Salmon was the focus of public radio’s Talk of Alaska last week, specifically, potential reasons for poor runs in many regions of the state.
Answering Alaskan’s questions were Scott Kelley, director of the commercial fisheries division, Ed Jones, Chinook salmon research initiative coordinator and Jim Murphy, a fisheries research biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Much of the focus was on depleted stocks of Chinook salmon and how several years of warming oceans likely affected food sources. Caller Doug from Copper Center raised another concern –
There’s an elephant in the room that no one is talking about. That is the draggers and their bycatch…Certainly you can’t discount environmental factors, but I think it is pretty obvious that the draggers did have an effect on our king salmon.
Scott Kelley responded that bycatch falls under the purview of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s and that it has taken action over the years to protect Chinook salmon.
It includes a bycatch avoidance program and hard caps.
In the Bering Sea, Kelley said bycatch levels are based on a “three river” index that includes the Unalakleet, Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.
So if the index that the Department provides to the Council is 250,000 or greater they bycatch hard cap is 60,000 king salmon, if less than it’s 40,000 king salmon. In the Gulf of Alaska, the Council adopted a hard cap in pollock trawl fisheries of 25,000 Chinook salmon and for the other trawl fisheries the hard cap is 7,500 Chinook salmon.
Jim Murphy pointed to extensive research assessing the direct impacts of bycatch on king salmon stocks
Based on our best estimates, say for the Yukon, even at its highest levels we were seeing in exploitation rates less than two percent of the population. So that’s really important to keep in mind — that even though these numbers seem alarmingly high, that’s a combination of stocks throughout the whole Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. So when you start to look at individual stock exploitation rates, or impact rates, they are relatively low.
Likely, that will be small comfort to Alaska salmon fishermen.