By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

Advisory committee supports proposal to protect commercial king harvest share

 

November 15, 2023 | View PDF



Members of the Wrangell Fish and Game Advisory Committee are concerned about the future of commercial salmon fishing as Alaska’s tourism industry continues to expand, bringing in more non-resident fishers on charter trips.

The advisory committee supports amending state regulation to prevent the Southeast sport fishery from exceeding its 20% share of the Pacific Salmon Commission’s annual harvest ceiling for king salmon.

The committee voted Nov. 7 to support a proposal calling for tighter state regulation of the charter catch and questioned whether the state’s current average-based management of the sport fishery harvest would adequately maintain the 80% to 20% split between commercial and sport fishers in the coming years.

The Pacific Salmon Commission — a joint entity with representatives from the U.S. and Canada — sets annual king salmon harvest limits, which the state then allocates between commercial gear types and sport catch.

The Southeast sport fishery has been managed on an average basis for the past two years. Under this system, the sport fishery catches more than its share some years, and the commercial fishery catches more than its share other years. The goal is to maintain an average of 20% of the harvest limit for the sport fishery and 80% for the commercial fishery over time.

This way, charter operators don’t have to back out of trips if the fishery closes early. “What we heard from the industry was that they really valued stability in the fishery,” said Patrick Fowler, regional fisheries management coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Petersburg.

Shutting down mid-season to stay under the 20% ceiling does not create a “stable business environment,” he said.

“The department’s best guess is that if this management plan had been in place for the past 10 years, it would have achieved that 80/20 split,” Fowler said.

This year, however, the Southeast sport harvest is projected to exceed its allocation by about 17,000 kings, for a 29% share of the king harvest, according to the regulatory proposal that will go before the Alaska Board of Fish at a meeting in Homer on Nov. 30.

The proposal, which went out for comment to local advisory councils, individuals and organizations across Southeast, would change state regulation to mandate that the sport catch may not exceed the 20% limit.

On average, over the past two years, the sport fishery’s share of kings has been 20.5%.

Chris Guggenbickler, president of the Wrangell advisory committee, is not convinced that the current management plan will provide local commercial fishers with their full 80% share over time, especially since the tourism charter industry is slated to expand in the coming decades.

“I think that what we notice is that we expect there to be more non-resident effort in the next 20 years than there was in the last 20 years,” he said. “Although their tier system might have worked fine in the past, it may not be the best tool moving forward or they may need to adjust their numbers.”

The region has seen a slight decline in resident days fished and increase in non-resident days fished, though “the greater trends that happen in the visitor industry really drive that effort,” said Fowler.

The number of non-resident fishers peaked just before the financial crash of 2008 and “we’ve been slowly rebuilding since then,” he continued. The pandemic cut non-resident effort by 50%, but it is at an all-time high this year as people seek post-pandemic vacation opportunities.

“The pressure from non-residents is going to go up,” said charter operator John Yeager. “Effort is going to continue to get lopsided year after year after year” between visiting sport fishers and local commercial fishers.

“I think that the state has got to wake up and stop giving away its resource,” added Alan Reeves. “We (commercial fishers) are managed. We’re putting the fish back in the water. (Non-residents) come up for a measly amount of money and they’re gone.”

The current management plan has a built-in sunset clause for March 2025. At that time, the Alaska Board of Fish could “tweak the plan” to allow for lower sport opportunity, Fowler said.

 

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