Tribal groups petition federal government to eliminate or limit Bering Sea salmon bycatch

A red salmon on a rockey river bd
A Chinook salmon in Southcentral Alaska (Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)

In their latest bid to halt or limit chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, tribal organizations in Western Alaska have signed onto a petition calling on the federal government to take action.

The petition asks the U.S. Department of Commerce to eliminate chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea completely and to put a cap on chum salmon bycatch. It does not specify an acceptable limit for chum bycatch.

The tribal groups signing the petition mostly represent areas of Alaska where salmon runs have crashed or declined dramatically in recent years. They include the Kuskokwim River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Association of Village Council Presidents, Kawerak, Inc., the Bering Sea Elders Group and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island.

“The recent crashes of Chinook. And now the chum on the Kuskokwim River is pretty evident that we need to take emergency action on this issue,” said Mike Williams Sr., chair of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “I think we need to begin to take drastic measures.”

A spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration inside the U.S. Department of Commerce wrote in an email to KYUK that the agency does not comment on petitions. He did not answer whether the department was even aware of the petition.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that more than 13,000 chinook salmon and more than 500,000 chum salmon were caught as bycatch in the Bering Sea in 2021. The groups petitioning the federal government to bring these numbers down say at least some portion of those fish would end up in Western Alaska rivers, where subsistence fishermen have not been able to meet their needs for quite some time now.

Subsistence fishermen and organizations from Western Alaska have intensified their pressure on both the state and federal government in the past year to reduce or eliminate salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea. This petition is the latest effort in that campaign.

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