Yesterday the North Pacific Fishery Management Council wrapped up their June meeting in Nome, AK. The meeting in Western Alaska was a perfect place to celebrate Council Chair Eric Olson’s last meeting. Eric has been a fantastic chair and he will be missed by all. As AMCC’s Theresa Peterson said in her testimony to the Council on Sunday: “It’s rare that a Council member is missed by everybody,” but in this case it’s true.
Bycatch was a major issue at the meeting, and action on Bering Sea salmon and halibut bycatch took the bulk of the Council’s time. In both cases, directed users are facing severe restrictions on their subsistence and commercial harvests while bycatch limits have gone unchanged.
Nome was the perfect place for the Council to hear about the impact of salmon shortages, and the need to reduce bycatch, with heartfelt testimony from over twenty people. The Council took these concerns, and the crisis-level declines in Chinook salmon populations, to heart. On Saturday they voted unanimously to initiate an analysis looking at five options for reducing bycatch, one of which involves lowering the “performance standard” from 47,591 to 36,700 or 19,000. The performance standard is what the pollock fishery manages to, so this change would have a big impact. Unfortunately, the motion does not address the overall cap, which currently stands at 60,000 Chinook salmon. A coalition of Western Alaska tribal groups asked the Council to reduce this cap to 20,000 fish. For more on the Council’s decisions regarding salmon bycatch, listen to this KNOM piece.
The Council also decided to take steps to reduce halibut bycatch, initiating a regulatory amendment package that includes options for reducing the current halibut bycatch (PSC) caps by a range of 10-35% for each fishery sector, and for implementing new deck sorting procedures which would result in more halibut caught as bycatch in the A.80 sector being released alive. The Council also asked industry to start immediately by voluntarily reducing bycatch by 10% from current levels in the upcoming year. With halibut catch limits for directed users in the Bering Sea being dramatically reduced in response to declines in halibut, this attention to bycatch is an important step. For more on the halibut bycatch actions, check out this Alaska Journal of Commerce article.