Alaska fishing has been on hold this year due to a statewide drought, and now the state has to find a new way to make the season more sustainable.
But the big changes aren’t coming overnight.
Starting Friday, fishing will be allowed in Alaska’s wilderness, the state Department of Fish and Game said Monday.
That means the vast majority of the state’s fishing fleet will be back in the water by April 6.
Alaska will still need to set up a special permit system, but it will only be used by registered anglers, and fishing will only occur in areas designated as special fishing areas.
The vast majority will still be able to catch fish in the open water.
“The new rules, if adopted, will bring more economic opportunity to Alaska’s small and medium-sized businesses, particularly those who rely on the state for revenue,” Fish and Gaming Secretary Craig Fugate said in a news release.
“These new rules will make it easier for Alaska’s communities to attract more fishermen, including those who have limited skill, by making it easier to open and manage the fisheries for them,” Fugate added.
The change is part of a larger shift toward less commercial fishing in the state.
Since 2012, the number of Alaska fishing licenses has dropped by nearly 80 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.
That includes nearly all of the large, commercial fishing communities in the Alaskan chain of mountains.
In 2013, about half of the nation’s fishing licenses were issued to fishing families, according the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Department.
But many of those communities rely on large fishing boats for their income, and many have limited resources, and that means that many families have to go fishing with little or no experience, said Greg Pugh, a fishing biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Division.
“That’s the main thing, that these small families, that are struggling to make ends meet and are trying to find some other income, the fishing industry is the primary income source for them, Pugh said.”
I’m not going to be surprised if a lot of people who have been fishing for decades don’t fish anymore because they’re so far out of the water,” he added.”
There’s a huge disconnect between the way we do business in Alaska and what people actually want to do.
“Alaska was one of the first states to legalize commercial fishing after a drought that began in 2012.
That meant that the Alaska fishing industry had a chance to recover, Pough said.
But in 2015, the drought returned and fishing numbers plummeted, and by the end of the year, fewer than 20,000 commercial anglers were operating.
Pugh has blamed the drought on a change in federal rules that required anglers to buy a fishing license, which in turn affected the way Alaska businesses operated.
The new rule allows Alaska to re-open the state to fishing for people who already had a fishing permit.
Pugh said the change will allow fishing families to get back in line and start fishing again.”
They’ve got money and skills, and the industry is booming again.”