PSC Chinook salmon limits in Gulf up for further analysis

NPFMC hears much opposition to increasing the amount of prohibited species bycatch allowed

Consideration of an adjustment in prohibited species catch limits of Chinook salmon by catcher vessels in the Gulf of Alaska will get another round of review by federal fisheries managers.

That was the decision of the North Pacific after testimony and discussion regarding a lengthy initial review draft during its February meeting in Seattle.

Among the alternatives under consideration are increasing the annual Chinook PSC limit for the non-Pollock non-rockfish program catcher vessel sector from 2,700 fish by 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 fish.

Another alternative would increase the Chinook PSC limit or the rockfish program catcher vessel sector from 1,200 fish by 300,600 or 900 fish. The draft purpose and need section of the analysis notes that Chinook salmon PSC levels in the Gulf trawl fisheries have continued to display wide variation from year to year since implementation of non-Pollock PSC limits in 2015.

National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require the federal council to balance objectives of achieving optimum yield, minimizing bycatch and minimizing adverse impacts on fishery-dependent communities. There is much concern over the amount of Chinook salmon taken as prohibited special catch in the Gulf of Alaska by trawl vessels, and the council previously took action to set hard cap PSC limits that are below the incidental take amount that would trigger reconsultation under the Endangered Species Act. If that PSC hard cap is reached, the trawl fishery must close.

Since Chinook salmon PSC limits were implemented in 2015, for the Gulf non-Pollock groundfish trawl catcher vessel sector, the fishery has continued to show variable levels and unpredictable timing of encounters with the kings. Potential closures and PSC encounter rates that vary from year to year or even week to week pose uncertainty for harvesters, and adversely affect trawl harvesters, crew, processors and coastal communities in the Gulf, the council said in notes for the revised review.

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The bulk of written comments on the matter came from harvesters and commercial fisheries organizations opposed to any increase in the annual Chinook PSC limit.

“From 2009 to 2010 Chinook bycatch in the GOA trawl fishery increased nearly 600 percent and our members expressed deep concern,” wrote Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association in Juneau.

“Since that time, ATA has called on the council to implement hard caps and other measures to control trawl salmon bycatch,” she said.

While ATA understands some problems confronting the trawl fleet as outlined in the initial review draft, the organization is unconvinced that the trawl fleet should be allowed to increase its PSC caps at this time, particularly given the hardships currently being imposed on the directed fisheries to recover depressed stocks from Southeast and elsewhere, she said.

More information on this and other council action at the February meeting, plus written comments, is posted on the council’s website. www.npfmc.org

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