Industry groups discuss incentives for limiting bycatch

Pollock fisheries groups made presentations last month to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council Advisory Group about possible ways to reduce salmon bycatch, offering up ideas to improve the system and to talk about systems already in place.

Salmon bycatch has become an increasingly volatile subject that is progressively getting more scrutiny as chinook and chum runs in Western Alaska and elsewhere have crashed. The two groups, the At Sea Processors Association and an organization called Inshore Salmon Savings Incentive Plan, pointed out things that can incentivise reducing bycatch and things that are already being done to reduce bycatch.

ASPA said that one main component they’re working on is continuing to apply and refine excluder devices to “see if we can get more salmon out of the net after they’ve already been captured,” according to Austin Estabrooks, a natural resource analyst with the organization.

Salmon excluder devices are holes in trawl nets that are specially made to allow salmon to escape while keeping pollock in the net.

The Inshore Salmon Savings Incentive Plan works through a savings credit system, according to the presentation, which works by creating an allowance of a 500-count bycatch limit. For every three chinook salmon a vessel does not take as bycatch per year that would contribute to that limit, the vessel earns one salmon credit that can be used as insurance for the next three seasons against the initial allocation limit.

“If you don’t catch them, you get to earn something. And so by every three salmon you don’t catch, you are basically earning one,” ISSIP Representative Suzie Zagorski said. Zagorski added that vessels do not usually go over the limit, but that this credit system can be useful if vessels come across a large amount of chinook in a “lightning strike,” and that these credits expire after three years to further incentivize avoiding bycatch. ISSIP also talked about camera systems that can be mounted on deck with a full view of the crew that can record the number of salmon being discarded, rather than having an onboard observer monitoring discards.

“You can see if salmon were being discarded so you know that the salmon accounting that’s happening at a plant where 100 percent of them are counted is 100 percent,” Advisory Committee member Chelsae Radell said.

It was not clear who would be monitoring those cameras and recording discards. It comes at a time when there are increasing calls for 100 percent observer coverage on all trawl vessels as well as a hard cap on salmon bycatch that would shut down the trawl fisheries if reached, and also during an ongoing court case challenging whether vessel operators should be required to pay the costs of observers.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act governs the management of fisheries in federal waters and provides that the National Marine Fisheries Service may require vessels to carry federal observers onboard to enforce agency regulations to prevent overfishing. The National Marine Fisheries Service construed the governing statute to allow it to require industry to pay the salaries of those monitors.

However, while a divided panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., found that the statute was reasonably read to allow the agency to require industry to pay the cost of federal monitors, in a dissent, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote that “Congress unambiguously did not” authorize the agency to make fishermen “pay the wages of federal monitors who inspect them at sea.”

A group of fishing companies are arguing before the Supreme Court in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council that the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not grant NMFS the power to require domestic vessels to pay the salaries of observers; they argue that while the agency is authorized to require monitors, it is silent about requiring industry to pay for them.

It has long been a contentious issue, especially in the smaller boat fleet where bunk space is limited.

Cristy Fry can be reached at