By Jenny Neyman
Special to the Tribune
As the push-pull of allocative arguments continue to churn in Cook Inlet fisheries, the Alaska Salmon Alliance has released an economic report to support its position that commercial fisheries are a significant part of the Kenai Peninsula economy, and so should have a place in the water and at the regulatory table.
The “Cook Inlet Drift and Setnet Salmon Fisheries” report, prepared for ASA by Northern Economics, based in Anchorage and Bellingham, Wash., was released this month, and estimates the 2011 ex-vessel value of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery — including drift- and setnet salmon fisheries as well as purse seine and hatchery cost-recovery fisheries — at $56.4 million, which exceeds the estimated 2011 value of all Lower 48 salmon fisheries combined.
“There’s just been a lot of speculation about the value of Cook Inlet commercial fisheries. And as it turns out it’s rivaling the Bering Sea’s crab fishery, which is substantial. There’s major preoccupation with sport and personal-use fisheries in this Cook Inlet region and we felt that we needed to get the word out that we’re an important part of the overall economy of the Kenai Peninsula. That comes out loud and clear,” said Arni Thompson, ASA executive director.
A five-year average ex-vessel value for Cook Inlet salmon fisheries was estimated at $32.1 million, with a low of $15.3 million in 2006 and the high of $54.2 million in 2011. For comparison, the five-year average of Lower 48 salmon fisheries was pegged at $37.2 million, the West Coast shore-based trawl fishery at $45 million and the Hawaii tuna fishery at $53.8 million.
The cumulative harvest value of the Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries between 1980 and 2011 was estimated at $2.15 billion. Sockeye were noted to be the predominant species harvested in inlet commercial salmon fisheries, accounting for 78 percent of landings between 1980 and 2011, and 88 percent of that $2.15 billion.
The report notes that in 2010 and 2011, Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries ranked fourth in ex-vessel value among the major salmon fisheries in the state, behind Southeast, Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, and ahead of Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and the statewide troll fisheries.
The wholesale value of all species and products produced by processors of Cook Inlet salmon was found to exceed $212 million in 2011, according to the report.
“Then when you add in the economic multiplier for indirect and induced service and purchases from various industry suppliers it goes up to $350 million. That’s using a very conservative multiplier. I don’t want to try to reach out for a bigger one because you can’t really verify it right now. But we’re planning to go to the next phase with an analysis to pretty accurately estimate what the real indirect value is. And it very likely that value will grow to over $400 million,” Thompson said.
Fish harvesting alone was found to be a significant contributor of employment, with Kenai Peninsula Borough residents owning more than half (about 54 percent) of the inlet drift and setnet permits since 1980. In the drift fishery, 1.82 crew jobs were found to be generated per permit, and 3.76 in the setnet fishery, not including the permit holder. That works out to between 3,000 and 4,000 harvesting jobs generated from 2001 to 2011 in the drift- and setnet fisheries each year, the report notes, for a total of $31.3 million in labor income in 2011 from the Cook Inlet drift- and setnet fisheries.
“Take a look at the amount of people that are employed. It’s significant. Each fishing vessel, each setnet site is a small, independent business. Each are supporting a number of families,” Thompson said.
And that’s just on the harvesting end. There’s also the processing industry to consider. The report notes that Cook Inlet commercial drift- and setnet fisheries exceeded $94.5 million in total processed product value in 2011. As for employment, the 2011 estimate of Cook Inlet jobs — predominantly seasonal — attributed to salmon processing totaled 1,617.
The report does not include what would be outlier 2012 numbers, given that the Kenai- and Kasilof-area commercial setnet season was shut down in July to conserve king runs into those rivers.
That’s a prime example of why the report is needed, Thompson said, so that when allocative discussions come up — as at the Kenai River King Salmon Task Force, which met over the winter, or Board of Fish meetings — the impact of commercial fisheries can be demonstrated.
“With all the controversy — and it’s in the Legislature, too — at the Board of Fish, ‘Let’s just do away with this, we don’t need this fishery, let’s just turn it over to personal-use and sport fish.’ There are people who talk about that. Well, you can’t just take out an industry. We know from talking to businessmen around the peninsula that if the commercial sector went away, it would be a serious dent in the overall economy, especially around Soldotna, Kenai, Seward and Homer,” Thompson said.
“We had to just get those numbers out there. I mean, we didn’t even know what they were. But you start to put them together and it’s significant. The surprise really is how much value there is in the Kenai Peninsula commercial fisheries,” he said.
ASA hopes to use the findings of the reports to advocate for the commercial industry’s piece of the Cook Inlet fishing pie.
“A big issue with fishing, or any business, is the need for regulatory stability in terms of business planning and long-term investment. And that is a real problem in Cook Inlet due to the allocative issues that have been ongoing for many years,” Thompson said.
However, ASA will not be advocating for the commercial industry gobbling up any other sector’s piece of fish pie, Thompson said.
“In terms of long-terms solutions, the Alaska Salmon Alliance has a dialogue going with the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission, Kenai River Sportfishing Association and we’re reaching out to personal-use users. We certainly recognize their place in all this,” he said. “We already are sharing the harvest and that’s part of our mantra and we will continue to do that. We’re hoping that we can have significant dialogue over the fall months and early winter, and maybe come to consensus on some of the management issues before we go to the next Board of Fish meeting,” he said.
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