Wednesday October 11, 2023

Alaska Public Media

In the debate over what is driving the Western Alaska chinook, or king, salmon crisis, the commercial trawl industry has faced no shortage of criticism over the issue of bycatch. The vast majority of chinook bycatch takes place in the Alaska pollock fishery, the second-largest fishery in the world.

Each year, thousands of chinook that would otherwise make their way to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are intercepted at sea. In 2020, more than half of the estimated roughly 32,000 chinook caught by the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock trawl fisheries were from Western Alaska stocks, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This was also the year the Yukon River was completely closed to subsistence king salmon fishing for the first time ever, and it hasn’t reopened since.

Chinook salmon are federally managed as a prohibited species catch, or PSC. While the pollock fleet has remained within the bounds of the cap currently in place for chinook bycatch, researchers are looking at ways to further reduce the number of the fish that get scooped up.

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