The 1,455,613-square-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) here is more than twice the combined EEZ off the US Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This jurisdiction encompasses the habitat for nearly all the fish harvested off Alaska.
Within this territory, three questions underpin the work of keeping harvests sustainable:
NOAA research ships and chartered fishing vessels conduct annual surveys of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, and biannual bottom trawl surveys in Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. This allows managers to adjust catch limits whenever necessary to keep fishing levels sustainable.
Monitoring what comes up in the gear is key to effective resource conservation in the North Pacific. Observers collect data on more than 90% of all groundfish tonnage harvested in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), producing the dense plot of data points in the illustration. Observers are trained, certified and managed by NOAA Fisheries to federal standards; vessel owners pay for the service to ensure their catches stay within authorized limits.
“At the core of the North Pacific monitoring system is a comprehensive, industry-funded, on-board observer program, coupled with requirements for total weight measurement of most fish harvested. Used in conjunction with reporting and weighing requirements, the information collected by observers provides the foundation for in-season management and for tracking species-specific catch and bycatch amounts.” NPFMC
Most vessels fishing in federal waters off Alaska are required to carry satellite Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) that transmit their position in real-time, allowing NOAA to enforce closed areas such as seamounts and “no-transit” zones designed to prevent disturbance of sensitive marine mammals.
“VMS techs now monitor more than 4,400 vessels across the country with near pinpoint accuracy.”NOAA
The Alaska Catch Accounting System is an integrated effort to monitor what is being caught, when, and where. The system incorporates data from the observer program as well as VMS information, logbooks from vessel operators, reports by shoreside and at-sea processors, and port sampling data. Most of this information is kept confidential to protect fishermen, while allowing real-time management of harvests.
Joint enforcement efforts by the US and regional partners have reduced illegal salmon driftnet fishing since the late 1990s. Average detections per year have dropped from 5.3 during 1993-1999 to 0.7 since then. This helps conserve fish returning to US rivers. US and partner nations cooperate to enforce limits even beyond US waters, working through the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC).