An Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act was introduced last week by Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan that, if passed, aims to gain better understanding about causes of  salmon declines, especially in the Northwest regions.

The task force, to include 13 to 19 people, would conduct a review of salmon science and management in Alaska. Within one year, the group would publish a report identifying knowledge and research gaps and advance policies that may result in more salmon abundance and stability.

It would include a representative from NOAA, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, between two and five Alaskarepresentatives from Alaska covering the wide array of state fisheries stakeholders, including subsistence, and commercial or recreational users. Lastly, the secretary would appoint five academic experts in salmon biology, management, and ecology, or marine research. The governor of Alaska would appoint one representative of the state.

The bill also directs the Research Task Force to establish a working group specifically focused on salmon returns in the AYK region of Western and Interior Alaska,

The action follows a salmon roundtable discussion two weeks ago with tribal leaders and state fishery scientists.

Many agreed there is a need for better data – but called for more action now. Mary Peltola is director of the Kuskokwim Inter-tribal Fish Commission –

“We don’t have time to sit on our hands and wait for these research projects to start and finish. Precautionary management needs to happen now. Adaptive management needs to happen now.”

 Peltola said managers need to look at salmon habitat in rivers and oceans in a more holistic way. She pointed to policies that allow large ocean vessels to capture Chinook and chum salmon as bycatch while local river residents are not allowed any.

“We have got to find a way where we manage river systems as a whole system and not these silly, man-made jurisdictional issues. And the fact that the Department of Fish and Game says their hands are tied when it comes to salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, because that’s under the purview of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Having both agencies pointing at the other is unfair to all of the users.”

Senator Murkowski has dedicated a line and a questionnaire for public comments through January 14.

Meanwhile, this week  a group of Alaska tribes and groups representing 20 Bering Strait communities   filed an emergency petition with the US Secretary of Commerce to eliminate Chinook salmon bycatch and cap the number of chums taken by trawl gear.

The petitioners include, Kawerak, Inc., the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Bering Sea Elders Group, the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.