Legislature to take up fishery issues: Bills address personal-use licensing, guide qualifications, management goals

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2011

When the Alaska Legislature starts its session on Jan. 18, they'll begin to discuss a number of bills already filed that could affect residents and visitors on the Kenai Peninsula.

Three fishing-related bills would change licensing and regulations for dipnetting and sportfishing, and shift management objectives.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, pre-filed a bill that would change the license requirement for dipnetters. Individuals who live near or travel to a river to dipnet are currently required to purchase a sportfishing license and to obtain a free personal-use permit. Wagoner's bill would strike the sportfishing license requirement, and instead require a personal-use fishing permit with a $25 fee.

That's more fair to dipnetters, he said, who currently help support hatcheries and other fishing programs that aren't related to the salmon they want to catch.

The permit change would apply to any dipnettting in the state -- primarily the Kenai and Kasilof rivers on the Peninsula, and the Copper River, near Chitna.

The bill doesn't require that money from the new permit go solely toward dipnetting issues (that'd take a dedicated fund, which is illegal in Alaska), but it would enable the state to have a better idea of what money is coming from dipnetting and use that revenue for related issues, Wagoner said.

Wagoner said money for enforcement and tracking what fish are being taken would help managers better oversee the fishery.

"We have a lack of enforcement on the river," he said.

The bill doesn't specify what enforcement or reporting would be changed, because Wagoner said he wants to leave that up to the departments responsible for those tasks. This would just give them the money to do so, he said.

Wagoner was aware of the other two fishing bills up for discussion this spring, but said he couldn't speculate on how any of the bills would fare.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, is also trying to change sport fishing requirements. Her bill deals with the guiding side of things, creating a board to oversee guides and implementing licensing standards.

Ricky Gease, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said the bill mirrors current requirements for big game guides around the state. But it won't mean big changes for the Kenai, because the area already has similar requirements due to the river's special management area, he said, noting the Kenai River Guide Academy.

"I think that is consistent with the new proposal," he said.

Gease said the uniform requirements would be a positive change for the field.

"I think it's an important step for the sport fishing charter industry to have consistent standards," he said.

The final fish bill was proposed by Rep. Bill Stoltze, a republican from the Chugiak/Eagle River area, and would create a personal-use fishery priority for the state, restricting all other fisheries before the personal-use fishery.

Fishing isn't the only hot topic in the Legislature that will affect Peninsula residents this year.

Representative Kurt Olson, a Soldotna Republican, has a number of bills filed regarding energy issues and worker's compensation.

The energy bills deal with net metering and the creation of a grant program that would help small businesses make their buildings more energy efficient.

That bill provides grants to help small businesses retrofit or build anew so that their structures are more energy efficient. As currently written, the total cost of work on the building would have to be less than $1 million to be eligible for the program. The program would be administered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and is similar to the homeowner program offered in the past.

The proposal in the net metering bill is similar to the standards set by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska last year. Another bill relating to the commission would extend it's sunset date from June 2011 to June 2013.

At a December Soldotna City Council meeting, Olson said the worker's compensation bills were holdovers from last year. One creates a workers' compensation advisory council, the other deals with medical costs associated with workers' compensation claims.

Olson could not be reached for comment.

Both local legislators are in the process of moving south for the season. The second batch of pre-filed bills is scheduled to be released on Jan. 14.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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