PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Anglers spent more than $716 million dollars on sportfishing and related goods and services in the Cook Inlet Region in 2017, according to a recently completed study.
The sportfishing industry supported more than 6,300 jobs. Non-residents accounted for approximately half of all spending.
However, compared to the previous survey a decade earlier, the economic impact of sportfishing decreased around $150 million dollars and angler participation dropped 4 to 7 percent.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough contracted with a firm to determine how much time and money both resident and non-resident anglers spend in the Cook Inlet region in 2017. The results were finalized this year.
"The study didn't look at why participation declined, but here in the the MatSu Borough, the state has 16 fish stocks of concern statewide. Half of them are located in MatSu Borough watersheds," MatSu Borough planner Ted Eischeid said. "So, it's logic to think that maybe some of these declining fish stocks are perhaps related to sportfishing effort and economic impact."
At 3 Rivers Fly & Tackle, owner Mike Hudson has seen the impacts first hand.
"The king salmon fishery is the drastic change. The last good year of good king salmon that we experienced here in the valley, and it's valley wide, was about 2007," Hudson said. "The rest of the season seems to be fairly healthy when we get our other salmon coming in. Silver season's been pretty solid for the last few years. But it's probably somewhere around a 90 percent drop in king salmon fishing traffic. It's virtually gone."
This season most king salmon fishing in the valley is closed due to low returns.
"A lot of people rely on the salmon and we're doing what we can to protect them, but the drastic difference that we're seeing right now as a monetary value is the tourists traffic that is absolutely missing," Hudson said. "What happens when we have these monster king salmon returns, then we've got a lot of tourist traffic that comes through and everybody benefits from that. It's not just the fishing industry, because people that come here to fish for salmon, but then we've got our sightseers and people that want to go hiking and trekking, four wheeling, boating and all that kind of stuff. But they're just not doing that because the initial draw is not here, and that would be the king salmon."
Eischeid says having up to date information will be used to make better informed decisions in resource management moving forward.
"I think it's hugely important economically as this study shows. It's also culturally important, and when we see a decline in fish angler participation, that's a big concern when you look at Alaska culture, MatSu culture, which is very much centered around our salmon and other fisheries," Eischeid said. "I think a lot of us hope that our policy makers will look at this information and make sportfishing a priority here in Alaska."