Cutting Fuel Costs
Length with intro/outro: 4:00
Download mp3 file: Cutting Fuel Costs [3.7 MB]
Last year's record high fuel prices had fishermen fishing less and recreational boaters leaving their boats at the dock. But fuel costs have come down since then. Next on CoastWise Alaska: is saving fuel on our boats passé?
By the end of the 2008 fishing and boating season, the average price of marine diesel fuel had more than doubled in Alaska, to around $5 a gallon. In response, fishermen slowed down and fished less.
But what a difference a year makes. The international economy is floundering and fuel prices have plummeted back to earth. Have Alaska's thousands of fishermen, and even more recreational boaters, stopped worrying about saving fuel?
Terry Johnson is an Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent who also runs a marine wildlife ecotour business.
JOHNSON: "People sort of felt like they were getting a reprieve on fuel costs, but I think almost everyone believes that it is a temporary reprieve. I don’t think anyone thinks that these current prices are what we are going to see on into the future."
Johnson says that fuel prices are destined to pick back up, if not this summer, then eventually. He says people should still be trying to save on fuel now, even though prices have dropped by more than $2 a gallon.
JOHNSON: "It's often been hard to sell people in the commercial fishing industry on the need to reduce their fuel costs. As big as they were, they were still fairly small compared to their income from the fishery. But as the income goes down and operating costs go up, fuel looms larger in the overall picture. Another part is that there are other good reasons to save fuel besides financial ones. And of course one of the biggest is its contribution to the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere and its effect on global climate change and ocean acidification."
Johnson says that for most boaters and fishermen, getting a newer, more fuel-efficient engine or boat is just too pricey an option. He says savings are going to come from taking smaller, more conventional steps.
JOHNSON: "The things that people are doing are the sort of obvious, logical things. They’re slowing down, and by simply throttling back a little, you can save a lot of money on fuel. You know, Sea Grant did a survey of commercial fishermen about what steps commercial fishermen had taken to save fuel, and after throttling back, the second biggest thing they did was simply doing less running. They were not doing as much scratch fishing, fishing shorter periods, not running back to town between openings, and leaving earlier so they didn't have to firewall it to get out there in time for an opening. There are incremental improvements they can do, like keeping hulls clean, making sure props are properly balanced and tuned, engine maintenance, things like that."
Of all the popular fuel saving techniques, one sometimes-overlooked strategy is simply to reduce the vessel's weight.
JOHNSON: "Every boat over its lifetime just collects weight, it just gets heavier and heavier the older it is, because we are always finding additional items we think we ought to have with us on board. We also have this instinct that we should never leave port with anything less than full fuel and water tanks. Fuel and water are both extremely heavy. Some people are finding that if they are doing short openings, maybe they can go out with half a tank rather than a full tank."
Johnson recently teamed up with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the National Park Service to write a book with more advice on how boaters can improve their operations and save money. The book is due to be published by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program in the fall of 2009.
CoastWise Alaska is a production of the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, which offers outreach and technical assistance to help Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy the state's marine and coastal resources. Check out our Web site at CoastWiseAlaska.org.