Alaska Groundfish Data Bank Looks at High Numbers of Bycatch in Trawl Fisheries

logo-w-sunburstKayla  Desroches/KMXT

The race for fish continues to be a concern for Kodiak’s pollock, cod, rockfish, and flatfish trawl fisheries moving into the coming season, especially with the quickly rising numbers of Chinook bycatch.

That’s according to Alaska Groundfish Data Bank Executive Director Julie Bonney, who gave a fishery update to the city and borough’s joint fisheries work group Wednesday morning.

Bonney pulled up a slide of the catcher vessel Chinook caps in place for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries.

She said that, as of late April, they had caught a little less than 10,000 salmon in the pollock fishery, which is about 54 percent of the roughly 18,000 Chinook cap for that fishery.

She then flipped to a slide with the trend of Chinook bycatch for the A and B season.

“In 2017, we’ve taken just under 10,000 Chinook. If you look at every other year in the past, I think the highest other year would be 2015 at 6,000 fish, so we’re basically almost double any other seasonal bycatch in 2017.”

Bonney also pointed out the pollock quota is going up.

“Since you have a stagnant cap, you’ve got to catch more pollock with the same amount of Chinook when your quotas are higher and then when your quotas are less, then you have more room under that cap because you have less TAC [total allowable catch] to catch.”

She said, based on numbers from last year, they could exceed the cap this C and D season.

Bonney advocates allocating the fishery as opposed to racing for the fish, but said a volunteer catch share plan only improves their chances in the pollock fishery. It won’t solve all their issues.

Bonney said Kodiak’s cod and flatfish fisheries, which share a cap, are also at risk of closures due to Chinook bycatch. The Kodiak fleet fishes cod and flatfish all year, whereas the Western Gulf fleet fishes only cod and only in the A season.

“What’s happened this year is the Western Gulf fleet has taken almost 1,700 fish out of the cap, so now in the combination, we only have 945 fish remaining to get us through the full calendar year.”

Bonney noted several possible “band aids” for what she considers constraining bycatch limits and a problematic management structure.

One is an amendment package that they would send to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. It would increase the Chinook cap for the cod and flatfish catch vessel fisheries by 1,000 to 3,000 salmon and increase that cap by 300 to 900 salmon for the rockfish program.

Another possibility is altering the Steller sea lion protection measures, which Bonney said influence certain aspects of the cod and pollock fisheries, like their seasonal structures. She said such amendments take roughly two years to implement, so they’re by no means a quick solution.

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