Charters lost big

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.

That’s 16 to 37 times the $2.3 to $5.3 million that NOAA in 2015 reported 1,431 commercial fishermen holding individual fishing quota (IFQ) for Alaska stood to net from the quota shift.

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.

9 replies »

  1. To certain Administrations – and ‘Sovereign’ Agencies – ANWR is a National Park in all but name. Next Admin, new point of view. Same with the Tongass/Southeast … same with Alaska as a whole.

    Next guy after Putin may not give a hang about developing the Far East. Some would rather see the money going into more urban-glitter. Just declare the Pacific end of the country a vast Park, let the bears & tigers roam.

    Alaska as a Project influences how policy like fishery allocations go down. Different Admins have whole different ideas about how to guide & brand the Project.

    Some people see the whole coast of British Columbia, and Southeast … even the Gulf Coast and Prince William Sound too, as a giant new Preservationism opportunity, given the right circumstances & Moment.

    Building up good charter businesses, solidifying families and communtities in Southeast works against what some have called Great Bear International Park.

  2. Craigs skill and dogged efforts to compile and analyze numbers and Alaska information without being misled by politics or personal opinion yet giving multiple different angles of veiw is pretty impressive. Good analysis of Alaska’s financial and government systems. To bad he doesn’t get picked up as a game board member or an advisor for various government advisor position. He would enrich the decision on any Alaskan subject benefiting us all . For now I just have to say thanks for keeping the public informed about this great state ! My hat is off to one of the great journalists of our time ! Hopefully someone that reads his publications can start using his info to make a difference in Alaska policy .

  3. What a surprise. Not! A very large majority of the Council members come from the commercial sector industry. They give lip service only to national standards that require consideration of recreational fishing needs. And guidance from the Halibut Commission is of no help. That agency has almost no representation from the recreational sector.
    If Alaska managed the Halibut Fisheries there ‘might’ be a different result. But it would be very time consuming and costly. And, really, likely to not change much. With the power of the commercial sector being able to run The Alaska Board of Fisheries and pick and choose it’s membership the end results may not be much different. What really needs to change is the direction fisheries management has been heading in Alaska. Managing for the many and not just the few Permit and Quota holders would not only follow Alaska’s constitutional mandate but would be the right thing to do.

  4. Wonder if a crappy economy during the years listed and people spending their money on more important things than charter boats had anything to do with it?

    For eight years, President Obama presided over the worst economic recovery in modern times. For six years, he blamed Republicans in Congress for thwarting his spending agenda and hampering growth. In his last two years in office, he claimed that 2% growth was the best we could hope for. And in his last year in office, while the economy was again stalling out, Obama claimed that Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation would only make things worse.

    Hmmmm…. oh, I know – Holly Obama and all. How dare I……

    • Bryan: sorry, i don’t think you can blame Obama for this. state records show visitor traffic bottoming out in 2010. it’s been growing steadily since. there was a slight slump in 2014, but not enough to change the numbers in this study.

      visitor traffic in 2014 was still significantly above 2011. page 3-3 here:

      • Craig, I am blaming and saying the economy was stagnant during the Obama years (some would say on purpose). “Trickle Down Economics” if you will. While it is true tourism grew a bit, spendable cash did not under Obama. So while an Alaskan cruise or vacation might have been in the budget, a fishing charter may not have been. My point being, there is a new sheriff in town. So, you better book that charter early. Spendable cash is NOW up.

        The rate of GDP growth was decelerating in Obama’s last year. It went from 2.3% in Q2, to 1.9% in Q3 to 1.8% in Q4 of 2016. Under Trump, GDP growth has averaged 2.9%. It was 4.2% last quarter and might be higher in the current one.

        The stock market also was stuck in neutral the year before the November 2016 elections. The Dow is up by some 45% since then.

        Real median family income didn’t budge from August 2015 to November 2016, according to Sentier Research. It’s up more than 4% since Trump came into office. Wages are on the upswing.

        In Obama’s last year, unemployment rate remained basically unchanged — it was 4.9% in Jan 2016, and 4.8% when Trump took office in Jan. 2017. Now it’s down to 3.9%

      • Howdy Bryan,
        Not sure about your #’s… The data that I’ve seen in my portfolio (mostly S&P500 funds) are showing an increase in the 20% range since Trump took office 3 years ago (great the 1st year, took a loss in the 2nd year, doing pretty fair this year). In Obama’s 1st 3 years, the markets were up approximately 56%.
        Granted, Obama walked into a shit show where markets had already taken it on the chin and all of the fair weather investors were convinced that it was the end of the world – basically, there was no where for the markets to go but up when Obama took over. Don’t get me wrong, my free market side was turned inside out during Obama’s presidency, however, the markets did pretty well while he was in there. I believe that we are currently in the middle of the biggest bull market run that we’ve ever seen.
        Pretty amazing to see our perceptions (as well as the ‘news’ outlets) to performance that has hard #s to back it up. Insert Mr. Twain’s quote of Liars, Damned Liars and Statisticians….

      • Jack, let us not forget Obama took the National Debt from $9.5 trillion to $20 trillion in 8 years. The most spending by any human being ever to step foot on this planet. Also, the markets/capitalism performed in-spite of Obama, not because of his policies. So, while he inherited a mess from the 2006 Democrat Congress, he did all he could to keep it that way. From putting Commie lovers in charge of the CIA and FBI, to Cash for Clunkers, to Solendra, to taking over the auto industry and banks. Not to mention Obama’s many dubious associates. A race baiter, Community Agitator who did everything he could to “overload the system”, while trying to take credit for anything is laughable. He deserves to go down as the worst, anti-American president ever. “The good times are behind us”….. Sorry for the rant. I just start foaming at the mouth. Ha

      • He definitely did some pretty serious top down controlling on all aspects of our life – WAY too many laws for my comfort. And definitely liked to divide and conquer. I still have W. Wilson as my least favorite president, but Obama is still in my top 3… Seems that the presidents from Clinton onward all want to use top down governing instead of using our tried and true constitutional system of checks and balances. Not a good trend – we should be electing emperors instead of presidents.

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