“Fishing reform drives inequality in Alaska”

A Blog Post by guest bloggers Michelle Dowling, Chibu Okezie, and Dalton Hedin from EMP 462: Coastal and Marine Planning

High Country News and Investigate-West collaborated on an article titled “Fishing reform drives inequality in Alaska”. This article provides a local fisherman’s perspective of how the Alaska Individual Fishing Quota Halibut and Sablefish Program has negatively impacted the economy of tribes in Kake, Alaska.

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The author interviews Henrich Kadake, the mayor of Kake and a board member of the tribal corporation. He has lived in Kake most of his life and has seen how reform has caused economic inequality to grow over the years. Fishing had historically been the main source of work in the area. Prior to the program implementation, the area was known for its chaotic and unsustainable halibut fishing seasons.

In 1995 the National Marine Fisheries Service created the catch-share program to award a permanent allotment of halibut fishing rights, based on historic catches, to a limited number of boat owners. Because of this, fishermen with quota allotments were then able to fish for longer seasons. This provided more flexibility to go out in safer weather and deliver fresh fish regularly rather than annually. Each quota-holder is allowed a certain percentage of the total catch. Each year the feds re-assess the halibut population and determine what that total catch should be.

The quota program was intended as an incentive to keep fish populations healthy and to advance conservation and economic goals. Yet as a result the local fishing economy has experienced a severe decline. Over the last five years, the village’s population has dropped by half, to 500, as people leave to seek work elsewhere. However, another coastal town, Petersburg, lies just fifty miles southeast. In contrast, Petersburg, is a predominantly white, wealthy, fishing community who has continued to prosper since the reform.

The economic hardships of Kake were a result of several variables including rural isolation, harsh winters, a lack of cash flow, poor fishing infrastructure, and a dramatic spike in fuel prices. All of this prompted many locals to sell their quota to fishermen in other towns, such as Petersburg, in order to pay for basic necessities such as heat and food. When the program began, forty-two Kake fishermen owned halibut and sablefish quota.  As of 2012 only nine did. Kake’s share of the catch dropped from 277,256 pounds of halibut to 64,053 pounds. The community is currently advocating for a $40 million federal project that would help to build better roads for improved access to other towns, and a local hydroelectric power plant that could provide affordable, local, power.

This case study is an example of how there is a complicated marriage linking fisheries and economics. It is important to take into account systemic disproportionate economic advantages, access, and opportunities between stakeholders when planning policy and programs in order to minimize any negative unintended consequences.

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