Republicans, Democrats and Independents seeking a variety of elective positions across Alaska appear united by a desire to restrict deep sea trawling.
In candidate questionnaires submitted to the Alaska Beacon, candidates in statewide and legislative races — regardless of party — say restrictions are the best way to improve salmon returns in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.
“I support efforts to reduce the waste of Alaskan seafood bycatch by Seattle-based deep-sea fishing companies,” said Mary Peltola, Democratic candidate for the Alaska U.S. seat. .
“Science provides the best guide. However, I think most Alaskans agree that it is long past time to control bycatch from deep-sea trawlers,” said Tuckerman Babcock, Republican candidate for an Alaska Senate district on the Kenai Peninsula. .
Their comments were typical of those submitted to The Beacon, and Linda Kozak, a Kodiak fisherwoman who has tracked fishing issues for three decades, said she saw a public reaction unprecedented in her career.
“For the first time since I’ve been involved in fisheries policy, bycatch is a household name in Alaska. It’s something the public cares about,” she said.
Although the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery is enjoying a banner year, the Yukon king and chum salmon fishery has been curtailed for a second consecutive summer due to low yields, leaving traditional subsistence fishers unable to cope. catch fish. Similar restrictions are in place on the Kuskokwim.
The low yields have been blamed on a variety of factors, including climate change, habitat destruction and bycatch, which occurs when vessels catch salmon while pursuing other fish.
Bycatch occurs in all fisheries that target a specific species, but while searching for pollock and cod in a billion dollar industry, Alaskan trawlers inadvertently catch tens of thousands of king salmon and hundreds of thousands of chum salmon in their nets every year, according to sightings. by the National Maritime Fisheries Service.
By law, the salmon must be returned to the ocean, but the fish die in the process.
The amount of bycatch fluctuates from year to year and has declined in recent years, but the huge number of fish caught by trawlers has drawn public anger.
A Facebook group calling itself ‘Stop Alaskan Trawler Bycatch’ now has nearly 20,000 members, and various groups have called out the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council – which regulates fishing more than 3 miles off the coast of the Alaska – to more tightly limit bycatch.
In January, the council rejected an emergency action requested by several groups in western Alaska. In June, additional requests were answered with motions to create a working group and draft a discussion paper.
According to genetic studies carried out by the NMFS, many of the salmon taken as bycatch come from Asia, British Columbia or places other than the Yukon or Kuskokwim rivers.
This fact, coupled with the fact that tighter bycatch limits could restrict pollock and cod fishing, discouraged action.
“The best available scientific information indicates that Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery is less than 3% and chum salmon bycatch is less than 1% of returns to the river systems of the Western Alaska Closure of the Bering Sea pollock trawl fishery in 2022 is unlikely to meet escapement goals or significantly increase the likelihood of improved subsistence harvests and trade in 2022,” Janet Coit, deputy fisheries administrator at the National Marine Fisheries Service, said in January.
Les Gara, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said if elected he would “appoint[North Pacific]Council members who would protect our fisheries from these wildly excessive factory trawler ‘bycatch’, which are decimating the fish and crabs of Alaska and harming our fish sinks.
“Subsistence, commercial and sport access for recreational fishing are all critical aspects of Alaska’s fishing policies,” said Charlie Pierce, a Republican gubernatorial candidate. “A common problem that affects all areas is the problem of trawler bycatch. Ending Alaskan trawler bycatch will reduce pressure on all Alaskan fishing concerns in the state.
In late 2021, following a legislative hearing on bycatch, incumbent Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy set up a task force to come up with recommendations.
This group should present these recommendations after the elections. In the meantime, Dunleavy said, it’s best to reserve judgment.
“Certainly, in the Yukon, the kings and buddies — something is going on related to this river system, and we need to find out exactly what it is and try to figure it out,” Dunleavy said this month.
Incumbent Republican United States Senator Lisa Murkowski also called for further study and research. Writing to the Beacon, she did not discuss bycatch. Murkowski’s main challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, did not respond to the Beacon’s questionnaire.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker said no administration can wave a magic wand and get fish back into the rivers, but there are steps to be taken.
“In Western Alaska, we must first recognize the impacts of salmon bycatch and climate change, and then appoint leaders who know the science to begin the work needed to address the issues,” he said. -he declares.
This story from Alaska Beacon is republished under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
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