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Alaska's Valuable Recreational Fishing Industry

June 03, 2019

Alaskan scientists and managers are ensuring the sustainability of Alaska marine resources for the benefit of recreational, commercial and subsistence users and other members of the public.

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This week is National Fishing and Boating Week. It’s a great time to cast a line and learn more about what NOAA Fisheries economists are doing to assess Alaska’s valuable recreational fishing industry.  

We collect a variety of socio-economic information on both saltwater private anglers and charter boat businesses that offer fishing trips to anglers. We also develop economic models to provide resource managers with information on how changes in fishing policies and fish allocations affect fishing behavior, earnings, expenditures, and employment.

It’s all part of the job of ensuring the sustainability of Alaska marine resources for the benefit of recreational, commercial and subsistence users and other members of the public.

“For the avid outdoor enthusiast, Alaska is a world-renowned recreational fishing destination,” said Dan Lew, economist, Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “We collect information on recreational fishing because these fisheries have direct and indirect effects on local economies. Resource managers need this information to determine the best tools for keeping marine resources and dependent businesses and communities healthy.”

In 2019, Dan Lew and NOAA Fisheries colleague Chang Seung released the first full estimate of the economic contribution of the charter fishing sector in Southern Alaska. This area encompasses both Southeast Alaska (along the Alaska panhandle) and Southcentral Alaska (around the Kenai Peninsula, Prince William Sound, and Kodiak Island). This was no easy task: they had to account for all the services fishing charters provide, such as wildlife viewing trips and transportation. They also had to consider revenues generated by support businesses in coastal communities.

They estimated that the charter sector generated almost $250 million in economic activity (measured in total regional output) in Southern Alaska in 2011 and more than $165 million annually in recent years (2013-2015). Anglers on charter fishing trips in Alaska catch about half of the approximately 500,000 Pacific salmon and 350,000 halibut harvested by all saltwater anglers in Alaska each year. In recent years, between 350,000 and 400,000 Alaska saltwater anglers fished about 1 million fishing days each year.

Infographic showing the impact of Alaska's recreational fishing trips. 

Infographic showing the impact of Alaska's recreational fishing trips. Note: The change in the sector’s economic contribution after 2011 is likely due to a combination of factors that may have influenced many businesses’ decisions to leave the sector or change their business models. These include declines in halibut abundance, increased fuel and other operating costs, expectations about declines in future charter fishing demand, increases in unguided rental operations, changes in king salmon opportunities, regulatory changes and broader economic impacts. 

In Alaska’s Recreational Fisheries It’s All About Salmon and Halibut

When sport anglers come to Alaska they are likely hoping to catch salmon or Pacific halibut. Most of the saltwater recreational fishing for these prized fish occurs in South central and Southeast Alaska.

Recreational Fishing Data Collection in Alaska: How do they do it?

Scientists rely heavily on personal interviews, focus groups, and surveys to learn more about fishing behavior, fishery values, and preferences for management options. They collect a variety of baseline information including:

  • Economic conditions (i.e., costs and earnings) of the industry.
  • Where and how often the fishery operates.
  • What species the fishery targets (how diversified it is).
  • The economic value derived by fishing by both residents and non-residents.

Scientists also develop sophisticated economic models to help them estimate economic impacts from changes in management measures for halibut. Fishery managers rely largely on “bag limits” (restrictions on the number of fish caught) and size limits to manage catch levels for salmon and halibut. Up until 2007, anglers were only allowed to catch two halibut per day of any size, on both unguided and guided/charter boat trips. Since then there have been a number of additional management measures adopted for charter fishing to address concerns over declines in halibut stock abundance and distribution including day of week restrictions and individual annual catch limits.

“We strive to provide resource managers with information they need to evaluate the tradeoffs between different management options,” added Lew. “That includes information about how management options affect anglers, charter businesses, communities, and the economy. This is really important for getting a complete picture of management impacts.”

Additional Resources

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on September 20, 2019