Peltola sponsors a bill to limit salmon bycatch. The pollock industry calls it underpowered.

from Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

Updated: 1 hours ago Published: 12 Hours ago

Alaska U.S. Representative Mary Peltola introduced two bills Wednesday aimed at fulfilling one of her campaign themes: Reducing the number of salmon the Bering Sea fishing fleet catches by accident.

One of the bills would limit the use of fishing nets that scratch sensitive parts of the sea floor. It would require regional fisheries management councils to define demersal fishing areas and limit that type of fishing to those areas.

It also tries to hit fishing gear that hits the bottom of the sea, but has a different name. Peltola said that areas that are closed to bottom fishermen off the coast of Alaska are very often open to pelagic fishermen, which in theory means the nets are in the middle of the water.

I think 40 to 80% of the time, those pelagic rigs are actually on the bottom, she said. So I think defining those terms and having a more precise definition of what the bottom line is and the percentage of time those nets are on the bottom is really important.

A second bill would increase money available for a grant program that funds research and equipment to help fishing fleets reduce bycatch. That program would receive up to $10 million a year, $7 million more than the current cap.

Peltola admits her bills are unlikely to become law this year. But she said they elevate the national discourse on fish. And, she said, the Polish industry is starting to get the message and is taking voluntary measures to avoid salmon. She credits, among other things, her choices to a recent decline in bycatch.

The fact that Alaskans elected a member of the congressional delegation who ran on a fishing rig and caught just that fact has really caught the attention of many people in the industry, she said. Fifty percent of bycatch is reduced, especially when it comes to narrow salmon.

This shows, she said, that the industry can make improvements.

The Alaska Pollock Fisheries Alliance says the recent fisheries law would impose inappropriate and burdensome new federal mandates on regional decision makers.

Stephanie Madsen is executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, which is part of the pollock alliance. She said the law conflicts with the science-based approach taken by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

The council has looked at pelagic gear definitions, applicability, and they continue to look at that, Madsen said. And here we think the work needs to be done.

Organizations representing smaller boat fishermen and subsistence users, on the other hand, have endorsed Peltola’s bills. These organizations include the Alaska Longline Anglers Association, SalmonState and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Longline Fishermen’s Association, said Alaska fishing communities and conservationists have been asking the North Pacific council for years to redefine pelagic fishing in a way that limits contact with the sea floor, to no avail. Even if the bills don’t become law, Behnken says they help.

I think they certainly send a strong message that Rep. Peltola is listening to concerns from Alaskans and providing guidance to councils to take action to address those concerns, Behnken said.

Originally published by Alaska Public Media and reprinted with permission.

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