Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/23/2004 01:35 PM L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
        HJR 34-FED TRAINING AND ASSISTANCE FOR FISHERMEN                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  CON   BUNDE  announced   CSHJR  34(FSH)   to  be   up  for                                                               
consideration.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS.  MELISSA DOVER,  staff to  Representative  Dan Ogg,  sponsor,                                                               
said  the  HJR   34  asks  Congress  to   make  trade  adjustment                                                               
assistance  a  better fit  for  commercial  fishermen. Last  year                                                               
commercial fishermen became eligible  to receive trade adjustment                                                               
assistance through two  programs. One of them is  a Department of                                                               
Labor program that  expends retraining benefits and  the other is                                                               
a U.S. Department  of Agriculture (USDA) program  that gives cash                                                               
benefits up to $10,000.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
For a variety of reasons the  programs have not fit very well for                                                               
commercial  fishermen -  mostly  because they  were designed  for                                                               
agricultural   workers.   Things  like   receiving   Exxon-Valdez                                                               
payments made fishermen ineligible for  the programs. HJR 34 asks                                                               
for four  specific things  - the  first is  that USDA  give price                                                               
adjustment benefits  to Alaska salmon  fishermen who  fished five                                                               
out  of six  years from  1997 to  2002 and  subsequent qualifying                                                               
years if  they can prove lost  income or market share  in any one                                                               
of those  five years due to  imports. It also asks  that the U.S.                                                               
Department of Labor extend retraining  benefits to Alaskan salmon                                                               
fishermen who fished in the same  years even if they did not fish                                                               
in the preceding  year due to impacts from  price fluctuations or                                                               
loss of  market. Some  people were not  able to  fish, especially                                                               
last year, simply because they lost their market.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Third, HJR 34 asks Congress and  the USDA to make Alaska salmon a                                                               
covered  commodity,  which  would make  Alaska  salmon  fishermen                                                               
eligible for other  disaster and price support  benefits. This is                                                               
something that Senator Murkowski hopes to get passed this year.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Lastly, it  asks Congress  to pursue a  program that  is designed                                                               
specifically  for commercial  fishermen so  that they  don't have                                                               
the same problems in the future.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE  asked how fishermen  prove they have lost  price due                                                               
to imported fish.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. DOVER  replied that currently  the USDA is not  disputing the                                                               
fact that prices have plummeted due to imports.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. MARK  VINSEL, Executive Director, United  Fishermen of Alaska                                                               
(UFA),  added  that  UFA filed  the  petition  that  successfully                                                               
qualified all  five species of  Alaska salmon for the  USDA trade                                                               
adjustment  assistance.  The  Foreign  Agricultural  Service  has                                                               
determined that  increased imports  were a significant  factor in                                                               
the price decline according to  guidelines in the program for all                                                               
five salmon species.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE asked  if the retraining program is  designed to make                                                               
fishermen better  fishermen or  to get  them to  move out  of the                                                               
fishing industry.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL  replied that part  of the program  includes technical                                                               
assistance training to  show fishermen ways to  be more efficient                                                               
and other ways  to get more income by  diversifying their fishing                                                               
business.  The cash  price adjustment  helps fishermen  to adjust                                                               
financially  to the  impact  imports have  already  had on  their                                                               
business.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE noted  that he's often thought  of commercial fishing                                                               
as a way of life rather than a career choice.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     As  I've told  Senator  Stevens from  time  to time,  I                                                                    
     believe in separation of church  and state, so we ought                                                                    
     not  to   be  putting  money  into   fishing  that's  a                                                                    
     religion.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  RALPH SEEKINS  asked  Mr. Vinsel  to  define an  Alaskan                                                               
salmon fisherman.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL replied that the  petition included all permit-holding                                                               
Alaska salmon  fishermen throughout  the state, all  crew members                                                               
if  they could  should show  a  crew license,  which doesn't  say                                                               
which kind  of fishery or  species, and  a letter from  a captain                                                               
stating  that  they did  have  a  share  in  a catch  of  salmon.                                                               
Fishermen  of   both  crew  and   fishermen  categories   of  the                                                               
Metlakatla Indian Association are included.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR SEEKINS asked,  of the qualified fishermen,  how many are                                                               
