FISH FACTOR: Project underway to study impact of limited entry program
Alaska began issuing limited entry permits for salmon fishing in 1975. Originally 1,372 permits (out of 2,758) were issued to residents of Bristol Bay; by 2007, only 735 permits remained under local ownership.
An ambitious project is underway to find out how the system has played out over 40 years 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. Those feelings still come out to this day,” said Jennifer Meredith of Eagle River, now a development economist at the University of Washington.
Meredith, with assists from tribal councils and locals, has been doing random surveys since March, with people throughout the Bristol Bay region.
“We started in Aleknagik, Iliamna, Togiak, Naknek, King Salmon, South Naknek, Kaliganik, Manoktotak and we’re finishing off now in Dillingham,” Meredith said enthusiastically.
The survey targets original permit holders from 1975, those who have fished more recently, and those who have never held fishing permits.
“We’re really trying to measure where do you live now, where do your descendants live, what occupation do you have now if there is not a permit in the family. We also talk about ties to subsistence fishing, their social networks and we do household assets,” Meredith explained.
The response so far, she said, has been “incredible” – an 80 percent success rate with nearly 700 participants before doing Dillingham.
“I think part of the reason 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,” Meredith said, adding that there is a great deal of optimism throughout the Bristol Bay region.
“They are scrappy and they are going to find a way to make it work,” she said. “They are committed to their traditional way of life, to subsistence and they are definitely committed to the commercial salmon fishery in a big way. There is definitely a sense that programs are needed that allow locals to get back into fishing and that the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation is trying to do that.”
As she headed out for another survey, Meredith said, “I’m here for your voice to be heard. 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 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fish board update
The Alaska Board of Fisheries proposal process will remain as is, for now.
During a May 24 teleconference meeting, the board considered streamlining the way it reviews proposals seeking management changes to commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. The board reviews 400-500 proposals during its annual meeting cycles. The meeting was live streamed via the internet.
The Board was considering moving to a consent agenda format for technical proposals, whereby they could be approved all at once. But written comments from fishermen and organizations swayed them otherwise.
Kelly Stier, a Bristol Bay driftnet fisherman, summed it up best: “I understand the drive for making the Board of Fish process of reviewing proposals more streamlined as I sat through the painful hours of public testimony in December,” he wrote. “However, I do not agree with changing to a ‘consent-agenda concept.’ One of the things that became apparent while attending the BOF meeting was that seemingly small issues can often greatly affect large numbers of participants. It is clear that those issues are best understood by the end user.”
Board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham called the current process “robust, and said he didn’t want to change it right now. Sue Jeffrey agreed, saying “I wouldn’t be comfortable right now putting this in place.”