The Council received several reports related to salmon bycatch management measures in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. A report provided by the SeaShare food donation program describes the operation of the program and the voluntary donations of salmon and halibut PSC from the BSAI and GOA fisheries. The Council reviewed a staff discussion paper on the status of Alaskan Chinook salmon stocks, and an analysis of the impact of Chinook salmon adult equivalent (AEQ) bycatch on regional stocks of origin and vessel bycatch rates by sector in the pollock fishery. This was the first comprehensive analysis of impacts since the Council took action on the Amendment 91 Chinook salmon PSC management program in 2009. The Council’s primary motivation in requesting this report (as well as separate reports from the IPAs on their incentive programs) was to consider bycatch management performance measures in the context of the ongoing actions to minimize salmon bycatch, and to evaluate this issue with updated information on directed salmon fisheries and with the most recent genetic information, AEQ analysis, and examination of individual vessel performance.
AEQ is a more accurate representation of the true impact to spawning salmon than the mortality in numbers of fish recorded in any one year due to the lagged effects of bycatch as salmon taken in the pollock fishery range in ages from 3-7 years and are not all returning to natal streams in that year. Results indicate that overall AEQ has declined considerably from the peak value in 2007. Furthermore, the estimated impact rates to western Alaska have declined in recent years from peaks in 2008 (for CWAK) and 2010 (for Upper Yukon). Currently aggregate impacts only can be estimated for western Alaska at the resolution of coastal western Alaska and Upper Yukon. Using these recent genetic data results in estimated AEQ to coastal western Alaska that is similar to previous estimates (considered by the Council in 2009). Estimated AEQ attributed to the Upper Yukon is higher than previously estimated.
Overall, the pollock fleet bycatch rate (in Chinook salmon per ton of pollock) has declined annually, although some sectors continue to have disproportionately higher rates in some months. Data suggest some consistency in the worst bycatch vessels across all years.
The Council also received reports from each sector’s Incentive Program Agreement (IPA) representative on their incentive mechanisms in place and program results to date. Program representatives also provided the Council with a proposal for incorporation of chum salmon into the existing IPAs to better manage chum and Chinook bycatch concurrently.
Following extensive reports and discussion, the Council requested a discussion paper that valuates the regulatory changes needed to incorporate Bering Sea chum salmon bycatch avoidance into the Chinook salmon IPAs, and to evaluate possible measures to refine Chinook salmon bycatch controls in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. The Council requested consideration of explicit measures (either in regulation or within the IPAs) such as restrictions on vessels with consistently high Chinook bycatch rates, consideration of additional management measures in September and October, and requiring the use of salmon excluders when Chinook encounter rates are high.
To the extent possible, the Council will also consider additional outreach efforts as consideration of modifications to the program move forward in development. The full Council motion as well as the staff discussion paper are posted on the Council’s website. Staff contact is Diana Stram.