Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/29/1996 03:42 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CSHB 538(2d FSH) HAIR BRAB VESSELS; LTD ENTRY FOR VESSELS CHAIRMAN LEMAN brought CSHB 538(2d FSH) before the committee as the next order of business. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN said he introduced HB 538 as a result of discussions with fishermen, the Department of Fish & Game and the Limited Entry Commission. Representative Austerman said the Bering Sea hair crab fisheries is a very delicate and rather small fishery in the Bering Sea that first started back in about 1980, ran for a couple of years, and then crashed because of over-fishing. It started up again in about 1990, but with the way the other crab fisheries are going out in the Bering Sea, there is more and more of a concentrated effort on the Korean hair crab. It has become apparent that because of the small fishery that it is and hair crab being such a delicate crab itself, that a moratorium should be placed on this fishery until Fish & Game has a chance to take a hard look at it to see if it needs to be limited on the number of boats that are operating out there. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked if there has been any opposition to the legislation. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN acknowledged there was some opposition from some of the small fishing boats in the Bering Sea and the St. Paul-St. George area. The legislation was then amended to allow smaller vessels to be involved. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked if the legislation disallows larger vessels from being involved. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN replied that within five miles of the shore, a vessel may not be longer than 58 feet, but it does not disallow larger vessels outside that five-mile limit. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN pointed out that the legislation provides that the moratorium will be repealed on July 1, 2000. During the moratorium period, these are interim permits that are non- transferrable and with no value to them. He said it has been suggested to the Limited Entry Commission that they take a look at setting up a system that if they do limited entry, they make them non-transferrable permits that could possibly be returned to the state and then given out either through some type of an auction, or all allocation, or a drawing of some kind, so that we're not really getting into giving away the state resources. CHAIRMAN LEMAN opened the hearing on HB 538 to public comment. Number 279 GORDON BLUE , testifying from Sitka, stated he shares the ownership of two vessels that are in the Bering Sea crab fisheries and also engaged in the Korean hair crab fishery around St. Paul Island. The partners in the vessels include TDX Corporation, which is the village corporation for St. Paul, and the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Corporation, which is a subsidiary of Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association, a community development group for St. Paul Island. Mr. Blue said they helped to restart the fishery in 1990, as well as helping to develop a special gear tact that's now in the regulations that is designed to limit by-catch and other kinds of crab, and to run a clean fishery for hair crab in this area. They have developed techniques to try to handle these animals as little as possible and as delicately as possible in the conditions that are out there. He noted the Bering Sea red king crab fishery in Bristol Bay has been closed for the last two seasons, it will probably be closed again this year, and possibly for years in the future according to the Department of Fish & Game. This has resulted in going from a pioneering effort of two vessels to a total of 18 vessels last year. He said they have been told that if this progression continues, the Department of Fish & Game will close the fishery, deeming it unmanageable with the kind of effort that's near doubling every year. If the red king crab fishery is closed again this year and they don't have some sort of protection, they probably won't have a fishery at all. Mr. Blue stressed the fishery has been vital to their business plan for the small boats and the relatively small crab boats that they are operating in that area. These are 100 foot boats so they are not the same small boats that were also included in the bill under the five-mile language. The intent there was to allow community members in the partnership to try to operate within the shelter and lee of the islands and take some of the crab that is near shore. Concluding his testimony, Mr. Blue said he has a lot of hope that this bill will do what it sets out to do, which is to shelter the existing fleet, to prevent the fishery from being decimated by too much effort, or alternatively, from losing all economic benefit and having the fishery closed, and to just give a little breathing room for a program to be fully developed. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked Mr. Blue if he supports the bill as currently written. MR. BLUE answered that he does. JOHN WINTHER, a resident of Petersburg testifying from Anchorage in support of CSHB 536(2d FSH), stated he has been involved in the Bering Sea crab fishery since 1973. Mr. Winther pointed out that the hair crab fishery is one of the few fisheries in that area totally managed by the state of Alaska. Most of them are managed through the federal system or the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. This is why the fishermen came to the Legislature asking for help to implement a moratorium. Because it is state managed, it's one of the few fisheries that's not included in the current moratorium in the Bering Sea. Mr. Winther said he thinks the level of effort right now is as much as the fishery can sustain. The quotas are roughly 1.5 million to 2 million pounds a year, the stocks seem fairly healthy, and the harvest looks like it can sustain that level. He urged passage of the legislation so that the fishermen can work with the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to get something into place that will benefit those already involved in the fishery. He also noted that probably 75 percent of the harvest is being done by Seattle boats. FRANK HOMAN, Commissioner, Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, said the Commission has been working with the sponsor and the fishermen in the development of the moratorium legislation since late last year when they were petitioned to investigate limited entry for the hair crab fishery. The current system, which is a individual license program, didn't fit the type of fishery that's in the Bering Sea, which is larger boats that have relief skippers. If they had gone ahead with their traditional system that's in place, it would have allowed for eligibility from whatever skippers had been on the vessels in the last four or five years, and that would have substantially increased the numbers because some of them have two or three different skippers. So they were looking for another management system under a moratorium or limited entry, and HB 538 directs the commission to look at a vessel licensing system while providing a moratorium for up to four years. Mr. Homan pointed out that the bill calls for a five-mile offshore boundary and the moratorium would start at that point. The inshore would be open to small boats, and the idea around that was to protect an area for some of the local fishermen on some of the resource there. Page 3, lines 2-5, allows the Commission to establish administrative areas for the fishery. He said within Fish & Game there are statistical areas that are used for reporting, and one of them is a three-mile radius around the islands of St. Paul and St. George. It would be the Commission's intention to extend that by another two miles and call that the administrative area so that the moratorium would apply outside of that five miles. There being no further testimony on CSHB 538(2d FSH), CHAIRMAN LEMAN closed the public hearing and stated the bill would be set aside until a quorum was established. CSHB 538(2d FSH) HAIR CRAB VESSELS; LTD ENTRY FOR VESSELS CHAIRMAN LEMAN brought CSHB 538(2d FSH) back before the committee, and asked for the pleasure of the committee. SENATOR TAYLOR moved CSHB 538(2d FSH) be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered.