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North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission 14th Annual Meeting

graph of salmon catch see caption
Total catch of Pacific salmon, by species, from the North Pacific region that includes Russia, Japan, Korea, Canada, and the United States, 1972-2005. The catch of Pacific salmon by all the member Parties in 2005 was the second highest in recent history.

The AFSC had strong representation at the 14th annual meeting of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) held 23-27 October 2006, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The AFSC participants were Loh-Lee Low, Jack Helle, Bill Heard, Richard Wilmot, and Ed Farley (see ABL Report). The NPAFC was established by the Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean in 1993. The signatory parties are Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States. The NPAFC promotes the conservation of Pacific salmon in the North Pacific and its adjacent seas and serves as a venue for cooperation in and coordination of enforcement activities and scientific research.

An important task of the NPAFC is to coordinate monitoring and elimination of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on salmon in its Convention Area. As a result of enforcement efforts of the NPAFC Parties, salmon stocks in the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean are vigilantly protected. Every year, Coast Guard and Enforcement representatives of the five Parties coordinate their efforts to ensure that drift net fishing for salmon in the far reaches of the North Pacific Ocean is prevented. Detailed analysis and a coordinated enforcement plan is generated each year, from which the signatory parties base their at-sea air patrol efforts to stop illegal salmon fishing activity. Cooperation and continuous exchanges of information are at the base of an effective force of action. A web-based system developed by Russia to share real-time monitoring and surveillance information allows the Parties to coordinate enforcement efforts and share observed illegal activity. This includes sharing photos of illegal fishing vessel activity as it is occurring from patrol aircrafts so that rapid response can be coordinated.

High-seas drift net vessels activity has been very low in recent years; however, in 2006, there was a significant increase in suspect activity, mostly from China, in the western portions of the Convention Area. In maintaining its efforts to deal with this threat of high-seas fishing for salmon, the NPAFC drafted boarding guidelines for vessels of nonmember countries that are observed targeting salmon in the Convention Area. The Commission is also examining the application of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Port State Control Measures to address this IUU issue. Taiwanese authorities, who were official observers at the NPAFC meetings, reported their efforts to ensure Taiwanese vessels and nationals do not fish for salmon in the NPAFC Convention Area.

Due to the continued threat of high-seas fishing for salmon in the Convention Area, all signatory parties reaffirmed their commitment to maintain 2007 enforcement activities at high levels as a deterrent to the threat of potential unauthorized fishing activities.

A review of Pacific salmon production showed that total catches were at near record levels in 2005. The catch of Pacific salmon by all the member Parties in 2005 (971,380 metric tons (t)) was the second highest in recent history. Previous high levels occurred in 1995 and 2003. Pink salmon accounted for 50% of the catch by weight, followed by chum, sockeye, coho, chinook, and cherry (masu) salmon. Largest catches were reported by the United States (436,000 t; mainly from Alaska), Russia (259,000 t), and Japan (239,000 t). While it was too early to complete the tally of 2006 catches, it was encouraging that preliminary catch estimates by Russia for 2006 were very similar to catches recorded in 2005. Preliminary catches in 2006 in Alaska showed major fluctuations. Returns of pink salmon in southeast Alaska were much lower than forecasted, while chum salmon returns were very strong. The high salmon catches in recent years reflect, generally healthy northern populations of Asian and North American salmon. While salmon catches of northerly stocks are high, the U.S. Party has heightened concern about lower than expected returns of North American steelhead and some southern populations of salmon. Thus NPAFC has incorporated into its scope of research new work to develop a comprehensive genetic baseline for steelhead.

Preliminary data from 2006 research vessel surveys indicated major ecological changes in North Pacific marine ecosystems, including poor ocean conditions for juvenile salmon in the eastern North Pacific and Gulf of Alaska in winter. Oceanographic conditions have undergone dramatic changes in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea in recent years. These conditions are being monitored by research vessels of Japan and Russia in the central and western North Pacific Ocean and by the NPAFC Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS) research program in the Bering Sea. The BASIS program is a coordinated ecosystem study of salmon and associated marine fishes in the epipelagic zone of the entire Bering Sea by research vessels from Japan, Russia, and the United States.

The development and implementation of cooperative and coordinated research programs within the NPAFC forum continues to be the most economical, efficient, and effective method for addressing scientific issues of mutual concern. The NPAFC remains the only organization that has a consistent fisheries sampling program on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean.

By Loh-Lee Low


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