Rep. Seaton pitches barbless hooks legislation

A bill that would prevent the use of barbed hooks in certain freshwater portions of the state was again considered by the House Fisheries Special Committee Tuesday in Juneau.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, sponsor of the bill, HB 110, said it was intended to address incidental mortality of fish in catch-and-release fisheries and was driven primarily by a statewide decline in king salmon runs.

According to Seaton’s bill, a person would not be able to use a barbed hook, “when participating in a freshwater fishery in which more than one species is present if there is a significant probability of catching a species that may not be retained under regulation adopted by the Board of Fisheries.”

“We’ve got a real problem with chinook salmon,” Seaton said. “There’s just a whole lot of things that we’re looking at and we’re looking at the mortality that happens in the ocean with trawl bycatch, what we are also looking at in a number of fisheries here is — when we have catch and release — can we lower the mortality on those king salmon?

“It seems to me that if we are asking the trawlers to reduce their unwanted mortality through bycatch and changes in the way they’re fishing, that we should also be willing to look at it in the streams and rivers.”

The bill has been through three hearings by the fisheries special committee but has not yet been passed through the committee as it is still taking public testimony and making amendments to its language.

Seaton said it would not be a regulation that could apply to the 2013 fishing season.

“I don’t think we could do anything for this year,” Seaton said. “I’m in no rush to move this, I want to get it right instead of quick. This is looking at (the) long term, trying to reduce all these unintended mortalities.”

Critics of the bill, such as Dan Dunaway, of Dillingham, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association — a commercial fishing advocacy organization — said the issue should be taken up by the Alaska Board of Fisheries instead of the legislature.

“I very much object to the legislature encroaching into what I see as the realm of the Board of Fish,” Dunaway said during his public testimony Tuesday. “That’s the whole reason we have the Board of Fish. One of the reasons we became a state was to have more public involvement and take it out of the political arena.”

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association wrote that the Board of Fisheries was “best qualified to consider the merits of fishing methods and means,” according to its testimony.

Seaton responded Tuesday to public testimony questioning why the legislature would be addressing the issue by saying legislators would be happy if the board would take up the issue.

“The legislature also has a responsibility to look after the resources of the state and that’s what we’re doing at this point in time,” he said.

During Tuesday’s hearing Charlie Swanton, director of the sportfish division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the department was “neutral” on the legislation.

The issue of how to define the “significant probability” of catching a fish not to be retained was discussed during Tuesday’s hearing, as well. According to Section (c) of the bill, that probability would be determined by the Board of Fish or by emergency order issued by the commissioner.

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, asked how Swanton would define “significant probability.”

“One out of 10, one out of 100... you would do it through regulation so it would have to be some kind of firm number,” Johnson said. “So, let’s say you’re fishing for silvers in a stream where Chinook were a stock of concern. Wouldn’t one fish be a significant concern? Would it vary by stream or would it be across the board? How are you going to designate that?”

Swanton said the Fish and Game and the Board of Fisheries would have to discuss the proposed regulation to determine a number.

“I think that you pretty much hit the nail right on the head, it would be situation by situation,” Swanton said. “In terms of contrasting where we are at with regards to chinook salmon escapement goals and those sorts of things and what other species would be involved. It’s a little more complex than just a simple answer, but if necessity dictated we would go through the exercise.”

Seaton said the bill’s language was meant to give the Board of Fish the ability to determine if there was a significant probability of catching a fish species that was not meant to be retained and then if managers should act on that probability.

“So this isn’t an absolute number,” Seaton said.

The committee set the bill aside and has not yet scheduled another meeting on it. Seaton encouraged the public to make comments on the bill by email to the committee at rep.paul.seaton@akleg.gov or louie.flora@akleg.gov.

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