ARDORs, hair crab limited entry revived

JUNEAU — The bill to resurrect the Alaska Regional Development Organization program and the now-unique vessel-based limited entry system for the currently closed Korean hair crab fishery is on its way to Gov. Sean Parnell after a House floor debate as strange as the measure’s weird path through the Legislature.

The completely unrelated issues were locked into the bill last year in a common end-of-session maneuver. With the ARDOR extension expected to pass easily, Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, attached his bill to extend the sunset date on the vessel permitting system for hair crab and the highly profitable Gulf of Alaska weathervane scallop fishery. The latter fishery was dropped from the bill during negotiations since last session, but the United Fishermen of Alaska worked continually to rescue the scallop provision.

With the permit program attached to the ARDOR bill, the combined measure did not receive a floor vote last session and both programs sunsetted at the end of 2013.

The Senate passed the latest compromise bill Feb. 21 without debate. The Feb. 24 House floor session featured lawmakers attacking or defending the ARDOR and/or fisheries provisions of the bill in seemingly unrelated but simultaneous debates.

“This has been quite the ride, quite the process,” said Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, sponsor of House Bill 71.

The ARDOR program covers the entire state including local groups like the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and regional organizations like Southwest Conference. Their purpose is to promote local economic development generally and provide assistance to individuals or groups organizing their businesses.

The original one-page measure to extend the ARDOR program introduced 13 months ago by Hughes grew to 20 pages before being passed on a 27-8 vote. It provides $774,100 that the 12 ARDORs were expecting last July 1, down from $859,000 they received in fiscal year 2013.

ARDORs will get their money “within 30 days, probably shorter” of the date Parnell signs the bill into law, said Nicole Grewe, ARDOR program manager in the Commerce Department.

It grew in size because instead of simply extending sunset dates it had to include the original language creating the ARDOR and vessel-permitting programs as if creating them from scratch.

HB 71 extends the ARDOR program only to July 1, 2016, a short leash that several lawmakers made clear was a warning to the ARDORs and Department of Commerce.

“I’m hoping if this bill passes the department gets the message that they have to understand exactly what the ARDORs were doing and hold them accountable,” said Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak.

The Commerce Department has never audited the ARDOR program in the 25 years of its existence.

“There was no accountability and as far as I know there’s still no accountability ... I don’t have the confidence in that department to do what needs to be done,” said Austerman, co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

The Legislative Audit Division is conducting an audit of the program.

Without identifying any, Hughes acknowledged that some ARDORs “were mediocre and perhaps even poor.”

Noting that she has received inquiries from organizations considering efforts to replace groups that now receive program funding, Hughes added, “The result will be that we will have better ARDORs.”

Although the Board of Fisheries adopted a generally standard open access management plan for the scallop fishery earlier this year that allows any vessel, including the nine original state permit holders to participate in this summer’s state waters harvest, critics of the scallop-free bill, including Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said it would “destroy” the fishery.

“Do you bite your nose to spite your face or do you vote for something that is partially good and partially bad?” asked Millett before voting for the bill.

The hair crab and scallop fisheries were the only state-managed fisheries using a vessel-based system. All other limited entry programs allow only persons to own commercial fishing permits and requires them to be onboard the vessel operating under their permit.

Olson amended his permit extension bill into HB 71 after the chairman of the House Special Committee on Fisheries, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, refused to allow Olson’s bill or a House twin out of the committee.

Seaton has opposed use of the vessel-based permitting system since it was first adopted by the state for the hair crab and scallop fisheries on an experimental basis in 2002, parallel to a similar federal permit system for scallops. Many scallop beds straddle the three-mile line dividing state and federal waters.

He noted that the original nine-vessel scallop fleet had shrunk to three boats, including one from Kodiak and two “from another port outside of Alaska.”

Those two fished for the Washington-based Alaska Scallop Association, a cooperative that included members based on the Atlantic Coast that were paid a share of harvest profits with no participation in the fishery.

State laws protecting confidentiality of taxpayer information severely limit the release of harvest information if there are only three or fewer participants in a fishery.

“We cannot find out if taxes were paid or how much product was produced because it is confidential,” Seaton said.

Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected].

11/15/2016 - 4:49pm