Fish funding, bills await Legislature as session convenes

The Alaska State Legislature will be tasked with discussing several fisheries issues when it resumes its work in Juneau Jan. 21.

Budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, will top the agenda in a declining revenue environment, and fisheries research and management funding will be part of that discussion.

In 2012, Gov. Sean Parnell announced that he was seeking $30 million for a chinook salmon research initiative over five years. The Legislature appropriated $7.5 million of Parnell’s requested $10 million for the current fiscal year 2014. This year, the governor’s proposed budget calls for $10 million for the second phase of the initiative.

Documentation associated with the request says the funding would be used for the second phase of research activity as dictated by the chinook salmon research plan. That would include assessments of adult escapement and stock-specific harvests for 12 indicator stocks throughout the state, local and traditional knowledge studies and other work.

Fisheries funding also appears elsewhere in Parnell’s proposed capital budget.

Parnell has asked for $3 million for recreational boating access, which would provide a match for federal funds, and be used for boat launches, mooring floats, fish cleaning facilities, and other related projects.

According to the request, the funds would be spread throughout the state.

In another fish-related item, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could receive a portion of the $500,000 Parnell has requested for certain maintenance projects — vessels used for commercial fisheries enforcement and other ADFG facilities are listed as likely recipients of a portion of the money.

ADFG uses six research vessels for fishery monitoring and stock assessment, and the item would fund regular maintenance on those boats.

The capital request also includes $250,000 for ADFG’s fish passage, counting and sampling work.

According to the request description, the funding would cover deferred maintenance work at several sites. The projects listed as top needs include fish passage at Frazer Lake on Kodiak Island, repairs and upgrades at the Crooked Creek Raceway in Western Alaska, work at the Chignik weir, on the Alaska Peninsula, and fish passage and weir projects on Afognak Island, near Kodiak.

Fish bills back on the table

Legislators will also be tasked with discussing fisheries outside the budget process.

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, proposed a chinook salmon research endowment last year. His bill is in the House finance committee and the Senate version is also before the finance committee.

The state’s limited access scallop program sunsetted at the end of 2013, and a bill to extend the program did not pass through the Legislature last spring due to concerns about consolidation.

Now, ADFG and the Board of Fisheries have worked on passing a management plan, and the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission created a new permit structure in October.

The legislation could be reintroduced and passed this year, however, as the bill that was considered, but not acted on, had a retroactive date that would make it go into effect Dec. 31, 2013.

Another bill waiting in the finance committee on both the House and Senate sides addresses the fishery resource landing tax.

The tax is applied primarily to factory trawlers and floating processors that process fish in federal waters and then land them in Alaska for shipment or other purposes.

The bill would change when the tax must be paid, and adjust how partial payments would work.

Another fisheries tax change being considered in the House would extend a program that incentivizes businesses to come up with new salmon products to apply to herring, too, and would change the applicable dates of the program.

The product development tax credit legislation was introduced by Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, last April, and is now in the House Fisheries committee.

The tax credit is meant to increase value-added processing in Alaska, as well as increase utilization or recovery of salmon and herring byproduct.

Austerman’s bill would extend the program through 2020, and also changes the language somewhat to allow certain additional expenditures to count toward the tax credit calculations.

Also up for consideration in the House Fisheries Committee is legislation that would prioritize personal use fishing throughout the state.

Other fish law changes the legislators will discuss include the cost of fishing crew licenses, creation of a new Sport Fishing Guide Services Board, and a requirement for the Board of Fisheries to adopt sustained escapement threshold and a higher optimal escapement goal for all salmon stocks identified as a salmon stock of concern.

A handful of bills pre-filed for 2014 also have a fisheries component, although not on the management side. Those seek to label genetically engineered food in the state, and create a preference in procurement processes for Alaska grown food, including Alaska seafood.

01/15/2014 - 12:10pm