Fishing Community Urges NOAA To Update Fishery Management Guidelines

The following press release is courtesy of a conglomerate of Alaska fishing interests:

NOAA’s next steps could start to rebalance the scales between factory trawlers and Alaskan communities  

Thousands of Alaskans, Alaska Tribes; small boat fishermen; sport fishermen; charter operators to NOAA: act to ensure community health, equity, climate resilience and access to fisheries in federal fisheries management process 

JUNEAU, ALASKA— Thousands of Alaskans and Americans, as well as the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Native Peoples Action, SalmonState, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), The Boat Company, Bear Trail Lodge, and DeepStrike Sportfishing, have formally urged federal fisheries managers to institute new, desperately needed updates to their management guidelines.

“The multi-year loss of customary and traditional salmon fisheries on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, the complete closure of the Bering Sea Red King Crab fishery, harsh new limits on charter halibut fishermen and loss of resident sport angling opportunities for multiple species, represent a series of cultural and economic crises that require dramatic and immediate changes in the way we manage fisheries in federal waters off Alaska,” said SalmonState Outreach Director Melanie Brown. 

During a comment period ending the evening of Tuesday, September 12, Alaskans, traditional fishermen, small boat fishermen, sport fishermen and others urged NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries to update three key conservation and management guidelines governing federal fisheries. Under the status quo the guidelines allow the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to undermine ecosystem and community needs while prioritizing short-term economic gains to the trawl sector. They also undermine NOAA’s commitment to equity and environmental  justice, as well as its ability to respond to the climate crisis. Clarified and updated guidelines language could balance the needs of Alaska’s traditional, commercial, sport and charter fisheries, ensure the health of fishery-dependent communities, restore equity to fisheries management, and establish climate adaptive fisheries in the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“The Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet has proven that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and their current inequitable guidelines are harmful to the ocean’s ecosystem and have a direct effect on fish and crab populations our communities rely on,” says Laureli Ivanoff, Executive Director for Native Peoples Action. “The Council’s management guidelines must consider the impact of decisions on fishing communities throughout Alaska and the cultural genocide that will surely result if management guidelines are not changed. This is a great opportunity for NMFS to change the legacy of federal fisheries management in Alaska, which we all know, at status quo, is harming communities and threatening a way of life central to who we are as Native peoples.”

“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.” 

“Bering Sea fishermen and fishing communities are seeing the effects of climate change and poor pollock fleet management firsthand. 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,” said Amy Sparck, Executive Director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. “BSFA strongly supports the creation of more just, ecosystem-based, climate-responsive guidelines for federal fisheries, and we trust that NOAA will see this in our and others’ comments and move forward with this process in good faith.” 

“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. “It’s ludicrous that after giving lip service to the importance of action on trawl bycatch, the State of Alaska took this opportunity to parrot the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s, and trawlers’, request for the status quo, in effect offering up Alaskans’ livelihoods and ways of life for continued decimation. And it’s imperative that NOAA listen to the thousands of 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.”

“The Boat Company is one of numerous small businesses that depend on Alaska’s fisheries. Guests aboard our boats love sport fishing for halibut and salmon, and prefer high quality local seafood caught by Alaska’s small boat commercial fishing fleets,” said Hunter McIntosh, CEO/President of The Boat Company. “NOAA needs to respond to public comments from numerous Alaska sport, subsistence and commercial fishermen with guideline revisions that direct Councils to reduce the impacts of trawl bycatch and shift toward lower impact gear types – particularly with so many Alaska fishermen of all type facing various restrictions to conserve salmon, halibut and crab while trawlers continue to waste our fish and shellfish as bycatch.

“Revisions to federal fishery management guidelines will help sustain Alaska communities dependent on salmon, halibut and other species harvested by local sport, subsistence and community based commercial fisheries,” McIntosh continued. “We urge NOAA to proceed with the updates to the National Standards Guidelines as requested by Alaskans and Americans.”

“Our coastal and riverside communities depend on access to healthy fish populations,” 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 go bankrupt. This review of federal fishery guidelines provides the opportunity for NOAA to ensure climate resilient fisheries, social equity, and thriving fishing communities—and we–along with a vast majority of Alaskans– urge them to continue this process to secure that future.” 

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, including the pollock trawl fleets in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, 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 that it would accept public comments through September 12 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. 

Public comments on the proposed changes to National Standards guidelines are here. NOAA reviews comments before posting them and many organizations, including some of ours, submitted comments, including collated comments from members of the public, Sept. 12. There may be a delay in comments’ visibility.

Watch “Fishery Injustice,” a new short video on the impacts of trawling, featuring Alaskans including Rep. Mary Peltola.

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.

Native Peoples Action is a non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting and

strengthening Alaska Native peoples and our Ways of Life.

DeepStrike Sportfishing is a salmon and halibut-fishing charter business based out of Homer, Alaska. 

Bear Trail Lodge is a world-renowned fishing lodge in King Salmon, Alaska.