Paying a price for lost Glacier Bay fishing

Park Service mulls payoff plans; fishermen say issue is about more than money

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

What's the price for a lost lifestyle, wonders Richard Lundahl. He has commercial fished in Glacier Bay for more than 30 years, but was pushed out of his most productive sites under recent closures.

``It's like the refrigerator,'' he said of the bay. ``I can always find something to eat there. It's my ace in the hole. Plus, I love to be up there.''

What's the compensation for Ivan Gonzalez's son, who won't be able to provide for a family from the bay's fisheries, as his father has?

Those are the sort of thorny questions the National Park Service must answer as it develops a plan to compensate people, communities and businesses hurt by commercial fishing closures in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Due to a federal law, the Park Service has ended some fisheries altogether in Glacier Bay. It also closed some of the bay to the remaining halibut, tanner crab and troll salmon fisheries, and will phase those out as eligible fishermen retire.

Congress appropriated up to $8 million to buy out Dungeness crabbers. Eight have been bought out so far, including their state limited-entry permits and four vessels. And lawmakers gave $23 million to compensate everyone else hurt by the closures, but they didn't say how to hand out the money.

Lundahl, a fisherman in Pelican, expects to be eligible for a lifetime permit to fish the bay for halibut and salmon. But he also expects some compensation.

The areas that were closed to all fishermen include his most productive spots. Now he has to find other places to fish, in and out of the bay, and that also could reduce his deliveries to Pelican processors.

Lundahl is also concerned with intangibles that analysts said can't be measured and aren't part of the compensation legislation.

The compensation plan won't pay him back for losing his right -- as he sees it -- to fish in the closed areas, or for the loss of a lifestyle fishing amid beautiful scenery.

``It's more of a loss of a right than the loss of a business venture,'' he said.

``It's the lifestyle and aesthetic value,'' he added. ``How do you quantify it? I think I can. How can the aesthetic value be worth billions to the tourist industry and be of no value to me?''

Gonzalez, who lives in Hoonah and has fished for 25 years in the bay, also expects to get a lifetime permit. But his son, who has crewed on a crabbing boat, isn't eligible for a permit to fish the bay.

``A crewmember is never a crewmember forever,'' Gonzalez said. ``They're a crewmember because they want to go on their own. It's like an apprenticeship, where you move up on your own.''

The Gonzalez family might be in luck. The compensation plan, which tries to calculate losses out 75 years, could compensate families because their children won't take over their parents' business, said Tomie Lee, superintendent at Glacier Bay National Park.

David Hammonds of Gustavus, who hand-trolls for salmon and participates in the tanner crab ring fishery from a 21-foot boat, is worried about small operators like himself.

He moved from Hoonah to Gustavus in 1995 to be nearer the bay, where he could fish in the winter in protected waters, to supplement his summer fishing.

``That's how I can afford to live out here without going on (public) assistance,'' Hammonds said.

But closures have taken away much of the crabbing grounds and maybe a third of the trolling areas. Those are winter fisheries, and he doesn't think he can safely fish elsewhere in his small boat to make up the losses.

Although he'd like to continue to fish in the bay, he thinks a compensation plan should include offers to buy boats, state limited-entry permits and even property if fishermen have to leave their community.

Hammonds said some fishermen believe the Park Service set a precedent by buying out Dungeness crabbers. They point to the disparity of spending up to $8 million on a handful of crabbers, while $23 million is supposed to compensate hundreds of other fishermen, plus businesses and communities.

But Lee said Congress authorized a buyout only for Dungeness crabbers because their fishing grounds were closed immediately and they didn't have other places to fish. The $23 million won't include buyouts, she said.

A draft economic assessment, prepared this spring by the McDowell Group in Juneau, estimated losses from the closures at $27 million, excluding what has been paid to Dungeness crabbers.

The final economic report, expected in early August, will present a range of losses that will vary significantly from the $27 million figure, said Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group.

If the economic assessment or claims call for more than $23 million, people are free to lobby Congress for more money, Lee said. But for now she's working on the premise that $23 million is available.

An important question in the economic assessment is how to calculate the present value of future losses, called the discount rate. It's intended to account for the value of having compensation now, which can be invested, rather than future income from the fishery. The smaller the discount rate, the bigger the compensation.

Another big question is how to figure the losses in the halibut fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission has said it won't reduce the overall Southeast quota because of closures in Glacier Bay. That means halibut fishermen won't be hurt by the closures as much as once believed.

That's not true of tanner crab. The state plans to reduce the Southeast quota because of the bay closures. That means every Southeast tanner crabber will suffer some losses as crabbers compete for fewer animals in a smaller area.

The Park Service is still calling for comments on a compensation plan. Comments received by Aug. 1 will be considered for a draft plan expected by the end of August, Lee said. Public meetings will follow in the fall.

A copy of the draft economic assessment is available on Hot Links at

Comments on the compensation plan should be sent to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, 2770 Sherwood Lane, Suite I, Juneau, AK 99801-8545.

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