It looks like Southeast Gillnetters will not be watched by marine mammal observers next year. That’s because there’s no more funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service program, which gathers data on interactions between the animals and the fishing fleet.
NMFS contractors just wrapped-up a two-year observer effort in districts six and eight near Petersburg and Wrangell. The agency had planned to continue with other gillnet areas next year but that’s been put on hold indefinitely, according to Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources John Kurland.
“At this point, we do not have funding to implement the program next year. It’s been kind of a tenuous situation for a while and as, I’m sure you’re aware, federal agencies all over are facing cuts and making difficult decisions. So, we still very much want to have observer effort to try and document the interactions between the gillnet fisheries in Southeast and marine mammals but it’s not looking like we’re going to be able to implement the program next year and beyond that I don’t know. We’re going to have to see how the budget situation unfolds,” he said.
The observer program around Petersburg and Wrangell cost roughly 1.5 million dollars a year according to the agency.
The periodic monitoring is required for fisheries across the nation as part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Without more funding, according to Kurland, NMFS will have to work with the limited data it has so far in Southeast.
“If we are not able to do the observer program in the other areas of southeast, I think the best available information is going to be to take the data that we have from district six and eight and apply that to the other districts in southeast and that may or may not be a good fit. You know, frankly, we’d rather collect the data in those particular areas because its possible there are differences, that there are more or less interactions in some of those areas as compared to the Wrangell Petersburg area,” he said.
NMFS uses observer data to help with marine mammal stock assessments and to classify fisheries in terms interactions with the animals. Southeast salmon gillnetting is currently classified as a category two fishery which means it has had occasional interactions that have led to the death or injury of marine mammals.