UFA: ADF&G should be neutral on allocative issues

State criticized for praise of sport, subsistence harvesters over commercial fishermen

State praise of allocative decisions by the Alaska Board of Fisheries that favored sport and personal use harvesters over commercial fishermen are drawing criticism from United Fishermen of Alaska, the umbrella group for commercial fishing entities.

Matt Alward, president of UFA, called the comments made by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang posted in a video on the social media site Facebook “an inappropriate response for the governor’s office and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner to declare, especially when it is their responsibility as state officials to represent all Alaskans, which includes may user groups and economies.”

“It is imperative,” Alward said, in a statement released by UFA on Feb. 24, “that the department remains neutral on allocative issues while providing the best available science and advocates for the resource, not individual user groups.”

UFA was responding to Vincent-Lang’s comment that Alaskans in southcentral had some big wins from the recent Board of Fisheries meeting.

“All in all, this was a win for recreational fishermen and personal fishermen use in the state – and a win for conservation because we ended up not only providing some additional harvest opportunities, but we took some real solid steps in conserving those fish stocks for future generations,” UFA stated.

UFA said their members are disappointed that Vincent-Lang chose “to celebrate through a state-sponsored communication platform the positive outcomes for recreational and personal use fishermen, without even acknowledging the associated cost to other user groups.”

The organization, which represents several thousand people engaged in commercial fisheries in Alaska, said Vincent-Lang’s remarks “communicate a blatant disregard for the losers in this scenario, namely Alaska residents who depend on commercial fisheries in the Cook Inlet region, and the individual Alaskans who access the resource by purchasing commercially harvested fish.

“The Board of Fisheries is a public process, statements from the department that indicate they favor one user group over another erodes the trust of the public,” UFA said.

Several efforts to reach Vincent-Lang for additional comment were not immediately successful.

The state’s seafood industry employs nearly 60,000 people each year in Alaska, making it the largest private sector employer in the state. Commercial fisheries contribute $2.1 billion in labor income, second only to the oil and gas industry. The commercial fishing fleet includes some 6,600 resident-owned fishing vessels, each of which is part of an individual business which generates income from a 100 percent renewable resource.

Previous economic reports produced by the McDowell Group also show that many commercial fish harvesters on the Kenai Peninsula spend in their local community income earned from harvesting fish on the Kenai Peninsula as well as elsewhere in the state.

In 2019, Cook Inlet commercial harvesters and three local processors provided over 2.6 million pounds of seafood to markets and restaurants on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and communities in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley for residents’ consumption. Their harvests are sold in supermarkets and seafood specialty shops and featured in restaurants from the Kenai Peninsula throughout Anchorage and the Valley.