Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/23/2004 01:35 PM Senate L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                   HB 409-SEINE VESSEL LENGTH                                                                               
CHAIR CON BUNDE announced HB 409 to be up for consideration.                                                                    
MR. TIM  BARRY, staff to  Representative Bill  Williams, sponsor,                                                               
said that  HB 409 was  requested by the Joint  Legislative Salmon                                                               
Industry Task Force.                                                                                                            
     It  could  give  the  Alaska  Board  of  Fisheries  and                                                                    
     Alaska's fishermen an additional  tool to allow them to                                                                    
     diversify and  increase the value of  their fish. First                                                                    
     of  all, Mr.  Chairman, I  want to  make it  clear that                                                                    
     this  does not  eliminate the  58 ft.  length limit  on                                                                    
     salmon seiners.  It only puts  these boats in  the same                                                                    
     regulatory  regime  as  all  other  fishing  boat  size                                                                    
     limits. The 58 ft. limit  is one of only two commercial                                                                    
     fishing  boat  length  limits  that  are  enshrined  in                                                                    
     The  58 ft.  limit  predates statehood.  In the  1950s,                                                                    
     Alaska's commercial  fisheries were not nearly  as well                                                                    
     developed as they are now.  Territorial and early state                                                                    
     lawmakers  wanted  to  protect Alaska's  fishing  fleet                                                                    
     from the dominant fleet of  large boats that fished out                                                                    
     of, primarily,  Puget Sound. This perceived  threat was                                                                    
     serious enough  that legislators enshrined  this length                                                                    
     limit  in statute  rather than  allowing  the Board  of                                                                    
     Fisheries to have the same  discretion it has regarding                                                                    
     lengths  in  other  gear restrictions.  Those  concerns                                                                    
     that drove  the law 50  or so  years ago are  no longer                                                                    
     present.  There really  is no  longer  the same  threat                                                                    
     from  outside   vessels  or  fleets  today.   In  fact,                                                                    
     Alaska's fishing  fleet is  far stronger  and healthier                                                                    
     now than certainly the Puget Sound fishing fleet.                                                                          
     In addition, if  HB 409 becomes law,  the length limit,                                                                    
     as I  said earlier, remains  in place. If the  Board of                                                                    
     Fisheries decides  to consider  changing it,  the board                                                                    
     will  have  to  consider the  concerns  about  Alaska's                                                                    
     seiners and  their economic future,  as well  as dozens                                                                    
     of  other concerns  before  rendering  a decision.  The                                                                    
     Board  of  Fisheries has  the  authority  to change  or                                                                    
     impose  length limits,  gear limits,  and all  sorts of                                                                    
     other regulations  on commercial  fishing boats  in the                                                                    
     State of Alaska.                                                                                                           
     If this  bill is made  law, the  board will have  to go                                                                    
     through  its  normal  public  process,  which  involves                                                                    
     hearings, public comment,  generally speaking, at least                                                                    
     a  three-year cycle  between the  proposal of  a change                                                                    
     and  an actual  change  being made  before this  length                                                                    
     limit  would  be  changed.  The   bill  before  you  is                                                                    
     supported  by the  UFA and  by a  number of  individual                                                                    
     fishermen around the state.  Unfortunately, a number of                                                                    
     seiners who  wanted to  testify in  favor of  this bill                                                                    
     are out fishing. In  conversations in other committees,                                                                    
     seiners   have   said   they  could   diversify   their                                                                    
     operations if  they had longer  boats. They could  do a                                                                    
     little more  processing; they could add  value to their                                                                    
     product,  which is  something we're  all hoping  we can                                                                    
     help  Alaska's fishermen  do. There  is  a zero  fiscal                                                                    
     note from the Department of Fish and Game....                                                                              
CHAIR BUNDE asked if the other length that is set in statute is                                                                 
for Bristol Bay boats.                                                                                                          
MR. BARRY replied  that Bristol Bay boat length  is not enshrined                                                               
in  statute, but  is  determined  by the  board.  The other  boat                                                               
length was set  in statute six years  ago and has to  do with the                                                               
hair crab fishery out west.                                                                                                     
CHAIR BUNDE asked  if he thought seiners would  begin to pressure                                                               
the board to change their length limitation if this bill passes.                                                                
MR. BARRY replied that he wouldn't bet against that happening.                                                                  
SENATOR GARY STEVENS asked if  the 58 ft. length were eliminated,                                                               
would that devalue the vessels that are in the fleet now.                                                                       
