PUBLISHED: 4:54 PM on Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Southeast charters form group to enhance voice at council
A group of businesses with considerable investment in the fishing charter industry have formed the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization to enhance their presence and represent their goals to government agencies responsible for Alaska's fisheries.

"Our industry has matured to a point where professional representation is important," said Henry Mitchell, the organization's executive director. "It's been my feeling that part of the problem in coming to a solution has been a lack of representation by sport fisheries. Volunteers showing up at the last minute at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings isn't the same as having someone who really knows the process and stays there."

Mitchell served on the council and has been involved in Alaska fisheries politics for years. He is also a former executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.

Tom Ohaus, co-owner of the Sitka charter boat company Angling Unlimited, said he felt the charter industry's needs would simply be better served by having its own cohesive group. Ohaus, a former Sitka resident who now lives in Dartmouth, Mass., said the charter operators want a good working relationship with regulators.

"At this point, 10 businesses or individuals have joined, but we think within six months we'll probably have 40," Ohaus said. "Some have lodges with eight or nine boats that operate out of their lodges, and some have sightseeing."

SEAGO board members also include Russell Thomas, manager of Clover Pass Resort, Ketchikan; Seth Bone, owner of Kingfisher Charters, Sitka; Stan Malcolm, owner of Magic Man Charters, Petersburg; Dennis Meier, partners in the Tanaku Lodge, Elfin Cove; and Mike Wallisch, owner of Alaska Adventures Unlimited Inc., in Sitka.

"Charter fishing is a large part of Alaska's tourism budget and brings revenue and jobs to the state," Ohaus said. "For too long our interests have been afterthoughts as regulators decide how we all need to conserve the fish resources. SEAGO has formed to give our related business one voice and acquire a seat at the table when regulations are being discussed."

The gathering of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization is yet another round in allocation issues between the commercial and sport fishing sectors in Alaska. Each notes the economic importance of its operations, which range to millions of dollars, to various regions of and the state as a whole.

Sport fishing interests generally note how much their industry brings to the local economy. Commercial fishers note that while all their members do not do all their fishing in one locale, they do bring their entire income home to spend where they live.

Mitchell said he expects to get more of a voice before the federal fisheries council once his organization starts to develop more economic information on what the charter industry contributes to Southeast Alaska. He sites a 2005 study funded by charter operators in Sitka and conducted by the McDowell Group in Juneau, which found that the charter fishing industry brought $31 million to Sitka in 2004.

Mitchell said the one fish daily bag limit on halibut imposed for the upcoming season was not likely to result in a lot of cancellations, even if many anticipated a two fish bag limit when they booked. These people had already booked their air travel and paid a deposit, but there new regulations will affect the charter industry over time, he said.

"This is a global market; they (charter patrons) may decide to go to Mexico or Hawaii, or they may decide to play golf instead," he said.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at: