I am in Seattle Washington attending the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) meeting, now on my third day. I should be here until super bowl Sunday unless the meetings speed up on their agenda and we are done early. If not, I will be flying home during the game, and so my loss. The Council, amongst the slew of issues common in all their agenda’s: Bering Sea/Aleutian Island Pacific Cod fishery; Steller Sea lion; Amendment 80 Program; and others is the ever present problem of Chinook and Chum Salmon by catch issues in the billion dollar a year pollock fishery.
So, the ever-present problem of salmon by catch. The Council took up the issue of chinook/king salmon problem in the Bering Sea pollock fishery last year by saying, if I can get this right, that the pollock fishers are allowed to catch up to 47,000 king salmon, and if that’s reached, then to 60,000 king salmon hard cap. Something like that. Now the Council is struggling with how to limit, if possible, the amount of chum salmon caught in that same fishery. In 2005, the pollock fishers caught an estimated 705,963 chum salmon, which at an average weight of 15 pounds per fish, equals a total of 10,589,445 pounds of fish that were discarded and thrown back into the ocean as waste. To be far, the total amount of chum salmon caught as by catch in 2008 were down to 15,423 fish that shows some improvement in lessening the loss of these fish, or seafood. It is also estimated that 50% of these fish are from Asia coming from aquaculture facilities.
There are several ironies to this problem. One is, chum and chinook don’t migrate and feed together, as far as we know when they are out in the ocean. Chinook stay out in the ocean an average of 5 years while chum stay about 4 years maturing before they return to the stream they were born in to spawn. And so they remain separate while maturing. The pollock fishers know from experience where to fish for pollock but do not know where each species feed and mature. And so the problem. If we fish over here we might catch hundreds of chinook while if we fish over there, chums.
Part of the three recommended solutions to cut down on the amount of salmon by catch is to do what is called “rolling hot-spots.” That is, if too many salmon are caught over here, the area will be shut down so the pollock fishers have to move to another location to continue fishing. And so the fishers move and hope they will have better luck in this new area. Part of the problem is that should the pollock fishers catch a third of the total allowable numbers of salmon in one area, and the total amount for that area is not met, they can use up the difference in that new area. It can be confusing, but basically if the total amount of by catch salmon is, lets say, 40,000 fish, then 40,000 fish it is, rather than saving the fish and not destroying them. How is this conservation? The other irony seems to be: saving fish so that we can catch more fish?
So, off to the salt mines trying to understand this mess. If you think you know what all this means, please let me know. I will be happy to take the time to read your comments. Geee, I hope I make it home for the super bowl.
In Seattle at the NPFMC meetings.