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FISHING U.S. boats catch 130,000 chinook - by mistake About half of those salmon would have ended up in Canadian rivers

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TERRI THEODORE The Canadian Press VANCOUVER American fishing boats with massive nets dredging the bottom of the Bering Sea for pollock accidentally caught 130,000 prized chinook salmon last year.

About half of those salmon would have ended up in Canadian rivers.

It came in the same year that fish escapement levels were hardly reached in the Yukon River, well known for its chinook fishery.

Canadian commercial fishermen weren't allowed to take any chinook from the river and native bands pulled just 5,000 fish for a food fishery.

The record accidental catch, or bycatch, has alarmed fisheries experts, environmentalists, government officials and even pollock trawlers, who say a bycatch cap would devastate their fishery.

DNA analysis shows about 20 per cent of the chinook caught up in the football-field-sized nets were bound for the Yukon River, which runs through both Alaska and Yukon Territory.

Another 40 per cent of those salmon were destined for rivers in British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is looking over several options to prevent such a massive bycatch again, but it will be two years before new rules are implemented.

"And in the meantime nobody's watching the fish," Gerry Couture said in frustration.

Mr. Couture, a Canadian member of the Yukon Salmon Committee in the Yukon River Panel, said the process to save chinook is moving with glacial speed.

Chinook, also known as king, are the giants of the salmon world and can reach weights equal to an average seven-year-old child.

They are the fish you often see in pictures where a beaming sport fisherman is using both hands to hold up his catch, after fighting to get the fish in the boat.

Pollock are small, sedate and plentiful, and often used in fish sticks or fast-food fish sandwiches. The billion-dollar Bering Sea pollock fishery is the largest in the world.

The bycatch issue has been a problem for years but never have so many chinook been caught up in the nets as in 2007.

Jon Warrenchuk, a marine scientist with the American marine advocacy group Oceana, said the failure to cut the bycatch is a failure in regulation.

"Salmon is so important to many people up and down the Pacific Coast,"
he said from his office in Juneau, Alaska. "It's boggling to me that there's no ceiling limit." And while some native bands aren't even allowed to catch their full chinook quota for sustenance, pollock fishermen are either throwing away the bycatch or donating the fish to food banks because they aren't allowed to sell it.

About 90 per cent of the 130,000 chinook bycatch was picked up by trawlers, while the remainder was captured by all other fisheries in the Bering Sea.

"I know the numbers look very bad," admitted Stephanie Madsen, executive director of At Sea Processors Association, which represents seven pollock-processing companies.

She said the industry agrees the bycatch in 2007 was unacceptable but they're not sure how to avoid the salmon, which seem to be following the pollock or vice versa.

Ms. Madsen said rolling closings haven't worked because they close one spot where the bycatch is high, only to find a high bycatch in the next place they throw their nets.

"We're struggling right now to figure out how to stay out of their way,"
she said.

Each of the four options going to the fishery management council is complicated, but break down into a hard-cap closing that would stop the fishery once a certain number of chinook are caught; a trigger cap that would set off a time-area closing; fixed closings that stop the fishery at a certain time; or keeping the status quo.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans likes the idea of a solid cap and has informed the council it wants that cap set at 37,000 chinook.

The figure momentarily left Ms. Madsen speechless.

She said such a cap on the industry would be devastating.

"It would be a dramatic impact, dramatic," she repeated.

"If you made us live with that cap, in two years without any new tools, I can't even fathom the impact." But the industry did live with a similar cap until 2002, and every year since the cap was lifted the bycatch has jumped.

Ms. Madsen denied the pollock fishery needs to "strain more water"
through its nets to catch more pollock, adding science shows the stock isn't in trouble.

Frank Quinn, with the Department of Fisheries, agreed the industry has been trying to avoid the chinook.

"So it isn't as if there's been a blatant disregard," he said.

While the bycatch doesn't seem to be harming endangered chinook runs, Mr.
Quinn said 130,000 salmon are still a drain on the resource.

"We're seeing results in the river and that's the reason we're taking the steps that we are to have this addressed," he said.

For Mr. Couture - who likens managing a salmon run to shovelling smoke with a pitchfork - the bycatch is an issue that can be solved, unlike disease or warmer water.

"It's another cup full, you might say, in the bucket of low returns."
Mr. Warrenchuk agreed the problem must be addressed.

"To really bring these salmon back you have to address all sources of mortality including pollock bycatch in the Bering Sea," he said.

"That's something you can do something about very easily."
 

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This doesn't make sense... I thought at first that they somehow caught that much at once... but this is over an extended period of time? Wouldn't they realise that they should do something before it becomes so catastrophic?
 

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"By mistake", not likely, and you hit it on the head Reelangler. Just curious as to what the going rate is for pollock compared with chinook per pound? Perhaps there was a cash incentive to increase there by-catch "by mistake".
 

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bycatch is a total mistake. its very stupid. i spent time on a trawler fishing polluck. anything that was not polluck was dumped over the side DEAD! this was 15 years ago. i wonder why they are just mentioning it now? its been going on for as long as they have been trawling for polluck. the polluck is ground up into a cream of wheat looking texture. then after some "junk" is added its frozen and shipped off to japan or somewhere like that. then it comes back as immitation crab meat and fishsticks. the salmon are not caught on purpose BUT it is well known by fisheries. we had observers on board watching the whole sorting process to make sure we didnt keep any salmon. they make millions on that polluck!!! i made 6.5 cents a case which was 40lbs each. after a month went by, i came home with just a bit over 10 thousand bucks!!
 

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Thanks for the info Ramtuff, was liscencing issues the reason for dumping the by catch overboard?
 

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oh they know it and they have known it for years!!! they tow a huge net behind the boat that acts like a bag. once it gets in, it doesnt get out. polluck are around 5lbs so the mesh in the net has to be small. but its not the captians fault. its the companies that have the boats and run the show. we threw out everything..... cod halibut salmon sqiud octapuss starfish and giant shrimp. sad thing is it was all dead
 

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I often worry whether we can preserve sport fishing opportunities.

Then I realize I truly fear we may not be able to preserve sport fishing species.

The opposition to their survival seems to be growing everyday.

Seems to be a common factor....greed.
 

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What I don't quite understand is how can they expect anyone to believe the industry when it says a "cap" would be "devastating" when it was already stated that "the industry did live with a similar cap until 2002"...obviously it wasn't that devastating if the industry is still around and currently they say "the billion-dollar Bering Sea pollock fishery is the largest in the world."...obviously it couldn't have been that devastating... ::) Devastating to who, McDonald's...? Smells fishey, very fishey...
 

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I don't think that the Polluck fleet are the only sources of salmon bycatch.
How come evertime one of our Coast Guard or military ships go to board a foreign fishing vessel there is a mass panick of cargo dumping just before the boarding?
This has been filmed and documented and you see it in the news every so often.
A fishing vessel can get far more per pound for salmon on the black market then for bottom fish legally caught and sold. :2cents:
 
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