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State sold out Western Alaska on salmon bycatch issue

by George Pletnikoff

August 25, 2009

It has now been almost three months since the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) took on the serious issue of chinook (king) salmon by catch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. The result of the vote on a motion made by the State of Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), is misguided. As it happens, this is one of the last decisions made by our former Governor Sarah Palin before she left office. The problem is the pollock fishery in the Bering Sea is a one billion dollar a year fishery. While they are fishing for pollock, dragging huge nets behind their factory ships, they also catch other fish other than pollock.

In this case, they catch chinook salmon, many of which are heading for Western Alaska rivers and streams, as by catch. Between 1990-2001, an average of 37,819 chinook salmon and 69,332 other salmon were caught annually in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Governor Palin’s motion said the pollock industry should be allowed to catch up to 68,000 chinook which was later lowered to 60,000 fish per year. This amount is almost double the eleven year average cited above! You can get more information about this serious problem by Googling the NPFMC if you wish. What I am wondering in this short paper is given there are representatives from the States of Washington and Oregon, as well as others, on the NPFMC, and given that most of the pollock fishing companies are from Washington, why would the State of Alaska make such a motion which negatively impacts the Citizens of the State she is supposed to represent? And make a motion that would increase the chinook salmon by catch amount to almost twice the amount of what was caught in this fishery, from a eleven year average of 37,819 to 60,000 fish?

We should make no mistake that the elected government officials of our State must do all they can to represent the people, all the people of our State. And those who are appointed to important positions, representing our elected government officials, must also do the same. We are requesting a review of this motion, passed by the NPFMC unanimously, by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, a very popular former Governor of the State of Washington, where many of these pollock fishers reside, so that the needs of the people of Alaska can be fairly represented and that a lower number of chinook salmon by catch can be put into place. We hope that the Secretary will take a serious look at this most serious problem. Just this summer alone, many of our people have been denied keeping a chinook salmon when caught for subsistence use.

Recently some of our people in Western Alaska went ahead and fished for salmon for food against an ADF&G closure in their waters. The elected officials of our State are to do all that they can to represent all the Citizens of the State of Alaska and not the interests of large fishing companies from other parts of our Country. It seems our former Governor has done exactly the opposite. No doubt the pollock fishers need to work and provide for their families. So do our people in Alaska. Now the NPFMC will be taking on the issue of Chum salmon by catch in the next few months. Lets hope our elected people will do all they can to represent Alaska and the Citizens who are dependent upon these fish to feed our families. After all we elected them to do just that!

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