Research finds fisheries are becoming more specialized

Copper River sockeye's rest on ice in a tote at the 60° North Seafoods dock on Monday, May 28, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have released a new study that concludes that participation in the state’s fisheries has dropped and that fishermen are becoming more specialized in their harvest efforts.

The study, led by professor Anne Beaudreau in the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, has been published in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

Among the findings of Beaudreau’s team was that the overall number of permit holders in Alaska declined by 25 percent from the early 1990s to 2014, and that the number of fishermen with multiple fishing permits declined from 30 percent of permit holders in 1988 to 20 percent in 2014.

“Diverse fishing portfolios can buffer against risk, akin to a diverse financial portfolio,” she said.

“As Alaska fisheries become more specialized, how resilient will fishing communities be to future change?” she asked.

Previous studies have found that harvesters, vessels and communities with broader access to more species or permit types tend to have more stable incomes because of diversification. Despite the potential benefits of diversification, these researchers concluded that Alaska fishermen have become more specialized in their fishing strategies, rather than more diverse, over the past three decades.

Some of that reduced diversity, they said could be due to the limit to the number of fishing permits allowed for many fisheries, the price of permits and equipment.

The study authors were part of a working group through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, which was funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, Prince William Sound Herring Research and Monitoring Program, and Gulf Watch Alaska.

The study also found that salmon have become an increasingly vital part of fishing portfolios, and that while fish harvesters are less diverse in the permits they hold, many continue to participate in and specialize in salmon fisheries.