Seafood marketing tax faces criticism

Proposed 0.3 percent hike garners opposition among groundfishers

Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2004

JUNEAU (AP) Bering Sea fishers say a Senate bill subjecting them to a marketing tax would constitute taxation without representation.

The bill would change the tax structure that funnels revenue to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute by adding an 0.3 percent tax for nonsalmon fishers.

Salmon fishers currently pay a 1 percent marketing tax and processors pay a voluntary 0.3 percent assessment. The new bill would make the processor's assessment mandatory. It would also reduce the size of ASMI's board from 25 members to nine.

The bill is an attempt to alleviate the institute's funding problems, which stem from falling wild salmon prices as the industry struggles against imported farmed fish.

''This problem started as a problem in the salmon industry, not as a problem in the groundfish industry,'' said Brett Payne, executive director of Seattle-based United Catcher Boats, which represents Bering Sea pollock, cod and crab fishers.

Payne made his comments during a Tuesday hearing on the new bill in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. He said it's unclear what the 0.3 percent tax would fund. He also noted that 95 percent of fishers and crew in the Bering Sea fleet aren't from Alaska and that the group would like some representation on the ASMI board if it is subjected to a tax.

Bill sponsor Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the new tax is estimated to generate $2.6 million per year for ASMI. Revenue from the 1 percent salmon tax is estimated at $1.67 million, and funds from the 0.3 percent processors' assessment are estimated at $3.1 million, the Juneau Empire reported.

ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta said the agency relies heavily on federal grants, many of which are drying up.

Riutta said the agency needs about $10 million to $11 million annually to function and, once the current grants end, ASMI will receive about $2 million to $3 million from the federal government for overseas marketing.

''We will see little, if any, money for domestic marketing,'' Riutta said. ''We're not asking for an increased budget. We're asking for a stable budget that doesn't fluctuate with the fishery's market.''

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