Salmon industry needs a shake-up

Photo/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
welchlanieLR.jpg Most people now recognize that it’s going to take more than a sustained marketing blitz to revitalize Alaska’s salmon industry.

"Challenges and Strategies for the Alaska Salmon Industry," a paper by Gunnar Knapp, is providing a sort of road map for a long-term fix, and is sure to shake things up as the Alaska Legislature settles in this month for a rocky session. Knapp is a University of Alaska economist and longtime industry watcher and prognosticator.

"The basic problem we face in the Alaska salmon industry is that our management system is not designed to create a competitive and cost-efficient industry," he writes. "Instead it is designed to achieve social and political goals of spreading the wealth of the salmon fishery -- of maximizing jobs and incomes for Alaskans. For a period of time, the system worked well. But it isn’t working well any more."

Knapp says that a big part of the problem is that decades ago, the government decided that salmon could only be caught by a few specific gear types and established how many boats would fish each type of gear in each area.

"We are locked into harvesting Alaska salmon almost exactly the same way we did decades ago. We have hardly changed at all, while the rest of the world’s salmon industry -- and indeed the entire global economy -- has been engaged in continuous change in an effort to lower costs, improve quality, and better meet the needs of changing markets."

He adds: "Much of the Alaska commercial salmon industry simply looks stupid and irrational to other Alaskans and other Americans. They no longer perceive the salmon industry as valuable and important. We seem to be in a perpetual crisis. We keep having ’economic disasters,’ and we seem to be always asking for help."

Ouch.

Pay up time

Alaska halibut and blackcod fishermen will pay slightly more this year for the privilege of participating in their exclusive fisheries.

In a letter sent to Individual Fishing Quota permit holders, fishery managers announced the "cost recovery" fee will be 2 percent of the dockside value of last year’s catches, an increase of 0.2 percent. The letter was accompanied by bills based on the prices harvesters received for their catches. By law, federal fish managers can collect up to 3 percent of the value of the fisheries.

The money is used to cover management and enforcement costs of the halibut and blackcod fisheries during the eight-month-long season that runs each year from March 15 to Nov. 15. Some of the money is also used to fund a low-interest loan program for fishermen interested in buying into the IFQ fisheries.

Fishery managers said the rate hike came about because of a decline in the value of the catch. The total value for both species in 2001 is estimated at $167 million, down roughly $30 million from the 2000 catch.

Last year was the first time fees were collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service for managing the fisheries. By all accounts, the process went smoothly. Of the more than 2,500 people who received a bill, only nine had to be referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for collection.

Payments are due by Jan. 31.

Have some say in subsistence

The feds are seeking 33 people to serve on Alaska’s 10 Regional Subsistence Advisory Councils. The councils make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board and play a vital role in developing subsistence regulations and policies.

"The regional councils carry a great deal of weight in decisions regarding subsistence," said Mitch Demientieff, chairman of the Federal Subsistence Board.

Council members represent the geographic, cultural and user diversity from within their region. The councils meet at least twice a year to consider proposed regulations for subsistence hunting and fishing. Councils also make recommendations on federal fishery studies and are responsible for reporting back to communities on subsistence issues. Most of the seats to be filled are for full, three-year terms, and members appointed in 2002 will join the councils this fall.

The application period ends Feb. 22. Contact the Office of Subsistence Management at 800-478-1456 for more information.

Wanted: money applicants

The National Park Service is having a tough time getting fishermen to apply for millions of dollars in compensation funds. The money, which totals $23 million, is for those who were squeezed out of Glacier Bay fisheries in Southeast. Although an estimated 200 to 400 people are eligible to receive money, only about two dozen had applied by year’s end.

The compensation package is divided among fishermen/crew, processors and employees, support businesses and communities. The deadline to apply is Jan. 28. Contact the Park Service or Department of Fish and Game to apply.

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Updated: 
01/21/2002 - 8:00pm