Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
January 2006

Editorial: Seeking Sustainability, Balance
and Stability through Allocation

By Sue Aspelund
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Sue Aspelund

One of the greatest—and most important—challenges faced by Alaska’s fisheries policymakers, managers, and regulators is balancing competing uses of our precious fisheries resources. Alaskans use these fisheries resources for subsistence, personal use, recreation, and commercial uses and take a very personal interest in allocation decisions. Finding the best way to distribute the harvestable surplus of fisheries resources is one of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) highest priorities.

At its December 2005 meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) rescinded a previous action in support of implementing a controversial Individual Fisheries Quota (IFQ) program for halibut charter operations. (An IFQ allocates permanent ownership of “shares” of the harvest based upon established criteria, such as one’s historical use of and dependence upon the resource being used.) This program would have been the first in the United States to be used in a recreational fishery.

Many commercial fishermen favored the proposed IFQ program. With the growth of the charter sector over the last decade, commercial fishermen felt that the program would bring stability to allocations, while compensating them for future growth in the charter sector. Many sport fishermen who depend on charter boats opposed the program citing a potential for increased costs. Forty percent of the charter operators would not have received any share and they strongly opposed the program.

At the heart of the issue for most folks is concern about maintaining their access to the resource, no matter what their use is. Trying to find a way to preserve access for the greatest number of users, while maximizing economic benefits, and above all, sustaining the resource, is indeed a great challenge for managers and regulators. Through the State of Alaska’s seat on the NPFMC, ADF&G Commissioner McKie Campbell is pursuing innovative and thoughtful ways to balance these very critical needs, through a combination of actions that can be taken by federal managers (the NPFMC and the International Pacific Halibut Commission), state regulators (the Alaska Board of Fisheries); the Alaska Legislature; and ADF&G.

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Cleaning halibut in Pelican, Alaska. ADF&G photo.

As the state’s leader in these discussions, Commissioner Campbell is determined to develop a program that (1) promotes stability for all sectors of halibut users by providing access based upon the abundance of the resource; (2) provides for management measures where necessary; and (3) provides a mechanism for orderly and compensated growth between the commercial longline and charter sectors of the halibut industry (such as a process to allow purchase of IFQ from commercial longliners that can be converted into increased harvest opportunities for charter operators’ clients).

ADF&G encourages public input and participation in the regulatory and statutory processes available for developing fisheries allocations at both the state and federal levels, as well as involvement in the legislative and Congressional processes that provide the statutory frameworks for fisheries management decisions. The thoughtful involvement of all concerned will yield the most successful result as we seek sustainability and stability through balanced allocations of Alaska’s fisheries resources.

Maintaining the ability of people to use and benefit from the fisheries resources of the state is critical to the sustainability of these resources. In recognition of Alaskans’ desire to provide input regarding their use of fisheries resources, fishery management in Alaska provides for extensive public involvement in the decision-making process regarding the use and conservation of fish stocks through public participation with regulatory bodies such as the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the NPFMC. Participation is not just limited to the deliberations of these bodies; there are many formal and ad hoc advisory groups that allow affected users and the general public to sit with fisheries managers and researchers and discuss ideas, research programs, management options, and other matters of public interest.

Please don’t hesitate to contact ADF&G by calling 907-465-4100 for additional information on how you can interact with the public processes that affect the people and fisheries of Alaska.

Sue Aspelund is a special assistant to the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game.

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