March 26, 2010
"Minimizing Chinook salmon bycatch is very important for the pollock fishing industry and also for the subsistence and commercial fisheries in Western Alaska that depend on salmon," said Dr. Jim Balsiger, Administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries Service. "I hope people take time to find out about the proposed program, understand what it will mean for them, and give us their comments."
NOAA Fisheries will accept comments on the proposed rule until May 7, 2010.
The new Chinook salmon bycatch management plan laid out in the proposed rule is recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in its proposed Amendment 91 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council prepared Amendment 91. NOAA Fisheries Service wrote the proposed rule based on the Council's plan and has opened the proposed rule and Amendment 91 for public review and comment.
The proposed rule includes a limit on the amount of Chinook salmon that may be caught in the pollock fishery. If the limit is reached, the fishery will be shut down. The proposed rule also sets up a structure for the pollock fishing fleet to develop incentive plans encouraging each vessel to avoid Chinook salmon at all times while fishing for pollock, not just when bycatch numbers are high. Also included are measures to increase observer coverage for pollock catcher vessels and count every salmon caught in the pollock fishery.
If Amendment 91 and the proposed rule are approved by the Secretary of Commerce, managers hope to have the program in place for the 2011 pollock fishery.
The pollock fishery, which accounts for about 95% of Chinook salmon bycatch in Alaskan waters, is the largest single species fishery, by volume, in the United States. Fishermen harvest pollock with trawl gear. Because Chinook salmon and pollock swim in the same locations during the fishing seasons, Chinook salmon are accidentally caught in the nets as fishermen target pollock.
The number of Chinook salmon accidentally caught in the Bering Sea pollock fishery varies from year to year, from sector to sector, and even from vessel to vessel, but the overall percentage of salmon bycatch in pollock nets is very low. The average bycatch from 1992 through 2001 was 32,482 Chinook salmon and increased to 74,067 Chinook between 2002 and 2007. A historic high of approximately 122,000 Chinook salmon were taken in the pollock fishery in 2007. Bycatch declined to 20,493 Chinook salmon in 2008 and 12,410 in 2009. Even in years of historically high Chinook salmon bycatch, the fleet averaged just 52 Chinook salmon per 1,000 tons of pollock harvested.
Scientists have not gathered enough information about Chinook salmon in the ocean to determine the reasons for high or low encounters of Chinook in the pollock fishery or the degree to which encounter rates are related to Chinook salmon abundance or other conditions.
The proposed rule and Amendment 91 are available on the internet at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/bycatch/default.htm. More information can also be found there in the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for this action.
Comments on the proposed rule and Amendment 91, identified by RIN 0648-AX89, may be submitted:
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