Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:51 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Speak out now to reduce bycatch of king salmon

By Pete Wedin

Winter is an excellent time to think about chinook salmon. If you have the means and the weather allows, there are boats running from Homer, Kodiak, Old Harbor and Seward that can take you fishing for king salmon. There are many commercial fishing boats that have been rigged by their owners to fish for king salmon for their own personal use. I have seen downriggers on everything from seine skiffs to crabbers.

For those who enjoy eating fresh king salmon, the thrill of bundling up in warm clothing and pursuing fish in winter is just as important as a cabin fever reliever as skiing, woodcutting and beach hiking.

This is also "A" season in the pollock fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. These powerful fishing vessels are out dragging huge nets through Shelikof Straits targeting pollock.

Unfortunately, the same beautiful, tasty chinook salmon that we prize on our dinner tables get in their way. When this happens, and it happens a lot, they are discarded. What a waste.

Some (about 30 percent) of these vessels are observed. Most go about their business without any limit to chinook bycatch and without any accounting of what is discarded.

If you love king salmon, you need to speak up.

In recent years, there has been a statewide shortage of king salmon in the rivers. Many have been closed to fishing for king salmon because minimum escapement goals have not been met.

There are many factors that affect this decline and we must all take steps to try to reverse this trend. When times are lean, every group must sacrifice and every group must be certain that waste is trimmed to a minimum. The trawl fleet must take responsibility for this waste and take drastic measures to reverse it.

In 2010, the level of chinook bycatch reached an unprecedented level. Nearly 60,000 chinook were observed in this fishery by year's end. This is unacceptable and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council needs to hear from you, who love chinook salmon, that the time has come to bring this waste to a halt.

The council will meet in late March and early April and Gulf of Alaska chinook bycatch will be on the agenda. This issue is on a fast-track with final action scheduled for the June meeting in Nome. There is a letter circulating around the Gulf that you can sign onto and we encourage anyone who wishes to testify at the council meeting to do so.

The fish managers hear from industry all the time as to why this is just "part of the game," but it is time for them to hear from us that this is unacceptable. If you need help and would like more information about chinook bycatch, you may contact the Alaska Marine Conservation Council at www.akmarine.org or Pete Wedin at pete@captpete.com

Pete Wedin has served on the board of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council for more than five years and has been harvesting fish in Alaska for 30 years.