Assembly passes tax incentive for fresher fish
DILLINGHAM — Some Bristol Bay fishermen are getting a little extra incentive to upgrade their boats.
On June 5, the Bristol Bay Borough Assembly passed an ordinance that will allow fishermen who install a refrigerated seawater system in 2017 or 2018 to get a one-time $1,500 fish tax credit.
Improving fish quality in Bristol Bay has been a focus for many groups in recent years, including processors, industry organizations, and now the borough. Keeping fish cold is one of the main steps in producing top-quality fish, and a refrigerated seawater system enables a fisherman to keep fish colder without needing ice.
Under the new borough ordinance, installing such a system in 2017 or 2018 will make fishermen eligible for a $1,500, one-time fish tax credit to help offset the cost of the work.
The Bristol Bay Borough encompasses much of eastern Bristol Bay and the Naknek-Kvichak commercial fishing district. The borough charges a 3 percent tax on the value of raw fish caught in its waters.
“It’s an incentive for fishermen to deliver better product,” borough manager John Fulton said. “The assembly wanted to reward Naknek-Kvichak fishermen who upgrade.”
Better quality fish should, in time, result in higher value fish — and more revenue for the borough when it collects its fish tax, Fulton explained.
Assembly Member Mary Swain helped develop the fish tax credit, and at the assembly’s May meeting said she wanted the borough to support fishermen who were improving fish quality.
“I want Bristol Bay to be known as ahead of the curve,” she said at the time.
Enacting the incentive, particularly through the raw fish tax, is a little bit tricky. The borough assembly considered both a property tax exemption and the tax refund, and ultimately decided to go the raw fish tax route to target those upgrading their boats right now.
“It’s fairly selective in who it benefits,” Fulton said.
To get the refund, a fisherman must upgrade their vessel between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, and prove it to the borough with receipts. Then, the borough will issue the fisherman a voucher that he or she can take to a processor to prove that they get to keep the first $1,500 in taxes they would normally have to pay.
In May, Swain said that processors suggested the voucher system when they were approached about the idea of a fish tax credit. That makes it a fishermen’s responsibility to do much of the legwork, rather than adding all of the work to the processors’ workload, she said.
Fulton said the borough didn’t have an estimate of how many fishermen will be eligible for the tax credit this year, but it is not expected to be a large number.
“We’ll definitely see some,” Fulton said, noting that the assembly hoped it might prompt fishermen who were on the fence about an upgrade to take the plunge. It will be in effect this season, and also next, so that fishermen who are just learning about the credit can upgrade next year and take advantage of it, he said.
Bristol Bay Borough is just the latest entity to promote better quality fish in the region, in part in an effort to raise the value of Bristol Bay salmon.
The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and others have also been supporting the push.
BBEDC has offered programs to help resident fishermen purchase and install RSW systems, and BBRSDA has worked on incentives and an educational campaign to encourage chilling fish.
BBRSDA has arranged for some incentives, like discounted shipping to Seattle for fishermen getting refrigeration work done on their boats, and also has a campaign to encourage chilled fish in general.
Alaska SeaGrant has also worked on the educational component over the past several years, including working with the other parties to offer RSW operator classes in the Bay.
Molly Dischner is a reporter in Dillingham. She can be reached at [email protected].