Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for August 13, 2009

U.S. urged to order pollock industry not to catch chinook

More than 65 first nations in Alaska and the Yukon are asking the United States' Secretary of Commerce to ban the pollock industry's bycatch of chinook river salmon.

By Jason Unrau on August 13, 2009 at 5:31 pm

More than 65 first nations in Alaska and the Yukon are asking the United States’ Secretary of Commerce to ban the pollock industry’s bycatch of chinook river salmon.

At its annual meeting held recently at Lake Laberge, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) voted in favour of a resolution urging Gary Locke, the U.S. commerce secretary, to invoke his
emergency regulatory authority and order the pollock industry to reduce its annual bycatch to zero.

“All we can do is have faith in the process and have people understand the impacts of the bycatch,” Carl Sydney, the Yukon regional board chair of the YRITWC, told the Star today.

“But industry seems to rule everything, that almighty dollar seems to be the boss of everything and it goes on and on. But I do have confidence and if the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) can have another look at it, at least that would be something.”

In April, the management council proposed a bycatch of approximately 48,000 chinook salmon with a potential for the pollock fleet to reach 60,000 in two of every seven years, without consequences.

While last year’s salmon bycatch by the pollock industry, operating in waters off the coast of Alaska, was 20,000, in 2007, that figure reached an all-time high of 122,000.

Calls to Locke’s office this morning to determine the status of the NPFMC’s recommendations were referred to the Northwest Regional Office for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.

Brian Gorman, public affairs officer for the Washington office, was unavailable for comment as of press time.

Under current practice, when salmon are caught in the huge pollock trawler nets, the dead kings are counted and most are thrown back into the ocean, while some are donated to the needy.

“We do know for a fact that the pollock fishery is slaughtering wholesale and wiping out the king salmon stocks out there that are coming into all the major tributaries,” Nick Andrew Jr., executive director of the Ohagamuit Traditional Council in Alaska, told The Associated Press this month.

“The pollock fishery is taking away our way of living.”

And Sydney agrees.

“We feel the bycatch is affecting all the watersheds and that’s the whole gist of the resolution - to ask the secretary of commerce to rescind the decision.

“I’m not saying we should ban the pollock industry, but even if they catch one salmon, they should be shut down.”

Some scientists believe the only way to allow the salmon population to rebound is to ban the pollock industry for 50 years. The fact it’s the United States’ largest fishery, whose wholesale value is nearly $1 billion annually, makes that scenario unlikely, however.

Last season in the Yukon, due to waning numbers of chinook salmon making their spawning run up the Yukon River, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cut the aboriginal subsistence catch in half, following a two-year ban on sport, domestic and commercial fishing.

But at the end of July, after more than 55,000 chinook salmon were counted swimming past the Yukon-Alaska border near Eagle, Alaska (compared to just 19,000 in 2008), DFO allowed limited commercial, domestic and sport fishing in the Yukon River for the first time in three years. Aboriginal subsistence harvesting limits were also restored to previous levels.

In 2006, the aboriginal fishery harvested 5,757 chinook, the commercial boats took 2,332, anglers caught 606 and the domestic fishery harvested 63.

The council bills itself as an indigenous grassroots organization, consisting of 66 first nations and tribes that are dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Yukon River watershed.

Established in 1997, the council’s 50-year goal is to be able to drink water directly from the Yukon River. Protecting river species and habitat conservation also fall under the council’s mandate.

CommentsAdd a comment

susan rogan

Aug 13, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Good work!  It is admirable that 65 First Nations governments in two countries got behind this request.  That’s got to ring some bells.

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