The Bering Sea pollock fleet is on track to have a record-low year with chum bycatch.
As of August 28, the fleet had taken 8,600 chum salmon. That’s a welcome turnaround after last year, when nearly 200,000 chum were caught incidentally. The high bycatch rate in 2011 triggered voluntary fishing closures across the Bering Sea.
For years, vessels have participated in the rolling hotspot closure program, which shuts down areas of the ocean to trawling when bycatch is known to be high. Many boats also use excluders that allow salmon to swim free from fishing nets. But while these efforts help mitigate bycatch, they can’t explain why this year is so much cleaner than the previous one.
Karl Halflinger is the president of Sea State, a group that monitors bycatch in the pollock fishery, and he says the difference probably has more to do with the chum salmon stock than the pollock fleet.
“I don’t know if they just bypassed where the fleet was working, or found their way into the rivers before the fleet got on the ground,” says “I think we’ve just been lucky.”
In addition to cleaner fishing, the pollock fleet is also fishing at a faster pace than last year. As of last week, the fleet had taken 533,000 metric tons of pollock, which gets them at 75 percent of their B season allocation. The fleet is expected to take its full quota before the November 1 closure date.