Managing most of state commercial fisheries that occur in southernmost Southeast Alaska is no easy task, with the manager striving to ensure the health of the stocks while providing harvest opportunities for the fishing fleets that are an economic mainstay for the region.
In recent years, that Ketchikan-area commercial fishery management biologist has been Scott Walker, who first hired on with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 1985 as a “lowly” part-time fish technician 1.
Walker retired on Tuesday after 30 full-time years with the department.
“It’s a great job,” Walker said Tuesday afternoon in the Commercial Fisheries Division offices in Ketchikan. “It’s good people to work with, the fishermen, as a rule.”
On Wednesday, Bo Meredith started as the new commercial fisheries management biologist for the Ketchikan area, which is the largest single management area in Southeast Alaska.
Meredith is well-acquainted with the region already. He was born and raised in the First City, and returned here after earning a bachelor of science degree in biology from South Dakota State University in 2000.
He was a crew member on commercial seine boats before starting work with Fish and Game in 2004, according to department information. Meredith was involved with genetic stock identification work with chinook salmon before becoming an assistant area management biologist with the Ketchikan office.
As an assistant management biologist, Meredith managed salmon net, herring sac roe, herring spawn-on-kelp, shrimp pot, miscellaneous dive, and subsistence/personal use fisheries, according to department information. He’s also a member of the department’s research dive team in Southeast Alaska, and is the Alaska co-chair of the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Northern Boundary Technical Committee.
Although Meredith is beginning his tenure as the overall Ketchikan area management biologist with considerable experience in the area and its commercial fisheries, Meredith knows there’s more to learn.
“It's going to be a learning curve,” Meredith said Tuesday. “Even if you've been here for 15 years, it's different when you’re in the hot seat. ... Ultimately it's your decision.”
That sense of responsibility is a central component of doing the job, according to Meredith and Walker. Maintaining adequate escapements of salmon and working to ensure the ongoing health of the stocks can require difficult decisions regarding where and when fishing can occur, or if harvesting should occur at all.
“It’s a position that you take very seriously, because when we close an area, you know it affects (a lot of people),” Walker said.
He said he once figured that an area closure could have an impact on about 3,000 people, taking into account 150 to 200 seine boats, each with a six-person crew and their families; eight to 10 processors, some of which can have more than 200 people working for them; the crews of fish tenders; pilots; even grocery stores and fuel stations.
“It’s a big deal,” Walker said, noting that the summer fishing seasons “are really stressful.”
With that, the now-retired management biologist said that, while he hadn’t been in a rush to retire, he was looking forward to a different kind of summer.
“I've been working a summer job since about 1980 — here in ‘85 — and in the summertime you just don't get that much time off,” Walker said. “So it's going to be nice just to have some time off.”
Now Meredith has the helm, and at an interesting time for Southeast Alaska, especially in regard to ongoing issues with chinook salmon stocks and the impact that recent dry and cold weather could have had on pink salmon and chum salmon returns. He’s looking forward to the challenges ahead.
“Little nervous. Excited,” Meredith said Tuesday. “It’ll be different.”