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Senate Passes Resolution to Restore Strong King Salmon Runs in Alaska

SR5 calls for reduction of current bycatch limits in Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries

JUNEAU-Today, the Alaska State Senate unanimously passed a resolution aimed at restoring strong king salmon runs to Alaska’s rivers.  Senate Resolution 5, sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, encourages the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to take action to reduce the level of Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea trawl fisheries to at least half of the current limits.

“Alaska’s recreational, subsistence and commercial fisheries have faced dramatic shortfalls of Chinook salmon in recent years leading to fisheries closures and severe hardships for Alaskans,” said Senator Micciche.  “Economic losses in 2012 were more than $34 million for sport and commercial fisheries, not to mention the significant toll on subsistence and personal users.”

According to a 2013 report by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the 5-year average total for Chinook salmon bycatch in trawl fisheries was 40,621 fish.   For example, in just the first three months of 2013, the reported bycatch of just one boat has been 980 Chinook salmon, which is eight times more king salmon than all of the fish caught by sport fishermen on the Kenai River system last summer.

“I am not blaming the failure of the Chinook salmon runs on trawl fisheries, because I honestly believe these fisheries have worked to reduce bycatch,” said Senator Micciche.  “However, if these fish had not been intercepted, many of these king salmon would have returned to Alaska waters and provided harvest opportunities as well as the escapement we need.   While long term research is underway to identify king salmon knowledge gaps in order to maintain sustainable stocks, it is essential we begin dealing with the problems facing Chinook salmon we do know about.”

In the summer of 2012, Governor Parnell issued a disaster declaration for the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions due to low Chinook returns.   Even though many fisheries were shut down completely, some escapement goals still weren’t met.

“While sport, commercial and subsistence fisheries were severely restricted throughout the state, the trawl fisheries were fishing as usual without absorbing much of the economic challenge of the other fisheries and fishermen,” said Senator Micciche.  “This resolution simply asks more fisheries to share the burden of the road to recovery for Alaska’s coastal runs of Chinook salmon.”

Currently, the allowable Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska represents 20-percent of the kings harvested from Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik, and the Alaska Peninsula sport, subsistence and commercial fisheries combined for the year of 2011.

“In a state where folks seem to really enjoy fighting over fish, support of this resolution represents one of the rare instances of an issue where all fishing Alaskans are united including commercial, sport, subsistence and personal users,” said Senator Micciche.  “This resolution is not about blame.  This resolution is about returning as many kings to our rivers as possible.  The goal is to transform Chinook-challenged rivers back to rivers of abundance.  In these years of low Chinook-abundance, every fish matters.”

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