Alaska residents.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR.  VINSEL  replied that  he  didn't  have statistics  for  crew                                                               
members, but  of the permit holders,  about 70 to 75  percent are                                                               
residents.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE asked if it was  possible for the State of California                                                               
to have  a program  like this and  that fishermen  could possibly                                                               
double dip and apply in both states?                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL replied:                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     This is a  federal USDA program and  the commodity that                                                                    
     UFA  qualified  through  our  petition  is  all  Alaska                                                                    
     salmon.  The  Farm  Service  Agency  of  the  different                                                                    
     states  is cast  with  following  through with  helping                                                                    
     with   the  application   process   so  basically   the                                                                    
     qualification of Alaska salmon  is by the permit holder                                                                    
     fishing fishermen  from other states as  well. They are                                                                    
     included in the program.  In addition, Washington State                                                                    
     salmon,  other   than  their   pinks  and   chums  were                                                                    
     qualified.... California  salmon -  I don't  think that                                                                    
     they  applied.  Oregon  salmon  applied  and  were  not                                                                    
     approved.  Alaska  salmon  -   all  five  species  were                                                                    
     approved and  it's a  commodity-based program,  so it's                                                                    
     really based  on the  fish and  that's where  there's a                                                                    
     little bit  of misconception  and the  price adjustment                                                                    
     is based on the poundage  of fish during the year under                                                                    
     the petition.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR SEEKINS said  the reason he asked is  because language on                                                               
pages 2  and 15  talks about  Alaska salmon and  that led  him to                                                               
think about Alaska  residents who fish for the  Alaska salmon. He                                                               
thought   language  on   line   15,   "whereas  alternative   job                                                               
opportunities  are uncommon  in  many of  the  rural areas  where                                                               
Alaska salmon  fishermen live",  is a  little misleading  and was                                                               
concerned  about temporary  people who  come to  Alaska from  the                                                               
Lower  48 to  fish for  a season  and then  want to  get benefits                                                               
because they are "Alaska salmon fishermen."                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR SEEKINS  wanted to  know how many  members of  the United                                                               
Fishermen of Alaska  actually live in Alaska and  don't just fish                                                               
here. He  is not sympathetic  to transients  who come up  here to                                                               
take advantage of Alaska's disaster.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE  said he  would get  an update  of those  numbers for                                                               
him.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GARY STEVENS commented that  Senator Seekins' concern has                                                               
troubled all  people in the  fishing industry. Often  permits are                                                               
held by people who are not  Alaska residents, but he hesitated to                                                               
call them  transients, because  many had  been fishing  in Alaska                                                               
for 20,  30 or  40 years. Charging  non-residents more  for their                                                               
permits was  found to be  unconstitutional. Much of  the industry                                                               
has been created by people from  outside Alaska and it's an issue                                                               
that he didn't  want to tackle. He asked Mr.  Vinsel if there was                                                               
any element  of the retraining  that would take fishermen  out of                                                               
the fishing industry.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL  answered that  the technical training  part of  it is                                                               
specific to fishing  and helping people be  better fishermen, but                                                               
the Department of Labor program,  which a fisherman automatically                                                               
qualifies for  if he qualifies  for the USDA  program, previously                                                               
required that  a fisherman had to  be part of an  employee worker                                                               
group.  Employees  of  processors  qualified for  that,  but  not                                                               
fishermen.  That  program  is  a   retraining  program  to  offer                                                               
alternative work  and new  career paths.  It includes  other jobs                                                               
that could go hand in hand with seasonal fishing.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GARY STEVENS  stated that  the salmon  industry is  in a                                                               
crisis because  of farming and  hopefully it will come  back, but                                                               
it  would  take a  while.  Fishermen  can  train for  fishing  in                                                               
undersubscribed   fisheries  -   specifically  the   pollock  jig                                                               
fishery.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE asked if a person  who lives in Seattle and fished in                                                               
Kodiak  for  the last  20  years  could  take advantage  of  this                                                               
program. That person could retrain  and go from an oversubscribed                                                               
to an undersubscribed fishery and  thereby compete with an Alaska                                                               
resident. "There  could be a  downside to  this as well.  Is that                                                               
