Alaska House members passed a bill Wednesday that would change the way limited-entry permits for the Bering Sea Korean hair crab and weathervane scallop fisheries are issued.
House Bill 206 was adopted by the House 35-4 and is headed to the Senate.
The state stopped issuing new permits in those fisheries in the late 1990s when moratoriums were put in place. The moratorium on hair crab expires June 30, 2003, while the weathervane scallop moratorium expires June 30, 2004. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission has been instructed to develop new limited-entry plans for those fisheries.
The current state limited-entry system creates a problem for those fisheries because it requires a permit holder to be a person and states that person must be on board when the ship is fishing.
"While this works well in most fisheries, it won't for these crab and scallop fisheries because they involve large vessels that operate far offshore and employ multiple skippers," sponsor Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, said in a press release.
"If you have 10 scallop boats fishing, and we use the current system, you might end up having to give out 50 limited-entry permits," Scalzi said.
That would defeat the Legislature's original intent to limit fishing for those species, he said.
According to legislative findings cited in the bill, "the conventional commercial fisheries limited-entry system, which limits the entry of natural persons into a fishery, may not adequately protect the economic health and stability of" these fisheries. The bill goes on to say a system limiting the number of vessels may be necessary in order "to promote the conservation and sustained yield management" (in the fisheries.)
The bill also would help the state in managing fisheries that overlap with federally managed fisheries in the United States' exclusive economic zone.
If the bill becomes law, the fisheries commission would hold hearings and adopt appropriate regulations for managing the fishery. Permits could be attached to vessels through their owners, rather than through vessel skippers if the commission determined that was in the best interest of the fishery. The vessel-based permit system would only apply to those fisheries.
Other provisions would give the commission the authority to regulate types of gear, areas fished and fishing capacity, as well as to take measures preventing the "excessive concentration of ownership" of vessel permits.
Rep. John Coghill Jr., R-North Pole, was one of the four members who voted against the measure. He said the fact that limited-entry permits, in general, have assumed property-right status makes him wonder whether going to a vessel-based permit process in these fisheries is a good idea. He admitted he'd come up against the limits of his own familiarity with fishery permitting issues, and knowing the bill was destined to pass, chose to vote no and follow the continuing debate.
"I hadn't been convinced that a vessel-based permit was something I wanted to do," he said.
While the bill appears to offer a way around the difficulty of requiring a permit holder to be on board, Coghill said, there might be unknown effects.
"What are the unintended consequences?" he asked.
Scalzi said Friday that he also struggled with various aspects of the proposed law as it was being drafted. During committee discussion, he noted concerns raised by other House members that attaching the permit to the vessel might prevent new fishers from entering these fisheries. However, Scalzi pointed out that the Bering Sea fisheries "are not entry-level fisheries."
A new skipper short on experience might be able to weather financial mistakes in a salmon seining operation, he said, but people without a lot of savvy about commercial fishing in the Bering Sea are unlikely to be buying multimillion-dollar vessels and heading out to harvest hair crab and weathervane scallops.
In other legislative news, the House Special Committee on Fisheries takes up discussion of two more Scalzi-sponsored fish bills Monday. House Bill 208 adds a provision to a state law governing how shellfish farming sites are valued. House Bill 287 would, among other things, exempt commercial fishing permits from the claims of creditors. Those committee meetings will be teleconferenced.
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