State Bycatch Working Group Meetings Begin
The governor’s task force examining the effect of bycatch in Alaskan fisheries is struggling to organize itself under its tight schedule to submit recommendations to state and federal government policymakers. It must also balance commercial and subsistence interests.
Bycatch occurs when fishing vessels catch something they are not targeting. It can be tanner crab caught in a black cod trap or halibut picked up in a pollock trawl. It’s been an incendiary problem in Alaska’s fisheries for decades. Now, as crab, salmon and halibut stocks dwindle, trawling is being criticized for its role, which accounts for the vast majority of bycatch in and around Alaska.
The governor’s office took note. Governor Mike Dunleavy established a task force to review bycatch late last year with a November deadline to submit its recommendations.
But meanwhile, the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force must also set its own priorities, split into subcommittees, and decide what it’s going to focus on before its term expires in nine months only. And there’s already a lot of information to sort through as you catch up.
In a nearly six-hour meeting on Friday, Feb. 11, the task force heard presentations from the state Department of Fish and Game, staff from the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with bycatch data and information for many species. , including salmon, crab and halibut. The members of the working group questioned the experts on the existing data on bycatch.
Kevin Delaney serves as the designated task force seat for sport and personal anglers. He told his fellow task force members that they needed clear direction to be effective.
“If we just start throwing data at the wall and hope something sticks, we’re just going to spend the next nine meetings doing the same thing as the North. [Pacific Fishery Management] The Board has already done and the Board of Fish has already done,” Delaney said. “We are here because an issue has risen to the top strong enough that the governor called us in.”
Over the past year, some of the loudest voices for action to reduce bycatch have come from tribal organizations in western Alaska, in communities that have seen harvests of subsistence salmon drastically reduced, if not completely stopped.
Even early in the working group process, frustrations simmer about who is in the loop. Kuskokwim Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (KRITFC) executive director Mary Peltola said she was not informed of the meeting in advance. Public awareness has failed, she added; online portals and state public advisories are not reaching those most affected by declining fish populations.
“If there was a real interest in hearing from the public, there would be a real effort to let the public know when and where the meeting is taking place and how to give feedback or feedback,” Peltola said. “The composition of the task force, the timing of the task force, one hundred percent the task force is a campaign charade.”
KRITFC is one of many tribal consortia in western Alaska requesting state and federal support during salmon-related disasters. And that’s nothing new: Western Alaskan salmon runs have been in decline for more than a decade, and affected communities have been calling for action for just as long.
Peltola also questioned the need for a task force. She says the Dunleavy administration, through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, already has tools in place to manage the fishery to relieve struggling subsistence stocks.
“After decades of prioritizing ex-ship value and commodifying our resources over the freezers and pantries of Alaskan citizens, he now leads a food security task force and includes no subsistence user. It’s a total punch to the gut. This is adding insult to injury. The bycatch issue is a food safety issue,” she said, referring to the Alaska Food Safety Working Group, which is separate from the Bycatch Review Working Group. Governor Dunleavy announced the Food Security Task Force during his State of the State Address earlier this year.
But others expressed optimism about the bycatch review working group. At its Friday meeting, the working group heard from various fisheries stakeholders, including a few trawl fisheries representatives, who said they were ready for conversations.
United Catcher Boats – which represents pollock and cod trawlers – says its members are collecting data and are ready to share their findings with the task force on what it has found to prevent salmon, halibut and crab nets.
But UCB chief executive Brent Paine also told the task force he didn’t see much room for improvement. UCB boats are already using best practices to avoid bycatch, he told the task force.
“I have to be honest with you, I don’t know if we can do a better job than what we’re doing right now,” Paine said. He explained that the bycatch limits and system in the Bering Sea pollock fishery are already very motivating for boat captains: “We have on average around 13,000 to 15,000 chinook [bycatch] catch 1.4 million tonnes of pollock per year. You know, if we get one or two chinook for every 100 metric tonnes of salmon, that sets off an alarm that tells the rest of the fleet that this is a high bycatch area. Every toe that goes in the water in the pollock fishery right now in the Bering Sea, these captains – the first thing they think about is the bycatch rate.
Although mandatory to report, there is no federal cap on chum salmon bycatch.
Last year, federal data shows Bering Sea trawlers caught more than half a million chum, pink and silver salmon and nearly 14,000 king salmon. In the Gulf of Alaska, groundfish fishermen have taken even more chinook salmon as bycatch, which falls under federal bycatch limits.
Even so, critics say that amounts to tens of thousands of fish that aren’t in smokehouses primarily feeding native communities in western Alaska or fulfilling state or government-directed commercial fishing quotas. federal.
Karen Pletnikoff called for concrete action from the working group to reduce bycatch. She is program director in Anchorage for the Aleutian Pribilof Association, which represents 13 of Alaska’s most remote coastal native communities. She asked the working group to continue to focus on the effects of bycatch on directed fisheries and subsistence fishers.
“Data and information is how we get to the truth, but we’re not going to be able to inform people who are affected by this bycatch, that, you know, these other factors are at play, and that’s why it’s happening. It’s really the only thing we control, and that’s the bycatch,” Pletnikoff said.
When discussing how to divide the sub-committees, the working group discussed dividing by fishing sector or by species. Pletnikoff wondered why the force would give outsized influence to the trawling industry.
“If subcommittees provide the opportunity to get direct input from those who have well-funded and industry spokesperson groups, they have businesses that are built around their support, then at least as many Attention should be given to directed fisheries, subsistence fishing, personal use and sport fishing separately,” she said. “The industry has had the chance to reflect amongst themselves before and will continue to do so, but this opportunity to hear from the public is unique.”
Across all gear groups, Alaskans and Seattle-based trawler fleet representatives called for a clear statement of the problem the bycatch task force needs to address before proceeding further.
The working group has instructed half of its members to do this. This subcommittee will include Task Force Chair John Jensen and members representing the Department of Fish & Game, the general public, the trawling industry, Alaska Native organizations, and the President of the Senate of Alaska. ‘State.
The ADF&G commissioner’s office said Monday that the department is also considering creating a website for the bycatch review task force to improve access to task force documents and other publications.
The next working group meeting is scheduled to take place via teleconference on March 9. By then, there may be a clearer picture of what the Governor’s Bycatch Task Force will attempt to accomplish before its November reporting deadline.