Earlier this week, NOAA Fisheries announced new Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act guidelines that could be a game-changer for the fishing industry. Led by SalmonState, a group of Alaska organizations released the following statement:
Update to guidelines for federal fisheries management could give Alaska Tribes, small boat fishermen, sport fishermen and charter operators a voice on trawl bycatch, fisheries access and climate resilience
JUNEAU, ALASKA—Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, SalmonState, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), The Boat Company, and DeepStrike Sportfishing applaud the start of a federal process that gives Alaskans an opportunity to weigh in on potential new guidelines for federal fisheries management — including trawl bycatch, support for community-based fisheries, and much-needed consideration of climate change in management decisions. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries on Monday announced a process to update three key conservation and management guidelines governing federal fisheries. The announcement was accompanied by the opening of a public comment period that will run through September 12, providing Alaskans, traditional fishermen, small boat fishermen, sport fishermen and others a much-welcome opportunity to have their voices heard on the guidelines that direct decisions by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and other regional councils around the country.
“The North Pacific council has not meaningfully addressed critical issues such as climate change, access to fisheries for Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, and the trawl fleet’s bycatch of Chinook salmon, chum salmon, red king crab, snow crab, halibut, sablefish and many other species,” said SalmonState Outreach Director Melanie Brown. “Their decisions have made bycatch of some species, like chum salmon, go up instead of down. NOAA’s announcement is a long awaited opportunity for the tens of thousands of Alaskans affected by trawl bycatch to finally be heard.”
“We’ve seen multiple species of salmon dramatically decline on the Kuskokwim in recent decades, including Chinook and chum salmon, both of which are caught as bycatch by the Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet,” said Kevin Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “These declines are devastating for our communities and our ways of life, and they’re happening in part because marine managers at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries do not equitably consider our traditional foods or our Tribes when making decisions about pollock allocation. Revising these National Standards may bring the change we need to see in fisheries management to protect our salmon and cultures.”
“Just last week Fish & Game shut down subsistence fishing for king salmon on the lower section of the Yukon River for the third year running,” said Karen Gillis, Director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. “Things aren’t looking any better for the upper Yukon or for the Kuskokwim. It is unacceptable and unjust that Indigenous Alaskans’ smokehouses and fish camps will remain empty while the pollock trawl fleet continues to bycatch tens of thousands of wild salmon originating from depleted western Alaskan lakes, rivers and streams. Bering Sea fishermen and fishing communities are seeing the effects of climate change and poor pollock fleet management firsthand. BSFA looks forward to the opportunity to engage with NOAA to create more just, ecosystem-based, climate-responsive guidelines for federal fisheries.”
“Status quo fisheries management has led to crisis-level declines in wild salmon runs across Alaska and closure of commercial, traditional, sport and charter fisheries — all while the trawl sector has continued to make billions of dollars bycatching enormous numbers of declining, highly valuable species,” said David Bayes, owner of DeepStrike Sportfishing. “They will flood this process with money and misinformation in an attempt to hijack it. It’s essential that NOAA get the details, the wording, and the legalese of these changes right — and listen to Alaskans who rely on wild salmon, halibut, crab and other species, who live in fishing communities, and who are fighting to right this blatant injustice and ensure the survival of our jobs, coastal communities and ways of life.”
“The Boat Company is one of numerous small businesses that depends on Alaska’s fisheries and hopes that revisions to federal fishery management guidelines will help to sustain Alaska communities that depend on salmon, halibut and other species harvested by local sport, subsistence and community based commercial fisheries,” said Hunter McIntosh, CEO/President of The Boat Company.
“Our coastal and riverside communities depend on access to healthy fish stocks,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “That access is increasingly challenged by climate impacts to ocean productivity and allocations that favor industrial trawl fisheries. That needs to change before our fisheries and fishing communities are bankrupt. This review of federal fishery guidelines provides the opportunity to rebalance decision making in favor of climate resilient fisheries, social equity, and thriving fishing communities—but we need all hands on deck to make that happen.”
