Gov’s bill would double strict liability commercial fines

Fishermen worry that Gov. Bill Walker’s industry taxes hikes may fall on them alone as a litany of fish bills stacks up.

The Senate Resources Committee heard SB 164 on Feb. 22, also from Walker’s office. The complex bill concerns hunting and fishing permits – specifically, how ADFG can discourage wildlife violations while making extra money off them. The bill includes measures to increase commercial fines and recoup money lost in the recreation hunting and fishing licensing process. It will have a second hearing March 3.

The bill doubles commercial fishing violation fines, raises the fine schedule for illegal wildlife harvest, prevents wildlife violators in other states from purchasing Alaska fishing and hunting licenses, and allows the state to take restitution from hunting and fishing violators.

The committee had mixed feelings about what the bill aims to accomplish. Some elements seemed administrative, while others seemed targeted specifically for revenue.

Major Bernard Chastain of the Department of Public Safety and Bruce Dale, ADFG’s wildlife division director, sold the bill as a “flexibility” package with elements of restorative justice, but committee members saw other intentions in the language.

“Is this a revenue bill? Is this a deterrence bill?” asked Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak. “I may missed what the overlying theme or motive is.”

Chastain said the bill is solely for deterrence.

The bill’s fiscal notes provide no estimates for how much revenue the state could raise.

Among the largest-scale changes, the bill doubles commercial fishing strict liability violation fines. The new fine schedule would charge $6,000 for a first conviction, up from $3,000; $12,000 for a second conviction, up from $6,000; and $15,000] for a third or subsequent conviction within a 10- year period, up from $9,000.

Chastain described the current fine schedule as “inadequate” to keep fishermen from violations.

Fishermen have already voiced some concern over the possibility of raising the fine schedule. In a House Fisheries Committee hearing, on Sitka fishermen testified against raising the commercial fishing tax rates, saying that taxes alone are enough to cripple an industry already suffering from the strong U.S. dollar’s downward pressure on seafood exports. Doubled fines could hurt fishermen even worse,

Some of ADFG’s budget comes from federal matching funds. Pittman-Robertson funds, for example, earmark three federal dollars for every one Alaska dollar. The federal funds are reserved for wildlife conservation.

Part of Walker’s bill would allow the state to take restitution payments that can be funneled back into ADFG funds for the federal match.

According to Dale and Chastain, the state loses tens of thousands of dollars a year from petty license fraud. Non-residents often move to Alaska and purchase resident hunting and fishing licenses for the cheaper resident rate. The bill would allow the state to charge the violators for the entire history of the difference.

“Over time, we lost the ability to leverage that money into federal funds,” said Dale. “This provides the state appropriate opportunity to restore those funds.”

Most times, the losses are fairly small; Sen. Bill Wielechowski wondered aloud if the restitution payments are “figurative.” Dale, however, said several violators each year amount to tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

Other bill elements give judges the ability to fine some wildlife violators up to $10,000 rather than the current $5,000 fine schedule.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

03/03/2016 - 8:26am