Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/14/2004 03:30 PM Senate RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                               
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
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                                                               
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                                                                    
CHAIR OGAN said that he would hold HB 409.                                                                                      

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