Study tallies economic impact of sportfishing on Southcentral

Rindi White

WASILLA -- An economic-impact study of sportfishing in Alaska this week reveals $1.4 billion was spent by resident and non-Alaska anglers on fishing-related expenses in 2007, with $733 million of that paid out in Cook Inlet.

More than 15,800 jobs in Alaska depend on sportfishing, about 8,000 of which are in the Cook Inlet region, the study shows.

Department of Fish and Game paid $450,000 for the study, which was based on 2,970 in-depth surveys of resident and out-of-state fishermen. It examined how much anglers spent on fishing trips in 2007 and where that money went.

Department of Fish and Game sportfishing director Charlie Swanton presented the survey at the Wasilla Legislative Information Office on Thursday night. Fish and Game employees hope to update the survey each year and track sportfishing trends.

But Mat-Su anglers want more than trends. They want to use the numbers to show that sportfishing is more economically vital to Cook Inlet than commercial fishing.

"We can say this is a huge portion of the state's economy. Let's start managing it as if it is," said Steve Runyan, a member of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Mat-Su sportfishermen believe the Cook Inlet commercial drift fleet intercepts too many Mat-Su-bound salmon. They blame the fleet for recent bad fishing news, such as last year's closure of Deshka River to king salmon fishing. Commercial fishermen and Department of Fish and Game commercial fishing managers say the stocks have dwindled for other reasons.

Bruce Knowles, also an advisory committee member, said economic impacts to the state are one factor used in managing fish stocks. But it remains to be seen whether the survey data will change how fish stocks are managed.

A 2003 study by Northern Economics that examined the economic impact of commercial fishing in Alaska shows total output, or sales of fish and fish products, at $3 billion. In Cook Inlet, that total was less than $200 million. That survey, citing 2001 data, counted 53,900 jobs in the commercial seafood industry, with fewer than 4,000 in Cook Inlet.

Jonathan King at Northern Economics said the 2003 figures are very outdated. He cautioned against tying the two studies closely together.

"Making a direct comparison is only useful in terms of the relative importance to the state's economy," King said.

University of Alaska economics professor and fishing industry researcher Gunnar Knapp said the sportfishing study doesn't say how fish should be allocated in Cook Inlet. It doesn't put a value on a king salmon caught in the Deshka River, for example, and say whether it's more or less valuable than a Kenai king salmon sold by a commercial processor.

But Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said the study provides a tool for legislators in the commercial vs. sportfishing debate.

"No matter how you cut it -- number of fish, dollars, whatever, we win. What we have to do is maintain the pace. And, this is the hard part, get a bit more organized," Huggins said.

Find Rindi White online at or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6709.