Glacier Bay fishermen wonder, worry about future

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

An Alaska AP Member Exchange

JUNEAU (AP) -- What's the price for a lost lifestyle, wonders Richard Lundahl. He has commercial fished in Glacier Bay for more than 30 years, but was pushed out of his most productive sites by recent closures.

''It's like the refrigerator,'' he said of the bay. ''I can always find something to eat there. It's my ace in the hole. Plus, I love to be up there.''

Lundahl's is the sort of thorny question the National Park Service must answer as it develops a plan to compensate people, communities and businesses hurt by commercial fishing closures in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

In complying with a federal law, the park service has ended some fisheries altogether in Glacier Bay. It also closed some of the bay to the remaining halibut, tanner crab and troll salmon fisheries, and will phase those out as eligible fishermen retire.

Congress has appropriated up to $8 million to buy out Dungeness crabbers and another $23 million to compensate everyone else hurt by the closures, but they didn't say how to hand out the money.

Lundahl, a fisherman in Pelican, expects to be eligible for a lifetime permit to fish the bay for halibut and salmon. But he also expects some compensation.

The areas that were closed to all fishermen include his most productive spots. Now he has to find other places to fish, which could reduce his deliveries to Pelican processors.

Lundahl is also concerned with intangibles that analysts said can't be measured and aren't part of the compensation legislation.

The compensation plan won't pay him back for losing his right -- as he sees it -- to fish in the closed areas, or for the loss of a lifestyle fishing amid beautiful scenery.

''It's more of a loss of a right than the loss of a business venture,'' he said. ''How do you quantify it? I think I can. How can the aesthetic value be worth billions to the tourist industry and be of no value to me?''

Ivan Gonzalez, who lives in Hoonah and has fished for 25 years in the bay, also expects to get a lifetime permit. But his son, who has crewed on a crabbing boat, isn't eligible.

''A crewmember is never a crewmember forever,'' Gonzalez said. ''They're a crewmember because they want to go on their own. It's like an apprenticeship, where you move up on your own.''

The Gonzalez family might be in luck. The compensation plan, which tries to calculate losses out 75 years, could provide money to families whose children won't be able to take over their parents' business, said Tomie Lee, superintendent at Glacier Bay National Park.

David Hammonds of Gustavus, who hand-trolls for salmon and participates in the tanner crab ring fishery from a 21-foot boat, is worried about small operators like himself.

He moved from Hoonah to Gustavus in 1995 to be nearer the bay, where he could fish in the winter in protected waters, to supplement his summer fishing.

''That's how I can afford to live out here without going on (public) assistance,'' Hammonds said.

But closures have taken away much of the crabbing grounds and maybe a third of the trolling areas. Those are winter fisheries, and he doesn't think he can safely fish elsewhere in his small boat to make up the losses.

Although he'd like to continue to fish in the bay, he thinks a compensation plan should include offers to buy boats, state limited-entry permits and even property if fishermen have to leave their community.

An economic assessment, due out in August from the McDowell Group in Juneau, will estimate losses from the fishery closures at more than $27 million, said McDowell's Jim Calvin. That figure excludes what has been paid to Dungeness crabbers.

An important question in the economic assessment is how to calculate today's value of future losses. It's intended to account for the value of having compensation now, which can be invested, rather than future income from the fishery.

Another big question is how to figure the losses in the halibut fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission has said it won't reduce the overall Southeast quota because of closures in Glacier Bay. That means halibut fishermen won't be hurt by the closures as much as once believed.

That's not true of tanner crab. The state plans to reduce the Southeast quota because of the bay closures. That means every Southeast tanner crabber will suffer some losses as crabbers compete for fewer animals in a smaller area.



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