At ComFish Forum, Talk on Fishing Access and the Right to Fish

cropped-KMXT-favicon.pngKayla Desroches/KMXT

A series of talks during ComFish titled “Right to Fish: Challenges and Opportunities in Alaska Fishing Access” inspired one speaker to dedicate part of his presentation to the inequality within catch share programs. Duncan Fields, who sits on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, elaborated on the tie between access and the right to fish.

“When we talk about a right to fish, it sort of presumes that there’s a connective relationship between those that want to participate in the fisheries or those that have fishing experience and the actual ability to participate in the fisheries. There’s some kind of a nexus there. And when we talk about access, we have a sense that when there’s not access, there’s something broken. That this presumed relationship is somehow no longer apparent.”

He said he knows those in fisheries don’t have a technical “right to fish”.

“We don’t have an absolute right to the fisheries resource. It’s a public resource. It’s allocated according to regulations. But we also don’t have a technical right to privacy, yet we experience – and our supreme court has developed – a right to privacy.”

He said the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the regulatory structure for federal fisheries, contains the right to fish. He said the act allows for reviews of catch-share programs.

“And much in Magnuson-Stevens, I believe, anticipates that catch-shares would be changed or altered on a periodic basis as they were reviewed and, that as they were altered, new types of distributions could be considered for the next generation of fishermen and these distributions would be fair and equitable to that generation of fishermen.”

Fields said the act is clear that there would not be compensation for the individuals if an allocation were changed. He said he believes the makers of the act anticipated that there would be revisions to limited access privilege programs over time that would allow new participants to get involved.

“But our experience here in Alaska, and as far as I know, the universal experience of catch share programs across our country, is that once a catch-share allocation is made, once a program is adopted, they are not changed.”

Fields said, despite all the benefits of catch share programs, they can create inequities for similarly situated fishermen. He said these economic barriers to entry may serve as disincentives for young people to choose fishing as a career and catalysts for consolidation.

He said those points were among those that led the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to consider different approaches to developing catch-share programs.

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