Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/16/2004 01:20 PM House JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 309 - PROHIBIT RELEASE OF PREDATORY FISH Number 0418 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 309, "An Act prohibiting the release of nonindigenous predatory fish into public water." [Before the committee was CSHB 309(RES).] Number 0402 REPRESENTATIVE KELLY WOLF, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, relayed that HB 309 "ran into a glitch" in the House Resources Standing Committee and was therefore referred to the House Judiciary Standing Committee. House Bill 309 addresses the issues of knowingly transporting predatory fish from one body of water in the state to another and of importing predatory fish into the state. Using the Kenai Peninsula as an example, he relayed that within the last two years, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) spent nearly $40,000 poisoning a lake that had had "yellow perch" - a predatory fish - introduced into it. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF noted that it is currently against state law to transport fish without a permit, but pointed out that in the past, people have transported northern pike into places on the Kenai Peninsula and in "the valley," though that type of fish is nonindigenous to those areas. Such behavior can cause huge impacts on local economies, he remarked, adding that this year, the ADF&G, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, used hoop nets to catch and dispose of northern pike from two lakes on the Kenai Peninsula. He suggested that having an invasion of northern pike on Alaska's natural salmon runs would be devastating to Alaska's economy. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF posited that the question before the committee is, does the legislature want to hold people accountable when they choose to transport and release nonindigenous predatory fish into Alaska's waters simply because they have a desire to catch northern pike, for example, "in their back yard." CHAIR McGUIRE indicated that she likes the inclusion of a definition section in the bill. Directing attention to page 1, line 13, she asked what is meant by the phrase, "generally accepted conduct in relation to permitted commercial fishing". REPRESENTATIVE WOLF explained that it is common practice for commercial fisherman to transport live crab in their holds, and he did not want to interfere in that practice; therefore, the aforementioned language was included in the bill as an exemption for permitted commercial fishing activities. TAPE 04-68, SIDE A Number 0092 REPRESENTATIVE OGG added that in the crabbing industry it is possible to get crab from one location, transport it live to another location, and in the process release eggs and undersized crabs in an area in which that type of crab is not normally found. REPRESENTATIVE GARA offered his belief that in the sport fishing industry, it is not really possible to accidentally drop a live fish from one drainage into another drainage. CHAIR McGUIRE pointed out, however, that in at-sea sport fishing vessels, there are live holding tanks, and so it might be possible to accidentally infest a particular area with fish that do not normally occupy that area. Number 0310 ROB BENTZ, Deputy Director, Division of Sport Fish, Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), concurred that it is possible for commercial crab fishermen to transport one type of crab to an area in which it wouldn't ordinarily be found. He remarked that although the same may be true to some extent for sport fishing, the transported fish/crab would not be transported hundreds of miles such as might be possible in the case of commercial crab fishing. CHAIR McGUIRE, raised the issue of transporting live bait, and indicated that she did not want to make criminals out of people who are simply engaging in common practice, whether it be commercial fishing or sport fishing. MR. BENTZ offered his belief that such would not happen under the bill, adding that the Board of Fisheries recently adopted a statewide regulation that specifically allows sport anglers to use, possess, hold, and transport live fish as bait in salt waters. CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there would be any harm in amending page 1, lines 13-14, to say, "generally accepted conduct in relation to permitted commercial fishing and sport fishing activities." MR. BENTZ said he wouldn't have a problem that language so long as the word "saltwater" was added between "permitted" and "commercial"; such would ensure that if an aquatic organism is caught in the Pacific Ocean, it would only be released in the Pacific Ocean, and would preclude someone from making the argument regarding freshwater sport fishing that it is a generally accepted practice to take pike from the Susitna River and release them in the Kenai River. CHAIR McGUIRE, in response to a question, clarified that her suggestion, then, would be to change page 1, lines 13-14, to say, "(3) generally accepted conduct in relation to saltwater permitted commercial fishing or sport fishing activities." Number 0524 CHAIR McGUIRE, in response to a question, indicated that that language would be considered Amendment 1, and that the question of whether to adopt Amendment 1 was before the committee. REPRESENTATIVE GARA indicated that he had alternative language. Number 0581 CHAIR McGUIRE withdrew Amendment 1. Number 0599 REPRESENTATIVE GARA made a motion to adopt Amendment 2, to insert "saltwater" between "permitted" and "commercial", and to insert "or sport" after "commercial" on page 1, line 13. The effect of Amendment 2 would be to make page 1, lines 13-14, read: (3) generally accepted conduct in relation to permitted saltwater commercial or sport fishing.". There being no objection, Amendment 2 was adopted. