Do fishing regulations impact family dynamics?

Sep 5, 2017

Homer Harbor.
Credit KBBI

There is a lot we don’t know about the impacts fishing regulations have on the fishing industry here in Alaska. Scientists have tried to find answers to several questions for years, from dwindling numbers of king salmon to the interactions between marine mammals and various fisheries. One social scientist wants to know the impact those regulations have on the lives of fishing families. 

Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist, is conducting a study for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fishery division regarding the home life of Alaska’s fishing families.

Specifically, Szymkowiak’s study aims to find out how complying with fishing regulations changes dynamics at home.

“I've studied fisheries for a long time, and I thought that as far as families, we are not really researching the impacts of the family unit, and I think that’s something that’s a real missing gap," Szymkowiak explains.

For fishing families, regulations can be complicated. Family operations can be invested in several different fisheries, regulated by state, federal and international decision makers. Staying on top of shifting openings, allowable catches and gear can almost be a job of its own.

Szymkowiak has been holding community meetings in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, listening to fishermen voice their concerns.

She met with several fishing families from the Homer area Friday at the Islands and Oceans Visitor Center. Among those representing their families, Hannah Heimbuch was one of the youngest in the room.   

“I think the complication and complexity of management and regulatory structures often makes it difficult for a young, active fisherman to participate in meetings,” Heimbuch said.

As young commercial fishermen and women struggle to navigate the regulatory waters, just trying to stay in compliance, seasoned fishermen say it’s also incredibly time consuming for fishermen to give regulators their input.

“It’s very important to attend the management meetings. So, I have found myself spending more time in meetings and less time actually on the fishing grounds,” Don Lane recalled.

While comments seemed negative at Homer’s meeting, Szymkowiak explains that Alaska’s fishermen aren’t anti-regulation.

“We also hear a little bit about the positive of those kind of programs, longer seasons, and you have potentially safer fishing conditions,” Szymkowiak noted. “So, families are more willing to take their kids on their boats.”

Szymkowiak has held three workshops so far and has several more planned through the end of the year. She plans to condense these meetings in a public report, detailing not just the concerns fishermen have, but a real look into how regulations transform the roles family members play, time spent away from home and other realities the modern fishing family faces.

The fishermen are allowed to remain anonymous, and Szymkowiak says no one will be named in the report.

As far as what it will actually accomplish, Szymkowiak notes that she doesn’t want her report to directly change the regulatory climate, but she wants the concerns of Alaska’s fishing families to become a consideration for decision makers.