MR. BARRY  answered that fishermen  have commented a lot  on this                                                               
issue. One of  their comments is that not all  seiners are 58 ft.                                                               
long - some are 48 ft. or 52  ft. and a good living could be made                                                               
from  them if  other boats  were larger.  Testimony is  that some                                                               
fishermen want to diversify their  business with the change being                                                               
very gradual.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR STEVENS  pointed out that the  58 ft. boat length  is not                                                               
being removed, but the option is  simply being given to the board                                                               
to do that.                                                                                                                     
SENATOR SEEKINS asked if he had a  62 ft. seiner that has been in                                                               
the state's waters  since before 1962, could he  still be fishing                                                               
MR. BARRY replied that he  understands that using an Alaska seine                                                               
permit limits a boat size to 58 ft.                                                                                             
2:17 p.m.                                                                                                                       
SENATOR SEEKINS remarked that it  says, "except vessels that have                                                               
fished  for salmon  with seines  in  waters of  the state  before                                                               
January 1, 1962...." and asked what that means.                                                                                 
MR. BARRY replied  that some boats were fishing when  the law was                                                               
put in place in  1962, but the boat would still  have to be under                                                               
the same ownership and permit to be fished.                                                                                     
SENATOR  FRENCH  asked  how  much  longer  he  anticipated  boats                                                               
getting to be.                                                                                                                  
MR.  BARRY  replied  that  testimony  has  indicated  that  other                                                               
considerations would  come into  play in  the board's  process of                                                               
determining length.  For instance, federal regulations  for boats                                                               
longer than 60 ft. and  practical considerations in terms of what                                                               
people can do on a boat once it  gets to be that much longer like                                                               
where it can fish. People are  not looking for an optimum number.                                                               
He added that  trollers currently do not have a  length limit and                                                               
a few are 70 ft., but most are shorter than 60 ft.                                                                              
MR.  JERRY MCCUNE,  United Fishermen  of Alaska  (UFA), supported                                                               
the sponsor's  statement for  HB 409.  People could  petition the                                                               
board according to area and it  would have to decide based on its                                                               
TAPE 04-25, SIDE B                                                                                                            
MR. MCCUNE  continued saying that  probably some  fishermen would                                                               
want to  extend their  boats 5 -  10 ft. and  be able  to harvest                                                               
more fish  - perhaps by  putting in a  Sunday hold so  they could                                                               
put RSW  (refrigerated salt water)  sockeye in it and  high grade                                                               
fish in another.                                                                                                                
     So, even  if you  change the  limit in  Southeast, it's                                                                    
     not going to  happen overnight. Guys are  going to have                                                                    
     to  make  the decision  based  on  their economics  and                                                                    
     based on whether they want  to market some of their own                                                                    
     fish and  things like that.  Way back when,  there were                                                                    
     100 ft. tuna  seiners coming up here to  do the herring                                                                    
     and stuff,  so they put  that 58  ft. to keep  all that                                                                    
     big boat fleet  out of here.... Well, that  fleet is no                                                                    
     longer in existence. So, a  lot of this is changing now                                                                    
     to be  able to  do your  own fish  and market  and have                                                                    
     enough room to handle it.                                                                                                  
He described how  one fisherman needs more room to  put his seine                                                               
[net] and  another fish  hold while  still being  able to  have a                                                               
covered area  to clean fish,  a DEC requirement. In  other areas,                                                               
some guys have  two boats, a 58  ft. and a 70 ft.  They could get                                                               
rid of one  boat and consolidate their operations  and save money                                                               
by just  using the  one boat  if the board  decided that  was the                                                               
SENATOR SEEKINS asked again what the  process is for the Board of                                                               
Fisheries to consider changing the length regulation.                                                                           
MR. MCCUNE explained that he would  write a proposal to the board                                                               
if he fished  in Southeast, asking to change the  58 ft. limit to                                                               
65 ft.                                                                                                                          
     I'd  have to  write  that proposal,  submit  it in  the                                                                    
     three-year  cycle  that  the board  has  Southeast  in.                                                                    
     Let's  use, for  example,  2006 is  the next  Southeast                                                                    
     cycle  -   submit  that   proposal,  they   accept  the                                                                    
     proposal, put it  in the book and then  they publish it                                                                    
     to the public  - all the proposals -  so everybody gets                                                                    
