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Fisheries Bycatch: Global Issues and Creative Solution 

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The 29th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium was held in Anchorage, Alaska, from 13 to 16 May 2014, with a number of contributions by AFSC scientists. The symposium comprised seven sessions, which were broadly divided into topics on biological, ecological, and socio-economic issues on one side and gear technology, regulations, monitoring, and industry cooperative programs on the other.

Alan Haynie (AFSC) led the session “Fishery regulatory approaches and solutions” as an invited speaker and discussed “The Right Bycatch Management Tool for the Right Problem: How Catch Shares and Incentive Programs Are Being Utilized and How We Can Do Better.” In his talk Haynie covered how multispecies catch share programs, halibut bycatch reduction efforts, and measures to reduce Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries illustrate the variety of new bycatch management programs implemented over the last decade. He contrasted how management objectives vary and made the point that a “one size fits all” system is inappropriate. Biological, economic, and other institutional factors such as industry organization and observer coverage all impact how bycatch management programs function. These factors determine which mechanisms appear to be most effective at addressing different problems.

Jim Ianelli (AFSC) provided perspective on the current measures of salmon bycatch in the eastern Bering Sea pollock fishery. In particular, based on the extensive sampling by observers and genetic stock ID work (conducted by the AFSC’s Auke Bay Lab), he showed how trade-offs for the current constraints on pollock fishing may impact pollock catches and subsequent stock conditions. For example, starting in 2012, the abundant 2008 year class of pollock appears to be much smaller than average in the fishery. The extent that this is due to population-level density dependent effects is contrasted with the possibility that the pollock fleet has moved from traditional fishing grounds (which may have higher Chinook salmon bycatch rates) to areas where smaller and younger pollock are available.

Chuck Guthrie (ABL) presented his research titled “Genetic Stock Composition Estimates of Chinook Salmon Incidentally Taken as Bycatch in the 2012 Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska Trawl Fisheries” and Chris Kondzela (also from ABL) presented “Chum Salmon Bycatch in the Bering Sea Pollock Fishery.” In these studies, determining the geographic origin and stock composition of salmon caught incidentally is essential to understanding the nature of the fisheries and how management measures could be effective at minimizing the impacts. Chinook salmon samples collected in 2012 in the Bering Sea were predominately of coastal western Alaska origin (63%) based on 1,111 samples. Bycatch samples of this species taken in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries indicate that the stock composition the was about 49% of British Columbia origins with the U.S. west coast comprising 28% and coastal Southeast Alaska about 20%. Chum salmon bycatch samples collected from the 2012 Bering Sea pollock fishery showed, as in previous years, that the largest contribution was from Asia (59%), followed by the eastern Gulf of Alaska–Pacific Northwest (18%), western Alaska (14%), upper-middle Yukon (7%), and southwest Alaska (2%) regions.

Carwyn Hammond (RACE) presented the talk “Reducing Unobserved Crab Mortality from Bering Sea Bottom Trawling Through Cooperative Research.” In this study they showed how cooperative research projects can be very effective at reducing the negative impacts of commercial fisheries. In particular, they deployed special auxiliary nets fished behind the trawl gear (the sweeps and the footropes) which showed that crab survival improved by about 75%.

The FMA Division was extensively represented with Dr. Craig Faunce presenting: “The Risk-Matrix Approach to Evaluating Fisheries Bycatch,” Jennifer Cahalan showing her “Evaluation of Design-Based Estimators in Federal Groundfish Fisheries off Alaska,” and Farron Wallace giving a talk on “Innovative Camera Applications for Electronic Monitoring.”  Faunce’s research offers a way to prioritize activities among multiple projects and potential outcomes. He constructed a risk matrix for 60 fisheries around the nation as an example which provided simple visualizations of  how bycatch issues arise for a wide variety of gear types and geographic regions. These can be used to focus cooperative research and monitoring efforts to reduce and improve fishery bycatch estimates. Cahalan presented some results based on a regulations change governing the North Pacific Observer Program. The change means that NMFS controls the deployment of observers. Her findings indicate that design-based estimators are robust to highly variable sample data for rarer species. This was further illustrated comparing estimates of total discards (and precision) relative to species rarity. Farron Wallace discussed the development of a new camera system developed at the AFSC which provides the ability to monitor fisheries with cameras and automatically collect fish length measurements. Innovative time-stamping and linkage to GPS information allows precise location of species-specific catch, which may enable mapping of high bycatch rate areas. Other cost-effective savings makes this system a more broadly deployable way of collecting better information from fishing activities.

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By Jim Ianelli


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