The Council received a range of reports related to western Alaskan salmon and salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and took several actions. A series of scientific reports were presented on state and federal efforts on Western Alaska Chinook and chum stock status; salmon research; salmon bycatch genetics for both chum and Chinook; and updated information on the impacts of bycatch on Chinook and chum salmon returns to western Alaska rivers, including a Bering Sea Chinook Adult Equivalency (AEQ) and impact rate report and staff suggestions on assessing the impacts of chum bycatch on western Alaska chum salmon returns. The Council also received industry reports on the efforts to reduce both chum and Chinook salmon bycatch under the sector-level incentives plans, a final report on the multi-year salmon excluder project and an overview of SeaShare’s hunger relief efforts to distribute donated salmon (and halibut) to food banks.
The Council received considerable public testimony from stakeholders in western Alaska noting the dire state of salmon stocks and the impacts on their health, livelihood and culture as well as feedback from the pollock industry on their efforts to reduce their bycatch of both chum and Chinook salmon. The Council acknowledges the western Alaska salmon crisis and the impact it is having on culture and food security throughout western Alaska. Science indicates climate as the primary driver of poor salmon returns in western Alaska. Nevertheless, the Council is committed to continued improvements in bycatch management with a goal of minimizing bycatch at all levels of salmon and pollock abundance.
With that, the Council took several actions related to bycatch and research. The Council requested the pollock industry to institute immediate measures to reduce chum bycatch during the summer fishery and report back to the Council on those efforts following the end of the B season.
The Council requested a discussion paper on chum salmon bycatch building upon the previous analysis in 2012. Additional items to be included are an updated chum salmon bycatch and genetic stock composition data, a description of the Council’s rationale for establishing the current Bering Sea chum salmon bycatch management program; a discussion of tradeoffs in the Bering Sea pollock fishery associated with avoiding different PSC species (e.g., chum salmon, Chinook salmon, herring); and a summary of conditions that have changed since the 2012 analysis (e.g., increased Asian hatchery releases and western Alaska chum salmon stock status). The Council also indicated strong support towards prioritizing further research on Bering Sea salmon.
The Council initiated a Salmon Bycatch Committee comprised of Tribal members, scientists, industry representatives, and other experts, which will provide recommendations on: 1) the discussion paper on chum salmon bycatch; 2) the findings and recommendations from the State of Alaska’s Bycatch Task Force and the work of the Western Alaska salmon subcommittee; and 3) current information, including Local, Traditional, and Subsistence knowledge, and needed research to determine what is driving western Alaska salmon declines. A nomination process for the committee will be posted to the Council’s website at the beginning of August with appointments to be made at the October Council meeting. The State of Alaska’s Bycatch Task Force recommendations will be available in November. The Committee will meet prior to the December Council meeting and provide its recommendations to the Council in conjunction with the review of the discussion paper and Task Force recommendations.
Staff contact is Diana Stram.