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Fish Factor

What happens to fishing families when rules change?



May 21, 2018
Monday PM

(SitNews) -   The way that fisheries are managed determines the daily tempo for fishing families’ lives.  Managers set the dates and times … the when’s and where’s and who’s … and the amounts that fishermen can catch.  

What happens to fishing families when any of the rules change?  A new federal study aims to find out.  

jpg What happens to fishing families when rules change?

Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist for NOAA Fisheries, Juneau
Photo courtesy Alaska Sea Grant

“Those things are important for fishery managers to consider and try and integrate into their decision making, because there really are universal themes as far as how management changes have affected families,” said Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist for NOAA Fisheries based in Juneau.

Over the past year, Szymkowiak has held scoping meetings in communities across Alaska to learn the impacts of fishing changes. The results, she said, will represent a history of how generations of families have adapted with the implementation of limited entry and catch share programs, and now with the decreasing abundance in certain key fisheries.

“We’re getting into the thousands of years in terms of cumulative experiences and knowledge of Alaska’s fisheries,” Szymkowiak said.“It’s a wealth of information that we haven’t tapped into, and I feel so privileged to be able to talk with people who share heartfelt stories about families and the things that are built from that experience.” 

The project emerged from a 20 year review Szymkowiak co-authored about impacts of the halibut and sablefish fisheries that in 1995 switched from being open to all to an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ)system that gave shares of the catch to fishermen based on their historical participation. 

“One of the things we heard was the different impacts on women who participated prior to IFQs,” Szymkowiak said. “One said the new program made the halibut season too long and she could no longer participate because it conflicted with her responsibilities as a mom.”  

Limited access to fisheries is a main theme voiced in scoping meetings, combined with environmental concerns affecting the stocks.

“For some families there is less of a buffer when a stock declines in terms of their ability to diversify within fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “This can really lead to stress within families, having to seek other employment, and can really change the social fabric of fishing communities.”

Another theme, she said, is a strong sense of resilience and values that go beyond the economics of going fishing.

“In terms of shaping young people and creating a work ethic and a sense of place and community. There is a cross generational participation in fisheries that is really unique,” she added.

A final Fishing Families scoping meeting  is set for Kodiak on June 4, after which Szymkowiak will begin compiling a report on the findings. Questions? Contact

Nearly $500 for a Copper River king:

Alaska’s salmon season got off to a slow and drizzly start on May 17 at the first opener at the Copper River. The low catches by more than 500 gillnetters pushed prices to unprecedented levels. 

The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s ‘blue sheet’ of daily catches showed totals of just 3,000 king salmon and 2,000 sockeyes taken during the 12-hour opener.

Bill Webber, a 51year veteran highliner of the famous fishery, ended up with 10 king salmon and six sockeyes by closing time.

“It’s not a great start to the season,” Webber said aboard his F/V Paradigm Shift while waiting for a slack tide to turn. 

 If the fish tickets match the reports from the grounds, Thursday’s opener could be one of the slowest starts to the Copper River season since record keeping began 40 years ago, said Jeremy Botz, regional manager for ADF&G in Cordova.

The slim early catches had customers scrambling to source enough Copper River salmon for their “first fish of the season” celebrations, many promised within 24-hours of the salmon being caught.  That pressure pushed prices to record levels.  

 “The price wars are definitely going on due to the low production,” Webber said, adding that early price reports were $8.50 per pound for sockeyes and $13 a pound for king salmon. That compares to $8 and $11, respectively, during the first opener last year. 

The salmon prices ticked upwards all day, skyrocketing to $10.65 per pound for sockeyes and $15.65 for kings shortly after the 7pm closure, “with a $0.65 dock bonus everywhere,” said a spokesperson for Alaska Wild Seafoods.  

“This opener is taking the cake on fish prices so far,” Webber added.

Alaska Airlines made its first delivery of 16,000 pounds salmon to Seattle by early Friday morning. The airline celebrated its 9th annual Copper Chef Cook Off on the SeaTac tarmac, where chef’s compete to prepare the best salmon recipe – in this case a 31 pound king salmon donated by Trident Seafoods. 

With the high prices at the end of opening day, that single “first fish” had a value of more than $485 at the Cordova docks. 

The Copper River salmon prices will drop off sharply after the early season hoopla fades, but the region’s famous fish will maintain some of the highest prices into the fall. The forecast calls for a Copper River harvest of about 950,000 sockeyes and 19,000 kings for the 2018 season.

Football sidelines fish: 

The North Pacific’s oldest and most popular marine trade show has been sidelined by Thursday night football.  

“Folks that have been with us for a long time know that holding Pacific Marine Expo at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle means that we have to come second to the NFL,” said Denielle Christensen, event organizer for Diversified Communications.  

The trade show, now in its 52nd year, has traditionally been held in November at the CenturyLink center the week before Thanksgiving.  Last month organizers learned that a Thursday night game of the Seattle Seahawks versus Green Bay would spike those dates.   

“Century link has been an excellent partner to us,” Christensen graciously added. “When they called us, they knew we were not going to be happy with our options. But they have always been clear with us that NFL and sports in general is their primary business.”

The Expo team canvassed customers about holding the event either during Thanksgiving week or right before Christmas. 

“Most folks wanted us to stay closer to the usual time in November. So we’ve ended up at the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which is November 18, 19 and 20.”   

Christensen said she does not expect the date change to dampen Expo enthusiasm.   

“I don’t think it will have a particularly large impact on the exhibits or attendance just because of the loyalty this show has built up over the years. People really love it,” she said. 

Pacific Marine Expo is rated as one of the nation’s top trade shows and last year it attracted 500 exhibitors and over 6,000 visitors from 40 states and 24 countries. Visit  



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Laine Welch ©2018

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Ketchikan, Alaska

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