State panel appointed to address salmon industry woes

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State lawmakers have named an 11-member task force to try to solve the commercial salmon industry's many woes.

The Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force members appointed Thursday will hold public hearings around the state and will try to come up with ways to help salmon fishermen, processors and communities cope with market changes caused by the increase in farmed salmon.

''We want to do something that makes a difference,'' said state Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, who will chair the task force. ''I don't think the task force is the answer to the problems, but I hope it can be part of the solution.''

The naming of the panel comes as the Alaska salmon industry, now fully engaged in another summer harvest, stands to net its poorest payoff in more than a decade.

A state projection shows that the statewide salmon harvest will pay fishermen about $130 million at the docks. That's a big drop from last year's $216 million and only about 17 percent of the $768 million in 1988, when voracious Japanese demand for wild sockeye superheated Alaska's fishing trade.

Glenn Haight, a state Department of Commerce official, said the $120 million project is conservative, but even a 50 percent improvement would mean a bleak year for the industry.

Senate President Rick Halford and House Speaker Brian Porter named the task force, which includes four lawmakers and seven public members. In addition to Stevens, the members are:

Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, vice chairman.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

Rep. Bill Williams, R-Ketchikan.

Sue Aspelund, executive director, Cordova District Fishermen United.

Sam Cotten, former legislator now representing the Aleutians East Borough.

Duncan Fields, Kodiak lawyer and salmon fisherman.

Don Giles, president of Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc., one of the state's biggest salmon packers.

John Lowrance, founder, Leader Creek Fisheries, which processes Bristol Bay salmon and Togiak herring.

Robin Samuelsen, Dillingham salmon fisherman and chief executive, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

Gary Slaven, Petersburg commercial fisherman and former state Board of Fisheries member.

The Legislature appropriated $908,000 to support the task force.

The panel will hold its first meeting on July 22 in Anchorage, with public hearings to come later around the state, Sen. Stevens said.

The focus will be on identifying adjustments to state laws or regulations that could help the industry deal with changing world markets, he said.''

Task force members likely will head up subcommittees on issues such as marketing, quality control, industry financing, and harvesting and processing regulations. Those subcommittees hopefully will draw in more people with ideas or special expertise, Stevens said.

While many of the state's salmon fisheries remain blessed with large and healthy runs of salmon and some fishermen are earning decent money, other areas like Bristol Bay are facing both weak runs and poor prices this year. In Southeast, the problem has been too much salmon in recent years, creating a glut of canned pink salmon.

The task force is required to make its final report to the Legislature by Jan. 31. Ideas the panel might entertain range from buying out some state fishing permits to revamping fishery rules to boosting funds for salmon marketing.

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