Spike in Chinook Bycatch Will Trigger Federal Review

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Jacob Resneck/KMXT

There’s been a significant spike in salmon bycatch taken by the Pollock fleet in the Gulf of Alaska. Nearly 26,000 fish were taken last week alone, raising eyebrows among fishery managers and industry watchers. As KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports, this spike will trigger involvement from fishery managers in the Lower 48.

(bycatch pkg) 3:21 "Josh Keaton … I’m Jacob Resneck."

Josh Keaton is a manager with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska office. He says last year’s Chinook bycatch in Gulf of Alaska was less then 8,000 fish. But this year’s numbers have been much higher with a significant spike last week during a series of Pollock openers.

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The numbers come from on-deck observers with most of the bycatch recorded south of King Cove. Keaton says his office is confident the data is accurate. And Julie Bonney, the director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, an industry group that represents groundfisheries doesn’t dispute this.

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Any time bycatch of Chinook salmon exceeds 40,000 fish, federal regulators in Alaska are required to notify their counterparts in the Lower 48. That’s because the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea are feeding grounds for salmon returning to systems all the way down the Pacific Coast.

In the past seven years, this has happened only once. In 2007, bycatch was listed at 40,395 chinook. But at the time fishery managers argued that the numbers were wrong due to flaws in the methods used to extrapolate observer data.

But this time there’s a consensus that the numbers are real with ramifications for neighboring states and provinces.

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Across Alaska king runs have been down with closures in both commercial and sport fisheries.

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That’s Matt Miller, Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sport fishery manager for the northern coast of the Gulf of Alaska. He says king runs have been down and managers are trying to figure out why.

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The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will be looking at the issue when they meet in December. Its in-house analysts are now preparing a report investigating the issue for council discussion.

But the Pollock fishery, which took the lion’s share of Chinook bycatch, is also one of the largest in terms of tonnage, revenue and political clout. Next year’s quota set at 100,000 metric tons. Nevertheless, says Bonney, the industry is on notice and expects the fishery council to take a hard look at the bycatch issue.

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In Kodiak, I’m Jacob Resneck

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