NPFMC To Meet And Discuss Pollock Trawl Fleet Bycatch Issues

The following is courtesy of SalmonState:

North Pacific Fishery Management Council to determine whether or not to act on bycatch Council decision comes amidst deepening salmon crisis, unprecedented crab closures, ecosystem failure, and widening equity gap between out of state trawlers and Alaskan fishers

ANCHORAGE—The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is tasked with managing the Bering Sea Aleutian Island and Gulf of Alaska pollock trawl fleet, will meet over the next seven days to determine whether or not it will take meaningful action to address the trawl fleet’s prolific bycatch of king salmon, chum salmon, red king crab, snow crab, and other species. 

Since the Council last deliberated on salmon issues during a June 2022 meeting in Sitka, western Alaska has experienced some of the worst salmon returns on record. Chinook runs across the state are in steep decline, and the Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries are closed for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets have caught, killed and dumped more than 1 billion pounds of salmon, halibut, crab, black cod and other species over just the last seven years. 

“So far, the Council has left Alaska Native traditional fishers and small boat directed fishermen to bear the burden of conservation while factory pollock trawlers catch, kill and throw away millions of crab, hundreds of thousands of chum, and tens of thousands of Chinook salmon. It’s wrong, and the Council now has an opportunity to stop it,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol.

Trawlers, which studies have shown are frequently dragging the sea floor even when they are not supposed to be, are allowed to catch and kill crab in areas closed to actual crabbing due to declines. Studies show that “pelagic” or midwater trawlers actually drag the ocean floor an extremely high percentage of the time — at some parts of the season, between 80% and 100%. The current meeting provides the council opportunity to consider whether or not to continue to allow this practice.

The council will also hear recommendations from  Governor Mike Dunleavy’s Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force and the council’s newly formed Salmon Bycatch Committee. The task force’s recommendations are not yet officially public, but call for little meaningful action.

The Council has long had conflicts of interest that serve as obstacles to meaningful limits on the trawl fleet’s bycatch.  

WHO: North Pacific Fishery Management Council

WHAT: December meeting considering whether or not to reduce the pollock trawl fleet’s bycatch of chum and king salmon, snow crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab by creating a limit on the bycatch allowed for chum salmon, reducing the current static cap for Chinook salmon and considering the Emergency Petition from the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers to close the red king crab savings area to not just crabbing but ALL fishing, including trawling. 

WHEN & WHERE: The NPFMC will meet in person and online December 8 – 14, 2022 at the Anchorage Hilton. Agenda items come up in order but the time at which they will arise is not certain. Council members vote on many “next step” issues during the last day of the meeting under the agenda item called “staff tasking.”