Sustaining Alaska’s Fisheries
Feast or famine: Chinook salmon bycatch issues
Wednesday,5 May,2010 08:20:42
In response to the recent article on the Yukon River Delta fisheries and the award-winning documentary, I have some issues that may not be getting the same level of press as the high oil content of the fish and the majestic beauty of the countryside where these fish come from.
One thing that I would like to point out is that the Chinook salmon bycatch issue is a serious and contentious issue, both at the State and Federal subsistence and commercial fisheries management levels. In April 2000, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved an action plan that provided for a 47,591 bycatch level in most years, with a potential 60,000 in two out of every seven years without consequence if there are industry incentive plans in place. The Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association issued a “Salmon Bycatch Action Alert” in March 2010, initiating a letter-writing campaign in an attempt to cap the Chinook salmon bycatch number at 32,500. The action alert cited the residents’ subsistence and commercial reliance on this important natural resource.
The Federal management regime should not bear the entire brunt of the blame though. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) came under heavy criticism last year for their management of the Chum (a.k.a. “Keta”) salmon fishery, and how they reacted to citizen participation, or Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). There were accounts last year of the sonar counting equipment being impeded by a sandbar, while tens of thousands of Chum salmon swam upriver, eventually exceeding the Canadian treaty escapement anticipated harvest. So, while Alaskans were being jailed for participating in their traditional fishery to feed their families, our Canadian neighbors were enjoying a boon of fish that may have been considered a “bonus.” In previous years, there were similar problems recounted with the sonar, including one account that detailed how the Fish and Game employees put the sonar apparatus in a narrow stretch of the river, where it had shifted, pointing toward the mud. That year, despite a healthy run, the sonar count was zero in that part of the river.
I truly hope that the people of the Yukon Delta are able to get as much fish as they need this upcoming season. If the Council hears their plea for a reduced bycatch limit, and if the Alaska Department of Fish & Game starts listening to the residents who have survived off of this great resource for thousands of years, the people may be able to harvest their succulent salmon in this unique part of the world where these long-standing traditions still exist. Otherwise, the people of Alaska and the rest of the country may again be faced with terrible images of starvation, food rationing, and having to chose between buying stove oil and buying food.
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