Food security not

john jensen

Leader of the pack John Jensen/ADF&G photo

On a lopsided vote Monday, the Alaska Board of Fisheries opted against the idea of boosting food security to the top of a list of criteria for allocating salmon in developed areas of the 49th state.

Rural areas are already covered by a subsistence priority which is supposed to put them first in line for salmon and other resources although it doesn’t always work that way.

Commercial fishermen trooped before the Board over the weekend to decry the “food for Alaskans” proposal submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KSRA) as an attempt to undercut the livelihoods of those who pull their livings, or at least some portion of them, from the sea.

Commercial fishermen now harvest more than 98 percent of the fish caught in Alaska.

Leader of the pack

The 5-2 vote against the proposal came after John Jensen from Petersburg, the former Board chair, dismissed written comments in support of the KRSA plan with the observation that few proponents appeared at the Anchorage Sheraton to voice their views.

“I didn’t see a broad spectrum of people testifying,” he said. “I didn’t see them showing up here.”

He likewise argued more emphasis should be placed on Alaska’s fishing history, which is dominated by the long ago takeover of wild resources by commercial interests, than on current demographics, and he stressed his belief in the crucial role of commercial fishermen in feeding Alaskans.

A Petersburg halibut fisherman, Jensen argued that a provision in the state Constitution calling for resources to be managed “for the maximum benefit of its people” has to provide for commercial catches so Alaskans – like himself – can buy fish.

“No one wants to give me any. So I have to go down and buy them,” he said.

The comment drew a mild rebuke from current Board chairman Reed Morisky from Fairbanks.

“Without offending you,” Morisky said, “I will point out that many people are offended by that (statement).”

Debate over the KSRA proposal – which would have established some basic criteria to guide the board in allocating salmon between commercial, subsistence, sport and personal-use fisheries – ended up focused on personal-use fisheries that draw tens of thousands of Alaskans to the Kenai and Copper rivers.

Although statewide dipnet harvests in total amount to only about 0.2 percent of a statewide commercial harvest of salmon averaging about 174 million fish over the last five years, commercial fishermen in the Prince William Sound community of Cordova and on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage view dipnetters as a threat.

Dipnetters are, commercial fishermen suggested to the Board over the weekend, threatening to scoop up all the salmon in the road-accessible part of the state. Most of Alaska has no roads.

Considering the food needs of average Alaskans when determining allocations “effectively ignores the fact that the  number of commercial salmon fishermen in our state has been static since the Limited Entry Act was passed in 1972, while other salmon fisheries statewide have grown
unchecked in that same amount of time,” Chelsea Haisman, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United, told the Board.

Feeding an industry

Limited entry capped the number of commercial fishermen in Alaska after the state’s voters in the 1970s agreed to amend the Alaska Constitution to permit it.

Salmon harvests were then at all time lows, and so many commercial fishermen were competing for so few fish that nobody could make a living. The statewide salmon harvest in 1972 totaled a mere 32 million salmon worth about $60 million, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game figures.

Though last year was an off-year for modern times, the salmon catch totaled 114.5 million fish worth $685 million, according to agency. The year before – 2017 – was healthier with a harvest of 222.8 million fish, about seven times the catch of the ’70s. It was worth a reported $680 million.

The average, annual harvest for the first five years of the 1970s was 38.4 million salmon per year, according to Fish and Game data. It has steadily grown to reach that average, annual harvest for the last five years of 174 million.

Commercial fishermen have netted almost the entire increase in salmon abundance, and that is the way things should remain, said Haisman, a lifelong Alaskan and third-generation fisherman.

As originally proposed, she said, the dipnet harvest was only supposed to kick in “after spawning escapement needs, and present levels of subsistence, commercial, and sport uses (were met), and beyond that it should not affect an existing use.”

Haisman is a vocal supporter of the commercial fishery that operates off the mouth of the Copper. There are both subsistence and personal-use fisheries upstream near a tiny community named Chitina.

The personal-use fishery, the biggest of the in-river fisheries, was once a subsistence fishery with a harvest priority, but Cordova fishermen convinced a Fish Board long dominated by commercial fishing interests to downgrade the fishery to personal-use to eliminate the priority.

Commercial fishing dominance of the Board has itself begun to become an issue.

