Alaska’s sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries put essential food on the table for Alaskan families

Alaska’s non-commercial fisheries – sport, personal use and subsistence – provide residents with essential access to locally-caught seafood and play a significant role in providing food security for Alaskan families, especially low-income households. While the state’s non-commercial fisheries annually harvest less than five percent of all salmon caught and less than 10 percent of all halibut caught, the fish harvested by Alaskan residents through the sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries are of vital economic, social, cultural, recreational and nutritional importance.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) has an active fisheries management program to engage in and participate at the Alaska Board of Fisheries, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the Federal Subsistence Board and with state and federal fishery management agencies, such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Through our fisheries management program, KRSA vigorously supports public access and meaningful opportunity for Alaskan residents to harvest our fishery resources through the state’s non-commercial fisheries. The Kenai River supports Alaska’s largest recreational and personal use fisheries, with an estimated six million pounds of locally harvested salmon made available to Alaskan households on an annual basis.

A new report from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Food Security on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska – A Report on Local Seafood, Consumer Preferences, and Community Needs, highlights the fundamental importance for the well-being and health of Alaskan households to have public access to locally harvested seafood through participation in, either by fishing or sharing, the state’s non-commercial fisheries.

A key finding of the report is that the majority of households on the Kenai Peninsula depend upon locally harvested seafood, primarily salmon, halibut, clams and rockfish, for two or more weekly meals. The UAF research team of Dr. Philip A. Loring, Dr. S. Craig Gerlach and Hannah L. Harrison found that a vast majority of peninsula households report fishing in or sharing from the regions sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries as the primary way that they obtain local seafood. The survey has a confidence level greater than 95 percent that the sampled population is representative of the population of the Kenai Peninsula at large.

Some key findings:

  • Almost 80 percent report that someone in the household fishes:
    • 66 percent describe their primary fishing activity as for personal use / subsistence
    • 42 percent say sport fishing was the next most common
    • 7 percent identified as commercial fishers
    • 2 percent as guide/charter operators
  • Fishing is not the only way that Kenai Peninsula residents obtain seafood:
    • 62 percent responded that fishing is their primary way of obtaining seafood
    • 23 percent state that sharing is the most common way to procure fish
    • More lower income households rely on sharing as the primary source of seafood, while more higher income households rely on fishing as their primary source of seafood
    • By comparison very few other people (12 percent) obtain seafood from major or local grocers, commercial fishermen or seafood processors
    • Most grocers on the Kenai Peninsula do not carry locally caught seafood, but only an assortment of frozen products that are packaged and distributed from out of state
  • A majority report eating seafood either almost every day or 2-5 times per week, while the rest report eating seafood once or fewer times per week (but not never):
    • 93 percent report eating salmon
    • Of those who eat salmon, 67 percent report that it is an important part of their diet, 55 percent state that salmon are important to their community and culture, and 24 percent respond that it is an important part of their financial security
    • 64 percent report eating halibut
    • 31 percent report eating clams
    • 17 percent report eating rockfish
  • When people are able to make dietary and lifestyle decisions that support health in its various biophysical, social, and ecological dimensions, we can think of them as experiencing food security:
    • 73 percent of respondents report being food secure
    • 22 percent report being slightly insecure
    • 4 percent report being moderately insecure
    • 1 percent report being extremely insecure

Some key discussion points:

  • Food security is an issue of growing concern among residents of the Kenai Peninsula as well as the State of Alaska:
    • Recent and record declines and shortfalls in the returns of king salmon to the Kenai River, Cook Inlet and Alaska highlight the immense importance of salmon and other fisheries to residents
    • Many Alaskans benefit from the access to seafood provided by the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries
    • Access to local seafood can support better social outcomes – i.e., food security
    • Many Kenai Peninsula households rely on the “informal” or “alternative” food system of fishing and sharing that is not oriented around a mainstream market-based distribution system for moving food from production to consumption
  • There is a statistically significant increase in the mean food security score in the lowest income households with access to locally caught fish:
    • Access to local salmon, halibut, clams and rockfish improves food security for low-income households
    • Many low-income households are able to make ends meet because of the access they enjoy to seafood harvested locally
    • There is a need to improve the sustainability and self-reliance of Alaska communities through improvements to local food systems
  • While Alaska’s commercial fisheries provide much to the state by way of income, employment and cultural value, it may obscure a more complicated reality on display in places like the Kenai Peninsula and the many more remote rural regions of the state:
    • High and growing rates of food insecurity
    • Rural economic decline
    • Domination of the commercial fishing industry by international corporations and export markets
    • An Alaskan seafood industry developed around national and global rather than local markets
    • Alaskans are hard-pressed to be able to purchase fresh, locally caught seafood
    • Alaskans currently lack equitable access to Alaska’s seafood resources
  • A premise of small-scale alternative food movements is that developing local sources of food for local consumption strengthens community sustainability and security – the data in the report show this to be the case for the Kenai Peninsula:
    • Nine out of ten respondents consume seafood harvested locally through access provided by sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula
    • The stakes are high for managing the region’s fishery resources sustainably

KRSA applauds the groundbreaking research provided in the report that details the importance of Alaskan residents having access to local harvests of seafood.