Dipnetting on the Kenai River                   Credit: Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association

Proposal to Prioritize Personal Use Over Commercial Salmon Fishing in Cook Inlet Goes Before AK BOF

By Peggy Parker, SeafoodNews.com   

February 21, 2019

“Help Move Alaskans Up the Food Chain” — a slogan in large red letters on the Kenai River Sportsfishing Association (KRSA) website exhorts readers to support the group’s proposal to prioritize ‘personal use’ salmon harvests over commercial landings in Cook Inlet.

Proposal 171 will go before the Board of Fisheries  at their Statewide Finfish meeting in Anchorage from March 9-12.

In it, KRSA asks the Board to “Modify criteria for the allocation of fishery resources among personal use, sport, and commercial fisheries to re-prioritize “The importance of each fishery for providing residents the opportunity to harvest fish for personal and family consumption” as the first criteria, followed by six other criteria of lower standing.

The seven criteria listed in the current regulation for the allocation of fishery resources state the criteria “may include factors such as:

1) The history of each personal use, sport, guided sport, and commercial fishery;
2) The number of residents and nonresidents who have participated in each fishery in the past and the number of residents and nonresidents who can reasonably be expected to participate in the future;
3) The importance of each fishery for providing residents the opportunity to obtain fish for personal and family consumption;
4) The availability of alternative fisheries resources;
5) The importance of each fishery to the economy of the state; Rev. Jan. 2018
6) The importance of each fishery to the economy of the region and local area in which the fishery is located;
7) The importance of each fishery in providing recreational opportunities for residents and nonresidents.”

KRSA proposes to make these seven inclusive and prioritized, with #3 replacing the un-prioritized #1 as most important.

KRSA’s website message asks for support by stating “Using the BOF [Board of Fisheries] current allocation criteria, 98 percent of Alaska’s fish are exported for use by non-Alaskans – just 1 percent is harvested for subsistence in rural areas of the state and the remaining 1 percent is split between the resident-only personal use and sport fisheries for residents and non-residents. Annually, upwards of 6 billion pounds of seafood is exported to feed people elsewhere in the world.

Fact check: The U.S., not Alaska, exports 3.1 billion pounds of edible fishery products, not 6 billion pounds. The 3.1 billion figure is from 2017, an increase of 10% over 2016, according to recent NOAA Fisheries Annual Statistics Report.

As for the “98 percent of Alaska’s fish are exported for use by non-Alaskans”,  ADF&G’s own data show that subsistence use varies depending on species and location, but has been historically stable and above 4 percent; non-charter recreational harvests are between 5 and 10 percent, depending on location and species. That doesn’t include charter operators, who share king salmon on an 80/20 split in Southeast, and halibut on a stairstepped abundance-based catch sharing plan where the charter sector takes 14-19%.

KRSA’s message continues: “Yet upwards of 15 percent of households in non-subsistence use areas of Alaska like the Kenai Peninsula suffer from hunger and food insecurity. The current allocation method prioritizes fish for people elsewhere in the world over Alaskan households.”

Fact check: The current allocation method prioritizes commercial landings, which are sold to processors and end up in grocery stores in Southcentral Alaska and elsewhere. Commercial bycatch of salmon and halibut show up in Food Banks around Southcentral, by the thousands of pounds each year.

Finally, KRSA uses a phrase seen frequently by the new governor’s cabinet: “Will you help make putting food on the tables of Alaskans one of the factors considered by the BOF when setting fishery allocations?”

“Putting food on the table” is the goal of commercial fishing. In Alaska, it is becoming a slogan for raising the priority for personal use, whether its hunting or fishing.

On December 14, when appointing his Deputy Commissioner and Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, ADF&G Commissioner appointee Doug Vincent-Lang told the media “These are talented individuals who will play integral roles as the department renews its focus on putting food on the plates of Alaskans, protecting and maintaining the state’s management authority, building dialogue and trust, and ensuring that the department is contributing to the economy and well-being of our citizens,” said Vincent-Lang.

On December 24, Vincent-Lang told Alaska Public Media, on the issue of predator control, “I’m not going to shy away from doing predation control to increase productivity,” he said. “To the extent that we’re going to manage to ecosystems to maximize the number of moose and caribou coming out there for putting food on Alaskans’ plates, I’m willing to do that.”

Comments may be submitted to the Board of Fisheries on Proposals to be heard at the March 9-12, 2019 meeting here. The deadline for comments is today.

Peggy Parker