The December 2022 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) was difficult and contentious, with multiple salmon and crab stocks in crisis. Bristol Bay red king crab and Western Alaska chum salmon were at the forefront of AMCC’s advocacy. We called for urgent protection of essential crab habitat and immediate action to enact a cap on chum bycatch. This story is long and complicated but a summary of the meeting results follows. There’s more to come and our advocacy must, and will, continue.
First, we want to thank the 145 people who signed our petition to the Secretary of Commerce asking for emergency closure of the Red King Crab Savings Area, an area known to be important for crab, during the 2023 molting and mating cycle. Council members unanimously voted against recommending this emergency closure, and the Secretary has yet to make a decision. Worth noting, while the Secretary has ultimate authority over final recommendations of the NPFMC, typically they do not reverse them.
The emergency request was short-term, aimed at protecting juvenile and vulnerable crab. It was intended to be a necessary immediate addition to a long-term rebuilding plan, and included protections from contact with midwater trawl gear currently allowed to fish in the protected waters of the Savings Area, an exemption based on the incorrect assumption their gear does not substantially affect the seafloor. One crab fisherman cited that other countries, like Canada and Japan, “don’t trawl on soft crab” - an established practice of modern fisheries management. Yet despite analysis supporting the benefits of a closure, the Council voted to reject the proposal. Afterwards, the Council acted to initiate additional analysis of alternatives - including the closure proposed in the emergency request, but only under the most dire of circumstances, as well as closing an even larger area to pot gear - effectively ignoring the long-term consequences of pelagic trawl gear scraping the seafloor.
In a similar state of neglect is chum salmon, preceded by its cousin the Chinook. In the early 2000s, chum and Chinook stocks in Western Alaska were in a staggering decline, with Alaska Native peoples calling for responsiveness from federal fisheries managers. After years of discussion, Chinook stocks collapsed so drastically that in 2012, PSC (Prohibited Species Catch, or bycatch) caps were finally set - with chum salmon left out of any action.
Ten years later, at this meeting, we heard hours of gut-wrenching testimony about the social, cultural, physical and economic impacts of declining salmon stocks for Bering Strait, Kuskokwim and Yukon River communities. While trawl vessels continue to take chum salmon as bycatch, those rural communities are bearing the sole burden of conservation of chum stocks through fishery closures - and the Council perpetuates this inequity through inaction. Ultimately, the Council directed a newly formed committee to develop recommendations to reduce the bycatch of Western Alaska chum salmon, and AMCC expects to revisit the issue in 2023.
The next NPFMC will meet February 6 – 13, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. AMCC will be there. Please stay tuned for announcements - your voice will be crucial to the process. Finally, see the Council's December newsletter for more information about these and the other issues before the Council.
F/V Lucid Dream ⒸKinsey Katherine