Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/14/2004 03:30 PM Senate RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 409-SEINE VESSEL LENGTH CHAIR SCOTT OGAN announced HB 409 to be up for consideration. MR. TIM BARRY, staff to Representative Bill Williams, who is sponsoring HB 409 at the request of the Joint Legislative Salmon Task Force, said it removes the statutory prohibition for the length of salmon seine vessels and leaves the authority for their length to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. This bill was discussed in the Production Subcommittee of the Task Force and by the Task Force as whole as something that could give the Board of Fisheries and Alaska's fishermen another tool to allow them to diversify and increase the value of their fish. This legislation 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 enshrined in statute and predates statehood. In the 1950s, the Alaska fisheries were not nearly as well developed as they are today and territorial and early state lawmakers wanted to protect Alaska's fishing fleet from the dominant fleet of larger boats that fished out of Puget Sound primarily. This perceived threat was serious enough that legislators enshrined the length limit in statute rather than allowing the Board of Fish to have the same discretion it has now regarding all other length and gear restrictions. The concerns that drove lawmakers to make that decision 50 years ago are no longer present. There really is no threat from outside vessels or fleets today. Alaska's fishing fleet today is far stronger and healthier than, certainly, Puget Sound's is. HB 409 is supported by the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) and has a zero fiscal note from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). SENATOR WAGONER said the Kodiak seine fleet is already intercepting a lot of red salmon in Shelikof Straits. If they can get bigger vessels, they can seine more hours in more inclement weather and asked, "Is that a good idea?" MR. BARRY deferred to Senator Wagoner's expertise in that particular fishery. "The intent of this legislation is to leave that sort of determination in the hands of the Board of Fisheries where it is with a whole lot of other fisheries in the state as opposed to leaving it in the hands of the Legislature. SENATOR WAGONER responded: I guess the point I'd make if the Board of Fish were to keep the seine fleet from Kodiak on the capes where they were originally, I wouldn't care if they had 150 ft. vessels, but it does worry me that there is a process being put in place now that a proliferation in size of vessels that can better handle the water at certain times in Shelikof Straits is taking place. SENATOR RALPH SEEKINS asked why they wouldn't just say that the Board of Fisheries would provide for the maximum size of vessels to be used in any particular seine fishery. MR. BARRY replied if this bill becomes law, and the Board of Fish does nothing, the current limit stays in place - unless it takes specific action on gear limits in a particular fishery. CHAIR OGAN asked whose ox gets gored with this legislation. MR. BARRY said testimony from others would provide the reasons why having a bigger boat might allow fishermen to do different kinds of things. He noted: Even if the length limit would go up, an awful lot of people would still be able to make a perfectly good living. The other thing is that any of these arguments for or against allowing larger vessels will have to be made before the Board of Fish and the Board of Fish has a process that it goes through all the time. He stated that he has had some conversations with fishermen who maintain they could add a lot of value to their fish if they could have another 10 ft. on board. They would catch fewer fish, but be able to get a lot more money for them.... certain kinds of onboard processing and maybe handling the fish differently and taking better care of them. MR. SCOTT MCCALLISTER, Alaska fisherman, said he currently confines his fishing efforts to Southeast Alaska due to market conditions. Southeast Alaska has a diverse array of species and a healthy processing industry. The costs are less here and it's easier to secure markets in Southeast. Because of diversity of species, it has been my desire for a long time to be able to fish money fish and achieve a quality of fish across my deck and into the pipeline onto the tender or, preferably I think, the processor's dock by doing some primary processing on board - which would be primarily bleeding of the fish while that fish is still alive. To achieve this, I need more room in the length of the vessel....I need gravity to be able to channel fish and sort the fish into the fish holds or into a processing line.... He pointed out that the vessel lengths would be changed [or not] by region; the Board could not drop the limit statewide. MR. KENNETH MACK, King Cove fisherman, opposed the intent of HB 409. SENATOR SEEKINS asked what confidence he had that the Board of Fish would not change the length of seine vessels with the best interest of all fishermen in mind rather than just the ones in his area. MR. MACK replied that he has a lot of confidence in the Board of Fish doing the right thing. SENATOR SEEKINS asked if he would like to see the statute stay on the books so they wouldn't have that option. MR. MACK replied yes because that would provide even more protection. CHAIR OGAN said he thought value added processing was definitely the way to go and asked if there was a way to change the seine length limit to apply only to processing. He asked what the rationale is behind the 32 ft. limit for Bristol Bay gillnetters and the 58 ft. limit for seiners. SENATOR FRED DYSON said he thought both of those were a misguided government attempt to keep the boats owned by local people. "Like most government efforts, it never works." TAPE 04-39, SIDE B SENATOR DYSON continued saying the larger the boat, the more flexibility a person has to change with the markets and regulatory environment. "Plus, it's safer.... I'm embarrassed we didn't do this 25 years ago." SENATOR WAGONER said that Kodiak seiners used to fish off the capes and, therefore, they didn't intercept the salmon migrating around Kodiak Island into Cook Inlet. All I was implying is, if you have a 58 ft. vessel - and the 58 ft. vessels that they use now are much different than the original 58 ft. vessels - the 58 ft. vessel they use today is much more seaworthy - much more adaptable boat to the fishing that they do. The point is, at one time the Board of Fish did pull the fishermen in Kodiak back onto the cape and then after the politics was all done, they let them go back off the capes again and intercept fish. So, they made a decision and they reversed their decision two years later. All I want is a little time to contact the fishermen in Cook Inlet and see what they feel about it.... CHAIR OGAN said that he would hold HB 409.