TRANSCRIPT - Sue Salveson
Salveson is the Assistant Regional Administrator for Sustainable
Fisheries at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau,
Fishery managers say the pollock fishery in Alaska has some of the
lowest percentage bycatch of any trawl fisher. Is this true?
the pollock fishery is primarily a pelagic trawl fishery. They fish
off the bottom, but they do fish close to the bottom. And the bycatch
rates in that fishery are very low relative to other trawl fisheries
-- 2 to 4% of the overall harvest. The volume of the pollock fishery
is high. So some of the bycatch amounts could be perceived as being
large, but if you look at the overall rate relative to harvest,
it is very, very small. And it is a well-monitored fishery. We have
a lot of observers and a lot of catch reporting so we feel that
we do have a pretty good feedback on what is actually being caught
in that fishery through a monitoring program as well.
I've heard also that pollock fishery is the largest fishery in the
world in terms of volume.
have two fisheries -- one in the Gulf and one in the Bering Sea,
and in total we probably harvest about 1.3 million metric tons.
And the overall x-vessel value, in terms of value and volume,
is probably the highest of Alaska, as well as in the United States.
Do you know offhand how much bycatch 2 to 4% of that is?
When they fish for pollock with pelagic trawl gear, it's close to
98%, if not higher, pollock. And when people talk about bycatch
in the pollock fishery, they are primarily concerned about salmon
bycatch, particularly recently, off western Alaska. Some of the
runs have been very, very low and the governor has declared a state
of emergency, basically, in those villages of western Alaska.
there's a lot of attention being turned towards salmon bycatch in
pollock fisheries and in the Bering Sea they're regulated by number.
We have bycatch limits and when they're reached, we close certain
areas off to further fishing. And those limits are right now about
42,000 Chinook salmon and a similar number of other species, like
chum salmon. And we monitor these. I think last year we had about
13,000 Chinook salmon taken in the fishery estimate.
bycatch is also of concern. About 100 metric tons might be taken
in the pollock fishery annually. And we recently passed regulations
to prohibit anything but pelagic trawl gear in the Bering Sea pollock
fishery and there may be interest to do this similar in the Gulf
the Gulf of Alaska fishery is much smaller in terms of volume and
the bycatch. And that fishery is smaller as well. But when you are
comparing the million-plus metric tons taken in the pollock fishery
-- and we're talking about 100 to 150 metric tons of bycatch of
halibut perhaps -- we're talking about numbers of salmon that is
What's in the rest of the bycatch?
can be other species, miscellaneous fin fish, but to the extent
that they are actually fishing off the bottom, we don't get much
other fish. There might be some cod, very little flatfish. It's
a pretty pure fishery when it's being conducted in a pelagic trawl
are some situations, in the Gulf particularly because it's not prohibited,
where they do fish with bottom trawl gear. It's a smaller size fleet
in terms of vessel size. Some of the vessels have difficulty using
pelagic trawl gear and often the fleet or vessel operators will
fish close to bottom to get a desired size of fish. And when you
do fish close to the bottom your bycatch of other species increases
accordingly. But still, relative to other fisheries it is a fairly
You mentioned that part of the management regime is to close a certain
area when bycatch gets up to a certain level? Is that a spatial
area? Can you speak to what degree areas in Southeast Alaska are
have quite a few trawl closures and general fishery closures that
have been implemented for different reasons. We've got numerous
areas that have been closed to fishing, specifically to trawl fishing,
to protect sensitive habitat both in the Bering Sea and Gulf of
lot of these closures have been predicated on concern about crab
habitat -- sensitive areas during certain times of the crab lifespan
that they want to protect. We have closures that are triggered by
attainment of a particular fishery of an authorized bycatch amount
of say, a species of crab, or halibut, or even salmon. And these
are pre-designated areas that are known to have high bycatch rates.
when a fishery reaches a bycatch limit of a particular species,
large areas will be shut off, if not the whole entire Bering Sea
or Gulf of Alaska, which is in the case of halibut. We closed the
entire management area of that particular halibut bycatch. When
it is reached, we close sub-areas when a crab, or herring, or salmon
bycatch limit is reached. And it's tailored to our ability to manage
bycatch and bycatch rates, in terms of which area we're actually
going to close.
