An Outdoor View: Fishing not just for fun

Author’s note: The following is an open letter to the Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish. — LP


Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the draft of your 2015 – 2020 Division of Sport Fish Strategic Plan.

From Page 1 of the plan: “The mission of the Division of Sport Fish is to protect and improve the state’s recreational fisheries resources.”

I notice that you’re using “recreational” as a synonym for “sport.” Please don’t do that. “Sport” is confusing enough without replacing it with a five-syllable word that further obscures you’re doing. After all, you’re the Division of Sport Fish, not the Division of Recreation.

I’ve fished for “sport” in Alaska every year since 1964. As a writer, I’ve written about sport fishing in Alaska for various publications since 1986. In all that time, I’ve never been certain about what sport fishing is, other than that it’s not commercial fishing. I do know, however, that sport fishing in Alaska definitely is not mainly recreational.

I think most people would agree that “recreational” has something to do with fun or entertainment. I think they also would agree that the Division’s mission is too important for its employees to focus on fun.

In the Constitution of the State of Alaska, Article VIII, “Natural Resources,” I find “for the maximum benefit of its people,” and “to the people for common use,” and “subject to preferences among beneficial uses.” However, I find no mention of “recreational,” either in the Constitution or in Title 16 of the Alaska Statutes. Yet, this term, the very rudder that steers the Division ship, appears 48 times in your draft plan.

Why? The vast majority of Alaskans don’t fish just for the fun of it. Recreational fishing is secondary to fishing for food. Your own data will show that, if we can’t take salmon home and eat it, few of us will fish for salmon. While some Alaskans see trout and grayling mainly as “sport” fish, most see salmon and several species of saltwater finfish and shellfish as food for personal use. The culture is a “meat-fishing” one, and always has been. Hopefully, it always will be.

Let’s consider personal use. The majority of so-called sport fishing in Alaska is for personal use. We’re required to have a Sport Fishing License to do it. The Division must already recognize this, because “sport fishing” is defined in the Alaska Sport Fishing Regulations Summary as “The taking of or attempting to take for personal use, and not for sale or barter, any freshwater, marine, or anadromous fish by hook and line held in the hand, or by hook and line attached to a pole or rod which is held in the hand or closely attended, or by other means defined by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.”

Because Alaskans place such a high value on our fish and shellfish as food, and because the Sport Fish Division has the mission to protect and improve our various fisheries, it stands to reason that the Division’s mission should be stated to more expressly include personal use, rather than the misleading “recreational” use.

Referring to all fishing and fisheries other than commercial as “recreational” is a real stretch. Witness the growing popularity of the personal-use salmon gillnet and dipnet fisheries. From my observations, the Sport Fish Division has done little to improve them or to anticipate the inevitable problems associated with the growth of these fisheries, and that needs to change.

The best interests of most Alaskans will be better served when the Sport Fish Division addresses personal-use fishing more directly, whether said use be by angling, dipnetting, clam digging, or pot-fishing for shrimp or crab. And what better place for the Division to show its intent than in its Strategic Plan?

If I were asked to state the Division’s mission in one word, what would it be?

“Sport” has several meanings, but because most states use it, the fishing public has an inkling as to what it implies. I suggest replacing “recreational” with “sport and personal use” in the Division’s strategic plan. Either that, or use the familiar “sport” throughout, and include the definition of sport that’s in the current Regulations Summary in a brief forward to the SMP.

Unless, that is, the intention of the Division is for Alaskans to fish only for the fun of it. If that’s the case, I suggest that you rename the agency the Division of Fun.

Thank you for considering my concerns and suggestions.

(The draft Division of Sport Fish Strategic Plan is on the Division’s Website. Public comments are being taken by e-mail. Due date: July 27, 2015.)


Les Palmer can be reached at

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