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Marine Salmon Interactions Program

North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission 15th Annual Meeting

The 15th Annual Meeting of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) was held in Vladivostok, Russia, 8-12 October 2007. Representatives of Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States met to review important scientific and high-seas fishery enforcement issues concerning salmon stocks in the North Pacific Ocean. The meeting was chaired by Guy Beaupré of Canada, current President of the NPAFC. Doug Mecum, NMFS Alaska Regional Office, was head of the U.S. delegation supported by fellow U.S. Commissioners Gary Smith from Washington State and Rowland Maw from Alaska.

In recent years, NPAFC Parties have documented an increased activity by vessels suspected of high-seas driftnet fishing in the western portion of the North Pacific, although overall high-seas driftnet activity continues to be low. Coast Guard vessels from the United States, Russia, and Japan conducted joint patrols in the NPAFC Convention Area during 2007 in coordination with long-range patrol aircraft from Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Patrol aircraft and surface vessels sighted multiple vessels suspected of high-seas driftnet fishing in Convention Area waters, and a total of seven vessels were apprehended. Some vessels had several kilometers of driftnet on board. An Indonesian vessel apprehended by Russian officials had 90 metric tons (t) of frozen salmon on board. Six vessels intercepted by the U. S. Coast Guard and turned over to Chinese officials are still in ongoing investigations.

A new development in NPAFC enforcement is refinement of the Integrated Information System (IIS). The IIS, which links all enforcement agencies associated with the Commission, provides real-time data to all Parties when high-seas driftnet activity is detected. The system enables member countries to share observed illegal activity, including photos, allowing better coordination in efforts to deal with ongoing threats of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the North Pacific.

The Committee on Scientific Research and Statistics (CSRS) met to review current research activities of member parties including reports of working groups on stock assessment, salmon marking, stock identification, the Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS) Program, and a newly formed working group on salmon tagging. Vladimir Karpenko of Russia served as chairman of the CSRS, and Loh-Lee Low of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) was head of the CSRS delegation of nine scientists from the United States. Other AFSC scientists participating in CSRS deliberations included Ed Farley, Jamal Moss, and Bill Heard of Auke Bay Laboratories.

The total harvest of Pacific salmon by all NPAFC countries in 2006 was 863,000 t. This level was 12% below the 2005 catch, due mainly to the unexpectedly poor pink salmon harvest in North America. Pink salmon still represented 58% of the total 2006 Pacific salmon catch, followed by chum, sockeye, coho, Chinook, and cherry (masu) salmon. Based on preliminary reports, Russian catches for 2007 are the highest on record, particularly for pink salmon from Sakhalin, and sockeye and Chinook salmon from Kamchatka. On Sakhalin Island many new modern hatcheries are contributing to these increased harvest levels. The 2007 catches in the United States (Alaska) and Japan were also high; however, trends for Canada, the northwest United States, and the Republic of Korea were not as strong.

Studies by NPAFC scientists on regional fluctuations in abundance indicated these fluctuations may be related to ongoing impacts of climate change on salmon production. For example, oceanographic conditions in the Bering Sea have undergone dramatic changes in recent years as documented by the BASIS Program and other research programs in this region.

Reviews and defense of AFSC research by CSRS included an overview of salmon bycatch in U.S. Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries by Low-Lee Low, a review of U.S. BASIS cruises by Ed Farley and Jamal Moss, a review of Southeast Coastal Monitoring cruises on the NOAA ship John N.Cobb and a review of high-seas coded wire tag recoveries by Bill Heard.

The summary by Ed Farley on trawl and oceanographic sampling in the Chukchi Sea during September 2007 on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson generated much interest and discussion due to the large number of juvenile salmon caught in this area in relation to established salmon-producing areas along the coastline of the eastern Bering Sea and anomalously high ocean temperatures recorded in that area. Jamal Moss described archival and disc tagging efforts for Pacific salmon on board the NOAA ship Miller Freeman using a pelagic trawl fitted with a live box in the codend of the trawl. Numerous marine fishes and salmon suitable for tagging or laboratory studies of live fishes were captured in good condition with minimal-to-no scale loss.

The new working group on salmon tagging will work closely with the NPAFC Secretariat in coordinating future international high-seas tagging research among the Parties to clarify stock-specific marine distribution and migration behavior patterns of salmon. A new disc tag will carry the NPAFC logo on one side and instructions for returning tags on the opposite side. The Secretariat will provide new tags for researchers in addition to posters for encouraging tag returns in four languages for distribution at appropriate locations around the Pacific Rim.

By Bill Heard

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