Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/23/2004 01:35 PM Senate L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 statute. 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 it. 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 deliberations. 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 limit. 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 vessel. 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.