Minority view

The process, said Board member Israel Peyton from the Matanuska-Susitna Borought, has left average Alaskans feeling “disenfranchised.” Some have started talking about a Constitutional amendment to repeal limited entry, arguing that it has turned into an Alaska form of Prohibition.

“I interact with John Q. Public quite often,” Peyton said. “They’ve given up. This doesn’t work for them. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘let’s just close all fishing for five years.'”

Average Alaskans don’t show up to testify to the Board, he added, because they believe it is a waste of their energy to arrange time of from their jobs to try to influence a process where their input is regularly ignored.

The last meeting of the Board to discuss Cook Inlet harvest regulations did draw a significant turnout of dipnetters, anglers and people in the Mat-Su tourism industry. All complained in-river fisheries at the head of the Inlet were suffering because too few salmon were getting through commercial nets in the Inlet.

The result was that the Board decided to take fish away from those complaining.

 “(These changes) will allocate some more fish to the commercial fishermen who, in my opinion, gave them up,” Jensen said at the time.

Peyton argued such actions have discouraged participation by people who have jobs to which they need to pay attention.

“Those people were working,” he said. “They were driving taxis. They were building houses. They were ringing you up at Walmart. They were making a living.

“They don’t have time, energy and money to come to these meetings…(and) they’ve given up; that’s why they’re not here. They don’t have associations for them, and they don’t have umbrella associations for the associations.”

The Board didn’t seem too interested.

Al Cain, a former Alaska Wildlife Trooper and now a Fish and Game contractor serving on the Board, said he couldn’t understand what the words “adaptive management” meant in the KRSA proposal, and he thought establishing allocation criteria would decrease the Board’s flexibility.

Fritz Johnson, a commercial fisherman from Bristol Bay, said he couldn’t support the idea “given the broad opposition from large blocks of stakeholders.” “Stakeholder” is a term now used to refer to commercial fishermen who some believe were given a stake in the salmon with the passage of limited entry, although the fish technically remain a public resource.

“I really wanted to keep an open mind,” said Board member Robert Ruffner from the Kenai, before adding that he saw nothing to gain from the proposal. It offered only guidelines, and the Alaska Department of Law advised the board it was not bound by guidelines.

“That’s what I always thought it was,” Jensen said; Board members get to decide allocation based purely on their own, personal feelings.

After the meeting, Rod Arno, the director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state’s largest outdoor group, said the comments of Jensen and the attorney for the state make it clear the only food-security solution is to get some new members on the Board whose feelings differ from those of Jensen.

Ruffner’s term expires in June, and Board member Orville Huntington from Huslia, who has a degree in wildlife management, has expressed an interest in moving to the Board of Game, which has two seats opening in June.

Were Gov. Mike Dunleavy to appoint Huntington to the Game Board, there would be two seats open on the Fish Board come summer.















36 replies »

  1. Craig, you state that the fish board is dominated by commercial interests, but the current makeup of the board has only two with commercial interests (and one of those has a boat rental business to sporties), and 5 with no ties to commercial fishing at all.

    • So if the 5 with no commercial ties are seen by sporties as “pro comm fish”, heaven help us if they get 4 “pro guide/dipper/sporties” members. Of course they’ll deny that those members are “pro guide/dipper” etc…. I just remember back to the BS intimidation tactics display by KRSA back in Juneau a few years ago when it came to confirming a member or two.

  2. Screw that buying fish in the store when I can buy beef or lamb or chicken or pork in the store and keep real working people in jobs.

  3. Funny thing about food security and Alaska, salmon plays a critical role in keeping families fed in this state.

    It is a pretty common experience to go to a dinner party or food gathering of Alaskans and find people who as adults will not eat salmon or don’t like it because they ate so much in their family as a child. To some eating salmon brings back memories akin to child abuse through protein redundancy.

    Pretty common story to hear that most every kid growing up in Alaska faced a steady diet of salmon pie, salmon patty, salmon stew, canned salmon, smoked salmon and maybe as a baby Gerber salmon mush.

    50 years later some adults in Alaska still won’t eat salmon.

    Yet to hear testimony and mythology from the commercial fishing industry, almost every Alaskan family really has to rely on them to harvest those elusive salmon that are super hard to catch in any abundance to really stock up for the winter.