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM - directing attention to subsection (b), which pertains to ornamental fish - relayed that he'd been in the pet store business for many years. He said he could envision the language in subsection (b) making a felon out of someone who dumps the wastewater from his/her fish tank into a septic system, since the water in a septic system goes into an aquifer and ultimately ends up in "the waters of the state". He then went on to detail the process that some commercial pet stores use with regard to their ornamental fish tanks. He expressed the concern that [subsection (b)], as written, is too broad and may produce unintended consequences. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF suggested, on page 2, on both lines 1 and 2, changing "the water of the state" to "a water body of the state". He posited that such a change would address Representative Holm's concern. CHAIR McGUIRE mentioned the term "navigable waters". REPRESENTATIVE GARA noted that there is already a definition of "waters of the state" [in subsection (d)(4) of the bill], and it does not include aquifers. He suggested changing page 2, line 1, to simply say: "ornamental fish into the water of the state." He indicated his belief that this simplified language coupled with the definition in subsection (d)(4) should be sufficient. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, noting that the original version of the bill pertained to predatory fish, asked why the bill should now pertain to ornamental fish as well as predatory fish. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF said his intent with HB 309 was to focus on predatory fish such as northern pike, but through the committee process the bill has metamorphosed into something far different. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked how members felt about including the term "predatory" in the bill. REPRESENTATIVE GARA recalled one instance of an ornamental fish living in Campbell Creek. CHAIR McGUIRE reminded the committee of need to be clear about what kind of conduct it is that leads up to the penalty currently outlined in the bill - a class C felony. She asked Mr. Bentz to comment on why the bill no longer says "predatory nonindigenous fish". Number 1202 MR. BENTZ pointed out that all aquatic organisms are predatory. Therefore, a list would be needed to clarify what species the bill is intended to apply to. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG opined that they ought to be able to define, at least generally, the term "predatory fish"; the department could then establish regulations further listing the exact species. MR. BENTZ remarked that although such could be done, two species that have the potential to cause the greatest harm to Alaska probably wouldn't be included in a list of "predatory fish" - one being the "green crab," which is slowly making its way up the northwest coast and which can cause massive ecological dislocations; and the other being "zebra mussels." REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he was thinking along the lines of giving the department the flexibility to create a list of whatever species - be it fish or other organisms - that it determines could be harmful to Alaska's ecosystems. REPRESENTATIVE BENTZ mentioned that such a list might be quite lengthy. CHAIR McGUIRE remarked: "If you want to make it a serious crime because of the impacts, which I think we all agree there are, we should know what type of fish we're talking about so that folks can avoid that criminal conduct." REPRESENTATIVE GARA surmised that there are really two problems, one related to predatory fish and the other related to non- predatory fish that are diseased. Regarding the latter problem, it is not possible to anticipate every scenario that might develop. Therefore, the message the bill sends should be, "You don't put fish into our wild waters that don't belong there." Number 1462 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that she is assigning HB 309 to a subcommittee consisting of Representative Holm, chair; Representative Gara; and Representative Samuels. She asked the members of the subcommittee to meet soon and consider the issues of appropriate penalties and specificity of species for the sake of clarity. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS asked Mr. Bentz whether the department has caught anyone releasing pike into streams for malicious reasons. MR. BENTZ said they have not apprehended anyone doing it for malicious reasons; in almost every case, persons have introduced nonindigenous species so as to have the opportunity to fish for a species they are familiar with. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF said that according to conversations he's had with ADF&G and U.S. Department Fish and Wildlife personnel, there have been several instances wherein they suspected individuals transported northern pike to specific bodies of water within the state, but without being able to actually catch these individuals releasing fish, the prospects of conviction are not good. CHAIR McGUIRE, addressing members of the subcommittee, mentioned that perhaps staggered penalties might be in order. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG concurred, suggesting that if someone intentionally introduces a species into a body of water for the purpose of fishing a familiar species, that should have a higher penalty. MR. BENTZ mentioned that currently, unless specified as misdemeanors, behavior prohibited by ADF&G regulations results in violations. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM, as chair of the subcommittee, asked Mr. Bentz to provide him with a copy of the current penalties. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted that CSHB 309(RES) contains a minimum fine of $1,500, and suggested that the subcommittee consider this issue as well. Number 1719 CHAIR McGUIRE relayed that HB 309 [CSHB 309(RES), as amended] would be held over for the purpose of allowing the subcommittee to meet and discuss the issues raised.