Early Chum Bycatch Hampers Pollock Season

Friday, July 12 2013

A month into pollock B season, fishermen should be ramping up their efforts in the Bering Sea. But instead, they’re slowing down because of high chum salmon bycatch.

Almost 20,000 chum have been taken incidentally since the season started on June 10. In the same period last year, the fleet caught about a tenth of that amount.

But Krista Milani, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, says it's not uncommon to see high bycatch so early in the season.

"2011, at this same time frame, there was about 36,800. So it’s not like it’s an unprecedented amount of salmon this early in the season. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be a high season, because it really depends on how the fleet reacts to it."

John Gruver is the inter-coop manager for the United Catcher Boats, a fleet of more than 70 trawlers. Gruver says they're relying on the rolling hotspot closure program to head off further bycatch.

They’re avoiding areas that have produced the largest amount of chum salmon so far. Right now, about 500 square miles of the fishing grounds are shut down as a result.

While closures are an effective tool, Gruver says they can make the season drag on a little longer.

"If we push back the fishery by the hotspot closure on chum salmon a couple of days in the summer, that can make people fish later into the fall when pollock fishing is slower."

Fishing well into September and October can cut into fishermen's profits. But Gruver says that staying on the grounds late in the season carries another risk.

"One of the things is to get this pollock caught before the chinook show up on the grounds in the fall," Gruver says. "That’s most folks’ goal."

Unlike chum salmon, there is a hard cap on chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. If the trawlers take 60,000 chinook salmon collectively, the entire fishery will be shut down.

As of July 6, the fleet had harvested 30 percent of their total pollock allocation for the season.


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