The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 (which has been renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) to oversee management of the nation's fisheries. With jurisdiction over the 900,000-square mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska, the Council has primary responsibility for groundfish management in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), including cod, pollock, flatfish, mackerel, sablefish and rockfish species harvested mainly by trawlers, hook and line, longliners and pot fishermen.
The Council also makes allocate and limited entry decisions for halibut, though the U.S. - Canada International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is responsible for conservation of halibut. Other large Alaska fisheries such as salmon, crab and herring are managed primarily by the State of Alaska.
KRSA participates in the public process of the NPFMC primarily on two issues:
The allocation of halibut at the NPFMC has been a long standing dispute between guided sport charter operators in the recreational sector and the commercial longliners in the seafood sector. With a two fish daily bag limit, halibut are a main draw for guided and unguided saltwater anglers. Current discussion focuses on harvest limits for the guided sport charter operators, with a variety of measures to restrict harvest levels by guided anglers including a reduced bag limit of one fish per day. At this time there are no proposals under consideration that would have impacts on the halibut unguided sport, personal use or subsistence fisheries. In Southcentral and Southeast Alaska, roughly 20% of removals of halibut are by guided and unguided anglers, while the remaining 80% is taken predominately for commercial use in the seafood industry. (I suggest we insert a pie chart showing the distribution of halibut harvest among commercial and recreational users.)
The NPFMC is evaluating measures to limit Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Salmon and pollock are both important fisheries for Alaska. Salmon support large and critically important commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries throughout Alaska and elsewhere, and are the basis of a cultural tradition in many parts of the state. At the same time, the commercial pollock fishery produces significant revenue for the State of Alaska, and participation in the fishery (through royalties and employment) is important for the western Alaska Community Development Quota communities.
Salmon are caught unintentionally in the offshore Bering Sea pollock trawl fishery, and may not be kept. Despite bycatch control measures implemented in the pollock fishery since the mid-1990s, Chinook and Chum salmon bycatch has increased substancially over time. For Chinook by-catch it has ranged from an average of 35,000 bycatch in the 1990's to the historic high of 122,000 in 2007. Chum salmon bycatch have measured consistently in the hundreds of thousands. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to balance minimizing salmon bycatch, to the extent practicable, with achieving optimal yield from the pollock fisheries.
KRSA's interest in the salmon bycatch issue is multi-fold. Genetic sampling indicates that a significant portion of Chinook salmon aggregate to Southcentral Alaska rivers of origin (upward to 1/3 of the Alaska origin salmon). Specific impacts on Southcentral Alaska rivers could range from 0 to 25,000 salmon to the region. To anglers, in light of the current in-river harvest limits for Chinook salmon due to conservation purposes in Southcentral Alaska, it is not an insignificant number of removals.
For Chum salmon, the recent listing of Beluga whale in Cook Inlet as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act has potential ramifications. Reduction of prey food is listed as one of five "high" threats to the remaining Cook Inlet Beluga whale population. Chum salmon returns to Cook Inlet, especially in the Northern District, provide an important food resource to the Beluga. How the issue of Chum bycatch, whether it is in the Bering Sea pollock fishery or the Cook Inlet salmon fishery, unfolds in regards to the newly listed Beluga whale as a threatened population in Cook Inlet remains to be seen.