Fishery management council asked to address pollock fleet bycatch in Bering Sea

Over 700 comments from Alaska residents and others calling for action addressing the pollock trawl fleet’s capture of chum salmon, Chinook salmon, halibut, crab and other species as bycatch were delivered to federal fisheries managers, who are considering the issue at their April meeting in Anchorage.

“Inaction by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is continuing full speed ahead by trawlers and it’s past time for management of this extensive harvest of bycatch,” said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, which delivered those comments to the council. “Traditional, subsistence, small-boat and directed fishermen should not be bearing the burden of conservation for a problem they did not create while the pollock trawl fleet continues with business as usual.”

Over the past decade trawlers have, on average, annually caught and largely discarded 141 million pounds of salmon, crab, halibut and other species — which amounts to over a billion pounds in less than 10 years, SalmonState contends. That total includes approximately 545,883 chum salmon in 2021 alone. 

While the trawl fleet talks about the percentage of those fish originating from western Alaska rivers, about 9.4%, the actual number is about 51,510 chums, SalmonState said. Those 51,510 chums were also caught during a year when Yukon-Kuskokwim traditional fishermen were denied the right to harvest and smokehouses and freezers in their homes stood empty, they said.

A recent report noted that midwater, or pelagic trawl nets, which are allowed for fishing in areas closed to crab fishermen during the molting season, actually drag the bottom up to 100% of the time, potentially resulting in a high amount of unobserved mortality, SalmonState said.

NPFMC is the body mandated to guide decisions on pollock trawl fleet management, including its bycatch of other species, but the majority of the council members are people with an economic interest in the trawl industry and no tribal representatives, they said.


The council is expected to receive an annual update of scientific and industry reports related to salmon bycatch, genetics and a report from the council’s Salmon Bycatch Committee, but no final action that would change the management of pollock trawl management is on the council’s agenda.