Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/28/1996 05:13 PM FSH
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 390 - KING SALMON TAGS & STAMPS/GUIDE FOR ALIEN Number 1101 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN noted that the next item of business was HB390, sponsored by Representative Elton. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON moved that HB 390 be adopted for consideration. There being no objection, it was so ordered. Representative Elton pointed out that harvests are currently capped by biological constraints, including hatchery and wild production. In some cases, they were also capped by political constraints, which included salmon treaty issues in Southeast Alaska and the different allocation decisions made by the Board of Fisheries. Number 1163 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON explained that HB 390 adopted the game approach to trophy animals, applying it to "what could probably be best defined as Alaska's premier trophy fish." He referred to an Associated Press article, dated October 31, 1995, in the committee packet, which noted that in Southeast Alaska, the existing cap on sport fish harvest of king salmon was in the neighborhood of 40,000. "The AP article notes that because of Pacific salmon treaty problems, we may have a cap in the range of 16,000 - 26,000," he said. He acknowledged that subsequent to the time of the article, people had become a little more optimistic. However, even the optimistic scenario might mean the cap in Southeast Alaska would drop from 40,000 to 30,000. "And the problem that creates," he said, "is that right now, two out of every three king salmon that are harvested in Southeast Alaska in the sport fishery are harvested by nonresidents." Taking the optimistic view, if the cap dropped to 30,000, assuming no growth in the nonresident harvest, there would be 27,000 kings caught by nonresidents for a 30,000 cap, resulting in nine out of ten being harvested by nonresidents. Representative Elton stated, "I think the issue before the state is: How do you balance the needs of Alaska sport fish harvesters in the king salmon fishery in Southeast, and how do you balance the imperatives of the tourist industry and the nonresident harvesters of king salmon in the Southeast fishery?" Number 1285 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON noted that some of the same issues existed outside Southeast Alaska, especially in the Cook Inlet area, including the Kenai and Mat-Su drainages. The game animal model for HB 390 provided that a nonresident coming to Alaska to harvest a game animal would have to pay for the privilege. For example, the price for harvesting a Sitka black-tail deer was $150 for a nonresident tag; for two deer, the price was $300. "And a black- tail is the cheapest game animal for a nonresident," Representative Elton said. "It goes up to $1100 for musk oxen." Number 1345 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON pointed out that the model he had proposed was less stringent than the game model. "It provides that a nonresident who comes to Alaska to fish for king salmon will buy the king salmon stamp that we already have in existence," he said, "and upon purchase of that king salmon stamp, would be issued one king salmon tag." A portion of that tag would be affixed to the fish and a portion would be mailed back to the department along with whatever data was requested. "So, they get one tag for free," he said. "If they want a second tag, they would have to pay $100." The amounts would rise with each subsequent salmon, up to a cap of $500 per salmon. Number 1407 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "Essentially, what this model provides is that it does not tell a nonresident they can't come up here and catch a fish. They can catch as many as they want. They can catch as many as they're catching now. It does provide that if you want to catch a second fish, thereby taking that fish out of the fishery, or out of the ... quota pool, you've got to pay, because you're taking that fish away from an Alaska resident or you're taking that fish away from another visitor that may happen to come in June and you're here in May." Number 1441 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON complimented the Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) for their work on the fiscal note for HB 390. He noted that for 1994, the harvest of king salmon by nonresidents was just over 100,000 fish. Using the assumptions from ADF&G's fiscal note if HB 390 were in place, the harvest rate by nonresidents would drop almost 50 percent, with nonresidents taking approximately 52,000 fish. That would leave more fish available to Alaska residents. Number 1500 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "I guess the challenge in front of us is to try to pick the best way we're going to handle the brick wall that's in front of us. And I think I'd probably be remiss in not noting that there are other solutions." He added, "But some of the other solutions are fairly draconian and, I think, fairly harmful." He referred to time and area closures, wherein ADF&G could keep the catch of king salmon within a given quota. "I think if they do that, that's going to have a negative affect on, for example, the visitor industry, because it would preclude a lodge, for example, from selling a lodge/sport fish experience in July if they're not sure that they're going to be open in July. I don't think a lodge owner is going to want to go out and book their lodge if there is no clarity on whether or not that lodge is even going to be allowed to take fishermen on a guided experience because they can't define when the time and area closures may be," he said. Number 1563 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "The other way of doing it is bag limit restrictions." He added, "I think that is also very destructive to the visitor industry because a person that's coming up and spending $3,000 for a four-day stay at a fishing lodge may not want to do that if the bag limit or the possession limit is dropped dramatically. It's going to be tough, I think, to attract somebody up here for a king salmon fishing experience at a lodge, where they pay $3,000 for four days, if they know that when they catch the one fish on the first