    Yep, even back in the good old days every one got them good from commercial fishermen. Today a pound of commercial caught salmon might fetch $8 per pound in the store for those who are totally reliant on the seafood industry and retail markets to provide for their food security.

    Yep, adjusting for inflation back in the day, say in the 1980s, a poind if salmon might fetch $16 per pound at today’s inflation adjusted prices.

    So a whole generation of Alaskans who were forced fed salmon their entire childhood by parents who were buying “cheap” salmon protein at $16 dollars per pound….
    Of course that is adjusted dollars to take into account salmon per pound is selling both at wholesale and retail pricing about one half that it was 30 years ago at the peak price point.

    And yet the parents of those kids who as adults can’t even stomach the sight of a salmon patty nusy of had some sort of brand loyalty.

    At $16 per pound back in the day, somehow those parents whose only access to salmon was through the commercial markets… at $16 bucks per pound…. bypassed Spam, hamberburger helper, tuna casserole, Shepard’s pie, hoy dogs, brats, bologna sandwiches, chicken pot pies, etc that were and are all available proteins in past and current retail grocery stores at half or less the retail price per pound of peyote in that salmon was and is.

    But according to commercial fishing lore in Alaska – all these families fed themselves salmon primarily caught by heroic commercial fishing families and the Seattle processing clan and purchased in the grocery stores.

    Yet kids from poor families who couldn’t afford to get sick of eating SPAM supposedly had parents who bought all their salmon from the seafood marketplace.

    And this is still the story being told today – a modern day tall tale, a fish tale, to sooth the souls of those engaged in the colonial pilfering of the greatest renewable resource on Alaska – salmon.

    But remember kiddos growing up in the low income families today, farmed fish is bad for you, so if your parents can’t afford to buy $10 a pound salmon fillet at the local boutique fish market, you can always eat cake.

  4. And quit whining about the BOF process. Mike is going to fix it all, right?
    He is probably more concerned with keeping our state solvent, than anything else. $3K for the individual PFD, what has he been smoking? What good does that do? Consumers spending is not going to get Alaska out of the financial hole we are in!

      • Hey Burt, how long have you been collecting the PFD? How long have you been an Alaskan? How many years have you voted in AK elections?
        How long have you own property in AK?

        I have voted in AK and have held a AK DL since 1980. I have also owned two different homes in Cordova, AK since the same year. Stop by and visit me at 121 W Davis Ave, anytime you like.
        Just cause I do not claim the AK PFD, what is the problem with that?
        I do not claim WA residency, no benefits from there.
        Am I not allowed to own two homes, in two different states?
        Burt, what is your last name? You got something to hide?
        I am an open book, come to Cordova, I will buy you a cup of coffee? Maybe?
        I am concerned about the state of affairs in AK, so when I hear someone promising $3K PFD, I wonder, is it all BS! What a load of crap! Will not get by the legislature!

      • You know comrade carpet bagger; voting records are public records. There’s a reason you don’t claim a PFD now isn’t there?

      • Hey Burt,
        That’s some big talk from a no name internet keyboard warrior. I often disagree with James, however, to call him anything but a lifelong Alaskan is disingenuous at best, however, I just view it as pathetically trollish. Obviously, being a troll on some of your comments makes your other comments that may actually have some validity likely to be view at as from a troll and who wants to look at trolls shit?

      • Jack, the objective word in your post about Burt was “may.” Heheh!

      • Can I help it if carpet baggers with a long history of buying and selling Washington State homes is dumb enough to use his real name while masquerading as a Long Time Alaskan when he’s been a seasonal out of state fisherman? LOL! Commercial Fisherman normally are on the low end of intelligence. As for me, I had a long career in the military and law enforcement I know when not to use my real name. I also know how to investigate someone’s background.

  5. Craig,
    For the record, at the 1999 BOF PWS finfish mtg., in Valdez, a proposal by Fairbanks AC, had the board reconsider the C&T (customary and traditional points) for the CR pu fishery. By a slim margin, the board gave it subsistence status. Two years later, at a Anchorage BOF mtg. w/Karl Johnston as chair, they revisited the C&T decision and reversered it.
    PU fisheries are not subsistence, period.
    Blame it on the Cordovans, a small community of 2500 year round AK residents, that have over 70% of its people, connected to commercial fishing, in one way or another.
    Should the CR PU fishers have more rights, than the Cordovan commercial fisher? The Cordovan is supporting his family, community and municipality. The PU fishers is filling their freezer. The PU fishery on the upper CR, supplies 80-150K salmon, each year to the populace. Sounds like a good deal to me!

