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Letters to the Editor

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Limited entry factors artificially boosted Alaska's salmon prices

Commercial fishing is feeling the definite effects of world economic competition from farmed fish. Worldwide farmed fish have become an "outside" source of "forced free enterprise" within Alaska's anti-free enterprise, commercial fishing industry.

In the past, Alaska's limited entry law has artificially insulated its commercial fishing industry from competitive free market forces within the price of fish. This "forced free enterprise" is viewed as a negative by Alaska's commercial fishermen because Alaska's limited entry law has been historically helping provide an artificially high price for fish. If limited entry factors had not historically boosted the price of fish higher than a free market would allow, commercial fishing might not now be experiencing a perceived fish price reduction. In an attempt to hold local fish prices at artificial highs, Alaska commercial fishermen have expended massive resources to limit the total number of persons able to commercially catch fish. This historic and artificial reduction in supply helped cause a resulting artificial increase in demand for fish, which thus helped artificially boost the price of fish.

The controllable and local limited entry factor has now met head-on with the uncontrollable worldwide farmed fish factor. The collision of the controllable and uncontrollable has thus resulted in the "you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide" factor -- the commercial price of fish drops.

Is the Alaska salmon industry dying? I don't think so. It is, however, going through a serious transition from a restricted supply of Alaska commercial fishermen to an unrestricted supply of worldwide farmed fishermen. The purifying effects of free enterprise, coupled with a world economy, will naturally force the price of fish down. This price transition will no doubt take its toll on commercial providers as the free market searches for a correct price for commercial fish.

Commercial fishermen believe that Alaska's salmon industry in shrinking, when in fact it is merely going through a transition. As the world price of fish drops, Alaska will be forced to seek more profitable markets for its fish. One of those more profitable markets is the sport fish market. Thus, what Alaska may appear to lose in the falling value of commercial fish, it could very easily gain back within the rising value of sport fish as the state begins to return fish stocks back to the public. The Alaska salmon industry is not shrinking, it is changing. This is not an industrial "shrinking," it is an industrial "retargeting" of the way we choose to use the fish.

Don Johnson, Soldotna



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