Stoltze fights for personal use priority, other fish bills move
Seven times is the charm for building some momentum on a measure that aims to give personal use, or PU, fisheries a priority over commercial and sport users. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers.
The priority shift has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by (now) Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, but has never made it past a first hearing — until now.
“It only took Sen. Stoltze, the bill sponsor, chairing the hearing committee himself,” quipped Dave Theriault in his Juneau Resources Weekly.
The measure (Senate Bill 42) is dubiously dubbed “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act” and it concerns salmon, without saying so directly. It “directs the Board of Fisheries to place restrictions on sport and commercial fisheries before putting restrictions on personal use fisheries when the harvest of a stock or species is limited to achieve an escapement goal.”
The issue is driven primarily by the salmon demands of users at the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and the popular Chitina dipnet fishery at Copper River.
Lawmakers said PU fisheries “need more protections from commercial fishermen.”
“I’m more sympathetic to those in streams who see commercial fishermen taking tonnage where we’re restricted to poundage,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole.
The PU priority got a friendly reception by lawmakers in a first Senate hearing two weeks ago. Stoltz said that the Board of Fisheries would still hold the authority to set fish allocations; he called a PU preference “an additional tool for managers.”
Most messages sent to lawmakers last week were in favor of the shift in fishing priorities; of nearly 70 posted to the legislative website, only four were opposed.
The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the PU issue has remained the same for seven years: the legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Department of Fish and Game.
The PU bill is now on its way to the Senate Resources Committee. A duplicate law has been filed in the House by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.
Fishy bills to watch
A bill to limit all Alaska salmon seiners to a maximum 58 feet in length has been offered by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan.
A new law filed by freshman Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, would pull the plug on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and exempt Alaska from the agency’s ability to regulate and limit carbon emissions. Talerico filed the bill two months after retiring from Usibelli, the state’s only active coal mine, where he worked since 1974.
The EPA is set to finalize new rules limiting carbon emissions in June, and will draft a plan for Alaska if the state fails to do so. Fifteen other states have filed similar laws to slow or fight the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon limits.
The measure breezed through Alaska’s Senate Energy and Resources Committees and is on its way to Finance.
Talerico also has proposed increases to fishing and hunting licenses for both residents and non-residents by up to 50 percent.
ComFish is coming!
Kodiak is rolling out the red carpet for special visitors who are coming to ComFish in early April. Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, and commercial fisheries director Jeff Regnart will hold an open meeting the afternoon of April 2.
Another highlight on Saturday, April 4: watch those fillet knives fly in a “fish off” among Kodiak’s fastest fish cutters, organized by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Each of Kodiak’s seven processing companies will field a professional who will cut into piles of halibut, flounders and other species. Each event is timed and then judged based on the trimming quality of the fillets. The top winner receives round trip airline tickets to Anchorage.
It’s the 36th year for the ComFish trade show and policy forum, hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. Dates are April 2-4, and many of the events will be video streamed as they happen.
Gov. Bill Walker has made his selections for two upcoming vacancies on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council oversees fisheries in federal waters (3-200 miles from shore), which each year produce nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood harvests. Walker’s recommends reappointment of fisherman Dan Hull of Cordova, who has been a council member since 2009. He also named sport fish charter operator Andrew Mezirow of Seward.
Other names on the list include commercial fishermen Buck Laukitis of Homer and Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point, sport fish reps Richard Yamada of Juneau and Art Nelson, director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.
The final decision is made by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who usually accepts the governor’s top recommendations.
By the time you read this, Alaska’s first roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound could be just about over. The 8,712-ton quota is down by half from last year and the lowest Sitka catch since 2003. That, combined with historically low herring prices, has fewer boats fishing and they are doing so as a co-op.
Blustery weather kept most of Alaska’s halibut boats off the water for the March 14 start of that fishery. Only 52 landings were made by March 20, totaling about 395,000 pounds. No reliable word on prices until more poundage crosses the docks, and the first fresh landings always fetch inflated prices. However, reports from the West Coast and Canada listed initial wholesale prices coming in higher than the past three March openers. Seafood.com reported $8.05 for 10/20s; $8.25-$8.50 for 20/40s, and $8.50-$8.75 for 40 ups.
Anyone interested in weathervane scallops must register with Fish and Game by April 1. The scallop fishery, which was limited to about four boats until 2013, is now an open access fishery in waters near Yakutat, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Prince William Sound is closed to scallops this year.