Few seafood bills in Juneau
Longtime Alaskan and fisheries historian Bob King is heading to Washington, D.C., as Sen. Mark Begich’s point person on fisheries and several other capacities.
"My specific job responsibilities include staffing Sen. Begich on his appointment to the Commerce Committee, which includes a number of things that are really important to Alaska, such as fisheries, the Arctic and the Coast Guard," King said in a phone interview from Juneau.
King was news director at KDLG in Dillingham for nearly 20 years, then moved to Juneau when he was tapped as press secretary for Governor Tony Knowles. Most recently, he’s been director of the marine debris programs spearheaded by the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation. King also has just completed a history of Alaska’s fisheries for the state Department of Fish and Game for the state’s 50th anniversary.
"In my work over the years I’ve gotten to know people from the small boat fisheries and the setnetters all the way to the large at-sea processors," King said. "I really have a sense of the importance of this industry from the big boats to the small boats that I will take back to Washington, D.C., and put to good use for the benefit of Alaska."
"Bob is well known throughout Alaska for his great expertise and knowledge about the fishing industry, but also in his capacity to look at many other issues we will be dealing with through the Commerce Committee. It’s a huge plus," Begich said via phone from D.C. "He also has interest in one of my primary areas of focus: climate change and the impact it has on Alaska."
King said that it is really tough to leave Alaska, even temporarily. He said he is honored to join Begich in Washington, and that President Barack Obama’s words have resonated with him.
"When he talked about a new era of responsibility for citizens to give our all to the difficult tasks that lie ahead; I’m anxious to be part of it," he said.
King will join the Begich team in D.C. in early February.
Few fish so far
The Alaska Legislature convened Jan. 20, and there were few fishery-related bills so far. But that doesn’t mean much at this point.
"Just because there are no bills the first week doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a lot of fun to watch for the next three months," said fisheries analyst Bob Tkacz, who has been watch dogging the Legislature for 15 years.
Overriding everything this year is money. Last year there was plenty, but that’s not the case now. Big Oil bankrolls 90 percent of Alaska’s revenues and Gov. Sarah Palin’s budget is based on $70 per barrel oil; the real price is closer to $40 per barrel.
"We’re in a budget cutting year this time around," Tkacz said. "The bigger picture I believe is that this is Gov. Palin’s first budget cutting session in any of her executive experiences. So the big picture is how she is going to approach budget cutting and how much money we actually have."
It’s unlikely, for example, that the state will again pony up the $6 million or so to cover federal funding shortfalls in co-managed fisheries, such as Bering Sea crab. That could mean fewer surveys and less research data that managers depend on to set catch quotas.
Tkacz said the new make up of the Legislature this year also raises some red flags when it comes to fisheries.
"Anchorage and the Mat-Su have hugely important seats in the committees that are really important to fishermen," he said.
The House Resources Committee, for example, is chaired by Republicans Craig Johnson of Anchorage and Mark Neuman of Wasilla, two leaders of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force who are both critical of commercial fishing catch quotas. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, also is a critic of commercial fishing in the Inlet.
On the Senate side, Resources is controlled by Democrat Bill Wielechowski and Republican Lesil McGuire, both of Anchorage, who also is no fan of the fishing industry in Cook Inlet.
"There is incredible potential for game-playing here," Tkacz said.
Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, heads the House Special Committee on Fisheries.
Other fish friendly lawmakers are at Senate Finance, co-chaired by Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. Speaker of the House is Mike Chenault from Nikiski and Gary Stevens of Kodiak as Senate president. Both are Republicans.
"So the fishing industry has strong support at the very top, but what kinds of bills will get to the top is a huge question," Tkacz said. "Who controls the gavel dictates where things go."
Tkacz’s Laws for the Sea provides an in-depth look at fish policies and personalities each week during the legislative session.
Slow down, save fuel
A survey by Alaska Sea Grant and United Fishermen of Alaska asked fishermen to share how they dealt with the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel, which topped $5 a gallon last summer, and to share energy saving ideas.
Many of the 126 respondents said they fished less, skipped openers, fished closer to home or ended their season earlier.
Other findings: 43 percent said between 10 percent and 20 percent of their gross income was spent on fuel last year. Nearly 62 percent said they hired fewer or no crew, and crew shares were lower. Some 62 percent also said they believed fishery management decisions affected their fuel consumption, but more than half said managers should not make decisions based on the price of fuel.
In terms of fuel saving techniques, 76 percent said they throttled back and slowed down. Some 77 percent cited maintaining engines and fuel systems. Also popular, good route planning and timing, keeping a clean hull to reduce drag and properly tuning propellers.
Several fishermen credited buying fuel from processors, who bought in bulk and passed on the savings. Many expressed interest in getting help to compare different engines and learning how to use energy saving devices like flow meters.