Restricting board-generated proposals among fisheries bills

  • The Alaska Board of Fisheries meets to discuss Prince William Sound issues in December 2014. A bill by Rep. Tammy Wilson, R-North Pole, aims to restrict how the Boards of Fisheries and Game can generate and pass proposals without public input. Photo/File/AJOC

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is proposing a change to the Boards of Fisheries and Game process that would put certain proposals back into public oversight under House Bill 103.

“Notwithstanding another provision of this chapter,” the bill reads, “the boards may adopt, amend, or repeal a regulation only if that regulation, or the amendment or repeal of that regulation, was initially recommended by (1) an advisory committee established under AS 16.05.260; (2) a state agency; or (3) a person petitioning the boards under AS 44.62.220.”

Wilson’s bill seeks to correct a perceived lack of public input. In 2015, the bill made it as far as the House Fisheries subcommittee before the session ended. Committee chairwoman Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, held the bill.

The boards of Fisheries and Game rely on public proposal process to craft regulations. Members of the public submit proposal ideas to the board well in advance of the meeting so that other members of the public can express support or opposition in written comments to the board, or at least have time to review the proposals before the board hears public commentary.

The Alaska boards of Fisheries and Game are also able to craft their own proposals. The board itself can ask for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to submit a proposal on the board’s behalf.

Unlike public proposals, the boards’ proposals have no restrictions where timing is concerned, and often fly under the public’s radar. Wilson’s bill came largely as a response to the Board of Game’s passage of a board-generated proposal for Dall sheep management. Critics, including Wilson, charge that the proposal was crafted behind closed doors and slipped into the meeting without a chance for public review.

According to Wilson, three members of the board got together in a “work group” to draft sheep management outside the public purview. Working groups, Wilson contends, are simply a way legislative bodies can step outside the public process.

Public comment swayed in favor of the proposal.

Robert Caywood, a member of the Anchorage Advisory Committee for the Board of Fisheries, said during the 2015 session that six members of the committee quit their positions over feeling circumvented by board decisions.

Proposals to limit board-generated proposals have come before the legislature before. In 2012, the United Fishermen of Alaska filed a request with the Attorney General to review the Board of Fisheries’ usage of board-generated proposals to serve as undefined placeholders.

In 2013, the boards drafted a sideboard that would allow for board-generated proposal only if the proposal were deemed to be in the public’s “best interest.”

HB 220: Hatcheries for all

Yukon River fishermen have said, “every fish counts” in talks of chinook salmon management, and Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, wants to take the sentiment literally.

Talerico’s HB 220 would create a permit system for fishery enhancement open to individuals, non-governmental organizations, tribes, and virtually anyone else with a plan for enhancing Alaska fish stocks.

The Interior representative said he sees the bill as a “no harm, no foul” way to get more fish into Alaska’s rivers for subsistence, sportfishing, and commercial purposes. The bill has three main goals: put pressure on the farmed sockeye that competes with Alaska fishermen, ensure tourists hook a trophy, and boost subsistence harvest opportunities.

Entities beyond non-profits have attempted enhancement programs in the past with limited success. The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council has been attempting a warm air incubator for Matanuska River king salmon since 2007, but funding has been problematic. Talerico said private investors may be more inclined to start their own similar projects if his bill passes.

The permit, subject to Alaska Department of Fish and Game approval, would allow the holder “to remove fish from state water, collect gametes or fertilize and incubate eggs taken from the fish, and place the incubated and fertilized eggs or hatched fish in the same or other state water; to enhance habitat and augment nutrients in state water to aid the survival of fish; and subject to AS 16.10.375 - 16.10.480, to use technologies and tools to accomplish approved project activities.”

Talerico said the bill intends to find a way for more private industry to get involved in restocking. Currently, stocking is done by state-sanctioned non-profit hatcheries.

“I think folks were a little disappointed with hatcheries,” Talerico said. “Hatcheries are a great thing. But hatcheries are limited to non-profits.”

Native organizations like Tanana Chiefs Conference, he said, are considering backing the measure out of concerns for subsistence community health of Upper Yukon River villages. Upper river villages feel the sting of low king returns, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game limits chum salmon harvest opportunities to prevent incidental chinook catch.

HB 241: Non-resident permits surcharges

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, have introduced a bill that would require non-resident fishermen to pay a surcharge to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission if they do not qualify for a Permanent Fund Dividend. Fishermen would to provide proof they qualify for or have received a Permanent Fund Dividend in order to avoid the surcharge.

HB 41: Angler guides

A bill from the office of Rep. Kathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, HB 41 would renew licensing requirements for guided recreational anglers. Licensing requirements inadvertently sunset Dec. 31, 2014.