How do pollock trawlers and skippers have such great success in
capturing only 98% of targeted fisheries?
think it's the nature of the resource they are targeting on and
the time of the year they are targeting on. Pollock are a schooling
fish. And they typically target on dense schools, so there's not
much else but pollock when you hit a ball of pollock.
there's also a great deal of communication among the vessel operators,
particularly in the Bering Sea where you have fishing co-ops which
have been very, very conducive to exchange of information, with
respect to salmon bycatch. And salmon bycatch is often a difficult
thing for the fleet to deal with because salmon move around and
you can have a hotspot in one particular, very defined area that
the extent that the fleet communicates among themselves, they can
avoid areas of bycatch. And it appears to have been pretty effective
-- in terms of the communication and the willingness of the fleet
to communicate as a whole -- to try to reduce bycatch.
Carl Walters talked about how the cod fishery was thriving for centuries
but that it was compromised by the technological advances implemented
by fishermen. Do you think the management efforts are sufficient
when they are up against boats out there that are so large?
don't want to sound arrogant and never say never but I think that
the way the North Pacific fisheries have been able to mesh science
with management is fairly unique and it's certainly a different
situation from the East Coast. And we have routine resource assessments
through the Alaska Fishery Science Center to develop annual estimates
of biomass. And the management of these fisheries, through the North
Pacific Council with input from the industry and certainly the Agency,
listen to the scientists. And I don't think ever have supported
any quota that exceeds what the scientists feel the best information
would support in terms of removals.
there is a very close tie between the science and the management
in these fisheries. And I think that probably minimizes the potential
for mistakes for overfishing. And I can't say that it won't ever
happen. But I think that largely, we are following a mode of management
here that hopefully will prevent that.
reliance on the observer information as an independent source of
catch removals and mortality has been invaluable in gauging these
harvests relative to quotas, and I think is also unique in this
nation in terms of our monitoring system and our ability to actually
understand what's going on.
In setting the quotas, the fishery scientists must have a sense
on how quickly pollock replenish their numbers and so forth. Do
they also look at the effect of removing huge numbers, just in terms
of sheer biomass, from this part of the ocean and what effects that
might have on other fisheries or other wild life?
is a very definite recognition on the part of the scientists and
the management agencies that we need to move towards an ecosystem's
perspective -- interfacing the management with the science, with
the needs of the ecosystem and predator-prey relationships. And
each year, we actually develop an update to our knowledge base on
an ecosystem's perspective -- on the status of the resource, the
interface of the fishery and the needs of the ecosystem. And we're
taking steps towards increasing our knowledge and we are doing so
every year, but we've got a long ways to go.
Are the quotas set each year for pollock?
Each year we go through a process where we review the best available
new information on status of stocks. Sometimes that new information
involves resource assessments that had been completed the previous
summer. Sometimes it's a new modeling approach that the scientists
have come up with.
this information is put together by our scientists, presented to
the Council, reviewed and from that comes an allowable biological
catch recommendations. And those are adjusted further by the Council
to develop the quotas. And those adjustments are usually downward
or they are the same as ABC and they are never over and above what
the scientists feel the best available information supports in terms
of a harvest.
Do you anticipate that the National Marine Fisheries Service might
find some resistance when they start fine-tuning and looking for
other impact on wildlife?
I want to state up front that the industry and the Council that
we work with are very cognizant of resource conservation. But at
the same time, as we move towards actions to affect fishing behavior
-- how fisheries can conduct themselves and taking a precautionary
approach -- we may not have the facts. But because we may not have
the facts, we may be asking the fishery to cut back or to move out
from desirable fishing areas to avoid a potential problem. And the
science gets questioned because we are affecting people's ability
to fish or hitting their pocketbook.
understandably, we're being questioned; we're being challenged on
the science probably from both ends. People who don't believe we're
doing enough, people who believe we are doing too much and when
you're not dealing in an environment where you don't have all the
facts before you, you're doing the best that you can trying to meet
the objective that you want to meet. And taking a precautionary
approach that hurts people's pocketbooks certainly will be challenged.
I hear that most of the flatfish and the rockfish are being exported
to Asia, mostly to Japan. How about the pollock? There's a huge
amount of pollock being harvested. Where's it going?
are three main products that are being produced from the pollock
industry. The highest value product is roe, and that's harvested
when the fish are just prior to spawning in the February/March period.