    • So…. using your numbers: 70% of 2500 = 1750. Your question: ‘Should the CR PU fishers have more rights, than a Cordovan commercial fisher?’ Answer: No. However, you should be able to have some nuance in your cute strawman question and answer session. Here’s a little strawman of my own for you: Do you think that the ‘rights’ of 1750 people who take OUR resource and sell it should have more rights than the literally 10’s of THOUSANDS of fishers who are the OWNERS of that resource? Your sense of entitlement reminds me of a bunch of kids that I see who go to UAA and UAF. Rainbows and unicorns, Mr. Mykland. Your flaunting of one groups ‘rights’ over another groups’ ‘rights’ is ridiculous when the ALASKAN PEOPLE own the resource. Why don’t you just build a wall around the fish? Oh wait, the commies literally do that with their nets on a daily basis in the summer – don’t they?
      Cheers to you, my entitled friend!

      • Jack, you do know that there is a market made regularly for these salmon permits (not that much different from a market for stocks) and almost anyone can become “entitled” as you call it. We hardly speak of stock ownership as being “entitled” but wouldn’t want to rain on your latest parade.

      • Here’s how smart Copper River fishermen are – the proposal has nothing to do with the personal use fishery on the Copper River, because that fishery by definition is already in a subsistence area of the state.

        So every commercial fisherman who is arguing about the Copper River PU fishery is barking up a wrong tree on this whole issue.

        But go ahead and bark away – I can’t wait till I get to buy genetically modified salmon at Costco. Hope someone starts to modify kings so they grow back to being nice sized fish again.

      • Well Mav, the low-watt bulb here appears to be you since the subject of this particular comment was not “the proposal.” Try to keep on topic.

      • Bill, I have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that the subject of this Medred piece was not about the “proposal”. It clearly was about proposal 171 which applied only to non subsistence areas. And that was Jack’s point. Am I missing something in your comment?

      • Finally, if you notice I said the subject of the comment (not the article). And both James and Jack were speaking “not” of the proposal.
        Go ahead and look!

      • Got it Bill. I was just assuming that we were all generally commenting on the Medred article. Thanks for showing me why you made the comment.

      • Hi Bill,
        1 small difference between a stock and a fishing permit is that the AK state constitution says that resources are owned by the citizens of the state and are to be managed to be the biggest benefit for Alaskans.
        A stock is owned just to own a share of a company and reap the rewards or poop that results from that company’s performance. Just because you own a share of a license does not mean that you get to decide how the resources are allocated to the citizens of the state for maximum benefit…
        Cheers my friend!

      • Actually Jack, that salmon permit just allows the holder certain things (namely to fish during openers decided by F&G). And that “market” allows almost anyone to become one of those “elites.”
        It’s the B of Fish process that allocates the resource, not the permit holder(s). Also, permit holders are rewarded (or penalized) by how their fishery performs as long as they are competitive with their fellow permit holders.
        I still see a very similar situation.

      • Guess what! Below the Chitna bridge, on the CR, it is classified AK state PU fishery, and they get plenty of time to dip their nets and catch CR sockeye and king.
        Above the bridge is the Glennallen federal subsistence fishery, open to fishwheels & dipnet. If you qualify, you are allowed to use either fishing methods, for subsistence fishing.
        The state, issued a commercial limited entry program, back in early ‘70s, if you are not happy with this situation, you can ask Mike to buy us out.
        I will take $175K for my permit!
        On the otherhand, If you want to catch more than 25 fish and 10 more on bonus years, on upper CR for PU fishers, you can purchase an Area E drift permit. Gives you the right to commercially fish PWS/CR. Come out and compete with the 540 other professional fishers, and have some fun.
        Just because you are an AK resident, does not guarantee you any amount of the Alaskan resources. I love it when people say, I moved here, I live here and I derserve it all! Get real!
        BTW, how is Mike doing for you? Loving the legislative process so far? How is the budget process working for you? Live anywhere you need the AMHS?
        What about education, any kids in school?
        You voted for him, right? Working out so far? Any new state revenue?, besides the PFD $3K giveaway?
        Oh, I know the Pebble mine and open up ANWR? Go ahead, make my day!
        The real issue with ANWR, is the state’s share. The Feds get the most, dang why does the Fed own majority of AK anyway?
        Did you realize, the Feds spend more, per capita, on AK, than any other state? Okay, though we derserve it!
        We are actually a socialist state, we get more than we put out!
        Wow! That works!