The bill was passed in the House with amendments in 2015 but was held in the Senate Finance Committee until further consideration.

Among other points of contention, the requirement for keeping a detailed logbook divides salt and freshwater fishermen. The bill does not address logbooks specifically but encompasses their reestablishment as a licensing requirement.

Saltwater charter operators who largely depend on offshore halibut expressed support of the bill. Logbooks are important for halibut charter operators. More detailed logbooks contribute to larger quota allowances from federal halibut overseers.

For freshwater guides, however, logbooks can be cumbersome. Kenai River guides opposed the bill, even with a carve-out provision that exempts Kenai guides from certain licensure requirement in the Kenai River Special Management Area.

The area, which is managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, requires charter anglers to complete a specialized course in addition to the state-required licensure. HB 41 would exempt certain anglers from this requirement if forced to make an in-season hire, as DNR only offers these courses twice a year.

HB 137: Raising license fees

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, and Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, HB 137 would raise prices for resident and non-resident hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses. In 2015, the bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate, where it stopped in the Resources Committee at the end of the session.

The bill provides for “raising certain fees related to sport fishing, hunting, and trapping; relating to the fish and game fund; providing for the repeal of the sport fishing surcharge and sport fishing facility revenue bonds; replacing the permanent sport fishing, hunting, or trapping identification card for certain residents with an identification card valid for three years; relating to hunting and fishing by proxy; relating to fish and game conservation decals; raising the age of eligibility for a sport fishing, hunting, or trapping license exemption for state residents; raising the age at which a state resident is required to obtain a license for sport fishing, hunting, or trapping; and providing for an effective date.”

With state budget crises cutting into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget drawn in part from unrestricted general funds, the bill’s sponsors argue that each license fee increase could add to the department’s shrinking coffers. 

License fees would increase from as little as a $5 for a resident hunting license to $1,100 dollars for non-resident musk ox tag.

The bill would also increase the age at which Alaska residents would require a license from 16 year old to 18 years old.

HB 92, HB 258, HJR 28: Genetically engineered salmon

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, must have had a premonition in 2015. During the 2015 session, Tarr introduced a bill that would require labeling for all genetically modified food, touching on the issue of genetically modified salmon that would fill headlines in the latter months of 2015.

On Jan. 19, Tarr dug further into her anti-GMO bill to specifically target a genetically engineered salmon with HB 258 and HJR 28.

HB 258 would explicitly forbid the sale of genetically engineered salmon in Alaska. The joint resolution would oppose U.S. Food and Drug Administration actions and call for mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered salmon.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for human consumption AquAdvantage salmon, which splices salmon and ocean pout genes to grow a fish twice as fast as wild salmon.

Alaska’s state representatives came out in broad opposition to the decision. In a series of releases, they expressed doubt over the FDA’s decision and called for a mandatory labeling requirement so consumers can distinguish between genetically engineered farmed salmon and the more expensive wild-caught salmon, one of Alaska’s most valuable exports and largest private employment sources.

HB 92 localizes a battle Alaska’s congressional delegation is fighting in the national arena. Tarr’s bill would win the battle in Alaska, but most domestic sockeye consumption is in the Lower 48.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski renewed vows to hold the nomination or Dr. Robert Califf as new FDA chief after a Senate panel approved him on Jan. 12.

Murkowski’s office said the senator is adamant about keeping Califf off the FDA’s payroll until he makes assurances that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such.

HB 110: Personal use priority

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, will continue to move HB 110, which would create a personal use priority in the state’s fisheries. The bill moved out of the House Fisheries Committee and passed to the House Finance committee chaired by Neuman during the 2015 session.

Neuman’s bill and Senate Bill 42, introduced by Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, together titled the “Alaskans-First Fishing Act,” would direct 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 focal point for the act’s support and opposition are the popular Upper Cook Inlet personal use salmon fisheries in the Kenai, Kasilof, and Fish Creek rivers that fuel allocation and gear conflict battles in the Board of Fisheries process.

The rationale behind the act is that personal use carries more urgency than commercial or sport fishing, as it was intended to provide Alaskans with equal shares of a common property for direct consumption. Subsistence, which currently receives first priority from the Board of Fisheries as per state law, would still trump personal use in the event of restrictions.

The opposition’s rationale denies an equivalency between personal use and subsistence. Detractors of the bill say the personal use fishery was created by the Board of Fisheries in 1982 in order to distribute surplus fish in times of high abundance, and was not intended as a makeshift subsistence fishery.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]


01/25/2016 - 8:57am