Task force to recommend ways to fix salmon industry

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- A state task force given the job of fixing Alaska's ailing salmon industry will recommend that the Legislature consider at least a half-dozen bills to help fishermen, processors and communities.

The Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force is to present its final report to the Legislature on Thursday.

Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, vice chairman of the task force, said the report's proposals include using millions in state money to better market Alaska seafood, finding ways to immediately chill salmon for better quality, and reducing the number of fishing permits.

The report should result in six to eight bills, Stevens said. One would keep the task force at work until March 2005.

Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, a former commercial fisherman, chaired the task force. Stevens did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

Gary Stevens said there is not a quick-fix that can be applied to all of Alaska's salmon fishermen. He said most of the big issues, such as reducing the number of fishing permits, will require more work.

''We are not trying to shove anything down anyone's throat,'' Stevens said Wednesday. ''We are trying to make as many options as possible. In the end, they are the ones that have to make those choices.''

The Legislature last year appropriated $908,000 for the task force. The 11-member panel was required to make its final report to lawmakers by Jan. 31.

The task force began its work last summer and held more than a half dozen public meetings around the state and one in Seattle. Task force members also headed several subcommittees, including ones on production, quality and marketing.

''The work of the task force has just provided a frame work. The real work begins now as we get into the Legislature,'' said task force member Sue Aspelund, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United.

Stevens said the task force looked at a variety of problems, some harder than others to fix.

''I think we have come to the realization that you can't solve all the fishermen's problems in one summer,'' Stevens said.

He said the Legislature can be particularly helpful to fishermen and communities by finding ways to get their products more quickly and easily to market. For example, he said, a state law prevents fishermen in Dillingham from sending fresh salmon to Anchorage with heads cut off. That law adds about 25 percent in freight costs, he said.

Cost is a big issue. Low-cost farmed salmon is the biggest threat Alaska fishermen face, Stevens said.

''Unfortunately, the farmed fish have taken a major portion of the market and we are struggling to regain what we once had,'' he said.

Better marketing is crucial, said Tom Gemmell, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, which has about 450 members. Two of its members served on the panel.

The task force is recommending that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute receive $5 million in state money to bring its funding into the $12 million to $15 million range. Gemmell said the state stopped putting money into the organization in 1997.

''One thing obviously is that there is a market for the wild fish out there and a lot of people don't know about it,'' he said. ''We need to get the state back involved to promote seafood.''

Stevens said Alaska also needs to go after niche markets. One might be wild salmon in pouches, as tuna is now sold.

''That is a wonderful opportunity if we can get the markets to accept that,'' he said.

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