NPFMC asks for further analysis on chum salmon bycatch issues

Future of Cook Inlet commercial fisheries management plan now falls to feds

Federal fisheries managers are taking steps to gather more data related to the incidental catch of chum salmon in pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea, but the analysis requested from staff during their April meeting in Anchorage isn’t on the agenda again for discussion until October.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) on Saturday adopted a purpose and need statement, and alternatives for analysis, to be completed by council staff. 

Salmon bycatch reports, as well as final action on an amendment for the Cook Inlet Salmon fishery management plan, were among the top items on the agenda for the council, which met for several days in early April at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage. The council opted to take no action on amending the Cook Inlet fishery management plan, which had been written by the council, leaving the decision now to Jon Kurland, regional administration for Alaska with NOAA Fisheries, to come up with an amended plan for the Cook Inlet commercial fisheries in federal waters by May of 2024. 

The state of Alaska has opposed co-managing the Cook Inlet fishery with the federal government, an option that United Cook Inlet Drift Association would have approved.

Rachel Baker who represents the state on the council, made it clear that the state “is not willing to accept delegated management authority for the Cook Inlet salmon fishery in the EEZ [exclusive economic zone] under the conditions specified in Alternative 2.”

Kurland said that he had hoped the council would have come up with a viable alternative, rather than leave the matter to NOAA Fisheries.


The council approved a length motion on chum salmon bycatch which acknowledged that multi-salmon species declines have created adverse impacts to culture and food security, and results in reduced access to traditional foods and commercial salmon fisheries.

The proposed action is focused on developing ways to minimize bycatch of Western Alaska origin chum salmon in the Eastern Bering Sea pollock fishery consistent with the Magnuson-Steven Fishery Conservation and Management Act, National Standards, and other applicable law. The approved motion notes that consistent, annual genetics stock composition information indicates that most of the non-Chinook bycatch of salmon in the pollock fishery is of Russian or Asian hatchery origin, so that alternatives should structure non-Chinook bycatch management measures around improving performance in avoiding Western Alaska chum salmon specifically.

The four alternatives outlined in the motion included the standard first alternative of no action, two alternatives with two options each for determining bycatch limits in the groundfish fishery for Western Alaska chum salmon bycatch, and a fourth alternative for additional regulatory requirements for incentive plan agreements (IPAs), to be managed by either the National Marine Fisheries Service or within the management of the IPAs.

Testimony submitted by industry participants cited efforts of catcher boats participating in the Inshore Salmon Savings Incentive Plan (ISSIP) Agreement, and of catcher processor vessels participating in the Chinook and chum bycatch reduction incentive plan agreement, including the Chinook and chum salmon rolling hotspot program.

Bill Tweit, who represents Washington state on the council, noted that for three consecutive years residents of communities along major rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim, have not been allowed to even harvest subsistence salmon.

“From my seat this is now a humanitarian crisis,” Tweit said. 

Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, a nonprofit working to protect wild salmon habitat, said the council “seems to be prioritizing profits for the pollock fishery over all other interests.”

“Instead of addressing Alaskans’ urgent calls for action, they’re putting herring, king salmon, chum salmon, crab, halibut, and traditional ways of life on the chopping block so trawlers can keep trawling,” Bristol said.

Noting that the council’s advisory panel also refused a motion to address caps for Chinook salmon at this time, Bristol said the council was again attempting to manage the ecosystem on a species-by-species basis rather than as an ecosystem.

They continue to propose setting Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limits for chum salmon based on historical bycatch numbers, and based on limited genetic data about Western Alaska returns from a time period in which Western Alaska returns have plummeted dramatically, SalmonState contends.

“It could literally be years before the council acts under its current plan,” said Bristol. “This is failure.”

As the meeting was still in process on Monday, two Alaska tribal entities filed lawsuits, suing the federal government to protect subsistence fishing.

Earthjustice is representing the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) and the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) in the litigation against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, seeking to reexamine groundfish catch limits for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. AVCP and TCC together represent nearly 100 tribes and communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Their lawsuit contends that when NMFS adopted groundfish catch limits for 2023-2024 the agency unlawfully relied on outdated environmental studies and failed to consider monumental ecosystem wide changes that have happened in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands ecosystems over the last two decades.