HOMER -- Citing serious differences over fisheries bills sponsored or forwarded by Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, a Kachemak City fisher last week declared his intent to try to unseat the first-term incumbent in the Aug. 27 Republican Party primary.
Paul Seaton filed a letter of intent to seek legislative office with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on April 23. Tuesday, Seaton confirmed he would oppose Scalzi, who he says does not represent the views of many fishers, nor of other Republicans on the lower Kenai Peninsula.
"It's going to be an uphill battle," Seaton admitted, acknowledging that his opponent is well liked. "It's not a personality thing, and I'm not running because I don't like Drew. It's because I don't believe the people of this district are being well represented."
Seaton said moves by Scalzi to change Alaska fisheries law may be well intentioned, but they are ill timed.
For instance, Seaton opposes House Bill 206, which would allow corporate owners of vessels to own Bering Sea Korean hair crab and weathervane scallop permits and to see those permits fished without the owners being on board. It goes against the state's long-standing philosophy of individual ownership, he said.
Scalzi said Tuesday the bill was requested by the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which was trying to meet a legislative mandate to find a better limited-entry system. It passed the House by a nearly unanimous vote.
Seaton also opposes Scalzi's House Bill 284, which would ease conflict of interest restrictions on Alaska Board of Fisheries members. Seaton said it could cause more problems than it would solve and could open the system to abuse.
He pointed to what he said are problems on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council brought on by a lack of adequate conflict rules.
"We are taking the worst attributes of the NPFMC process and putting that on the Board of Fish," Seaton said.
Scalzi said Seaton's opinion of the dangers is wrong. He said current conflict rules are too strict and tend to keep members with pertinent expertise from voting on important regulatory issues. In any case, Scalzi said, that bill is unlikely to move from committee this year.
"Maybe we will try again next year if I can get support," he said.
Seaton opposes House Bill 208, a measure aimed at promoting mariculture projects.
"It's a great industry," he said. Indeed, he added, it promotes clean water. "I don't think people have a problem with mariculture per se, but with privatizing the beach. I think we need more of a public process if we are going to do that in a state park or critical habitat."
The bill requires the state Department of Natural Resources to offer public leases on 60 suspended-shellfish sites, 20 clam sites and 10 geoduck sites around the state. Scalzi said the current permitting process is problematic because it compels people to scout out a site and then apply for a permit only to find out there is a conflict and it can't be used.
Rather than run people through that mill every time, the bill would have sites pre-selected by the Department of Fish and Game in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Conservation and DNR to avoid sites with conflicts.
There still would be a public process, he said.
Other provisions would limit the size of the mariculture sites, Scalzi said.
Seaton also opposes House Bill 288, a measure aimed at reducing the number of fishers in certain fisheries. Among other things, it would allow the Commercial Fisheries Entry Council to place a 7 percent tax on fishers to pay for buying up and retiring permits, Seaton said. He argues that since so many permits are not being fished now, it would place "a high tax burden" on active fishers at a time when the industry is down.
Scalzi said the bill addresses issues that have become problems since the inception of limited entry due to the increasing efficiency of fishers. Today, he said, there are more permits than necessary to effectively harvest the resources for sustained yield in some areas.
"The limited-entry program instituted in the early 1970s worked well for those times," Scalzi said. "However, with low prices and an excess of harvesters, it is apparent that what worked 30 years ago is splitting the pie into minute portions today."
Vessels today, he said, are faster, have better navigations systems, refrigeration and greater efficiency.
But buyback procedures triggered under current law by studies known as "Optimum Number Studies" used to determine the right number of permits for an area, actually discourage permit buybacks because they require the sale to include not only a permit but the owner's boat, skiff, nets and assorted gear as well.
"This requirement can be cumbersome, costly and an inherent disincentive to effectively promote a desired buyback plan," Scalzi said.
House Bill 288 would allow for the buyback of the permit only. One source of funding could be a self-assessment tax, but also could be federal grants.
Seaton also took issue with Scalzi's promotion of a sales tax. Scalzi countered saying he put a sales tax out for discussion purposes, just as he has backed discussion of income taxes and use of the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings as ways to solve the fiscal gap. He said anything less than bringing those issues to the fore in the current financial crisis would have been irresponsible.
Seaton is 56, married and has two grown children. He has never held public office but is a member of several organizations, including the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the United Fishermen of Alaska.
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