The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, SalmonState, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), The Boat Company, and DeepStrike Sportfishing applaud the start of a federal process that gives Alaskans an opportunity to weigh in on potential new guidelines for federal fisheries management — including trawl bycatch, support for community-based fisheries, and much-needed consideration of climate change in management decisions. 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries announced on Monday, May 15, 2023 a process to update three key conservation and management guidelines governing federal fisheries. The announcement was accompanied by the opening of a public comment period that will run through September 12, providing Alaskans, traditional fishermen, small boat fishermen, sport fishermen and others a much-welcome opportunity to have their voices heard on the guidelines that direct decisions by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and other regional councils around the country. 

“The North Pacific council has not meaningfully addressed critical issues such as climate change, access to fisheries for Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, and the trawl fleet’s bycatch of Chinook salmon, chum salmon, red king crab, snow crab, halibut, sablefish and many other species,” said SalmonState Outreach Director Melanie Brown.

“Their decisions have made bycatch of some species, like chum salmon, go up instead of down. NOAA’s announcement is a long-awaited opportunity for the tens of thousands of Alaskans affected by trawl bycatch to finally be heard.”

“We’ve seen multiple species of salmon dramatically decline on the Kuskokwim in recent decades, including Chinook and chum salmon, both of which are caught as bycatch by the Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet,” said Kevin Whitworth, Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“These declines are devastating for our communities and our ways of life, and they’re happening in part because marine managers at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries do not equitably consider our traditional foods or our Tribes when making decisions about pollock allocation. Revising these National Standards may bring the change we need to see in fisheries management to protect our salmon and cultures.” 

“Just last week Fish & Game shut down subsistence fishing for king salmon on the lower section of the Yukon River for the third year running,” said Karen Gillis, Director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.

“Things aren’t looking any better for the upper Yukon or for the Kuskokwim. It is unacceptable and unjust that Indigenous Alaskans’ smokehouses and fish camps will remain empty while the pollock trawl fleet continues to bycatch tens of thousands of wild salmon originating from depleted western Alaskan lakes, rivers, and streams. Bering Sea fishermen and fishing communities are seeing the effects of climate change and poor pollock fleet management firsthand. BSFA looks forward to the opportunity to engage with NOAA to create more just ecosystem-based, climate-responsive guidelines for federal fisheries.”  

“Our coastal and riverside communities depend on access to healthy fish stocks,” said Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.  “That access is increasingly challenged by climate impacts to ocean productivity and allocations that favor industrial trawl fisheries. That needs to change before our fisheries and fishing communities are bankrupt. This review of federal fishery guidelines provides the opportunity to rebalance decision making in favor of climate resilient fisheries, social equity, and thriving fishing communities—but we need all hands on deck to make that happen."

In recent years, Yukon and Kuskokwim River traditional fisheries, the snow crab fleet, the Bristol Bay red king crab fleet, small boat commercial salmon fishermen and others have experienced complete fisheries shutdowns. Meanwhile, the trawl fleet in Alaska catches and largely discards 141 million pounds of those same and other species as bycatch every year on average, is allowed to drag the sea floor in sensitive areas closed to crab and halibut fishermen and is governed by a Council that includes zero Tribal representatives.

NOAA Fisheries is soliciting comments from the public on how the guidelines can better address environmental changes and inequity in federal fisheries management.  Climate change, recognition of inequity in fisheries management, and “several ongoing fishing management challenges” illustrate that federal fisheries management under the status quo is inadequate.

The Federal Register notice is here.

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