State of Alaska officials are siding strongly with recreational and subsistence fish harvesters in allocation issues, drawing sharp criticism from United Fishermen of Alaska, the statewide umbrella group representing the state’s commercial fishing industry.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang made clear, in a video posted on the social media website Facebook that the Alaska Board of Fisheries had an allocative preference for sport and personal use harvesters over commercial fishermen during its February meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues.
“The board took a couple of key actions that really are of significance to Alaskans and people who are trying to put fish in their freezer to feed their families,” Vincent-Lang said.
“All and all it was a win for recreational fishermen and personal use fishermen in the state and a win for conservation because we ended up not only providing some additional opportunities, but we took some real solid steps in conserving those fish stocks for future generations,” Vincent-Lang said.
UFA was quick to express its disappointment at “…this recent departure from the department’s longstanding policy of remaining neutral on allocative decisions,” the association said in a statement issued on Feb. 24.
“The celebration of allocative decisions that result in winners or losers is an inappropriate response for the governor’s office and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner to declare, especially when it is their responsibility as state officials to represent all Alaskans, which includes many user groups and economies,” said Matt Alward, president of UFA. “There are winners and losers at virtually every Board of Fisheries meeting. It is imperative that the department remains neutral on allocative issues while providing the best available science and advocates for the resource, not individual user groups.”
UFA took particular aim at the lead-in text of Vincent-Lang’s post, which read “Alaskans in southcentral had some big wins from the recent Board of Fisheries meeting,” but failed to note that those “wins” were allocative.
Several efforts to reach Vincent-Lang for additional comment were unsuccessful.
UFA officials said that the non-profit umbrella entity supports Alaskans’ ability to put food on their plates in a variety of ways.
“For those Alaskans who don’t have the time, money, desire or ability to sport or personal-use fish, the commercial fishing industry is their access to Cook Inlet’s shared sustainable salmon resource,” UFA said. “In Cook Inlet, 82 percent of drift and setnet salmon permit holders are Alaska residents who provide local salmon to thousands of Alaskans. All told, in 2019 Cook Inlet commercial fishermen and three local processors provided over 2.6 million pounds of seafood to markets and restaurants on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and communities in the (Matanuska-Susitna) Valley for Alaskans’ consumption.
“Additionally, 258 Alaskan commercial fishermen, many of whom fish in Cook Inlet, provide seafood access for individual residents – their families, friends and neighbors in Alaska in communities across the state. With only 160,000 resident sport fishing licenses sold across the state each year, Alaskans best access to seafood resources is through the commercial fishing industry,” UFA said.
Among the buyers of commercially caught Upper Cook Inlet salmon are several seafood specialty shops and two supermarket chains in the Anchorage area, as well as Costco and other shops in the Matanuska Valley and cities on the Kenai Peninsula.
Previous economic reports produced for commercial fisheries entities by the McDowell Group in Juneau also noted that commercial fishermen residing on the Kenai Peninsula who harvest fish in Cook Inlet and elsewhere in Alaska bring their earnings back to the area where they reside to spend, further boosting their local economies.