Sunday, September 6, 2009

Halibut Wars

“Charter fishing is organized crime,” reads a bumper sticker on a car in Sitka, Alaska. Even more to the point is a sign on a door in Pelican: “I’d rather have a daughter in the whorehouse than a son charter fishing.” Strong words, and they are an indication of the stakes over who may fish where and when, and how much they can catch.

At odds are commercial fishermen and sport fishing charter operators. In recent years the commercial fishing industry in Alaska has changed a lot. Where commercial fisherman once they caught as many of a given fish as they could and sold them at the best price possible, concerns about overfishing and abuses by the big seafood companies led to the institution of the IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) system in 1995. Now, each permit holder is legally able to catch up to a certain limit and sell it at a set price. As a result this system, the number of boats engaged in commercial fishing dropped dramatically and the number of fisherman working at sea has dropped as well.

But are sport fishing charter operators also commercial fishermen covered under this system? They say no, and point out that low limits on the number of fish (especially halibut) they can keep adversely effects their business by keeping customers away, sending them off to parts of the world without such limits. The commercial fisherman protest that the point of the quota system was to help keep the fishery sustainable, that their allowable catch of halibut in particular has dropped 50 percent in the last two years, and that charter fishermen are asking for more than their fair share of a limited resource.

This is not the first time there has been a dustup over fishing rights in or near Alaska. Back in 1997, Canadian fisherman in Price Rupert, British Columbia surrounded the Alaska state ferry Malaspina, keeping it from leaving in protest over what they saw as US and Alaskan incursions onto their fishing grounds. More recent concerns about sustainability have lead to fights between fisherman and farmers, fishermen and loggers, and even a war of resolutions over the breaching of Snake River dams between the city councils of Pasco, Washington and Seattle.

1 comment:

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