Despite ADN story, charter fishery no threat to rockfish

We Alaskans pride ourselves on our fishing opportunities and scenic beauty, and take pleasure in sharing them with the world. The guided sportfishing sector shares the joy of wild Alaska with millions of visitors and residents every year. Yet, on Aug. 4, Alaska Dispatch News published the provocatively titled Outdoor article "Is the Alaska charter fishery threatening rockfish?"

In short, no.

An attack on this industry is an attack on Alaska. With this article, ADN did a disservice to residents and nonresidents who hire a captain for a safe and fun fishing experience. The author fails to recognize which rockfish are targeted by guided anglers, acknowledge other fisheries that target rockfish, or use accurate data, including a charter halibut study ADN covered in June. The points below detail information withheld from readers, though this is by no means comprehensive in relation to the whole fishery.

1.  Charter anglers typically target healthy stocks of black and yelloweye rockfish.

Not all rockfish species are created equal. Rockfish life cycles and mobility vary greatly. The species briefly mentioned at the beginning of the recent article, which are not typical charter targets, are not representative.

Rockfish targeted by charter operators are from healthy, prolific stocks. In Southcentral, targeted black rockfish reach maturity at an early 6 to 8 years, live a maximum of 50 years and are more mobile than other rockfish species. Yelloweye rockfish, more commonly targeted in Southeast Alaska, are carefully monitored by fishery managers. Yelloweye stick to the rocky bottom of the ocean, mature at between 18 and 22 years, and are long-lived. Female yelloweye produce millions of eggs and live larval young, which are widely dispersed by ocean currents. This information is all available on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

Management measures in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska are already forward-looking. They require that recreational anglers keep at least the first two bottom-dwelling rockfish, like yelloweye, or retain fish until anglers hit their bag limit. In Southeast Alaska, charter operators are required to have and use deep water release mechanisms for all rockfish species. For the first three weeks of August, all sport anglers in Southeast Outside waters must use deep water release mechanisms.

2.  Commercial, recreational, personal use and subsistence anglers all target rockfish.

ADN is irresponsible for failing to report fishery managers' agreement that rockfish stocks are abundant and sustainable. The health of the stock is the basis for allowing commercial, recreational, personal use and subsistence catch. Rockfish are managed largely by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which had this to say about groundfish species, including rockfish:

"The Council's conservative catch limit policies, combined with favorable environmental conditions, have resulted in abundant fish stocks and sustainable fisheries.  No groundfish stock is overfished or undergoing overfishing. Further, most stocks are well above the target biomass levels that produces maximum sustainable yield."

Some 15,173 metric tons (30.3 million pounds) of Gulf of Alaska rockfish are allocated to the commercial industry as direct and bycatch pounds for 2017. This number does not include the commercial catch within state waters of Cook Inlet — which doubled twice in the last decade — Prince William Sound or Southeast. This hardly sounds like a fishery that could be touched by the estimated sport catch of rockfish across the Gulf of Alaska, which in 2015 was 331,673 fish. This is a drop in the rockfish bucket, even before accounting for guided anglers only.

3.  Fisheries must be discussed using accurate, up-to-date science and studies.

Fisheries managers across Alaska are working hard to collect accurate data and implement sustainable management measures. ADN should not fan the flames of the fish wars in Alaska by ignoring existing information from these managers about various rockfish species, catch data, stock health and management measures. Nor should it ignore its own reporting.

On June 26, ADN published an article titled "Alaska halibut charters are targeting multiple species. Here's why."  The article, by ADN reporter Annie Zak, discussed a UAF study on the evolution of charter operators' fishing habits published by the scientific journal Public Library of Science. Ph.D. candidate Maggie Chan and professor Anne Beaudreau studied how charter catch has evolved over time, and learned that halibut charters were broadening fishing targets, looking for rockfish, yes, but also for multiple species of salmon, lingcod, Pacific cod, sablefish, crab and even shrimp.

With all the news running across our desks every day, readers and listeners rely on full, fair and accurate reporting to weed through the mess. Step up to the challenge.

Samantha Weinstein is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. Jim Martin is executive director of the Alaska Charter Association.

The views expressed here are the writers' and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.