Some commercial fishermen who traditionally looked askance at tourists now want to invite them on board with support for a bill that would authorize short-term crew licenses.
Fishermen's willingness to try the proposed approach comes as they recognize needs for both attracting crew members and exploring new marketing techniques, some say.
Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, said commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet see tourism as the main culprit in the drop-off of fishing opportunities.
"The guide industry has been the main opponent of commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet, and the guide industry caters to out-of-state tourists primarily," Shadura said. "They are basically selling fish that were traditionally and historically harvested by commercial fishermen."
But times have changed, and fishermen in the area have recognized that the tourism industry is important to the state.
"If there's a way to accommodate the tourist industry with things we've been doing for years that allows us to bring a little more income in, then it's a beneficial situation," Shadura said.
The bill before the Alaska Legislature would create one- and three-day commercial fishing crew licenses, making it cheaper to hire on as a crew members for a day. Currently, only annual licenses are available, costing $180 for out-of-state residents.
Mark Morones, communications director for the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said he has noticed tension between the sport fishing and commercial fishing industries, particularly in regard to allocation. But he said the climate is shifting.
"I think there's been kind of a whole new look seeing where we could develop synergies between the commercial fishing industry and tourism," Morones said.
He said the two industries can help one another build an "Alaska" brand name. The travel association has been putting on an Alaska media roadshow the last two years to generate publicity about Alaska travel opportunities. Last year the program involved the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, he said.
"That was a great opportunity for us to sell our Alaska seafood product and be able to have the seafood industry there to talk about the importance of the industry and why Alaska's seafood product is superior," Morones said.
Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said the intersection of tourism and fishing is good publicity.
"It's direct contact for people to see Alaska's fishing, especially our salmon fishing, the very accurate and science-based management and all the regulations that fishermen follow as well as the quality of the fish that's brought on board," Vinsel said.
Support for the House Bill 458 is also due to the fact that many fishermen often need temporary crew members. Bruce Schactler, president of the United Salmon Association, said he thought that was the main reason fishermen supported the bill.
"I don't think there's some great shift in attitude. ... I think it had to do with the practicalities of fisheries today and how difficult it is to get crew."
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