Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/24/2003 03:30 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SCR 3-EXTEND JT LEG SALMON INDUSTRY TASK FORCE CSHCR 6(FSH)-EXTEND JT LEG SALMON INDUSTRY TASK FORCE CHAIR OGAN explained to members that although SCR 3 was scheduled, HCR 6 passed out of the House on Friday and was referred to the Senate Resources Committee earlier in the day. According to Tam Cook, Director of the Legal and Research Services Division, HCR 6 can be heard in place of SCR 3 since the two resolutions contain the same subject matter and the committee has satisfied the notice requirements. He then asked the sponsor to address the legislation. SENATOR GARY STEVENS, sponsor of HCR 6, told members he is looking forward to co-sponsoring SCR 3. He then described the measure as follows. HCR 6 extends the life of the joint legislative salmon task force until the end of the second session of the 23rd Legislature. This task force was created by the 22nd Legislature out of concern for Alaska's lost market share of the salmon industry and expansion into new markets. The salmon industry is an enormous economic engine that drives Alaska's coastal economies. The Joint Salmon Industry Task Force made enormous progress during the course of its meetings. Its first meeting was held on July 22, 2002, at which time five subcommittees were appointed. Those subcommittees met over 43 times in many communities of the state and Seattle. The task force received 279 proposals, produced 13 pieces of draft legislation, and generated a huge amount of discussion and material that will have to be considered in the future. He hopes, for those reasons, the committee will favorably consider extending the life of the task force. He added that the bill has a zero fiscal note. He pointed out that because Chair Ben Stevens spent the funds appropriated to the task force last year wisely, it will be able to function for at least one more year on the remainder of those funds. CHAIR OGAN asked if those funds will have to be reappropriated and carried forward to the next fiscal year. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said he does not believe so. CHAIR OGAN said he has watched a lot of task forces come and go over the last nine years and expressed concern that extending this task force will deluge the Legislature with more legislation and requests for more funding. He asked Senator Gary Stevens what will come out of this extension. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said he cannot address whether the task force will ask for more funding, but he can say that an enormous amount of effort and time went into the process, made up of fishermen, processors, community leaders and legislators. He felt very good about the process. The resultant legislation provides simple and effective measures to help the industry and give it more choice. However, the task force was unable to deal with more far reaching issues in that time frame. CHAIR OGAN said he would play the role of devil's advocate and asked: The bottom line is farmed fish is kicking our rears up here. We can have all of the task forces in the world that we can feel good about but, at the end of the day, we're not going to change that. Is that something that you think is going to - if we invest more money and more time and energy of Alaskans that's going to come out of this that could put the salmon industry back on its feet, short of some kind of a retaliatory strike against the fish farmers...? SENATOR GARY STEVENS said that is a fair question. He believes Alaska lost market share because the state wasn't paying close attention to what the farmed fish industry was doing to the market. However, one positive outcome is that the consumption of salmon has increased. He doesn't believe Alaska salmon can compete on the same price level as farmed fish, but the handling practices of Alaska salmon can be improved to increase quality. In response to Chair Ogan's question about whether Alaska is likely to lose its fishing industry after spending a lot of time and money, he does not believe so. He said that regional marketing plans are developing to publicize area-specific fish, which he believes is all for the good. He told members that he was able to see some fish processing operations in Europe and felt the strongest advice he received was that Alaska has to stress the fact that its salmon is a wild, natural product and its harvest does no damage to the species. CHAIR OGAN concurred that Alaska needs to carve out a niche market. 3:45 p.m. SENATOR WAGONER pointed out that he is a member of the salmon co-op in Cook Inlet that increased the value of the co-op fish three times this year and that was on a small market of 10,000 pounds. The co-op has committed to 30,000 pounds next year. He agreed that niche markets do exist but they have to be developed, and that his co-op is focusing on the Lower 48 rather than foreign marketing. SENATOR SEEKINS noted that HCR 6 provides that the Legislative Council may, upon request, fund contracts for research. He asked if that would provide the task force with a mechanism to use if it needs to contract for additional research. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said that is correct but the task force did not take advantage of that provision this past year. SENATOR BEN STEVENS, the Chair of the Joint Salmon Industry Task Force, explained that under the Legislative Council procurement rules, the task force itself cannot expend over $25,000 without full council approval. When the task force was assembled last July, Senate President Halford and Speaker Porter asked him if that amount would be adequate. He did not know but thought the task force may want to enter into some contracts for in-depth economic analyses of the proposals on the table. The task force never did but this provision will allow the task force to do what the presiding officers proposed. During the interim, the task force will make requests for funding to the Legislative Council. The Senate President, Speaker and Chair of the Legislative Council can approve the request. SENATOR SEEKINS said he wanted to point out that a funding mechanism exists that contains a check and balance system. He then said the commercial fishing industry is in deep crisis. It's the sole support of many Alaskan families. He said he has talked to many of those families in Interior Alaska who are concerned that the industry will try to make up in volume what it is losing in price and that is a short-term solution that will have a devastating effect on the wild fish stocks. He said Senator Ben Stevens understands the complexity of this issue. The challenges will remain unsolved without a concerted effort by the state and he believes the task force is a good mechanism to use. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said if the Legislature does nothing to help out, the state will be facing enormous bankruptcies by small businesses. The state has already faced the closure of processing plants. Many coastal communities will also suffer as the fishing industry is an important tax base in those communities. He said volume is not the solution; quality and price are. CHAIR OGAN agreed that volume is not the answer because the argument in the past is if fishermen cannot make enough money fishing, more fish need to be allocated to that fishery, which pits the commercial and sport fisheries against each other. He said allocation is part of the problem but not the entire problem. SENATOR ELTON commented that he believes everyone on the task force understands that the job of task force members is not to allocate; that is the job of the Board of Fish. None of the task force members are interested in political solutions to allocation issues. He agreed that part of the problem is price related so the task force focused on issues that take some of the costs out of the industry - on the harvesting and processing side. He agreed that the marketplace has changed and Alaska now has advocates for wild fish. He said he appreciates that Senator Seekins pointed out there is a counterbalance on spending and said, "I'll be stunned if we ever need it as I think we have one of the most tight-fisted Chairman that we've ever seen." He maintained that he does not mean that in a pejorative manner and that Chairman Stevens has given members a high level of comfort in the way he has dealt with issues. He then pointed out the genesis of this occurred last year at the salmon summit, which was co-hosted by former Governor Knowles and U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. He thinks the Legislature has done a good job kick starting the process, however the task force has only been able to pick off the low-hanging fruit right now. Alaska has lost over $600 million in the salmon segment of the industry alone. The challenges are great. He said he is comfortable with continuation of the task force. SENATOR LINCOLN said she supports the continuation of the task force but pointed out that Senator Gary Stevens mentioned the financial impact to the coastal communities and she is concerned that the task force is looking at the impact on all of Alaska, not just the coastal areas. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said it is and that it is not the intention of the task force to concentrate on coastal communities. CHAIR OGAN said he believes commercial fishermen are some of the best free market capitalists around and the Legislature needs to do what it can to help them. SENATOR DYSON moved CSHCR 6(FSH) from committee with individual recommendations and its zero fiscal note. CHAIR OGAN announced that without objection, the motion carried. He then announced the committee would take up SB 74.