Fishery consolidation bills aim at curing ailing salmon industry

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Bills aimed at increasing the efficiency of Alaska's beleaguered salmon industry are moving through the Legislature.

The House Resources Committee on Wednesday approved a measure making it less cumbersome for the state to implement a limited entry permit buyback program.

The committee is also looking at a bill that would let fishermen set up associations that could put together their own private buyback programs. Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, is sponsoring both bills.

Both are aimed at reducing the number of nets in the water, so the remaining fishermen stand a better chance of survival in a market flooded with farm-raised salmon.

''It gives human beings a little bit more control instead of just flowing with the immediate market circumstance,'' said David Bedford, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and a board member for the United Fishermen of Alaska.

The growing industry of farm-raised salmon has pushed down prices and made it more difficult for Alaska's commercial salmon fishermen to stay afloat financially.

The buyback bill, House Bill 288, would change existing law so that if the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission decides to go forward with a buyback program, it need only purchase a fishermen's permit.

State law currently requires a buyback to also include boats and gear.

''It would be a very cumbersome and expensive process,'' Scalzi said.

The bill also removes a requirement that the state automatically begin a buyback program as soon as an entry commission study determines there are too many permits in a fishery.

That change allows the commission to determine the optimum number of permits, information that fishermen could then use to decide how many permits to remove if they pursued a private or federal buyback.

The bill also removes language calling for buyback programs to be paid for through an assessment on the fishery, leaving funding to be determined when a particular program is proposed.

The measure next goes to the House Finance Committee.

The Resources Committee is expected to act next week on House Bill 286, which lets permit holders in a given fishery form an association to consolidate that fishery.

A fishery consists of fishermen using a particular type of gear in a particular area, such as Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishermen.

The measure would allow such a group to assess a fee with approval of two-thirds of the permit holders. The money would be used to reduce the number of people fishing.

The association would decide for itself how best to accomplish consolidation. Mary McDowell, of the commercial fisheries entry commission, said associations might create their own private buyback program or simply pay some fishermen to sit out a season.

The measure also allows fishermen to hold two permits in a single fishery, although it doesn't let them use any more gear than allowed for a single permit. Currently, fishermen can hold only one permit per fishery.

Both bills are supported by various fishing groups, including the United Fishermen of Alaska.

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