Tribes Request King Bycatch Reduction as Pollock Season Wraps Up

As the Pollock season wraps up in the Bering Sea, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Tanana Chiefs Conference want immediate action to protect declining Western Alaska King Salmon stocks from trawl bycatch. Wednesday they filed a joint petition for emergency regulations with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to crack down on king bycatch for the remainder of the 2014 season.

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In their petition they suggest reducing the 2014 overall Chinook salmon by-catch hard cap in the Bering Sea-Aleutian Island Pollock fishery by 40,000 fish.

Natasha Singh is an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She says together, the tribes along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers making the request total nearly 100. And they want the Secretary and the Council to make the Pollock fishery conserve the way that families along the rivers have.

“There’s not food in the freezers for our families, yet you see significant profit from the fleets in the ocean who are taking kings as bycatch and we know that they have the technology where they could increase avoidance of the bycatch we are pleading that for the sake of the people and the families in the river who depend on the king salmon to eat, to provide and subsist, they reduce the bycatch,” said Singh.

The petition calls for the bycatch hard cap in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery to be slashed from 60-thousand to 20-thousand and the performance standard, which is a lower threshold to avoid penalties, to be cut from 47,591 to 15-thousand. That’s just for the remainder of the 2014 season. Historically Pollack bycatch spikes have occurred late in the season in the fall.

But that all appears to be moot. Federal officials say the Pollack fishery has reached 99 percent of their available quota and the B season is expected to close soon, perhaps in week or so, which would make an emergency closure redundant. They add that the total bycatch is expected to be under the 15,000, the lower cap requested by tribes.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages off shore fisheries, including bycatch, asked in June for an in-depth analysis of ways to reduce the incidental catch of kings in Pollack nets.

Scientists say there are likely many factors that could be impacting the wild Western Alaska King salmon stocks, from food supplies and climate change to ocean acidity. The state of Alaska has committed funding toward a long-term study to try to figure out what’s gone wrong. But bycatch is one consideration.

Myron Naneng is President of AVCP. He says after a summer of sacrifice, tribes are eager to see a commitment to conservation from the trawl fleet.

“The State of Alaska already implements openings and closures on the river system whenever they feel the returns of salmon are low. So we want that same requirement to be carried through with the trawl fleet in the Bering Sea,” said Naneng.

Attorneys for tribes say if the Pollock fishery bycatch stays under the 15,000 mark, it demonstrates what the tribes claimed in their petition, that the Pollock fishery can stay under a Chinook bycatch of 15,000 and still catch the allowable limit of Pollack.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.