Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Today's Catch: Bad Policy

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

With the announcement last month that Cook Inlet setnetters have been granted a reprieve, gillnetters statewide might be breathing a bit easier.

On the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Law, Mead Treadwell, current Alaska Lt. Governor and 2014 US Senate candidate, rejected a proposed ballot initiative that would have banned non-subsistence setnetting in Cook Inlet. The state said the effect of the proposal would result in an allocation of resources (in this case, king salmon) prohibited by the Alaska Constitution.

The initiative had been sponsored by a coalition of sport fishing interests, funded by wealthy sport fishing advocate Bob Penney, with the purported goal of protecting fish species in non-subsistence areas of Alaska that are threatened by overfishing, bycatch and other issues.

The Alaska Department of Law concluded, in part that, “were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish – for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dipnetting, or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users.”

That would be terrible. Much better to simply allow a hand-picked board of political appointees to make that decision, like they do in Washington State.

In January 2013, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, acting with several members whose terms had expired, and without the commercial fishing representation required by law, unanimously adopted a policy to close the lower Columbia River to commercial, non-tribal gillnets.

At the time, commission chair Miranda Wecker, whose term had expired the month before, said the policy was designed to support the conservation of wild salmon and expand the economic benefits the state derives from sport fisheries.

Perhaps the Commission based their policy on an inaccurate 2008 study promoted and liberally distributed by the State of Washington, which claims that recreational fishing generates a larger economic impact in Washington State than commercial fishing. The introduction to the flawed study itself warns that the data contained within is inaccurate and imprecise and should not be used to compare the two fisheries. Nonetheless, the State of Washington promotes it as accurate, uses it for comparison, and apparently writes policy around it.

This politically expedient disinformation was commissioned by the previous governor’s administration, but current governor Jay Inslee has yet to correct it.

In reality, data released by the US Department of Commerce in the most recent report on fisheries economics shows that the seafood industry generated $8 billion in sales impacts in Washington State, compared to only $514 million for the recreational fishing industry (that’s a 16-to-one ratio), and that recreational fishing has actually been decreasing in the state at a rate of 28 percent since 2002.

At press time, Governor Inslee’s office has yet to correct the erroneous 6-year-old study, or address the inequities in the Wildlife Commission and their policy decisions. The Commission still has a vacancy after more than a year, and the only commercial fishing representative on the commission is an interim short-term appointment whose term expires in December of this year. It’s high time Washington State followed its own regulations, as Alaska has, instead of allowing special interests to run the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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