The last colony: Outside fishing interests



News Analysis

The United Fishermen of Alaska has issued its annual report on who got the fish of the 49th state, and the winner is?

Outside fishing interests.

Of the 6.4 billion pounds of seafood harvested in Alaska in 2017, UFA’s 2018 Alaska Commercial Fishing and Seafood Processing report lists 4.6 billion pounds – almost two-thirds – harvested by permit holders from Washington, Oregon or California.

Alaska became a state in large part to break the chokehold Seattle-based interests held on state fisheries. The late George Rogers, a Juneau economist and consultant to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in a recorded history at noted the resentment Alaskans of an earlier time held toward Outside fishing interests and the fish traps they operated.

“The fish trap…is looked upon by most Alaskans as the dipper with which the large absentee owner appeared to skim with relative ease the cream of one of the regions most valuable natural resources and then carried away to the outside the fullest part of the wealth so guarded,” he said. “That’s pretty poetic.”

The poetry killed the trap, though Rogers noted traps were the ideal way to harvest salmon.

“…It was the only way that salmon should have been harvested because the fish worked out to the runs,” he said. “You could manage. You knew what was coming and going. You could control the escapement of the fish. You could then control the harvest. You didn’t have to chase mobile gear all over the place. And it was just perfect, but the trouble with the fish trap was that it was owned by the processors, the canners, and they were all Outside interests.”

With Statehood, the traps disappeared, but somehow the Outside interests hung onto the fisheries.

Statehood failure

Oil made Alaska after Statehood, and Alaskans were lucky for it because the idea they were going to take back the fisheries clearly failed as the situation circa 2018 underlines:

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