During a time when our national economy is suffering from almost daily blows, Alaskans could feel an additional economic hit this summer. Most won’t even see it coming. We need to protect our coastal economies by supporting both the recreational sportfishing and commercial industry in Southcentral Alaska (3A), or every business and every person living in coastal communities could feel the impact.
According to a Jan. 14 Alaska Department of Fish and Game press release, in 2007 anglers spent nearly $1.4 billion in Alaska on fishing trips, fishing equipment and development and maintenance of land used primarily for sportfishing purposes. In Southcentral Alaska alone in 2007, the estimated total spending associated with sportfishing was approximately $989 million. Resident spending was $561 million and nonresident spending was $428 million.
There are two factors that are having an early effect on sportfishing in our area for 2009. First is the obvious – the economy! Captain B’s bookings are down 50 percent from this time in both 2007 and 2008 because of cancellations due to uncertain economic times and the possible one-halibut limit. I am hopeful that the reservations will be late, not non-existent. Unfortunately, overhead for a charterboat is so high that drastic fee reductions are not possible.
The second factor is the proposed one-halibut limit that, up to now, only applies to southeast. This could have a dramatic impact on coastal economies, not just in Southeast (2C) but all across Alaska, as many anglers don’t understand the proposed rule only applies to Southeast. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) estimated a change to a one-halibut daily limit (which NMFS has already proposed for Southeast Alaska) could result in up to a 30 percent reduction in angler demand. Captain B’s Alaskan C’s Adventures surveyed 158 fishermen in 2008. 153 of those respondents said ‘they would not return to Alaska at all if the bag limits were lowered’ and only one person said they had access to the Halibut Fishery other than by charter.
The proposed one-halibut daily limit is just one of the threats to our coastal economy. Some recreational fishermen are concerned that last week in Vancouver, B.C., the International Pacific Halibut Commission improperly inflated the allocation for commercial IFQ holders in Southeast Alaska. The IPHC reduced the Southcentral commercial catch limit for 2009 to 21.7 million pounds (a 10 percent reduction) so that it could increase the commercial harvest in Southeast Alaska. How did they do this?
The IPHC deviated from its normal procedure to decide on commercial catch limits. Instead of using Fish and Game’s estimate of guided angler catch in 2008, which is about 1.9 million pounds, IPHC substituted the smaller 788,000-pound charter guideline harvest level. This had the effect of improperly inflating the Fishery CEY in Southeast Alaska for the benefit of the commercial IFQ sector there, and arbitrarily reducing the commercial IFQ allocation in Area 3A. Neither of these actions is consistent with the IPHC’s mandate to protect the resource and promote optimum yield.
The GHL substitution and the extra half million pound gift from the Commissioners, combined with a separate IPHC “Slow-Up, Fast Down” formula that acts as an economic buffer for the commercial halibut fishing industry, resulted in the Commission adding an additional 3.29 million pounds to the commercial IFQ catch limit for Southeast. Commercial IFQ holders in Southcentral would have been allotted more fish if the estimated 2008 charter catch (3.5 million lbs) had been deducted from the CEY instead of the arbitrary Guideline Harvest Level (3.65 million pounds).
For now, sportfishermen in Southcentral Alaska still have the opportunity to fish for two halibut per day. Informed recreational fishermen coming to Alaska will realize this, but a one-fish limit in Southeast, if implemented, will have a negative economic impact on Southcentral as well as the rest of Alaska.
The decisions of NMFS and IPHC show that their decisions for both Sportfishing and Commercial are not for conservation reasons, but purely allocation. The 2007 Fish and Game Sportfishing Economic Study clearly shows that the economic impact of sportfishing in Alaska is much greater than previous recognized and we need to protect our sportfishing opportunities.
Donna Bondioli is the co-owner of Captain B’s Alaskan C’s Adventures and a member of the Alaska Charter Association and the Charter Halibut Task Force.
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