The catching of Yukon bound Chinook and Chum salmon while fishing for other species is an issue that has been around awhile. The Chinook bycatch numbers have sometimes equaled or exceeded the subsistence catch of the entire Yukon River Drainage (U.S. and Canada).
The serious decline of older age class king and overall run size in general on the Yukon has sparked a renewed effort at curbing the numbers by fishermen’s groups on the Yukon such as YRDFA.
Accusing the the Pollock industry for this decline has reached proportions that is doing us no good however as it only allows us to stop looking at obvious causes of the decline. Below is an opinion piece on this issue.
Yukon King Salmon Bycatch - Things Are Not Always What You Hear They Are
By Stan Zuray, Tanana Area Fisherman, November 6, 2011
Do you believe the high seas pollack fishing bycatch of Yukon River King has been a highly likely cause of the decline in average size and overall strength of our Yukon king salmon runs? Well if you do you have something in common with the majority of fishermen and just plain common people who live in the villages or in cities like Fairbanks and Anchorage and have ties to the Yukon River. A decade of talking about it, blaming the pollack industry and spending immense time and effort on the subject at our meetings has seen to it that most of us think this is the problem. Everywhere I go I hear it, over and over.
Now before I go on I need to say, I believe we must keep a vigilant eye on the bycatch of our king and fight for bycatch caps to make sure it never gets any higher. This is more important now than ever as we face trying to rebuild a king run reduced dramatically in size and spawning quality. All user groups need to tighten belts. King subsistence was shut down for most of this past season. Groups like YRDFA need to continue their work insuring bycatch everywhere has limits and operates in the best manner to avoid Yukon king salmon.
However on the issue of that being the cause of the demise of our king I would like to say, “There is no way in heck that the facts in this case point to that conclusion”. Our best science speaks to it so clearly it’s amazing the idea has gotten any traction at all, until one realizes the idea has been perpetuated by many who have wanted to deflect the attention from more likely, yet politically distasteful, causes for the demise of the king salmon.
So what are the facts and are they just one person’s facts or are they what everyone agrees are the facts.
• Well first off there is the genetic information that comes from standard scientific procedures and is the only reason we even know how many or what percent of the king are Yukon bound fish. This is established science and to my knowledge it is not in question by any reputable researchers on any side of this debate. • Second is the bycatch numbers that have existed since 1992 -- 19 years of amounts of all ages of king taken by the pollack fleet. Again this data is not in question by any reputable researchers that I know. ADF&G, USFWS and YRDFA all have said they consider them accurate numbers. They are also the same numbers that are used by those who have perpetuated this idea of the pollack fleet destroying the Yukon king run.
Two qualifying notes before we go on:
1. Most persons involved in this bycatch research have expressed concern about the need for a more rigorous scientific sampling program and this is now in place the last couple of years. Prior years use the best science available to say anything on the issue.
2. There is some difficulty, identifying genetically, some lower Yukon king stocks from other western Alaskan ones - however middle and upper Yukon stocks are very distinct each year and their known ratio to the lower ones allows for a percent of Yukon bound king to be arrived at. This is an area of larger than desirable confidence intervals.
So now comes the simple math:
Looking at all year prior to 2005, which are the ones capable of having produced the present problem, we come up with an average king bycatch of 41,614 each year.
Now we take the genetic information, gotten right from the king caught by the pollack boats, which says that about 25% of the king they are catching is Yukon River bound fish, and we multiply that by the average bycatch number and we get about 10,000 fish. The bycatch kings are not mature and are all ages. Not all of those caught would have made it to the Yukon due to some dying naturally. It’s called “adult equivalent” by Yukon researchers and when it’s figured it in it drops the average amount of king each year taken in the Pollack fleet to under 10,000 a year.
Now my question is: “How can less than 10,000 kings a year out of a run of 250,000 to 350,000 fish possibly have any significant effect on the health of a salmon run”. At the very least, any biologist, manager or researcher would have to agree, it is a completely manageable number in that to make up for it all management would have to do is allow 10,000 more king to pass up river to the spawning grounds. Back in the days when the king decline problem was becoming apparent to some, 10,000 fish out of our normal inriver commercial take of 80,000 to 120,000 would have seemed like a tiny price to pay to keep the run healthy given the price we are paying now with no commercial at all and the majority of the season closed to subsistence king fishing.
But the truth is those 10,000 king did not - and could not - have caused the king decline. It has upset me over and over again at our meetings to have knowledgeable persons, who clearly know this information (and say so in private conversations), throw out the idea that the pollack fleet could be to blame and then sit back and let fishermen talk on and on about the bycatch without any meaningful intervention considering what they started.
Finally, what started all this was my wanting to write an article about how customary trade (like the pollack bycatch issue) has become the new whipping boy on the river by those who still don’t want to face the possibility that this king decline is something in-river fisheries management could have done something about. But that maybe will have to wait till another newspaper.
Open a report for viewing by left click on the fish next to report or download a copy by right click on fish and then select save target as)
Estimates of the Bycatch of Yukon River Chinook Salmon in U.S. Groundfish Fisheries in the Eastern Bering Sea, 1997-1999, Katherine W. Myers, Robert V. Walker, Janet L. Armstrong, and Nancy D. Davis, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, March 2004
Reducing Salmon Bycatch in the Pollock Fishery, article by Becca Robbins in the YRDFA newspaper, Yukon Fisheries Update, December 2005
Unintended Catch: Bycatch of Yukon River Salmon in the Pollock Fishery, Fishermen’s News, March 2006