not possible?"                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GARY STEVENS  responded, "I  would think  that in  a jig                                                               
fishery,  which  is  a  year-round  fishery...that  person  would                                                               
probably become an Alaska resident, I would think...."                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR SEEKINS asked why those particular dates were selected.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL answered that 2001/2002  is the specific year of price                                                               
decline for which UFA applied and  a full year of data was needed                                                               
for the application; 2003 was still  in progress at the time. The                                                               
concept  should be  carried forward  into the  2003/2004 petition                                                               
cycle,  for  which the  salmon  species  will still  probably  be                                                               
qualified.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOLLIS FRENCH  said language  on page  2 was  confusing,                                                               
because  it  first  states   that  fishermen  experience  reduced                                                               
earnings  due to  a decline  in price,  but went  on to  say they                                                               
couldn't show that.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR.  VINSEL replied  that is  the crux  of the  problem with  the                                                               
specific net fishing income decline requirement for benefits.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     Salmon  prices  went  down  over  the  whole  five-year                                                                    
     period.  It  was  a slam-dunk  in  getting  the  salmon                                                                    
     qualified based on the numbers.  And if somebody had $1                                                                    
     less fishing  income in  2001, then  they made  $1 more                                                                    
     than  that  in  2002,  even  though  it's  pretty  much                                                                    
     understood  that  both  years were  pretty  poor,  they                                                                    
     wouldn't qualify for this program.  So, the net fishing                                                                    
     income decline  is really the  crux of  the resolution,                                                                    
     in my  opinion. It's  the main  reason why  many salmon                                                                    
     fishermen weren't  able to qualify for  the benefits in                                                                    
     the  program.   It's  what  we  expect   to  have  some                                                                    
     possibility  to work  on with  the USDA  in fine-tuning                                                                    
     the program.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH  asked if the  net decline was different  than the                                                               
annual decline.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL answered:                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     The requirement  for benefits in  the program is  a net                                                                    
     decline in all  fishing income. In my  opinion, more or                                                                    
     less rightly so, taking into  effect that if you were a                                                                    
     farmer or a fisherman  and were already diversified and                                                                    
     you made up  on other species from the  poor fishing in                                                                    
     salmon  - or  say you  grew another  crop, because  you                                                                    
     knew the  price would be  low on  your corn and  so you                                                                    
     grew potatoes  or something  like that....  Things like                                                                    
     Melissa mentioned,  like the Exxon Valdez  payments and                                                                    
     any  other  things  that are  ultimately  in  your  tax                                                                    
     returns  in the  fishing  income category  - that  kept                                                                    
     other people from qualifying. We  believe these are not                                                                    
     necessarily in  the statutes; they were  interpreted by                                                                    
     the USDA  as this was  the first year of  this program.                                                                    
     Partly in  their haste in  the challenge  of processing                                                                    
     the  potential  large  number  of  fishermen  that  may                                                                    
     apply, which  is a little  beyond what the  program was                                                                    
     designed  to do  when it  was started  with farmers  in                                                                    
     mind.  When   they  added   fishermen,  it   made  some                                                                    
     procedural challenges  - especially in Alaska  where we                                                                    
     didn't  have a  large  infrastructure  of Farm  Service                                                                    
     Agency offices....                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  FRENCH said  he heard  him  saying that  net decline  in                                                               
fishing earnings is just a  different measure than simply fishing                                                               
earnings by themselves.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. VINSEL sought to clarify  further that the net fishing income                                                               
on tax  returns includes Exxon  Valdez payments and other  work a                                                               
fisherman does  with his boat.  The original program  started out                                                               
with net  farming income,  which might not  be as  complicated as                                                               
fishing income.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR SEEKINS moved  to pass CSHJR 34(FSH)  from committee with                                                               
individual recommendations.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR BUNDE asked  for a roll call vote.  Senators Hollis French,                                                               
Bettye Davis, Gary  Stevens, Ralph Seekins and  Chair Bunde voted                                                               
yea: and CSHJR 34(FSH) moved from committee.                                                                                    

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