In recent years, Yukon and Kuskokwim River traditional fisheries, the snow crab fleet, the Bristol Bay red king crab fleet, small boat commercial salmon fishermen and others have experienced complete fisheries shutdowns. Meanwhile, the trawl fleet in Alaska catches and largely discards 141 million pounds of those same and other species as bycatch every year on average, is allowed to drag the sea floor in sensitive areas closed to crab and halibut fishermen, and is governed by a Council that includes zero Tribal representatives.
Fisheries that take place in federal waters, such as the pollock trawl fleet, are regulated under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA. The MSA requires the development and implementation of federal Fishery Management Plans to conform to ten National Standards. NOAA fisheries announced on May 15 it will be accepting public comments through September 12, 2023 on how the agency should update guidelines to three key standards:
National Standard 4, Allocations, reads, “conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states,” and those measures “shall be (A) fair and equitable to all such fishermen; (B) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (C) carried out in such a manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privileges.” Guidelines for National Standard 4 relate to equity in allocation. The trawl fishery bycatch of salmon, halibut, and crab have likely contributed to the reduction and closure of direct commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries. However, the current guidelines for National Standard 4 do not direct the Council to consider these impacts in allocation and equity distribution in the pollock trawl fishery. As such, NMFS could update the guidelines for National Standard 4 to consider impacts to fisheries and equity of fishermen outside of the managed fishery by setting allocations and bycatch caps under National Standard 9.
National Standard 8, Communities, in part demands that conservation and management measures shall, “to the extent practicable,” “minimize adverse economic impacts” to communities and “provide for the sustained participation of fishery dependent communities.” National Standard 8 requires fishery management to take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities. The high number of bycaught salmon, halibut, and crab taken by the pollock trawl fishery has negatively impacted the socioeconomics of the direct target commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishers of those species, as well as the communities that rely on them. The impact of both low abundance and high bycatch in the trawl fishery is not thoroughly represented by the Council and NMFS decisions. The guidelines provided by NMFS could be updated to include consideration of fishing communities impacted through bycatch in another fishery. NMFS guidelines should include the importance of place-based fishing communities, as fishing and fishery participation in Alaska coastal and upriver communities supports not only fishers, but the locally owned and operated boat yards, maintenance shops, stores, schools, and community centers that connect the people to each other and their families and neighbors, and their region/locality.
National Standard 9, Bycatch, says that “conservation and management measures, shall to the extent practicable, (A) minimize bycatch and (B) to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch.” Guidelines could be updated by NMFS to further the goal to minimize bycatch, reduce the impacts of bycatch on valuable species, and protect direct target fisheries such as Alaska’s commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries for Chinook and chum salmon, halibut, and crab.
NOAA Fisheries is soliciting comments from the public on how the guidelines can better address environmental changes and inequity in federal fisheries management. Climate change, recognition of inequity in fisheries management, and “several ongoing fishing management challenges” illustrate that federal fisheries management under the status quo is inadequate.
The Federal Register notice is here.
The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association works to support healthy and vibrant fishing communities by fostering greater social, financial, and political capacity to access, sustainably develop and protect fisheries in the Arctic, Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Bristol Bay regions of Alaska.
Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission represents thirty-three federally-recognized Tribes working together toward unified salmon co-management, research, and monitoring as we protect Kuskokwim salmon and traditional ways of life.
SalmonState is an Alaska-based initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon and the people whose lives are interconnected with them continue to thrive.
The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association is an alliance of small boat commercial fishermen committed to sustainable fisheries and thriving coastal communities.
The Boat Company is the only non-profit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises through Southeast Alaska. With almost 40 years of cruising and conservation in Alaska’s Inside Passage, The Boat Company has reinvested over $30 million into conservation efforts throughout the region.
DeepStrike Sportfishing is a salmon and halibut-fishing charter business based out of Homer, Alaska.