Dear Acting Chair Bill Tweit, Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), Advisory Panel, and the Salmon Bycatch Committee:
Thank you for serving in this council process and taking public comment on issues that deeply impact our people and our ways of life.
We ask that you take meaningful action to mitigate chum bycatch in the pollock fishery and to address the ongoing chum salmon declines in western Alaska rivers.
As your report acknowledges, the Indigenous relationship with salmon is more than simply a harvesting, subsistence relationship. Lives centered around salmon are lives of community and belonging, of health and wellness, and a relationship of respect with the land and waters that have provided for millennia. Our communities place an exponentially higher value on the chum that have provided for us for thousands of years, while the industry does not respect or acknowledge the generations of culture and connection that lives in the salmon they so casually dismiss and discard. This value to Alaska’s Indigenous people must be represented during upcoming discussions of bycatch mitigation.
We realize there are many stressors attributed toward the decline in chum salmon returning to western Alaska rivers, including warming waters, hatchery fish competing for food resources, and parasitic infections. These factors are compounding the impacts of salmon bycatch. Over the past 10 years, Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets have caught, killed, and discarded approximately 141 million pounds of salmon, halibut, crab, sablefish and other species per year. This is all in the wake of Western Alaska fishing communities being closed to fishing for salmon, snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab, all the while smokehouses and caches are empty up and down our rivers.
While the Council may not be able to address all factors impacting the decline in fisheries, the effect of salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery must be acknowledged. The Council must instate meaningful measures to limit bycatch of the already-stressed species.
We request that you minimize chum salmon bycatch to the extent practicable, not only considering the impacts to the industry, but to the extent practicable for the ecosystem, the wild Alaska chum salmon stock, and for communities that have sustainably managed and long-relied on the species.
When individuals in western and interior Alaska are criminalized for the harvest of chum salmon for their livelihood and the health of their families, yet the $1.3 billion pollock trawl fleets face zero penalties for chum salmon incidentally harvested as bycatch, something needs to change to address the inequity and disparity that harms our communities, families and future generations. Our very identity, culture, and way of life is connected to the health and abundance of salmon. Meaningful, effective and strong measures must be instated. If the strictest of measures are taken inriver, strict measures should be seen in federal ocean fisheries.
Thank you for your work to mitigate the number of western Alaska chum salmon harvested as bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock Fishery. We look forward to meaningful change to ensure the health of all fish species affected by the pollock harvest.