After nearly a year of working, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy received the final report completed by the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force (ABRT), which he formed last November under Administrative Order No. 326. Since then, the ABRT has studied the impact of bycatch on fisheries with the goal of recommending new policies and ensuring that state agencies take advantage of available resources to better understand this problem that affects a variety of fisheries in the U.S. state. “There is a need to find ways to better utilize unavoidable bycatch”, said John E. Jensen ABRT’s Chair in the message that opens the report.
Unintended bycatch of high-value fishery resources
At the time of the task force’s creation, the administrative order (AO) issued by Governor Dunleavy defined bycatch as “fish which are harvested in a fishery but are not sold or kept” and claimed that the ABRT was formed “to help better understand unintended bycatch of high value fishery resources in state and federal fisheries”.
Dunleavy then requested four main tasks from the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force:
- Study what impact bycatch has on fisheries.
- Evaluate and recommend policies based on a better understanding of the problem of bycatch of Alaska’s high-value fishery resources.
- Ensure that state agencies leverage available resources to better understand the bycatch problem.
- Use the best available science to inform policy makers and the public on these issues.
To address these four tasks from a variety of angles, the ABRT created four separate subcommittees. Three worked to review bycatch issues affecting western Alaska salmon, Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea crab, and Gulf of Alaska salmon and halibut. The fourth focused specifically on science, technology, and innovation.
“I would like to thank the task force members for their hard work and service”, Governor Dunleavy said after receiving the report. “I look forward to working with task force members and stakeholders to do everything we can to get more fish to return to Alaska’s waters”.
Particular focus on marketable species
“All fisheries have bycatch. Through our work we saw a need, and made recommendations for, continued work on incentives and methods to avoid and reduce bycatch. In regards to the long term, there is a need to find ways to better utilize unavoidable bycatch”, Jensen claimed. “Our recommendations reflect the need to address this by taking incremental measures through regulatory processes to improve bycatch utilization with a particular focus on species that are otherwise marketable, but are caught with non-targeted gear, or discarded in a directed fishery as required by regulation”.
Among those recommendations are such recommendations as establishing a science-based chum salmon cap to reduce western Alaska salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, requiring 100 percent observer coverage on all Gulf of Alaska non-pelagic trawl catcher vessels over a three-year period, but above all else, the ABRT emphasizes research, something that Alaskan crabbers have already asked for.
“Research is the key to continued understanding of the impacts of bycatch and improvements in reducing bycatch”, the report states while reminding that generous funding is the key to supporting these new and continuing research projects.
Moreover, the report also encourages the State to use the best available scientific data to inform policy makers and the public on these issues. “Evaluate and recommend policies based on a better understanding of the bycatch problem in Alaska’s high-value fishery resources” is, in turn, the management recommendation made by the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force.
Strong views on bycatch in Alaskan fisheries
Since the organizational meeting in January of this year, 43 meetings have been held between the full Working Group and committee meetings. In addition, more than 40 presentations from agencies, research organizations, and industry groups have been made to date. The Task Force consisted of seventeen individuals drawn from all areas of the state and representing diverse interests. Of these, fifteen members had voting rights and two did not.
Voting members were representing subsistence, Alaska Native interests, charter sport fishing, personal use, communities, and the commercial halibut, salmon, crab, and groundfish trawl sectors, as well as representatives from the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.
Virtually everyone with an interest was represented and had their say. This is what the ABRT’s Chair, John E. Jensen, wanted to reflect. “As Task Force members, we are acutely aware that many Alaskans have strongly held views about bycatch in our fisheries”, he said. “Although we understood it would be impossible to meet all expectations, our commitment was to work hard to understand all aspects of the challenge and make recommendations grounded in the best available science”.
Concluding his presentation of the report – which runs to 45 pages and can be downloaded in full here – Jensen added: “Our hope throughout this process was that by advancing our work transparently, and with public participation at every stage, Alaskans will have confidence in our recommendations, and that our work will serve to strengthen fisheries conservation in our state”.