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As a member of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, SARDFA, and geoduck diver I would like to comment on the recent debate over aquaculture. I have seen the geoduck fishery in Alaska go from almost nothing 15 years ago to now almost less than nothing in terms of dollars we make. I wonder if it's time to take a different look at how we manage some of our fishery resources
Aquatic farmers for geoducks want to go into areas that are not being used by our dive fishery and develop aquatic farms using the existing stock to increase the productivity of the of the bed. If we are not using the resource and it doesn't conflict with the fishery, I don't see why another commercial user group shouldn't have the opportunity for another use.
If someone can come up with a better way to bring more value to the fishery or resource then I feel we should listen. Part of the problem in Alaska is that we have heard so much hype about what others in Washington and Canada are making from the geoducks resource that we can't seem to properly assess our own resource.
I have seen the letters from SARDFA Executive Director Julie Decker and SARDFA members Clay Bezenek and Lance Pihlman. I have no vested interest in any of the proposed aquatic farms and as a geoduck diver eligible for a limited entry permit I support the geoduck farmers.
What I don't support is Mrs. Decker saying that SARDFA believes that these farmers will "rob" and "destroy" the resource. Those are ridiculous statements and unfounded.
I find it frustrating that Mrs. Decker and members like Clay Bezenek say they are not opposed to aquatic farms, yet we are just now finding out that SARDFA has taken thousands of dollars from our self assessment fund to hire lawyers to file briefs against "all" of the geoduck farmers in the lawsuit against the state. Who is robbing who here? This is my money and they are taking it to fight against something that many of us support. What these members of SARDFA are really saying is that they are not against geoduck farms, just anybody who is currently trying to do it.
Mr. Bezenek talks about the 800,000 pounds of resource on the proposed farm sites, but fails to point out that there are about 18 million pounds of geoduck bio-mass dedicated to the current fishery. He also fails to point out that fishery is still open today because nobody wants the product.
By next year limited entry will be in place that will give sole commercial access to 104 divers with only 52 of these permits being transferable, and the majority of those permits going to out of state divers. Using Mr. Bezenek's numbers and logic, by next year, 52 mostly out-of-state diver will have the sole rights to buy and sell $81 million worth of geoduck resource and he believes any future commercial expansion of the resource should go entirely to this one group.
Mr. Bezenek talks about the geoduck aquaculture fiasco. In my opinion the real fiasco here is SARDFA and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G). In my view all of the misinformation and nonfacts have been coming from SARDFA and ADF&G.
If you look at how we are taxing ourselves it really doesn't make a lot of sense. For example, we are currently taxed on our sea cucumber fishery, yet the fishery is fully developed and completely funded through ADF&G' s budget. The tax this year increased ADF&G's budget for this fishery by 250 percent. This money goes into the general fund and then goes directly back to ADF&G.
In my view SARDFA will likely end up being a good example of how not to manage or develop fisheries. What we have done here, is to completely politicize an industry that really just needed a little funding and some good science and management.
Brian Zwick is a SARDFA member and a geoduck diver who lives in Ketchikan.