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New Regulatory Requirements Prompt New Observer Sampling Protocols and Increase the Number of Observer Days at Sea

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Pollock on the sorting line at a shoreside processing plant. Photo by FMA Division.

In 2010 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued regulations to implement Amendment 91 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area starting in January 2011. These regulations are intended to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea (BS) pollock fishery while maintaining potential for full harvest of the catch by establishing a cap on Chinook salmon bycatch in the fishery. The regulations increased observer coverage requirements to ensure that all catches of BS pollock are monitored and required a substantial change in the observer sampling protocol for salmon to support the estimation of Chinook salmon bycatch and the collection of samples for genetic stock of origin analyses.

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An observer collecting biological data from a salmon. Photo by FMA Division.

Amendment 91 applies to owners and operators of catcher vessels, catcher processors, motherships, inshore processing plants, and the six Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) Programs participating in the pollock fishery in the BS, as managed under the American Fisheries Act. All Pacific salmon, as well as king and tanner crabs and Pacific halibut, are classified as prohibited species in the groundfish fishery off Alaska, and catch of these species must be avoided. Prior to January 2011, regulations required that any prohibited species caught must be returned to the sea as soon as is practicable after an observer had collected any required data from the species. With the implementation of Amendment 91, bycatch of all salmon species in the BS pollock fishery must be retained. Further, the operator of a vessel and the manager of a shoreside processor or stationary floating processor (SFP) must not discard any salmon or transfer or process any salmon under the Prohibited Species Donation Program until the total number of salmon by species has been determined by the observer and the observer’s collection of any scientific data or biological samples from the salmon has been completed.

The Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division modified the observer sampling protocols for salmon to meet the data collection needs specified in Amendment 91 to ensure that salmon caught in the BS pollock fishery are counted by species and that genetic specimens are collected from systematically selected individual Chinook and chum salmon. Sampling protocols for chum salmon were modified similarly to those for Chinook salmon to provide consistency for observers in the genetic sampling protocols and because chum salmon are also encountered frequently in the BS pollock fishery. Biological data and scale samples continue to be collected from salmon other than Chinook or chum salmon encountered in the observer’s species composition sample.

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