Pacific Salmon Bycatch Overview
These non-target organisms are considered bycatch. The Council works to balance the priorities of all of the national standards in the MSA, one of which states that conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, minimize bycatch, and to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch. Salmon are caught incidentally in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) offshore trawl fisheries, especially in the pollock pelagic trawl fishery. Salmon are considered a prohibited species catch (PSC) in groundfish fisheries, and cannot be retained for sale. Nearly all salmon taken as bycatch are Chinook salmon and chum salmon.
Bycatch is defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as fish that are harvested in a fishery but which are not sold or kept for personal use. This includes the portion of the catch that is discarded back into the sea and unobserved mortality due to a direct encounter with fishing gear that does not result in the capture of that species by a fisherman. Discards include species that must be returned to the sea by law (regulatory discards), and fish that are discarded at the discretion of the fisherman because they are not economically worthwhile to keep (economic discards). Although fishermen try to catch only fish that can be sold, fishing gear is not 100% selective, and some undesirable fish and other organisms are caught incidentally in the course of fishing operations.
Salmon Bycatch Amounts and Origin
Amendment 91In 2011, Amendment 91 established two Chinook salmon PSC limits for the pollock fishery—60,000 (total) and 47,591 (performance standard) Chinook salmon. Under Amendment 91, the PSC limit is 60,000 Chinook salmon for the entire pollock fishery fleet participating in an industry-developed contractual arrangement, called an incentive plan agreement (IPA). An IPA establishes a program to minimize bycatch at all levels of Chinook salmon abundance. The IPA provides annual reports to the Council that evaluate whether the IPA was effective at providing incentives for vessels to avoid Chinook salmon at all times while fishing for pollock. The sector-level performance standard ensures that the IPA is effective and that sectors cannot fully harvest the Chinook salmon PSC allocations under the 60,000 Chinook salmon PSC limit in most years. Each year, each sector is issued an annual threshold amount that represents that sector’s portion of 47,591 Chinook salmon. For a sector to continue to receive Chinook salmon PSC allocations under the 60,000 Chinook salmon PSC limit, that sector can only exceed its annual threshold amount 2 times within any 7 consecutive years. Under the current program, if a sector fails this performance standard, it will be allocated a portion of the 47,591 Chinook salmon PSC limit each subsequent year. This program provides the pollock fishery participants with incentives to limit Chinook salmon bycatch to the performance standard in every year, but provides the fleet with some flexibility should it encounter unanticipated changes in the fishery due to weather, operating conditions, or the status of target or bycatch species stocks.
Amendment 110The Council developed Amendment 110 in response to multiple years of historically low Chinook salmon abundance, which resulted in significant restrictions for subsistence users in western Alaska and failure to achieve conservation objectives. While Chinook salmon bycatch impact rates had been low under Amendment 91 and had not exceeded the performance standard, the Council wanted to further minimize Chinook salmon bycatch at low levels of salmon abundance. Implemented in July 2016, Amendment 110 also incorporated chum salmon bycatch measures into the existing IPAs.
Salmon Donation ProgramIn 1993, the Council and NMFS established a Prohibited Species Donation Program, whereby fishermen can retain salmon and halibut PSC for distribution for hunger-relief. At this time, SeaShare is the only organization authorized to distribute this fish. SeaShare enlists fishermen, processors, and downstream service providers to efficiently handle donated fish. Funding is provided by corporations, foundations, and individuals to support the costs involved. Since inception, SeaShare has reclaimed 4.2 million pounds of fish that would otherwise have been wasted.
Salmon Bycatch Management Programs
Salmon Excluder DevicesFor several years, the Bering Sea pollock industry has been working on developing a Chinook salmon excluder device for trawl gear, which allows salmon to escape from the trawl net underwater while retaining pollock. The success of such devices relies on the different swimming behaviors of pollock and Chinook salmon. Through experimental fishery permits authorized by the Council and NOAA Fisheries, various iterations have been tested, and their voluntary use by pollock skippers is increasing. Recently, the GOA pollock industry has begun to consider how the Bering Sea Chinook salmon excluder might be adapted for the smaller GOA pollock fleet.
The staff contact is Diana Stram.