day, they're going to be kind of out of luck on the second, third and fourth day." Number 1600 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON suggested, "Another way, of course, is gear restrictions. But if you adopt gear restrictions, like outlaw the use of down-riggers here in Southeast Alaska, I think you may also be harming a portion of the visitor industry because it's going to be very difficult to guarantee or to have a high success rate if you're not using down-riggers." He noted that a further option was limited entry for sport fish guides, which had been discussed previously in committee. Number 1632 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON emphasized that HB 390 presented a reasonable alternative. "I will be frank with the committee," he said. "I have had charter boat people in beating me up and I've had lodge people in beating me up, saying, `Let's do something different.' The challenge that I've issued to them is, `Okay, what do you suggest?' And we haven't come back with an alternative on what can happen to avoid this brick wall. And I think it's also fair to say, as long as I'm admitting that sport fish charter guides and lodge owners have beaten me up over the head, that there have been some that - probably reluctant to testify in public - that have said, `Yes, we either do this or I'm going to be running a lodge where I'm teaching people how to cook wild fish rather than how to catch wild fish, because we're going to have some problems with the artificial caps and the quotas.'" Number 1687 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON referred to allegations in the Cook Inlet region that people were canning or preserving fish for sale in Arizona or elsewhere. "That may or may not be the case," he said. "But if it is the case, I can guarantee that if they have to pay $100 for the second king salmon, or $200 for the third king salmon, it will not be cost-effective for them to be taking those fish elsewhere and selling them." He noted a second anecdote, which revolved around the allegation that foreign visitors were taking the fish out of country for sale. "This makes it not cost- effective to do that," he emphasized. "And I think it therefore protects the resource a little bit more." He noted that one of the provisions of the bill was that nonresident alien fishermen, from foreign countries, were required to have a guided sport fish experience, in the same way that nonresident alien hunters were required to use game guides. Representative Elton acknowledged that there was a question about whether requiring nonresident alien hunters to have a game guide was legal; that question would pertain to this bill, as well. Number 1812 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON expressed that requiring game guides for nonresident aliens not only provided a stream of traffic to the guides but also was good public policy because it made it more difficult for foreigners to organize as a group and fly in to some river "where they're acting as vacuum cleaners." Number 1842 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON concluded by saying he had not spoken to the sponsor statement. "I'll just let that stand as it is," he added. Number 1870 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS asked about the current king salmon tag or stamp. REPRESENTATIVE ELTON responded, "One of the problems, and you'll see that in the course of the bill, is the king salmon stamp is actually identified in statutes as a king salmon tag. So, because we're adding another tag, we're adopting what everybody calls `the king salmon stamp'; we're saying that is a stamp and not a tag." He added, "And the cost of the tag remains the same." Number 1941 JOHN BURKE, Deputy Director, Division of Sport Fish, Department of Fish and Game, indicated much of his testimony would parallel that of Representative Elton. He stated: "We feel the concept embodied in this legislation has merit. First, the legislation will reduce the harvest of sport-caught Chinook salmon by nonresidents as well as participation by nonresident anglers in Chinook salmon fishing. There would be fewer anglers and fewer days fished by those fishermen. This reduction would occur generally among all nonresident anglers and specifically among those nonresidents who catch a large number of Chinook salmon. Because of this, the Chinook that are available to sport anglers would probably be spread over a greater number of anglers." Number 1980 MR. BURKE continued, "Second, through the increase in fees, the nonresident anglers will increase their contribution to the management of Chinook salmon. Stock assessment and accurate catch monitoring have become very important in Chinook salmon management relative to allocation of harvest and conservation. This stretches all the way to the international arena relative to the treaty, as well as to local allocation conflicts in places like the Kenai River. "With a number of assumptions, and at best these are certainly guesses, we estimate that the legislation would increase the Fish and Game fund by about $350,000 a year, as well as diminish the nonresident harvest by approximately 50 percent a year. "Thirdly, and to the division, this may be the most important point, the legislation helps to acknowledge Chinook salmon as a special trophy fish. There certainly are a limited number of these fish available to recreational anglers and, quite frankly, there are probably fewer of these fish than there are anglers who want to catch them." Number 2054 MR. BURKE continued, "We believe, in a sort of general consensus, that the price structure described in the legislation may be a little bit steep. At the same time, we do not feel it is our role to suggest an alternative, nor would we have consensus among our staff as to what that alternative might be. There is certainly a wide range of opinions amongst `Fish and Gamers,' some that would charge more, some that would charge less." Number 2090 MR. BURKE concluded by saying, "In summary, we note the tag requirement and associated price structure would reduce participation and harvest by the nonresident segment of the sport fishing population. In this sense, this legislation is allocative. Relative to the elements that would reduce the harvest and participation, we're traditionally