Juneau, AK – Commercial fishermen and others from throughout Alaska are calling for a sea change in Alaska’s fisheries management. Today, fishermen delivered a letter signed by over 300 Alaskans to Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and his administration, asking the governor to address the crisis facing Alaska’s Chinook salmon by advocating for a much lower bycatch allowance in the off-shore federally managed trawl fisheries. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is meeting virtually and considering these issues this week.
“We are writing with an urgent request for your administration to lead the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to dramatically reduce salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries” Alaskans told the governor. “Alaska’s Chinook Salmon are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Drastic measures are being taken by small boat commercial, subsistence and sport fishermen across the state, including severe restriction or closures in order to get every possible Chinook salmon up Alaska’s rivers to spawn.”
“Fishermen are asking the Governor and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to chart a new course for fisheries management,” said Linda Behnken, a Sitka-based fisherman, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, and a former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member. “Climate change is shifting the context of Alaska‘s fisheries from abundance to scarcity, and the Council has tough decisions to make. Right now, the Council is optimizing trawl harvest at the expense of Alaska’s fish and fisheries. That needs to change. We need to protect fish habitat, reduce bycatch, and prioritize Alaska’s historic fisheries before it is too late.”
“As fishermen we understand the purpose of conservative management; we rely on healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries decisions. That’s why it’s so frustrating that trawlers are allowed to kill — as bycatch — high value species like salmon, halibut, and crab. Meanwhile our fisheries are being closed or curtailed and our neighbors’ personal use and subsistence access is being eliminated. This is a blind spot for our management system. Something has to change.” said Sommers Cole, a gillnetter in Southeast Alaska and Manager of the Alaska Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP). “Trawlers are allowed to fish as though all of the populations of fish they discard as bycatch are in good health, while the rest of Alaska’s user groups are making the sacrifice of significantly reduced access or complete closures in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of those same stocks. It’s a bad deal for Alaskans.”
“It’s time to manage these ecosystems for more than just a single species — pollock — which has been the status quo,” said Alexus Kwachka, who fishes out of Kodiak and Bristol Bay and has served on the Advisory Panel for the NPFMC. “Our goal here should be getting the Gulf and Bering Sea back to their former levels of health and abundance. If trollers, gillnetters, seiners, sportfishers and tribal citizens throughout Alaska are being forced to go without fishing while trawlers keep their nets in the water we have a serious management problem and it is beyond time to right that ship.”