Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Introduced

December 24, 2021

An Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act was introduced in Congress last week by Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan that, if passed, aims to gain better understanding about causes of salmon declines, especially in the Northwest regions.


Alaska. The bill also would establish a working group specifically focused on salmon returns in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region of Western and Interior Alaska.


The group would include members from NOAA, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the  Pacific Salmon Commission, between two and five Alaska representatives including subsistence, and commercial or recreational users, five academic salmon experts and one state representative appointed by the governor.   


Within one year, the group would publish a report identifying knowledge and research gaps and advance policies that might result in more salmon abundance and stability. 


The action follows a salmon roundtable discussion the Alaska Congressional delegation hosted two weeks ago with tribal leaders and state fishery managers and scientists.


Many agreed there is a need for better data - but most called for action.


“We don't have time to sit on our hands and wait for these research projects to start and finish. Precautionary management needs to happen now. Adaptive management needs to happen now,” said Mary Peltola, director of the Kuskokwim Inter-tribal Fish Commission.


Managers need to look at salmon habitat in rivers and oceans in a more holistic way, Peltola said, pointing to policies that allow large ocean vessels to capture Chinook and chum salmon as bycatch while local river residents are not allowed any fish. 


“We have got to find a way where we manage as a whole system and not these silly, man-made jurisdictional issues,” she added. “And the fact that the Department of Fish and Game says their hands are tied when it comes to salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, because that's under the purview of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council - having both agencies pointing at the other is unfair to all of the users.”


“Our existing management system, with the state’s authority to manage Alaska’s salmon harvest and the federal government managing federal fishery salmon harvest and much of the at-sea research, has created a clear gap in research and research prioritization that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Senator Dan Sullivan in announcing the task force. 


Senator Murkowski has dedicated a line and a questionnaire for public comments through January 14.


Meanwhile, a group of Alaska tribes and groups representing Bering Strait communities   has filed an emergency petition with the US Secretary of Commerce to eliminate Chinook salmon bycatch and cap the number of chums taken by trawl gear.  Under current rules the pollock fleet in 2022 is allowed to take up to 45,000 Chinook salmon and an unlimited number of chum salmon while no salmon is available for local subsistence harvests.


“Our salmon runs and our communities are at the breaking point. We can’t risk the chance of high bycatch in these dire times. We need to do everything possible to save our Chinook and chum salmon runs, and we all need to do our part to restore our salmon runs, and eliminating bycatch is critical,”

said Brooke Woods of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.


Petitioners also include Nome-based Kawerak, Inc., the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Bering Sea Elders Group, and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

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