Study examines the ripple effect of fishing charter choices

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Fishing boat in Kachemak Bay. (Photo by James Brooks)

Homer is known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”. But, charter operators don’t just target the prized groundfish these days. An ongoing study published in the scientific journal Public Library of Science aims to discover how the fishing habits of charter operators have evolved and the ripple effect of their decisions.

PhD from the University of Fairbanks Candidate Maggie Chan wants to know how and why the fishing charter industry is evolving in Southeast and South Central Alaska.

Chan and Associate Fishing Professor Anne Beaudreau interviewed several fishing charter owners in Sitka and Homer, most of whom have been in business since the 1990s.

The first part of Chan’s study focuses on where charters take their customers.

“So, in a way, I would like to think of this first document as the pose of the photo frame,” Chan explained. “We will start to complete the picture of what people see in water and the changes they have seen over time in future articles.”

This is important because popular fishing areas are chosen not only for the availability of fish, but also for the variety of species that can be caught in one place. Chan discovered in the early 1990s that charters primarily targeted halibut around Kachemak Bay and in Lower Cook Inlet. In the decade-wide part, fishermen began to offer multi-species trips.

“When we see the addition of combined or multi-species trips, people were traveling further south to Barren and Chugach Islands,” Chan said. “It’s very distinctly associated with a multi-species trip, because there is more habitat there for things like ling cod, rockfish, and so on. “

Then, when fuel prices hit an all-time high in 2008, fishermen stayed closer to town.

Captain Greg’s Charters owner Greg Sutter has been a guide to fishing trips around Homer since 1995. Sutter caters to families and large groups. He said multi-species travel was always in high demand.

“When they come to Alaska, they’re not just looking for adventure, they would love to bring home as much meat as possible,” Sutter said of why people choose combination trips.

Chan conducted his interviews in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, the decisions Homer charter operators made were primarily business-oriented. Fishermen in Sitka say they chose their fishing grounds because of regulations imposed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Since then, Homer’s charter operations have seen halibut regulations weaken. The Halibut Commission has started removing the days of the week that operators can target groundfish. Sutter said multi-species trips had taken some of the slack, but turned down clients and canceled advance reservations for halibut trips.

“We can try to sell a salmon trip, which I can do some Wednesdays, but not every Wednesday,” Sutter said.

Chan doesn’t just want to know what drives anglers like Sutter’s choices. In the following articles, she will outline the changes fishermen see in the waters they fish. She hopes her study will stimulate conversation between fisheries managers and fishers. Chan said the dialogue can help decision makers make overall management decisions.

Scott Meyer is a Fisheries Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Homer. Meyer collaborated on the study and agrees that the study’s results could be of value to federal and state fisheries managers.

“It just helps everyone understand the behavioral response of the charter fishery to changes in halibut regulations,” Meyer explained.

Although halibut harvests are regulated by the federal government, Meyer said fisheries in the state have felt the ripple effect of halibut regulations.

“We have seen, for example, a big change in Sitka and also in Kodiak, in response to the halibut regulations where it did not take many more boats targeting black rockfish to drastically change the harvest in these areas,” did he declare. “So we have had exponential increases in catches in these two fisheries. “

Chan and Beaudreau plan to publish the remainder of the study over the next year.


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