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Fisheries Management: The Story of Salmon

Spawning Sockeye SalmonAlaska is home to the last bastion of abundant wild salmon in the world, having disappeared in the last millennium across much of its ancestral ranges in Europe, North America and Asia. Elsewhere, prolific runs of salmon have succumbed to pressures identified as the four H's:

  • Harvest: overfishing causes collapse of wild stocks;
  • Habitat: environmental degradation impacts the health, abundance and connectivity of essential fish habitats (water, riparian, spawning, rearing, feeding);
  • Hydropower: hydro-electric generation (dams) fundamentally alters the landscape and productivity of fish habitats; and
  • Hatcheries: salmon factories (ocean ranching, farmed) mask ecological issues of overfishing and environmental degradation.

Wild salmon in Alaska today face the same ongoing pressures that led to precipitous declines elsewhere in the world. Twenty-first century salmon managers in Alaska have a daunting challenge - ensuring the long-term sustainability of wild salmon, with the knowledge that past efforts elsewhere, despite best intentions, have failed. It is with an eye to the past that salmon managers in Alaska focus on the principles of fishery conservation, sound science and habitat protection. 

When measured on the scale of decades, salmon management in Alaska since statehood can be heralded as a maturing success story - with no stocks of Alaska origin listed as threatened or endangered.

When measured on the scale of millennia, the conservation of salmon in Alaska is in its infancy - where promising fisheries management systems, designed in the 20th century, are ready to adapt to the insights and challenges a new century brings to our understanding of sustainability.    

Our Efforts

Fish Management and ResearchFish come first - it is at the heart of our efforts as one of Alaska's leading fishery conservation organizations. With history a potent reminder of past efforts in salmon sustainability, KRSA works to ensure:

  1. Alaska's fisheries are healthy for generations to come, and
  2. the public's fishery rights are protected, with predictable and meaningful fishing opportunity.

One of KRSA's major roles on behalf of its membership is to monitor and have input on fisheries management decisions. At local, state and federal regulatory levels, KRSA advocates for sustainable fisheries and the public's fishery rights. Conservation comes first, then allocations among user groups. Decisions made by regulatory bodies have significant impact on all users of our fisheries resources.

In terms of allocation, 97% of all salmon harvested in the state of Alaska is for commercial purposes (limited entry) by the seafood industry.  The remaining 3% of salmon is allocated for recreational (public use) by sport, personal use and subsistence user groups. Southcentral Alaska is the home to a long standing allocation conflict between the commercial fishing and recreational uses of salmon.  

The epicenter of this salmon allocation conflict is Upper Cook Inlet, which is unique among all of Alaska's maritime regions in its relative proportions of recreational and commercial fishing. Upper Cook Inlet supports Alaska's largest and most economically valuable recreational fisheries.  Sport and personal use fishing is heavily concentrated in the region, and the economic values associated with these activities are very substantial.  By contrast, commercial fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet yield a small fraction of the state's commercial harvest and the associated economic values are very modest.  

During the past decade, the economic values of sport and personal use salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet have greatly surpassed those of the commercial salmon fisheries by every available measure.  State fisheries management systems - designed primarily to accommodate commercial fisheries - continue to grapple with the profound and ongoing changes in both recreational and commercial salmon fisheries in the region.

To read more about KRSA's effort to more clearly define the economic importance and relative values of salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet, read KRSA's report on the Economic Values of Sport, Personal Use, and Commercial Salmon Fishing in Upper Cook Inlet. The report reviews published studies and agency data on participation, economic significance, net economic value and potential economic impacts of management practices in the region's sport, personal use and commercial salmon fisheries.

Commercial salmon fisheries in Alaska will continue to be altered by mounting pressures from the globalization of the seafood industry and the explosion in aquaculture production.  Attempts to restructure salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet necessitated by global market forces must be fully informed by an awareness of the immense economic value - to local economies and to individual participants - of sport and personal use fisheries.  Fisheries management in Upper Cook Inlet faces the ongoing challenge of adhering to policies and practices that recognize the central economic role of sport and personal use fisheries in the region. 

Regulatory Settings

Fish come first in our advocacy efforts. Once fishery conservation issues are resolved, then we promote predictable and meaningful sport and personal use fishing opportunity. On the side of protecting the public's fishery rights, KRSA takes an active role in the fishery management process.

In general, the BOF deals with state fishery issues, and usually in Upper Cook Inlet there are focused discussions on salmon allocations between commercial and in-river (sport and personal use) users, and regulations for those respective uses. KRSA consistently argues for equitable allocations of these resources among users and advocates for the use of the biologically based management which employs the best scientific and technical information available.

The FSB deals with the priority rural residents have for fish and wildlife on Federal lands in Alaska through ANILCA - the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The role KRSA has provided in this process has been one of full engagement and pressing the application of the ANILCA legislation as it was intended to be used and resisting the redefinition of policies and interpretations. 

The NPFMC focuses on fisheries under Federal jurisdiction, and has oversight of halibut, an important species for saltwater anglers.

Within the Kenai River watershed, area land management agencies include the Kenai River Special Management Area (Alaska State Parks), the Kenai National Wildlife Refuse (US Department of Interior), and the Chugach National Forest (US Department of Agriculture). Management concerns include access, infrastructure, enforcement and social issues.

KRSA actively engages in the public processes of several state and federal regulatory bodies responsible for fisheries management, including the: