Unalaska pushes back against proposed bycatch restrictions on pollock fishery
Unalaska leaders are pushing back against a proposed petition to eliminate chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea Alaska pollock fishery.
Nearly 100 tribes and communities in western Alaska, including the Association of Village Council Presidents, signed an emergency petition that would set a zero bycatch limit on chinook salmon in the pollock trawl fishery for 180 days.
Unalaska Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. said in a letter that a zero-cap would “effectively shut down the entire pollock fishery of the Bering Sea,” and create a “dire situation” for Unalaska.
Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea is the largest fishery in the nation and Unalaska’s main economic driver.
Tutiakoff said closing the pollock fishery, which would be the logical result of imposing this restriction, would gut the local economy and hit city revenues hard.
“Closure of the pollock fishery would reduce Unalaska’s fishery landing taxes estimated at $14 million annually. If the pollock fishery were closed, general fund revenues of $34 million would be reduced by 20%. In addition, Unalaska has a 3% sales tax driven by the sale of fuel and other goods and services to the fishing fleets, large processing plant operations, and other goods and services provided in the community. This vast revenue stream of close to $10 million would also experience significant reduction,” the letter said.
A similar petition was denied in 2022. The tribes calling for action say the salmon runs in western Alaska have worsened in the ensuing years, and that communities in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta are experiencing a “cultural emergency.”
Many in western Alaska have rung alarm bells over dismal salmon returns for years, with chum salmon most commonly under the spotlight. Blame often falls on Bering Sea trawlers and intercept fisheries like the Area M salmon fisheryin the Eastern Aleutians, although many state and federal scientists say the real culprit for declining salmon returns is climate change.
The Bering Sea pollock fishery already has bycatch limits — and last year’s chinook bycatch fell below those numbers.
Those demanding tighter regulations say the current limits are unsatisfactory. The request for an emergency petition said this year’s chinook bycatch numbers are well ahead of last year’s.
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meets this week in Seattle where they will discuss the proposed limits.