Fish Radio

Permit survey at Bristol Bay

May 24, 2016

Bristol Bay region

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch.  How has the salmon permit system played out at Bristol Bay?   More after this –

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Alaska began issuing permits for salmon fishing in 1975. Originally there were 1,270 permits out of 2,758 permits total that were issued to residents of Bristol Bay, but by 2007, only 735 permits were under local ownership. More than 40 years later, an ambitious project aims to find out how the system has played out for the people of Bristol Bay.

I think there is a sense that the permit system was in some ways a necessary evil and it protected the resource. Some people feel misled about the way it was implemented and felt like they didn’t understand the way permits were being allocated and those feelings still come out to this day.    

Jennifer Meredith of Eagle River is a development economist at the University of Washington.  Since March, she and local teams have been doing random surveys with people throughout the region.

We started in Aleknagik, Iliamna, Togiak, Naknek, King Salmon, South Naknek, Kaliganik and just ended up in Manoktotak last week and we’re finishing off in Dillingham.  

The survey targets original permit holders from 1975, those who have fished more recently and those who never held fishing permits.

We’re really trying to measure where do you live now, where do your descendents live now, what occupation do you have now that there is not a permit in the family and we also do household assets, has it affected your assets in any way and those are the main consequences I’m looking at. Also ties to subsistence fishing and then to the community.    

The response has been incredible, Meredith says, with nearly 700 participants so far.

And I think part of the reason why people have been so willing to cooperate is we really are there in the community to hear their stories and to allow them to give voice to the way their permits affected them.

She says there is a great deal of optimism in the region.

They are scrappy and they are going to find a way to make it work out here and they are committed to their traditional way of life. They are committed to subsistence and they are definitely committed to the commercial salmon fishery in a big way.17 And there is definitely a sense that program that allow locals to get back into fishing and that the local CDQ group is trying to do that.  

Meredith says evidence is the first step to any policy changes.

My main thing is I’m here for your voice to be heard. Whatever you want to tell me – you don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to. But my intention is to have some evidence of how this system has affected you and your family, for good and for bad.  

Meredith hopes to finish her report within a year and has promised to reveal the results in Dillingham.

Her project is funded by the Marine Resource Economic Scholarship through WA Sea Grant and NOAA.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, an Alaska corporation proudly supporting Alaska’s coastal communities and the Alaskans who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.    In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.