Evaluating the efficacy of salmon bycatch measures using fishery-dependent data
The walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) fishery in the Bering Sea is one of the largest fisheries in the world. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) provides management advice for this fishery, including the development of measures to minimize salmon bycatch to the extent practicable, one of the stated objectives of the US Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act National Standard Guidelines. Salmon have a unique cultural and nutritional importance in the State of Alaska and are the subject of fully allocated mixed commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) stocks in Alaska have been declining for the last decade, and all sources of mortality are being considered to help in rebuilding stocks. Given the extensive scientific National Marine Fisheries Service observer data collection programme, the NPFMC has developed bycatch management measures that place limits by fishery sector on the allowable catch of Chinook salmon. Part of this programme includes industry-proposed incentive programmes designed to encourage lower bycatch. Evaluating the efficacy of the new measures poses a number of challenges, particularly in light of changing ocean conditions (perhaps affecting the degree of overlap between pollock and salmon). In this study, data on pre- and post-programme implementation were evaluated to determine if the programme is meeting stated goals and objectives or if modifications are needed. These evaluations included consideration of fleet-level bycatch numbers and rates, seasonality of bycatch by sector, and individual vessel bycatch rates. Results suggest that revised management regulations appear to have resulted in reduced bycatch of salmon overall. Also, lower bycatch rates seem to reflect changing behaviour in response to new management measures. However, the extent to which the programme is effective at the vessel level remains difficult to ascertain without explicit vessel-specific benchmarks developed for evaluating programme efficacy.