New research: All fisheries important to food security on peninsula

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association has used elements of a recently released study about food security on the Kenai Peninsula to assert that commercial fishing should be curtailed in favor of sport and personal-use fishing.

Not so fast, according to the one of the authors of the study, Philip Loring. 

In a post on its website titled “Food security — how Alaska’s sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries put essential food on the table for Alaskan families,” KRSA states that the study “highlights the fundamental importance for the well-being and health of Alaskan households to have public access to locally harvested seafood through participation in, either by fishing or sharing, the state’s non-commercial fisheries.”

Using a variety of the statistics in the report about how people on the Kenai Peninsula get their seafood, KRSA goes on to say, “One conclusion of the report is that there needs to be a more robust system to provide residents with local access to seafood through a retooling of existing commercial fisheries to funnel more local harvests to the local peninsula retail markets. KRSA points out that the same outcome can occur, probably much more rapidly and thoroughly, through a strategic effort to strengthen and expand the existing non-commercial fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula for Alaskan residents.”

The KRSA post was emailed to members of United Cook Inlet Drift Association, and a copy made its way to Dr. Loring. He responded by saying “I think it is important to understand that KRSA has drawn conclusions from our report that we ourselves did not make and with which we do not agree. 

“First of all, the finding of our report is that ALL fisheries in Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula are important to local food security. Diversity is a premise of regional resilience and sustainability, and it is our contention that robust local commercial fisheries are an important component of that diversity for the Kenai Peninsula.” 

Dr. Loring goes on to note that, while 56 percent of local residents identify personal use/subsistence as their primary means of acquiring local seafood, and 36 percent cite sport fishing (not just on the Kenai), 27 percent of their study respondents reported getting fish via barter, trade or sharing as their primary means. 

He said that more specifically, barter and trade is especially important among low-income households, and emphasized that by law barter and trade can only be done with commercially caught fish. 

He added his team had omitted a figure from their report that showed that nearly 14 percent of households in the Kenai Peninsula have a member who participates in some aspect of commercial fishing — thus an important economic contribution to the region in its own right.

Dr. Loring continued: “More importantly, however, we disagree with KRSA’s contention that strengthening individual access to local fisheries over commercial interests could also be a pathway to greater regional food security. 

“In fact, we have an academic paper about to be published which finds the opposite — that individual access to local fisheries in this region is overdeveloped at the expense of local commercial markets and local food security.” 

He added that individual access is very important, but for people without the time, means or inclination, it leaves local seafood out of reach. 

“We argue that only increased access to commercially caught fish will increase the social justice of the Kenai food system,” he said. 

“We also note that many commercial fishermen are already taking this social justice responsibility upon themselves, by experimenting at much cost to themselves with alternative direct-marketing approaches to bring seafood to local consumers.”

That comment refers to “Alaskans Own,” a Sitka-based program that supports sustainable seafood harvests and local fishermen, which has been operating in Southeast and will begin shipping frozen fillets of wild-caught fish directly to Anchorage consumers this summer, operating much like the Full Circle Farms produce subscription delivery system.

The Kodiak tanner crab fishery uses a similar system to supply crab directly to consumers in Homer and Anchorage, operated by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.   

Dr. Loring concludes by saying, “We undertook this research with no agenda by way of supporting or detracting from any of the local fisheries, but are interested in supporting only the health and sustainability of Kenai Peninsula communities and fisheries resources. It is a challenge of all research to present data in a way that minimizes how it will be co-opted to particular sectoral agendas.”

The report, titled “Food Security On The Kenai Peninsula,” can be found at http://ine.uaf.edu/accap/documents/Loring_et_al_2012_KenaiPeninsulaFoodSecurityReport.pdf.

 

Several fishing boats and tenders are staged on the Togiak herring grounds, along with abundant marine life, but as of yet no herring.

As of press time, the latest flight by Alaska Department of Fish and Game found “numerous seabirds, a few seals and numerous gray whales,” and said vessels were reporting water temperatures as warm as 37 degrees (2.8 Celsius). Three degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature to induce herring to spawn.

The projected harvest for the Togiak sac roe herring fishery is 30,056 tons, although the full quota is rarely caught. The boats generally fish extended openings until the processor they are contracted with has enough to fulfill their markets.

However, with the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery falling well below target, the market may be more robust for the larger Togiak fish.

The 2013 Sitka Sound fishery began with a quota of 11,549 tons, and ended with only 5,850 tons caught.

The 2012 Sitka Sound fishery had a quota of nearly 29,000 tons, although only 13,534 tons were caught. 

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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