Researchers look at participation in Bristol Bay fishery

Sep 24, 2015

Researchers are trying to pinpoint just what the allure of fishing in Bristol Bay is.

Credit KDLG

DILLINGHAM: A group of researchers is trying to figure out what draws people to the Bristol Bay fishery and what new entrants need to get involved. For students in the region, they’re finding that it’s often all about family. KDLG’s Molly Dischner has more.

For the past year or so, University of Alaska Fairbanks doctoral student Jesse Coleman has been studying what compels people to fish in Bristol Bay, from the youngest participants to the oldest. One part of her project surveyed students in Dillingham, Togiak, Kokhanok and the Bristol Bay Borough to get their take on commercial fishing.

“The question was, have you ever worked in commercial fishing, so this was 7th through 12th grade students,” Coleman said. “And in Kodiak 9.4 percent said yes they had, and in Bristol Bay, 47.8 percent of students had said that they worked in commercial fishing.”

Coleman said 67.7 percent of the Bristol Bay youth surveyed said they had a family connection to the fishery.

“Family is very important to getting into a fishery. So many people will say, I grew up in the fishery, you know, started on the skiff when I was four, before I could really fish, they, you know, kids are just exposed to it here.”

Coleman has also been interviewing fishermen in those same communities, greenhorns and old hands alike, to find out why they put a net in the water – and what makes it possible for them to do so. Most of her work so far has focused on people who live in the region.

“I do anticipate talking to people that have left the region with their permits, you know, people that were born here and grew up here and left for other reasons but still come home to fish, and try to understand that dynamic,” Coleman said.

Coleman has a counterpart doing similar work in Kodiak. Eventually, information gathered from the surveys and interviews will help the researchers write policy recommendations on how to provide opportunities for new participants to get involved in the fishery.

“An example of one of those alternatives could be community permit banks, and we haven’t really started to look into feasibility of any of these things,” Coleman said. “So a community permit bank is just, so a community entity would own permits that they would then lease to residents of the region. That’s an example of one of the policy alternatives that we’ll be addressing.”

The study is funded by the Alaska Sea Grant and the North Pacific Research Board. Fishermen can get more information about the project on Facebook at the Alaska’s Next Generation of Fishing page, or on the project’s website: fishermen.alaska.edu.