Fishery catch share programs have gutted the number of boats on Kodiak's waterfront, and the state of Alaska is about to do the same thing to commercial hunting.
House Bill 158, under consideration by the Alaska Legislature, would allow the Department of Natural Resources to implement a program that limits the number of hunting guides on state land. In effect, if not name, it's catch shares ashore.
DNR is acting with the best intentions. Recent years have seen a surge in the number of "hobby guides," people who take only a handful of clients into the field each year while maintaining full-time jobs elsewhere. These part-time guides usually have little interest in the long-term sustainability of an area's wildlife. Since they don't rely on that wildlife to make their living, they can afford to act in ways that full-time guides will not.
In Kodiak, where hunters must sign with a guide before applying for a bear-hunting tag, hobby guides have flooded the application pool, pushing out guides who try to make a living by helping hunters full-time.
DNR's new program might solve these problems, but it will raise the price of guiding by a large degree. Even if hobby guides don't push full-timers out of business, the new fee schedule might do the job.
The program will consolidate the guiding industry — the exact degree depends upon the number of people guiding in any given year — but even worse, it will limit the growth of young guides starting their careers.
As the number of young hunters declines across the country, the last thing we should be doing is putting obstacles in the way of young men and women establishing themselves.
By making concessions 10 years long, the state will deter young hunters from entering the field (except as an assistant) until they're into middle age. Making problems worse, DNR's program uses a point system that gives experienced hunters an advantage — and then does nothing to keep master guides from simply settling into their campsites and making younger men and women do the real work.
Without restrictions, the guide program could turn into a sharecropping system in which older guides, favored under DNR’s point system, collect rent for the privilege of working as an assistant guide on "their" concession.
We suggest DNR create a rule requiring each guide granted a concession to personally accompany at least 20 percent of his clients.
The state hasn't found a solution that's wholly right, but that doesn't mean it should pick an option that's wholly wrong.