Date: March 15, 1996
FAIRBANKS, Alaska--Alaska's nearshore commercial fishermen say the state's salmon fisheries are well managed but believe the federal offshore fisheries for pollock and other groundfish are not. They say the state should not lift the present ban on salmon farming, and think the state should do more to market seafood.
These are among the findings of a statewide survey of 6,000 holders of state commercial fishing limited entry permits for salmon, crab, and other species caught in state-managed waters.
The Alaska Sea Grant College Program conducted the survey, aimed at gauging fishermen's views on industry issues. Later this year, Sea Grant will survey Alaskans who fish in federally-managed waters, as well as seafood processors that operate in Alaska.
"We wanted fishermen to tell us what is on their minds, and we got just what we asked for," said Ron Dearborn, director of Alaska Sea Grant, a state- federal marine research and advisory program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
More than 500 fishermen completed the survey, spurred by the chance to win prizes donated by companies that serve the seafood industry. Anne Gray of Wasilla won the grand prize, a round-trip ticket on Alaska Airlines. Gray, who owns two salmon set net permits in Cook Inlet, is worried about the future of commercial fishing.
"Right now, fishing is scary for us. It's not a for-sure thing at all," Gray said. "We've had our fishing cut back. Whether we stay in it really depends on fish prices and what the fish board does."
Gray was among the 42 percent of fishermen surveyed who said they would discourage their children from commercial fishing. Most, like Gray, said low fish prices and unstable markets make commercial fishing unattractive. Forty-seven percent said they would encourage their children to fish commercially. They said they enjoyed the independent lifestyle that comes with commercial fishing. Others said maintaining family tradition was more important than high fish prices.
Among other responses, 52 percent said they thought Alaska fisheries were well-managed. As evidence, many cited recent record returns of salmon to state waters. Still, 39 percent of fishermen thought Alaska fisheries were not being managed correctly. Fishermen cited IFQs, excessive bycatch, preferential treatment to gear types other than their own, and a regulatory process they view as politicized.
Not surprisingly, 69 percent of commercial fishermen surveyed supported the ban on salmon farming. But their reasons appear to have changed over the last several years.
"The answers we are getting this year have more to do with economics," said Dearborn. "It used to be that fishers opposed salmon farming because of disease and pollution concerns. This year they oppose it because it would simply add more salmon to an already glutted market. This says to me that more fishermen are attuned to the effects of a world salmon market, and that is a positive development."
While most fishermen were against legalizing salmon farming, 40 percent said they favored efforts to expand shellfish farming in the state's coastal waters. Twenty-four percent were against helping shellfish farmers while 36 percent had no opinion.
Perhaps the most varied answers came to the question of what fishermen see as the most serious threat to their industry. Fishermen cited a common scapegoat--farmed salmon--but even that threat was listed less often this year. Overcapitalization, quota systems, bycatch, and fishing practices that damage habitat also were listed.
The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. It is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.
Commercial Fisherman Survey Prize Winners
Alaska Airlines Ticket (Alaska Airlines, Seattle)
Mustang Float Coat (Kachemak Gear Shed, Homer)
Reaching Home - Pacific Salmon, Pacific People
(Alaska Northwest Books, Seattle)
Long Sleeve T-shirt (Alaska Sea Grant)
Set of identification guides - Marine Mammals of Alaska, Northeast Pacific Rockfishes
and Northeast Pacific Flatfishes (Alaska Sea Grant)
Personal Emergency Beacon (King Neptune Safety Center, Seattle)
Alaska Wet and Wild Poster (Alaska Sea Grant)
The American Practical Navigator (Captain's Nautical Supplies, Seattle)
Alaska Marine Ecosystems Poster (Alaska Sea Grant)
One-year subscription to Pacific Fishing Magazine (Pacific Fishinfg, Seattle)
Mini Maglite (Petro Marine Services, Seward)
Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska (Alaska Sea Grant)
Guide to Northeast Pacific Rockfishes (Alaska Sea Grant)
Guide to Northeast Pacific Flatfishes (Alaska Sea Grant)
Working on the Edge - King Crab Fishing on Alaska's High Seas
(Captain's Nautical Supplies, Seattle)
10 Gallons YamaLube (Alaska Commercial Company, Dillingham)
Leather Beverage Coasters (Petro Marine Services, Seward)
Long Sleeve T-shirt and Hat (Northern Air Cargo, Anchorage)
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