neutral on allocative measures. At the same time, there are parts of this bill that are not necessarily allocative and we certainly support the concepts - those concepts - as they are embodied in this legislation, primarily, the idea of this fish as a trophy fish and spreading the opportunity to harvest one over as many people as we possibly could." Number 2144 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN referred to Representative Elton's mention of a tag being attached to the fish. He wondered where the tag would be attached. He said, "You get situations where people harvest these fish and process them and freeze them, cut them, smoke them - - at what point is the tag not necessary?" Number 2199 MR. BURKE replied he believed, the way the legislation was written, that the tag would have to accompany the fish until it got to the residence of the person and, in a sense, "went out of possession." He added, "I'm guessing." He supposed a processor could certify that there was one fish there and attach the tag to that certification. "It would be fairly easy, at least to propose something that would work that way," he added. Number 2248 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON acknowledged that Representative Ogan had brought up a good point. "It's going to be very, very difficult in some cases," he said, "and the legislation does note that it must remain attached to the king salmon until the king salmon is processed, consumed or removed from the state. If somebody's putting it in a can ... it would be very difficult to know whether or not you have a case of salmon that is two kings or three kings or one king." He added that was the reason for the language, "until processed." Number 2318 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN pointed out that was similar to moose or caribou the way it was written. He expressed concern about "people that show up with their RV" catching fish and then canning or freezing them. CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN asked Mr. Burke to comment on the cost associated with the tags. Number 2394 MR. BURKE responded, "Personally, I've made these comments on behalf of the director, who wasn't able to be here tonight." He said, "I've spoken with a number of charter boat people also and had the same response that Representative Elton has heard. Some actually favor this. Most that do would suggest a slightly lesser cost or perhaps a tag that came into play after several fish, as opposed to one fish." He mentioned that some resident fishermen, particularly charter operators, resented the harvest of fish by nonresidents and thought the fee schedule may be too little. "It does seem a bit steep," he said at first, adding that he personally felt it was a trophy animal and therefore perhaps was not too steep. He emphasized there was no consensus in his group. TAPE 96-9 Number 0007 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN discussed fishermen at lodges, saying, "After the second fish, I think they're getting greedy. And I think I'd be more friendly to the bill if it had a graduating scale upwards from two fish on, or after two fish. Personally, that would be my preference." Number 0079 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN responded that he also had a problem with the price tag. He wondered if that would really cut down on the number of fish being caught or would merely stop some businesses from being economical. He added, "it's going to have a tendency to drive some people away from that industry." Number 0109 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS thought the concept was good. He mentioned discussions around the Kenai Peninsula that the Kenai River king salmon should be treated as a trophy fish, with special regulations. He expressed concern about Mr. Burke's comment that some aspects of the bill were allocative. Number 0207 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "it's allocative in the sense that there is an economic disincentive to take `x' number of fish, but it's not allocation in the sense that this doesn't stop anybody from taking exactly the same amount they're taking now. But if they make that decision, there is an economic disincentive." He expressed hesitation to call that "allocation." He added, "I guess if you're spending $3,000 for a four-day stay at a lodge, it may not be as much of a disincentive as I want." Number 0270 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON commented on the fee structure, saying, "I would not sit here and say that the fee structure that I have in the bill is the best one." With a lower fee structure, there would probably be less of an economic disincentive. "We're picking numbers out here that we may not know exactly what the effects are," he said. "And I think in a year or two, we may want to readdress any kind of a fee structure, whatever fee structure is included." Number 0409 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON noted that Representative Ogan and Mr. Burke had alluded to the fact there were different ways of structuring fees. "One of the things that may accomplish what Representative Ogan wants to do is two free tags upon the purchase of a king salmon stamp by a nonresident, and then hammer them for the third," he suggested. "I don't know, frankly, if that's a better way of doing it or not, but certainly it's an alternative. I know I would object to a fee structure that went, $25, $50, $75, $100, because I think that's too low." He mentioned that $100 might be the market value of a king salmon. If the second one were $100, that would be two fish for $50 apiece. "I picked those numbers because I figure that if a Sitka black-tail is worth 150 bucks for the first one, then certainly the second king is probably worth $100. And that's not a very scientific way of setting a fee structure," he acknowledged. Number 0451 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN assigned HB 390 to a subcommittee consisting of Representatives Davis and Ogan, with the former as chair of the subcommittee. He noted that HB 390 would be rescheduled for the following week's meeting. He asked that recommendations for fee structures be considered and a committee substitute be drafted, if possible. He further suggested that the sponsor provide input to the subcommittee.