UAA researchers present link between commercial fishing and local economies

by Brett Watson and Matt Jardin  |   

Fishing season is back! Commercially, fishing constitutes considerable economic activity in Alaska, generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in value. However, despite the industry’s size, mostly anecdotal evidence is available about how commercial fishing activity benefits residents of coastal communities compared to those who travel from the Lower 48 or internationally to participate in the season.

Brett Watson, Ph.D. and researcher for UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, along with UAA economics professors Mouhcine Guettabi, Ph.D. and Matthew Reimer, Ph.D., as well as National Marine Fisheries Service economist Alan Haynie, Ph.D., developed a statistical model to bridge this gap: "Commercial Fisheries and Local Economies,” published in the January 2021 issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management

“If you go to Seward, Homer or Bristol Bay, you can see the fishing happening. But seeing activity doesn't mean the benefits are going to stay in that place,” said Watson. “In the paper we cite that if you drive through rural Texas or rural North Dakota, you can see oil rigs for miles and miles. But the ones getting the checks live in Houston, Oklahoma City, New York or LA.”

Ultimately, the group’s findings confirm that the economic benefits of commercial fishing mostly accrue where the fishermen live, not necessarily where they fish, referencing those who commute to Bristol Bay from Anchorage, Homer or Kodiak.

While the recently released study is the culmination of three and a half years of research, it also serves as a launchpad for similar projects — Watson and company have now begun examining the educational and intergenerational relationships between commercial fishing and the communities supported by the activity.

“There's a line in the Alaska Constitution that says resources, and fisheries in particular, need to be managed for the maximum benefit of residents of Alaska,” said Watson. “So it's important to look at these issues and make sure the places that see these resource harvests accruing in their neighborhoods enjoy some of the benefits.”

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