Alaska lawmakers are making fast work of several fish bills that have wide support from Alaska’s fishermen.
“I was anticipating a somewhat slow start, but they're organized, and they're diving right into these issues and taking these bills up. And so there’s lots of opportunities to participate,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.
The bill (HB 35) that would resolve a conflict of interest fix at the state Board of Fisheries has been moving through committee hearings in Juneau and could finally be settled after a 14-year push.
“One of the reasons they're chosen for that board is they may have a regional expertise or they may have a user group expertise. So we want them to be able to not vote, but participate and lend that expertise in deliberations to provide clarification to other board members who may not be as familiar with that region or fishery,” Leach said.
Another fast-moving measure (HB 85/SB 145) aims to give boat owners a break from having to register it in person at a DMV. It was part of a well-intentioned Derelict Vessels Act whose ill-timed roll out last year by the Department of Administration created chaos among commercial and sport boat owners who were breaking a new law they didn’t even know about.
UFA supports the concept of the act, which is aimed at identifying owners of abandoned boats, “but we are really pushing for this exemption because we already register our boats through the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and they have all the details that would be going to the DMV because they're both state managed data bases. So it's kind of like reinventing the wheel and just causing more work,” Leach said.
A bill that would allow Alaskans to transport live crab (HB 203) also is moving its way through the legislative process. Live crab is the most lucrative market and the bill has UFA’s strong backing.
“As the statutes currently stand we're not able to transport red king crab, Tanner crab and Dungeness live via ground. This bill would make it so that could happen and it would open up some new avenues, I believe,” Leach explained.
UFA also strongly backs bills supporting Alaska’s mariculture industry and a sound commercial fisheries budget.
Other fishery-related bills in the legislative pipeline include providing product development tax credits for cod and pollock (SB 130) and a push for a personal use priority above all other users (SB 99). Another measure that is resurfacing is HB 199 which seeks to create “rehabilitation permits” to allow transfer of fish eggs or fry from waters in one locale or region to enhance habitat in waters elsewhere.
Leach said UFA will solidify its positions on more fish bills at the annual meeting Feb. 25-27 in Juneau. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest fishing trade group with 35 member groups, from small skiff fisheries to the largest at-sea processors.