  6. I am sitting up here on the slope just shaking my head concerning the BOF meeting. I normally show up and testify before the BOF, representing dipnetting interests. I am one of those people who have to work, even on a Saturday.
    First off, I am just appalled on Mr. Jensen’s statement,” Board members get to decide allocation based purely on their own, personal feelings”. This man has been on the BOF for over 10 years. During that time he needed to be confirmed and re-confirmed by a full vote of the Legislature. Are we suppose to believe not one person in the Legislature never ever asked him if he could be impartial? I find that really hard to believe.
    Israel Payton was right on when he said that a lot of folks are just tired of the whole process when it comes to decisions from the BOF. When you constantly get beat back, you kind of lose interest and perspective. Our last Governor just about tripped over himself, supporting Commercial fishing interests and also with his appointments to the BOF. I am sure political donations had no bearing what so ever on his appointments. LOL.
    With a new Governor in the chair, maybe the little guy/girl will get a better chance of putting fish in the freezer. He needs to swing this allocation pendulum back around. It’s about time the average Alaskan fisher/dipper gets more opportunity, especially here in South Central.

  7. This story reminds of deer hunting in Maryland, VA, or PA. Back in the 70’s you’d be lucky to see a deer, let alone kill ONE. Forget seeing a bear, eagle, or red fox. Now MD has a bear season, problem bears and deer problem. There are counties now with unlimited does during archery. More housing, more people, less forest equals more deer and bear. So many deer they bring in police sharpshooters to bait and kill deer at night under spotlight. Seems the same with salmon. 7x the fish taken today then in the 70’s. I hear the same from buddies hunting back East. Every year they say “they killed all the deer, I didnt see a one”, when in fact the harvest numbers do not change and there are more than enough deer. They are just in everyone’s yards. Too many. Same thing about the meetings, “I dont go because the powers-to-be (Steakholders) have already decided”. Funny how there seems to be a correlation between deer and salmon if you will.

  8. My guess is that getting new AK Board of Fisheries members with a different interpretation of what historical allocation means, viewed in the context of the whole allocation criteria statute, appointed under Governor Dunleavy would be pretty easy.
    You only need two more votes now to put food security first.
    Of course the obstacle will be battling the commercial fisheries lobby in Juneau for the 31 votes needed to confirm. That’s a high bar, it takes a lot of muscle to get over that.

    • Hey Bryan,
      Good points, however, I would say that the salmon are in the commies ‘back yard’ and the citizens (who own the resource and don’t get anything from the harvest of said resource) are unable to get to them…

    • True sir. That’s why Alaskan’s should be on a 1st name basis with the elected reps. It’s just not that hard in such a small state. All you have to do is send an email every once in a while and go to meet with them when they come around.

    • Jensen’s Let Them Eat Cake view of fisheries management is going to trigger an ugly reaction. So is his refusal to acknowledge written comments and give all credibility to his commfish buds packing the room.

      Disenfranchisement of other user groups is an intentional strategy. So is packing the meetings and making sure nobody other than commfish gets to issue a public comment at those meetings. The intention is to make the other 3 user groups give up and not participate, not unlike what the unions are currently doing in the budget meetings. And they’ve done a pretty good job of it recently.

      If we have to do it the hard way, we will do it the hard way, the political way, with precisely as much care and concern for commfish livelyhood as they have for sport, PU, subsistence, loggers, miners, oil & natural gas, and other resource development people. Commfish has been in the forefront of every single anti-resource development campaign in this state from Clinton’s roadless forest in the Tongass 20 years ago to Pebble today.

      Let Them Eat Cake won’t hack it any more guys. Welcome to our world. Cheers –

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