Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fish and Game commissioner shares concerns over fishing economy, lawsuits, and bycatch

Commissioner Doug Vincent Lang gave his 2024 forum in the Kodiak Best Western’s Harbor Room. (Brian Venua/KMXT)
Commissioner Doug Vincent Lang gave his 2024 forum in the Kodiak Best Western’s Harbor Room.

ComFish, Kodiak’s annual commercial fisheries trade show, had some big names for its forums, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commissioner, Doug Vincent-Lang. The job is mostly focused on ecology, but the commissioner opened his remarks by talking about economic sustainability.

“Without a market, what’s the use of having fisheries out there?” he said.

Vincent-Lang said in his speech that when he took the job leading the department, he thought he’d mostly be answering questions about biology and harvest rates. He said now he keeps an eye on the economic side of the industry as well.

“I guarantee you it’s not going to go unnoticed in terms of the amount of effort I’m going to put towards it (the situation) to make sure that we don’t end up losing fishermen, we don’t end up losing processors, we don’t end up losing fisheries, and the importance that that has in terms of tax revenue to our local communities,” he said.

The overall consensus shared at ComFish this year was that the entire commercial fishing industry is in trouble. Processing companies and fishermen alike have shared concern about how global seafood markets affect them.

Some companies like Peter Pan Seafoods and OBI Seafoods have announced plants will close. Trident Seafoods also listed about a third of its Alaska processing plants for sale late last year, three of which have already sold.

Vincent-Lang said now that the federal government has stopped Russian seafood from entering U.S. markets, Alaska fishermen can help fill any gaps.

But commercial fisheries are facing a myriad of issues other than economics.

Vincent-Lang also shared concerns about a petition to declare Chinook salmon as an endangered species. The petition, sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service, was filed by a Washington state-based environmental group, The Wild Fish Conservancy.

“This is an attempt to shut our fisheries down, all our fisheries for the Gulf of Alaska,” Vincent-Lang said.

He said while stocks for the species are down, they don’t need intervention from the federal government.

Some Alaska residents have partially blamed bycatch and intercept fisheries for why Chinook are struggling to hit escapement goals. [WEB: Bycatch is when fishermen are targeting one species but incidentally harvest another.]

Vincent-Lang said he wants to minimize bycatch by limiting fishing in areas it’s most common.

“We’re trying to tackle this using the innovation of the fishing industry, with some kind of performance metrics, and new science – informing genetics – to hopefully keep the fishing industry in the water,” he said.

The commissioner also talked about researching how much hatchery fish compete with wild stocks, controversy over electronic monitoring, and wanting to expand the department’s role in managing areas like the Cook Inlet.