The chair of the Alaska Legisl-ature's Salmon Industry Task Force told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the time has come for the industry to work with the Legislature to recover lost value.
Citing salmon production figures contrasted with commercial salmon prices, Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens said the problem is that production is rising, but prices are falling.
"From the production side, the state of the industry is very good," Stevens said.
The 20-year average is 715 million pounds. These figures are for all five salmon species, he said.
The 10-year average is 802 million pounds. The five-year average is 744 million pounds and the two-year average is 850 million pounds.
In terms of price, though, he said the numbers are going down.
The 20-year average is $417 million. The 10-year average is $378 million. The five-year average is $284 million and in 2002, the industry brought in $168 million, Stevens said.
He told the 50 business people gathered at the luncheon he did not believe government could control the market for salmon, but through the task force, the Legislature could help the industry lower its costs and remain competitive.
He delineated several challenges facing the task force and the industry, saying the major competitor of the Alaska salmon industry is Chilean farmed salmon.
"In 1995, Japan imports of salmon were 50 percent from the Alaska market, 13 percent Chilean and 37 from other countries," he said.
"In 2001, Japan's red fish salmon were 52 percent Chilean, 13 percent Alaska sockeye and 35 percent other.
"Those are the challenges," he said.
He rhetorically asked what the Legislature could do to help increase the value of the salmon to the commercial fishers.
He said the task force, made up of seven legislators and eight members from the general public, conducted 17 public hearings around the state last year and recommended 13 pieces of legislation, eight of which were introduced with five being passed by the Legislature.
One bill, House Bill 90, which received the support of Sen. Tom Wagoner and Rep. Mike Chenault from the Kenai Peninsula, provides a salmon products tax credit so commercial fishers can receive tax relief over a five-year period if they make a significant investment in their business, said Stevens.
Stevens said the Legislature also passed House Bill 104, which allows small fish processors to pay their fisheries business tax on a monthly basis rather than paying it all up front based on an estimated catch before the season starts, as had been previously mandated.
He also described a situation in which the Internal Revenue Service can seize assets, including a commercial fishing permit, if the fisher becomes delinquent in taxes. A new state provision creates a small business loan for fishers who are current with their tax liability to prevent the IRS from seizing their permit if they should fall behind.
Stevens told the Soldotna group the Salmon Industry Task Force will continue its work through May 31.
He said the meeting schedules for the various committees will be available on the United Fishermen of Alaska Web site at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He pointed out that changes made by the Legislature, such as those recommended by the task force, are statewide changes. Often, however, a change needs to be made regionally, and the Board of Fish has the authority to make those changes, without needing to change state statutes, he said.
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