Chinook runs are down. The pollack fishery bycatches tens of thousands of these salmon every year. And the North Pacific Fishery Marine Management Council is seeking ways to reduce those numbers.
The Council is meeting in Nome this week, and Tuesday the Scientific and Statistical Committee, which advises the Council, heard a presentation on salmon bycatch management.
Three years ago, the Council implemented a Chinook bycatch program. Diana Stram is a Fishery Analysis for the Council and said since 2011 the Council has been “struggling to either fold their Chum bycatch management…into the existing program” or to create a new program for Chum.
Explaining the issue Stram said, “We found that any measure that we layered on top of the same fishery for Chum tended to make the Chinook bycatch worse. And since the purpose was never to exacerbate a problem in an existing program by layering another measure, the Council took a step back and decided to consider them together.”
Stram said the Council is considering “whether to move forward with an analysis that would change how Chum salmon bycatch is managed” and whether to modify Chinook bycatch regulations.
When the floor opened to public testimony, the demand was to include the impact of bycatch on subsistence in that analysis.
Brandon Ahmasuk is the Subsistence Resource Director at Kawerak and a lifelong subsistence user. To support salmon bycatch reduction, Ahmasuk explained, “Subsistence users’ diet is composed 80-percent of fish. Now the subsistence user is being asked to lower their diet of fish to 20-percent or less. These are areas where supermarkets aren’t readily available. These people, they do live off the land.”
Ahmasuk said while the pollack fishery is allowed to waste tens of thousands of salmon, the subsistence user “bears the burden of conservation” when gear restrictions are imposed and rivers shut down because of low runs.
Rose Fosdick is the Vice President for Natural Resources at Kawerak. She said the low runs go beyond reducing the subsistence users ability to feed themselves and restricts their ability to continue their culture.
Fosdick explained, “the knowledge of biology, the knowledge of processing, the knowledge of respect for elders and for the environment is being lost without the opportunity to have fresh salmon to work with.”
The public asked the Committee to gather more scientific data on why runs are declining in the Norton Sound and to collect surveys on how bycatch affects subsistence users throughout rural Alaska.
As a mitigation measure for the low runs, Tim Smith with the Norton Sound Regional Aquaculture Association proposed activating a local hatchery. The Committee also suggested investigating an incentive-based system to reduce bycatch.