A bill that would change the makeup of the Board of Fisheries received mixed response from Alaska fishermen on Tuesday.
Commercial, sport and personal-use fishermen statewide weighed in on Senate Bill 284 at a public hearing with the state Senate Resources Committee. Some voiced their support for the bill, saying it would bring a more unbiased approach to the process. Others called for board members with a professional scientific or economic backgrounds in addition to members representing fishing interests. These people, they say, would know how to address king crab issues as well as issues involving the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in addition to Alaska's salmon fishery.
Some also said they supported the concept of the bill, but questioned the number of personal-use and subsistence seats it would put on the board compared to commercial and sportfishing seats.
"We're splitting private sport and guided sport (fishing) into two seats," said Monte Roberts, a Soldotna-based sportfishing guide. "The commercial guys get locked into two seats and personal-use, who has never really had representation before now, gets majority representation on the board."
According to a sponsor statement by Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, Senate Bill 284 seeks to ensure balance and fairness on the Board of Fisheries by providing a framework for the appointment of members and the board process while focusing its efforts on conserving Alaska's salmon stocks. Under the bill, the board would consist of two commercial seats, two sportfishing seats and three personal-use or subsistence seats.
A person representing the commercial fishery cannot hold or have an immediate family member who holds a sportfishing operator license or a sportfishing guide license. A person representing sport fisheries cannot hold or have an immediate family member who holds a commercial fishing permit or a crewmember permit. A sportfishing member of the board also cannot own or have an immediate family member who owns a commercial fish processing business.
A member representing the personal-use or subsistence seat cannot hold or have an immediate family member who holds a commercial fishing or a crew member permit, a sportfishing operator license or a sportfishing guide license; he or she also cannot own or have an immediate family member who owns a commercial fish processing business.
Roberts said he supported the concept of the bill, but questioned the number of personal-use and subsistence seats that would be placed on the board. He said he's concerned about the fact that under this bill, charter operators don't get a guaranteed seat on the board. Out of three proposed sections, a charter operator would only be able to have a sportfishing seat.
"I don't think (personal-use fishermen) don't deserve representation, but I don't think they need to have majority representation," he said.
Roberts and commercial fisherman Greg Gabriel said the board would benefit from having a member with a professional background who served in an advisory position. Roberts said an economist, or someone with a tourism background, would be able to give board members a better idea what effect the regulations they pass would have on the state's tourism industry. Gabriel said someone with higher education would be able to analyze the data board members receive and provide clarification if it's needed.
"There's millions of dollars at stake on both sides," Gabriel said. He added that many folks with a sportfishing and commercial fishing background are clueless when it comes to king crab issues and issues involving the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which manages the state's halibut population.
State Sen. Tom Wagoner, a former commercial salmon fisherman, said commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet benefited from the regulations the Board of Fisheries passed at its meeting last month in Anchorage. He said the board members based their decisions on the biology that was available for the area and it wasn't favorable to the sport fishery in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
"The commercial fishermen won and the sportfish lost," he said. "The bill is untimely. If it doesn't die in the Senate it will die in the House I'm sure."
When it comes to three personal-use and subsistence seats on the board, the senator said he wouldn't allow a seat on the Board of Fisheries for a subsistence user because subsistence is a federal program.
"The state of Alaska does not have subsistence fishing," he said. "It's promoted by the federal government. You qualify through your zip code, not through need."
Mike Fenton, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, spoke for about 11 guides in the room Tuesday. He said there's too much room for bias in the current board and the bill would bring more fair representation for all involved user groups.
"I think it would move it in the right direction," he said. "I hope it comes out of committee and moves down the road."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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