     to see what's going to be coming up in 2006.                                                                               
SENATOR  SEEKINS said  the application  is not  by petition,  but                                                               
rather by a proposal that anyone could write.                                                                                   
MR. MCCUNE replied that is correct.                                                                                             
SENATOR SEEKINS asked if he was  right in assuming that the board                                                               
didn't  have to  consider  just  any proposal  at  any time,  but                                                               
within the board cycle.                                                                                                         
MR. MCCUNE replied that is right.                                                                                               
SENATOR  GARY STEVENS  asked if  he  thought there  would be  any                                                               
devaluation  of the  existing fleet  and  would existing  vessels                                                               
still be competitive.                                                                                                           
MR. MCCUNE  replied that  he really  didn't think  existing boats                                                               
would be devalued. There is a  good 58 ft. limit market in Kodiak                                                               
right now. He  said that a lot of people  would just extend their                                                               
existing boats that might already be paid for.                                                                                  
SENATOR GARY STEVENS said he  knew of several fishermen in Kodiak                                                               
who  were  attempting  to  do  value-added  processing  on  their                                                               
vessels and  they often have to  do that in very  cramped spaces.                                                               
"This would  allow them to  be a  little more competitive  on the                                                               
market, I would guess."                                                                                                         
MR. MCCUNE agreed. "You have to  have another fish hold if you're                                                               
going  to clean  fish and  ice  them. You  can't have  it in  the                                                               
refrigerated  salt water.  That's against  DEC rules,  because of                                                               
bacteria and stuff...."                                                                                                         
MR. MAC MEINERS, Alaska purse seiner,  supported HB 409. He has a                                                               
little purse seiner.                                                                                                            
     If  they would  open up  and get  bigger seiners,  that                                                                    
     would  give  me an  opportunity  to  buy a  little  bit                                                                    
     bigger boat.... What we've got  to remember is that the                                                                    
     gear catches the fish and  the gear is also restricted.                                                                    
     So, no matter  how big the boat is,  you'll always have                                                                    
     the same piece of gear.                                                                                                    
MR. MELVIN  LARSON said he  is a limit  seiner out of  Sand Point                                                               
and carries  160,000 lbs.  under the deck;  he didn't  agree with                                                               
most of the previous testimony.  He said there are many different                                                               
ways to process and make a boat capable of doing more work.                                                                     
     Under  the  federal  LLP  regulation,  with  the  limit                                                                    
     seiner that I have now, I'd  only be able to add on two                                                                    
     feet. Under federal  regulations you can only  go to 60                                                                    
     ft.  and  then it  goes  from  60  to  125 ft.  I'd  be                                                                    
     penalized and  I'd be  able to go  only two  feet under                                                                    
     federal regulations.                                                                                                       
MR.  LARSON said  the same  goes  for fishing  halibut IFQs.  You                                                               
could only go  to 60 ft. otherwise you would  have to get another                                                               
boat  or you  wouldn't be  able  to fish  your IFQs  on the  same                                                               
Under  federal  regulations,  also,  if  you  are  not  currently                                                               
qualified for  processing, you are  only capable of  processing a                                                               
small amount of  rockfish on a vessel. Getting rid  of the 58 ft.                                                               
limit wouldn't help in terms of adding processing capacity.                                                                     
Regarding the value  of a 58 ft. seiner, Mr.  Larson said he paid                                                               
over $1 million for his "wide-bodied  Delta," and right now it is                                                               
valued at about half  of that. If the 58 ft.  limit went away, he                                                               
didn't know what he would be able to sell it for. Not much.                                                                     
     I   also  believe   the  salmon   fishery  is   already                                                                    
     overcapitalized.  It doesn't  need  anything to  change                                                                    
     it.  Passing   this  bill  would  stop   in  the  wrong                                                                    
     direction,  putting  the  burden  on  small  struggling                                                                    
     communities  that are  already  having a  hard time.  I                                                                    
     don't believe many people  in these smaller communities                                                                    
     could afford to spend  $400,000 to $500,000 to lengthen                                                                    
     their boats....                                                                                                            
MR. LARSON said he  has been a member of the UFA  for a long time                                                               
and  wasn't contacted  about this.  "I  don't agree  with UFA.  I                                                               
think it's  just personal opinions  there that's  being presented                                                               
to you."                                                                                                                        
CHAIR BUNDE said he would pass  that information on to Mr. McCune                                                               
and that he would hold the bill for further thought.                                                                            

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