FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., tabled until later this month a proposal that would allow fish management councils to give shares of seafood harvests to processing companies.
The amendment briefly appeared in a congressional hearing last week but was tabled until July 10.
The quota language was introduced by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., in a House Resources Committee hearing held Wednesday to work on renewing the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The act, passed in 1976 and last updated in 1996, sets the ground rules for ocean fisheries management.
The law prohibits assigning shares of the harvest, or quotas, to fishermen, but that moratorium expires this year.
Some processors have asked that they, along with individual fishermen, be allowed to get a designated share of the harvest.
The companies say they need the shares to protect their investments in expensive processing plants. Gilchrest's amendment would let each of the eight regional fish management councils decide if they wanted to give quotas to processors.
An alternative amendment, proposed by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would have declared that fishermen can sell to any processor, thereby nullifying any possibility of a processor quota. That amendment was defeated by Republicans on the committee in a 21-15 vote.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, voted against it.
Gilchrest said at the hearing that Alaskans support giving quota shares to processors.
But Ben Enticknap, with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council in Anchorage, said that's not entirely correct. The group has collected 600 signatures from Alaskans protesting a recent decision by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to endorse processor quotas for crabs. Since the quota moratorium is still in place, the system would need a congressional waiver before it goes into effect.
Enticknap said giving a processor a quota share would hurt fishermen. ''If you're tied into selling your fish to that company, then you don't have access to a free market and competition and the best prices,'' he said.
Processors will be able to force lower prices on fishermen, he said.
''There's not the incentive to compete because they know that they're going to get a certain percentage of the catch every year,'' Enticknap said.
Kevin Duffy, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the crab plan was designed to address fishermen's bargaining worries. Duffy is the state's representative on the council and pushed for the plan, which allows individual fishing quotas, or IFQs, in addition to processor quotas. Duffy said 10 percent of the crab catch will remain unallocated.
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