ANCHORAGE It’s a safe bet that once the summer salmon runs start, the Kenai and Russian rivers are the last place to go to find solitude.
But until now, according to a Kenai Peninsula sport fishing advocacy group, the economic impact delivered by the throngs of fishermen converging on the area was not so clear.
A new report issued by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association aims to shed light on just how many dollars are pumped into the area economy by the sport fishing industry.
“This is the first time such economic data has been available for upper Cook Inlet,” said the association’s executive director Ricky Gease.
Released in mid-March, the report estimates that recreational fishing in upper Cook Inlet generates $290 million (in 2003 dollars) in total annual sales and supports 3,400 average annual jobs that generate $95 million in income accounting for approximately 55 percent of the sales, jobs and income related to sport fishing in Southcentral Alaska.
In comparison, the report notes that commercial fishing in upper Cook Inlet during the mid-1990s when ex-vessel prices were higher supported an estimated average of 500 jobs a year, providing $15 million in income.
“I don’t think most people realize what a tremendous economic engine recreational fishing is in this region and its overall economic importance to the state,” Gease said in a press release. “For the first time, hard data is available that demonstrates the central economic importance of recreational salmon fishing in upper Cook Inlet. For example, the total average annual jobs and income generated by recreational salmon fishing in upper Cook Inlet are over six times greater than their commercial equivalences.”
The report is the extrapolation of data from a number of previous studies conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, among others.
Currently, 80 percent of the upper Cook Inlet salmon harvest is allocated to commercial fisheries, with the remainder allocated to sport and personal-use fisheries.
“You get a million people coming (to the Kenai area) and the No. 1 draw in the summertime is the fishing,” Gease said. “The way to maximize your economy is to bring people here to catch the fish.”
The net economic value, or the collective economic gain of recreational salmon fishing in the region to Alaskans, is more than 50 times greater than the collective economic gain realized by commercial permit holders in the region, he said.
Leon Marcinkowski, a commercial fisherman and president of the board of Kenai Wild, which promotes quality control of harvested wild Alaska salmon, said he was not impressed with the report.
“This type of propaganda has been going on for a number of years,” Marcinkowski said. “We as fishermen have grown to give not much credence to it. Any study can be directed any way you want, if you are paying for the study.”
Marcinkowski said that the Kenai Wild program began promoting better quality several years ago, the price paid to fishermen for sockeye salmon has jumped from 60 cents a pound to 95 cents a pound last year.
He questioned whether the value the study placed on recreational fisheries was valid.
“What I see is the majority of that money goes out of state,” he said. “A lot of the guides don’t live here. The money comes from the guided industry. The majority of this so-called income does not stay in the sate. That’s my personal opinion.”
According to Gease, the report is aimed at the Alaska Board of Fisheries, the Legislature and other decision-makers.
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