And that mostly goes to Asia.
is a product that's a flesh product that primarily goes back East
as well. And then there's some fillet market and that's what primarily
is used in this country in terms of the fish burgers that you see
at McDonald's or whatever. It's kind of a replacement product that's
used interchangeably with cod, in terms of a fillet product.
Some of the companies that are involved in these fisheries might
exert pressure through their lobbies in Washington that may at times
constrain or influence your Agency, or try to water down some of
think there is definitely influence in Washington DC, but I think
that might be allocative ramifications. I feel pretty confident
that the agency I work for is not compromised in terms of conservation
of the resource. Certainly things go on back in DC in terms of who
might get the right to fish and things like that, but in terms of
the bottom line in removals, based on the best available science,
I don't think we're compromised in that.
I am aware of the case in Gloucester, where on the one hand, the
National Marine Fisheries Service is being sued by Gloucester because
they say that they are not allowed to open enough cod fisheries
that have been closed, and then on the other hand by some environmental
groups that feel that they are not living up to the Sustainable
Fisheries Act and they are not closing enough fisheries. How does
it feel as a part of this Agency to be taking it from both sides?
have entered an era of litigation that has been unprecedented, to
my knowledge, with this Agency. And to be quite candid, it's bringing
us to our knees in terms of diverting staff time. Staff work to
respond to litigation issues, declarations, court time, et cetera.
So it is a concern, I think to a lot of us, where our resources
are diverted from where we should go in terms of focusing on new
information, status of resources and science or whatever, and focusing
more on just litigation.
you're right; both sides hit you at any one time. It is frustrating
and I don't see us beginning to dig our way out of it for some time.
With these local fishery management councils, it seems like a lot
of environmental groups sue because they feel that the industry
has too much influence on policy-makers and the management, and
if they don't sue it will be business as usual. Is there an inherent
weakness in the way that we have set up the National Marine Fisheries
Service that people always have to be suing the federal government?
don't know if it's a weakness. I think there's legitimacy to a concern
about lack of representation on some councils, from an environmental
perspective. I don't know about all councils, but there's not an
environmentalist on our Council. And I also believe that they probably
have some concern that they may be heard but not really listened
to in the Council forum.
we have to remember that the Council forum and the recommendations
that come from that is just one part of the public process and the
public environmental groups do have plenty of opportunity for input
at the federal level, because whatever comes out of the Council
has to come through us through rule-making opportunity for public
review and comment. And that's where they do a very good job in
terms of laying out their issues and forcing us to respond to them.
And of course, if they don't like the response that they get, there
I think overall, the environmental groups are quite powerful. I
mean they are literally bringing this region to its knees, in terms
of responding. I don't think it's a bad thing. It forces us all
to be introspective about how we approach our job and what we do.
But it is frustrating as a fellow employee to hear the people I
work with and my Agency being chastised for decades and decades
of mismanagement, because I don't think that's true. Nonetheless,
I think that our eyes are being open and we are perhaps taking a
different perspective on how we do business.
In another recent suit, the ruling told NMFS it didn't do enough
research on which areas to open and close in terms of it having
potential impacts on critical habitat for steller sea lions. Do
you want to respond to this suit?
response to the court order, which was to close all commercial groundfish
trawling in steller sea lion critical habitat, is to issue notice
and rule-making to carry out the judge's order. We have no choice;
we have to do that. And that order and those closures will be in
effect until we prepare a comprehensive biological opinion looking
at all the effects of not only the groundfish fisheries, but all
fisheries in our waters in terms of their impact on the endangered
steller sea lion.
we are scheduled to complete that document at the end of October
and my understanding is that the judge is going to have to review
that and make some assessment as to whether it's legally adequate,
and then decide whether or not to lift the court order.
more unique facets of our fishery are our monitoring and our observer
program and I want to highlight that we are very fortunate, I think,
to have an industry that pays for this program so that we can benefit
from the quality data. And I think that enhances our knowledge and
our ability to say that this is one of the best-managed fisheries
in the world.
Did you say that industry pays for the cost of this program?
industry pays for the cost of observers. We pay the administrative
costs certainly, in terms of our staff and what all, but industry
pays, through private observer providers, the cost of getting a
person out on the boat and paying for them. And those costs average
about $300 a day. And they can go higher.