The economic analysis the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said was too complicated to be done before halibut quota was taken away from Alaska charter fishing businesses and given to commercial fishermen in 2013 now appears to have been completed.
What it indicates is that the shift of approximately 1.9 million pounds of flatfish contributed to an $85 million decline in the Alaska tourism economy.
The new economic information is buried in a “feature story” headlined “Alaska’s Valuable Recreational Fishing Industry” that appeared on the NOAA website Monday. This sort of government-produced news is becoming increasingly common in the U.S.
The subhead below the headline says “Alaskan scientists and managers are ensuring the sustainability of Alaska marine resources for the benefit of recreational, commercial and subsistence users and other members of the public.”
“This week,” the story begins, “is National Fishing and Boating Week. It’s a great time to cast a line and learn more about what NOAA Fisheries economists are doing to assess Alaska’s valuable recreational fishing industry.”
The next four paragraphs are devoted to how hard NOAA works and how Alaska Fisheries Science Center economist “Dan Lew and NOAA Fisheries colleague Chang Seung (have) released the first full estimate of the economic contribution of the charter fishing sector in Southern Alaska.
“This area encompasses both Southeast Alaska (along the Alaska panhandle) and Southcentral Alaska (around the Kenai Peninsula, Prince William Sound, and Kodiak Island). This was no easy task: they had to account for all the services fishing charters provide, such as wildlife viewing trips and transportation. They also had to consider revenues generated by support businesses in coastal communities.”
After all of that comes the real news on what NOAA scientists and managers do “for the benefit of recreational, commercial and subsistence users.”
Lew and Seung found, the story says, that the “charter sector generated almost $250 million in economic activity (measured in total regional output) in Southern Alaska in 2011 and more than $165 million annually in recent years (2013-2015).”
Alaska’s economic loss
Or in other words, Alaska lost $85 million per year in tourism business after the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC), a federal entity dominated by commercial fishing interests, shifted quota from the charters to the commercial fishery in the years after 2011.
In 2011, the charter industry was operating under so-called guideline harvest levels of 788,000 pounds for the Panhandle, and 3.65 million pounds for International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) Area 3A, a broad swath of the Gulf of Alaska running from the western end of Kodiak Island east to Homer and then south all the way to the start of the Southeast region at the northern end of the Panhandle.
With halibut in decline Gulf at the start of this decade, the Council decided the charters businesses should “share the pain of conservation” and eliminated the GHL in favor of catch share plan (CSP) quotas of 760,000 pounds for Southeast and 1.78 million pounds for 3A.
Charters businesses in Homer have said since that the quotas are killing them. The small town near the end of the Kenai Peninsula 220 road miles south of Anchorage is the self-proclaimed “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.”
The charter catch share quota for 3A – which Homer shares with the busy ports of Seward, Valdez and Ninilchik – has been upped slightly to 1.89 million pounds this year, according to the IPHC. The 3A commercial quota for the year is 8.37 million pounds.
Area 3A has the largest commercial quota of any of the Pacific halibut fishing areas that stretch from 2A off California to 4E in the Bering Sea. Unlike in Alaska, harvests in the lower 48 fishery are weighted toward recreational fisheries.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council commits 40 percent of its 1.5 million pound harvest to the recreational fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California; 35 percent to treaty Indian fisheries; and 25 percent to commercial fisheries.
Of the total, statewide Alaska catch quota of almost 19 million pounds, less than 15 percent is earmarked for recreational fisheries despite their apparent high value to the state’s tourism industry.
An email to NOAA requesting a copy of the new Alaska study or a link to it went unanswered.
CORRECTION: This story was corrected on June 8, 2019 to reflect that the study can only identify changes in halibut allocations as an apparent contributor to the $85 million decline in tourism revenue. NOAA spokeswoman Marjorie Mooney-Seus said “it is inaccurate to say that the change in economic contribution is specifically attributable to Pacific halibut allocation” because some of it could have been attributable to other factors even though Alaska tourism numbers in general steadily increasd during the study period.