska Trawl Gear

  • Recommend the State of Alaska initiate review of the open and closed areas in the Gulf of Alaska for pelagic and non-pelagic trawl gear and consider closing new/additional areas to reduce the bycatch of halibut, salmon and Tanner crab.  
  • It is recommended the State of Alaska propose that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council consider development of an abundance-based management program for halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska as a way to address bycatch during fluctuations of halibut biomass.
  • It is recommended that the State of Alaska investigate the value of requiring full retention of Tanner crab in all GOA trawl fisheries for a period of time to adequately assess removals.

Management Recommendations – Bering Sea


  • Recommend a rationalization program for the 60’ and greater pot cod vessels as a way to manage bycatch and examine prohibited species caps as part of a rationalization program


  • Evaluate the observer coverage and monitoring for the directed crab and pot cod fisheries.

Bering Sea Fixed Gear

  • Evaluate possible seasonal closures in hot spot areas for pot gear both inside and outside of state managed waters.
  • Examine the impact of retaining all legal crab in the directed crab fishery and counting toward IFQ. 

Bering Sea Trawl Gear

  • The State should work to achieve real time genetic reporting that provides the composition of Western Alaska salmon in the bycatch. This can then be used in management of the pollock fishery to avoid areas and times when Western Alaska salmon are on the grounds in the Bering Sea.
  • The State should work to establish a scientific-based chum salmon cap to reduce bycatch of Western Alaska salmon in the pollock fishery in the Bering Sea.
  • Review effectiveness of fixed open and closed areas for trawling and continue to examine methods to develop flexible spatial management.
  • A review is recommended for the Bering Sea trawl area prohibited species caps (PSC) in relation to crab to be supported by the State of Alaska. This review would examine the impacts to the resource and trawl sector if trawl crab PSC were to be applied across the                                               entire Bering Sea area, instead of only the current sub-areas.

Other Management Issues

Statewide for all gear and fisheries- Full Utilization:  

  • The State of Alaska should support taking incremental measures through the regulatory process to improve bycatch utilization with a particular focus on species that are otherwise marketable but are caught with non-targeted gear, or discards in a directed fishery that are required by regulation.  

Not Consensus

  • It is recommended that Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands pelagic trawl pollock gear be considered for re-definition as bottom trawl gear (non-pelagic) and that all bottom trawl gear closures apply.
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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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