Commercial fishing group says changes needed to better defend industry

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's largest commercial fishing group wants sweeping changes made to help it stave off the effects of plummeting salmon prices.

Among the changes are new laws to allow the industry to temporarily reduce its fleet and better representation in the state's Board of Fisheries.

The United Fishermen of Alaska formulated its plan to restructure the industry during a weeklong meeting in Petersburg last week. Many of its proposals are still being formulated. But UFA President Bob Thorstenson said the industry needs more flexibility to fix its problems on a region-by-region basis.

''Different regions require different solutions. We have to allow those regions to come up with some of their own solutions,'' said Thorstenson.

The industry faces an uncertain future with a glut in farm-raised salmon expected to drive prices down for several years, said Gunnar Knapp, fisheries economist with the University of Alaska.

Farm raised salmon accounted for more than half of the 1.8 million tons of salmon produced worldwide, Knapp said.

''We've got to look at this thing for the next 20 years,'' said Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer. ''The industry needs some stability.''

The UFA wants legislation to allow for voluntary buybacks of fishing permits without purchasing the equipment from commercial fishermen.

It also wants legislation to require the governor appoint at least three commercial fishermen to the state Board of Fisheries along with three sport fishermen and one subsistence user.

Currently the governor may appoint anyone to the board, which establishes some state fishing regulations. The organization complained that too many seats on the board are held by sport fishermen and commercial fishing doesn't have adequate representation.

''It's almost like having a gas station attendant decide how the state's oil and gas industry should operate,'' said Tom Gemmell, UFA executive director. ''We want to make sure there's fair representation.''

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