The Council has consulted National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to protect Pacific Northwest salmon stocks that looms over the trawl fleet responsible for the Gulf bycatch, the council is equally pursuing protection for the non-ESA listed, but declining, Alaska chinook stocks.
According to the information provided by the North Pacific council a record amount of chinook salmon bycatch in 2010, with an estimated 51,258 fish taken by trawl gear in the Gulf in all fisheries. The pollock fishery accounts for 40,500, or 79 percent, of the total bycatch. A hard cap for a prohibited species catch shuts down the fishery when the cap is reached. There currently is no cap on chinook bycatch in the Gulf.
NMFS is confident about its extrapolation this time around because of the high percentage of pollock catch observed during the fall “D” season, when most of the bycatch was taken. The amount of chinook bycatch is an extrapolation from the 11,843 chinook physically recovered at processers.
The council had considered using 30,000 chinook as the hard cap for analysis, but adopted the range of caps by a 6-5 vote to comply with potential Magnuson-Stevens Act guidelines. The long-term analysis approved by the council will look at hard caps for the non-pollock trawl fishery and whether the ultimate solution to control trawl fishing behavior in the Gulf of Alaska is rationalization of the pollock fishery.
Bob Krueger, president of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, said that the ramifications of having another lightning strike or fishery that demonstrates high level of bycatch creates a lot of anxiety for them. Acting Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, noting the state’s conservative salmon management practices, said she was open to studying lower caps but emphasized the need for greater data from observer coverage and genetic testing to determine river of origin.