Keep kissing those big fish bucks goodbye, Alaska!

As AK looks for new revenue streams, the bulk of all groundfish and crab values goes Outside every year.

by | May 31, 2023

Most of AK’s fishery volumes, values leave the state each year

NOAA Fisheries intends to revamp three outdated fishing rules, called National Standards, that affect the way the federal government deals with bycatch, fishery allocations and community impacts.

The public can comment on the rule changes through September 12.

The rules direct fisheries in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, where about 65% of Alaska’s fish catches come from, and were first outlined in the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens  Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The regulations have not been updated in 17 years.

One of them, National Standard 4, deals with allocating or assigning fishing privileges fairly among all users, and states that it “shall not discriminate between residents of different states.”

Let’s take a look at how that’s playing out on the water

Image credit: Dribble

Data compiled each year by the Alaska Fisheries Information Network (AKFIN) show that for 2021, a .78 share of the dockside (ex-vessel) value of ALL groundfish harvested from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska by all gear types went to non-Alaska owned vessels.

That included a .66 share of all Pacific cod,  a .89 share of all pollock, .68 of all rockfish and a .78 share of all flatfish.

From the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, a  .86 share of the value of ALL groundfish was taken by Outside boats in 2021.  That included a .79 share of all flatfish, .77 for pollock and  a .72 share of all Pacific cod.

Less of the money from Gulf of Alaska fisheries went to Outsiders.

The AKFIN data show that a .42 share of all Gulf of Alaska groundfish values in 2021 was taken by non-Alaska boats. Other shares included .27 for Pacific cod, a .50 split for pollock and a .73 share of all flatfish values went to non-Alaskan fishermen.

AKFIN pegs the value of Alaska’s 2021 total statewide groundfish catch to fishermen at $757.2 million. Based on its catch stats, $590 million left the state.

A similar money-sucking scenario for Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fisheries

The annual Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report (SAFE) for 2021  shows that Alaska  residents accounted for 221 of the 548 commercial fishing crew license holders participating in the crab fisheries during 2020, and 22 of the 82 vessel owner/lease permit holders.  

For Bering Sea snow crab, 21 of the participating fishing vessels were owned by Alaskans who held a 28% share of the snow crab ex-vessel volume and 25% of the value. Washington residents owned 29 vessels that fish for snow crab and took home 60% of the volume and value.  

 For Bristol Bay red king crab, Alaskans owned 16 of the crab vessels and took home 34% of the landed volume and value in 2020. Washington residents owned 24 of the crab boats and took home 55% of the volume and value.

For Bering Sea Tanners, Alaskans owned 8 of the crab boats and 17% and 18% of the dockside volume and value, respectively. Thirteen of the Tanner crab boat were home ported in Washington and they took home 72% of the volume and 73% of the Tanner crab landed value .

Across all of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island fisheries, total volume of the crab landings in 2020 was 42.6 million pounds with an estimated gross ex-vessel revenue value of $208.5 million.

New rules aim for “more equity”

In its announcement last week of proposed changes in the National Standards, NOAA Fisheries stated that changes in environmental conditions, shifting distributions of fish stocks and “equity and environmental justice concerns” are at the forefront.

The agency said that these and other events “suggest a need to revisit the guidelines to ensure they remain appropriate for current U.S. fisheries management.”

Alaska’s foregone fish bucks should provide fuel to revamp National Standard 8 which focuses on “the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities by utilizing economic and social data … in order to (a) provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and (b) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities.”

Credit: NOAA Fisheries

That statement is driven in part by findings  in NOAA’s first “Equity and Environmental Justice Strategy”  that has a stated goal of ensuring “the agency is treating all communities equitably.”

With the majority of Alaska’s fish harvests and values leaving the state each year, it is painfully obvious that Alaska communities are not being treated equitably by current federal fishery regulations.

The public can comment on the rule changes through September 12.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.


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