• Gulf Kings caught as bycatch go to fertilizer, not the table
By Naomi Klouda
Winter kings caught in Kachemak Bay arrive generally from the Gulf of Alaska or the Shelikof Strait, an area 60 miles south of Homer heavily hit by trawlers fishing for pollock.
Some 54,000 kings, called Chinook salmon or winter kings, were incidentally caught in 2010 as bycatch. Those of that number that were caught in the Gulf of Alaska are destined to be ground as fertilizer since they can’t be sold. Fishermen are calling this an unprecedented waste in a delicately sensitive year when major salmon streams were closed due to low escapement numbers.
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council takes up the matter at its meeting in late March when public comments will be taken on a motion to set a limit or cap on salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. They also will be looking at a mandatory co-op system. The number of bycatch estimated for 2010, coupled with alarmingly low escapement goals for major rivers like the Karluk and the Anchor River, put pressure on the council to take action.
“This isn’t just an allocation issue,” said Dave Kubiak, chairman of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “Mainly, king salmon bycatch becomes a species of concern when you look at the low escapement numbers and environmental factors we don’t understand. Our northern waters, which are cold, means they are more acidified. The oceans in general are warmer. That’s just one factor.”
Pollock is caught by trawlers using tubes of net called “cod ends” to haul their catch on board. When pollock trawling, all fish are dumped directly into fish holds unseparated, Kubiak said. Whatever Gulf of Alaska kings are caught go into cold fish holds with the pollock. In the Bering Sea fishery, kings are processed either on board a processor or brought to shore and processed, then donated to food banks. The Bering Sea fishery is organized into co-ops to rationalize fish, while the Gulf fisheries aren’t.
“It’s possible that some (kings) are thrown overboard, but for the most part whatever kings they catch are kept there two-three days,” Kubiak said, speaking of the Gulf kings.
At the processor, the kings then are vacuum pumped along with pollock and only at that end point are they sorted.
King salmon escapement goals at the famed Karluk and Ayakulik Rivers weren’t met last summer, which prompted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to close them for king fishing. The Anchor River also saw restrictions.
The 54,000 is a projected estimate because only 30 percent are observed, said Kip Thomet, a commercial fisherman and member of the Gulf of Alaska King Salmon Coalition. The previous 2003-2009 annual average for total catch of bottom and mid-water trawlers was 20,793.
“The 54,000 – that’s a huge number. It’s over twice the 10-year average and its definitely unacceptable, but I would argue 20,793 is unacceptable. Especially when only the pollock fishery is counted,” Thomet said.
Pete Wedin, a Homer sport-fishing charter captain, also sits on the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and has launched joint Homer efforts with Kodiak to help bring awareness to this issue. They are preparing to make their voices heard when the North Pacific Fisheries Council meets later this month in Anchorage. A petition is available at Captain’s Coffee and Latitude 59 for members of the public to sign.
“If we can take a petition to the council signed by as many people as possible, it will add strength to what we have to say,” Wedin said.
Thomet said they will request the council to lower the cap on bycatch to 15,000. Since a motion is on the agenda for the council to take up, some action could be immediate, Thomet said.
Meanwhile, the trawl industry is taking Chinook salmon bycatch very seriously, said Julie Bonney, executive director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank.
“If the cap level is too onerous, it may not create the desired behavior for bycatch controls. Instead of working to learn how best to avoid salmon through the mandatory cooperatives, vessels may race for the available salmon bycatch cap if it is perceived that the cap will not allow the pollock quotas to be reached,” Bonney wrote in an e-mail. “Every vessel will be looking after their own best interests to meet their economic needs from the fishery versus working together.”
The council will be considering whether to adopt a cooperative structure for the Gulf, like that in the Bering Sea region, an action favored by many trawlers. “It offers the greatest potential for the trawl fleet to educate themselves and work together to control and reduce Chinook salmon bycatch – gear modifications, on-the grounds bycatch monitoring, and stock of origin tissue sample collection for their by-caught Chinook salmon. If the fleet is going to coordinate their efforts in a reasoned fashion then the council needs to balance the outcome of the bycatch control action for all the National Standards.”
The Gulf pollock industry is willing to advance themselves to control and reduce bycatch as best they can under the present management system, however they need time to develop the appropriate tools, she said.
The Alaska Marine Conservation Council favors the co-op structure, Kubiak said, in its formal, written position to the council.
Yet, there is further action to be taken. The motion before the council is limited to mid-water trawlers and doesn’t address “hard on the bottom” trawling, Thomet said. “I think it’s important that the council puts on a hard cap limit. I’d also like them at a future date to address non-pelagic (deep water) trawling.”
The idea of limiting king salmon bycatch numbers has been under discussion before the council for about 5-6 years, but after last year’s low escapement numbers and the 2010 bycatch estimate of 54,000, the matter gained a lot of attention, Thomet said. “This put pressure on the council to take it up.”
The limitation could address getting more king salmon in the rivers for overall salmon run health, he added. A final decision will be issued at the council’s June meeting in Nome for implementation the following year.
Comments are closed