Wildlife Troopers get $175K for Kenai fisheries enforcement
JUNEAU — An unpublicized, end-of-session addition to the state capital projects bill for fiscal year 2015 gives the Alaska Wildlife Troopers $175,000 they never asked for to conduct "enforcement activities relating to" salmon returning to the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers and Upper Cook Inlet setnet fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula shoreline.
"To my knowledge we didn't ask for it," said James Cockrell, administrative services director of the Department of Public Safety, April 29. "I found out about it, it was fairly recent, basically after the operating budget was approved by the House and Senate.”
The appropriation was an amendment of language inserted in Senate Bill 119 when it was in the Senate Finance committee. The Senate language, which appears in an April 7 version of the bill, would have appropriated the money specifically for enforcement and inspection of Eastside setnets in Upper Cook Inlet.
The House language, which was in the final capital budget that passed the Legislature, broadened the uses, effectively allowing the funds to be used for enforcement of laws and regulations on any type of salmon fishery catching Kenai Peninsula stocks.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he thought that the original language had not been meant to help the setnet fleet.
“I think it was originally meant as a message,” he said in an interview with the Journal.
The amended language, however, reflected an effort by the House to turn the funding into something positive, he said.
“I do appreciate the House taking the initiative to amend the amendment,” Micciche told the Journal.
The amendment appears in the draft that moved out of the House Finance Committee on April 20, what was supposed to be the final day of the session that lasted until 4 a.m. April 21.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, was the House Finance Committee co-chairman who managed the capital budget. His office would have done the actual paperwork to add the section to the bill. Neither he, nor his staff, nor Co-chair Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, responded to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
The House held the bill until finally passing it on the afternoon of the session's final day on April 25.
It's unclear when individual senators would have seen the final draft but Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and gulf coast Sens. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Micciche all said after final adjournment that they were not aware the section was in the bill they had just voted to pass.
“I'm taking it as a very positive thing to help with enforcement of the dipnet fisheries at the mouth of each river as well as some of the commercial fisheries. I'm taking it as a very positive move to help with keeping people safe and ensuring that all of our fish and game laws are followed,” Micciche said on April 25.
The City of Kenai has been pressing the legislature and Department of Fish and Game for better management and enforcement during the personal use fishery that draws tens of thousand of Anchorage and Southcentral dip netters.
“The city's resources to respond to the state's personal use fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River are extremely taxed. We are at the breaking point to be able to respond," said Rich Koch, Kenai city manager, at a March 24 Senate Resources Committee hearing.
Paul Shadura, a setnetter and spokesman for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, said the language in the funding provision addressing "on-site enforcement and inspection of new gear types and reporting requirements" refers to new regulations adopted by the Board of Fisheries at its February session.
It applies to setnetters with two permits allowing the use of both if they use shorter nets.
“Most setnet fishermen hate the requirement and can't even get the required gear in time for the 2014 season and many fishermen are abandoning the dual permit holding to escape the onerous of the rules,” Shadura wrote in an April 29 email.
He added that KPFA, and the local wildlife trooper detachment were “as surprised as the rest of us” when the provision appeared in the bill.
“Troopers I hear are reluctant to actually lift a net out of the water with their vessels and count the meshes while at sea. Said that they would have to wait until the fisher came ashore. Not really enforceable was a comment that a past enforcement advisor made who was not at the last UCI BOF regulatory meeting,” Shadura wrote.
Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alaska Journal of Commerce Reporter Molly Dischner contributed to this story.