By DOUG VINCENT-LANG
Alaska’s fisheries are world-renowned. They feed Alaskans through subsistence, sport, and personal use fishing. Our commercial fisheries feed the world and our charter and guide industries provide much needed fishing access to both Alaskans and our guests and all contribute greatly to our state and local economies.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has touched us all and impacted our daily lives in many ways. From hunkering down in our homes, to school closures, to lost jobs and income, to not being able to join friends at the local watering hole, these are trying times.
Trying to find the right balance to protect public health while ensuring we do not destroy the economic foundation of our state is challenging. Our knowledge of the virus is rapidly growing and as we learn more, our strategies for addressing the pandemic are evolving. This flux is understandably causing uncertainty and uneasiness as we gradually move back to normalcy and a reopening of our economy.
In this light, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is preparing to prosecute fisheries this summer as close to normally as possible. We have plans in place to deploy the necessary research and management infrastructure to allow us to manage the state’s fisheries and we are developing implementation plans to protect the health of our employees, the health of fishery participants, and the health of the communities where fishing takes place.
- We are requiring workers returning to Alaska to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- We are not allowing staff who are displaying COVID symptoms from traveling to field camps.
- We are enacting rules that limit staff interaction with communities to where they are deployed.
- We are encouraging staff to wear face coverings when interacting with the public.
- We are developing plans to medivac staff that display critical COVID symptoms so they are not reliant on local medical facilities.
It is important to note that we already have many fisheries currently open and underway. Bering Sea crab, Kodiak roe herring, Prince William Sound Tanner crab, Gulf of Alaska rockfish and Pacific cod jig, halibut and sablefish IFQ, Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish (pollock and cod), and Gulf of Alaska groundfish are all underway.
We are also poised to begin the fisheries for Southeast Alaska herring, Prince William Sound shrimp, sablefish, Kodiak Dungeness crab, and Togiak herring fisheries.
We are learning from these fisheries how best to conduct them in the COVID environment in which we live . As we learn from these experiences, we are adjusting our implementation strategies both at the management level and the fishery level.
Fishermen and the fishing infrastructure are also developing mitigation plans that are evolving as we learn from our experience and from our health experts regarding the virus. These plans are focused on protecting the health of their workers, the health of fishermen and the health of the communities in which they work. These plans are being shared with the public.
We are also working with the guided sport and charter industry to develop strategies to prosecute these fisheries. These fisheries face special challenges given the number of non-residents participating in them and the difficulty in practicing social distancing in confined spaces. We are confident that industry lead efforts to develop implementation plans will allow these fisheries to operate and protect the health of fishermen, their clients, and the communities in which they operate.
Regarding subsistence, sport and personal use fisheries, the department understands the importance of these fisheries to Alaskans and supports Alaskans having the opportunity to get out and fish to feed their families and fill their freezers. We have provided guidance on our web site regarding best practices for participating in these fisheries. We strongly encourage you to follow this guidance to protect your health and the health of our communities.
In closing, it is our goal to have viable fisheries this summer while taking the necessary steps to protect the health of Fish and Game employees, fishery participants and the communities they operate in. Protecting the public remains a primary concern of state government, and we will do this while balancing the needs of our economy.
I encourage all to be responsible as you venture out this season. Follow the dictates of your approved plans, abide by department guidance, and be ready to adapt to an evolving situation. But most importantly, enjoy the publicly owned resources that we are so blessed to be managing on your behalf.
Doug Vincent-Lang is the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.