Borough considers fisheries economic study

While scientists, managers and stakeholders gathered in Anchorage to identify gaps in the state’s king salmon data at a symposium, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members mulled their own perceived lack of data.

Gunnar Knapp, an economics professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage, talked to assembly members Oct. 23 about the lack of data supporting the economic role commercial and sport fisheries play in the borough and how the borough might gather that data.

The assembly took no action on whether to fund a study. However, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said Knapp’s presentation was the first step in determining what the borough wants out of an economic study that will allow borough officials and others to advocate at a state level for strong local fisheries, among other uses.

“Just having Dr. Knapp here tonight provided some good information and I am anxious to look into it a little bit more,” he said after the meeting. “But, if we are going to spend money on something like that, we need to figure out what the purpose is. Are we doing just for right now, are we doing for long-term utilization?”

Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, spoke to the assembly about the need for a study of the fisheries’ economic significance on the peninsula.

“It was my invitation and my idea to bring this study to the assembly,” he said. “After being an advocate for fisheries and traveling all over the state, I found that other boroughs do this on a regular basis and they do it tailored to their community.”

Shadura said most state information available on the area’s fisheries is too generalized.

“We are dealing with an economic disaster declaration,” he said speaking of the recent weak king salmon run that severely restricted sport and setnet fishing. 

“Right now, as we speak, the Department of Fish and Game and (others) are having a really difficult time understanding what the ramifications are for the fisheries in the community as a whole. They don’t have that information available. It would be nice if the study was already available, but it isn’t.”

Shadura added that any study generated now would be too late to help shape this summer’s economic disaster declaration. Rather, the study could help serve as a “planning document” for the future, he said.

“As you go into the future, and the borough looks at different industries and asks for the state to do infrastructure and economic enhancements, they’ll have a good idea what to do,” he said.

 “I think it will be a very good document for the Board of Fisheries so the borough will be well represented with a document that is verifiable, complete and represents the individuals that are in the commercial fishing industry.”

In his presentation, Knapp made five recommendations to the assembly — study both sport and commercial fishing at the same time, resume information the borough used to collect on the fisheries industries, lobby the state to start collecting and publishing more information about the industries, lobby the industries to provide more information, and finally, survey the local business community and how they work with the fishing industries.

Knapp advocated the borough re-establish the position previously charged with compiling data in the borough such as how many permit holders are in the area, numbers of crew members, processing plant employment numbers, results from fisheries taxes, guiding gross sales and number of guides.

“You used to have really the best information collected on a regular basis of any borough in Alaska in terms of looking at its fisheries,” he said.

Assembly member Linda Murphy, who was elected president of the assembly Tuesday night, agreed more information is necessary.

“I do think it is important that we have a study … because we can’t make informed decisions if we don’t have information to base those decisions on,” she said after the meeting. “I am really interested in seeing the borough get involved in some sort of study and I don’t know right now what I think the scope of that would be.”

Assembly member Hal Smalley, who was elected to serve as vice president, agreed.

“There is a statewide organization that will, at the drop of a hat, spew off all sorts of statistical data about the value of fish, but where they get their data I’m not quite sure,” he said during the meeting. “It could be from a crystal ball, but it is not necessarily accurate. I’m speaking of the Board of Fish.”

Navarre said he would consider having his newly hired special assistant position look at gathering, compiling and publishing fisheries-related information, but stopped short of saying that position would be in charge of collecting such data in the future.

Navarre said he also recently discussed fisheries issues during a meeting with Gov. Sean Parnell and asked the governor to help advocate for more Board of Fisheries meetings to be on the peninsula.

“There is still more work to do to determine whether or not we can compile the data and do the research ourselves or whether we need to go out with a specific purpose for a research study, figure out what that is going to cost us and make a determination of whether or not we want to spend the money on it or not,” he said.

Brian Smith is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.