Pacific Salmon: Ecology and Management of Western Alaska’s Populations

Rolling Hot Spot Closure Areas in the Bering Sea Walleye Pollock Fishery: Estimated Reduction of Salmon Bycatch During the 2006 Season

Karl Haflinger and John Gruver


Abstract.—In recent years, salmon bycatch rates have risen significantly in the Bering Sea walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma fishery. Rising numbers of chum Oncorhynchus keta and Chinook salmon O. tshawytscha bycatch triggered fixed time and area closures, which were designed to reduce salmon bycatch. Vessels forced by these closures to fish in non-traditional areas often found bycatch rates to be higher outside than inside closed areas. This paper describes the fishing industry’s development of the hot spot closure area approach and analyzes bycatch during the 2006 “B” season and compares it to predicted catch without the closures. Walleye pollock vessel owners, organized into cooperatives under the American Fisheries Act, designed a plan of rolling hot spot closures that used near-real-time data supplied by observers to identify and close areas of high salmon bycatch. Closed areas changed during the season to match movements of salmon passing through the pollock fishing grounds. Vessels agreed via an inter-cooperative contract to abide by closures determined by a third party (Sea State, Incorporated), with substantial penalties for non-compliance, as determined by data from a satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) records. This adaptive hot spot closure agreement was accepted by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council as a replacement for the fixed salmon savings closures. The cooperative agreement was in place and active through an Exempted Fishing Permit during the 2006 “B” season (June 10 to November 1). Results based on data from observers on a sample of vessels indicated that when high bycatch areas were rapidly identified, and closed salmon bycatch was reduced outside of the traditional savings areas. For those boats displaced from closure areas, Chinook bycatch was reduced by 20%, and other salmon bycatch (predominantly chum salmon) by 64%.