Legislature(2017 - 2018)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/14/2017 01:30 PM FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 128 "An Act relating to management of enhanced stocks of shellfish; authorizing certain nonprofit organizations to engage in shellfish enhancement projects; relating to application fees for salmon hatchery permits; and providing for an effective date." 4:27:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ, SPONSOR, thanked the committee for hearing HB 128. He noted Ms. Decker had mentioned pieces of a puzzle being put together to help spur the development of Alaska's mariculture industry. He opined that HB 128 was one of the pieces of the puzzle. He read the sponsor statement: Enhancement of Alaska's shellfish industry holds the potential of expanded economic opportunities in Alaska's coastal communities and increased resilience of the State's fisheries portfolio. To tap this potential HB 128 allows qualified non- profits to pursue enhancement and/or restoration projects involving shellfish species including red and blue king crab, sea cucumber, abalone, and razor clams. The bill creates a regulatory framework with which Alaska Department of Fish and Game can manage shellfish enhancement projects and outlines criteria for issuance of permits. It sets out stringent safety standards to ensure sustainability and health of existing natural stocks. The Commissioner of ADFG must also make a determination of substantial public benefit before a project can proceed. In addition, the bill sets the application fee for a shellfish enhancement project at $1,000 and amends the application fee for a salmon hatchery permit, increasing the fee from $100 to $1,000. HB 128 plays an important role in the development of mariculture in Alaska by providing a method to increase the available harvest of shellfish for public use in an environmentally safe manner. Co-Chair Foster reviewed the available testifiers in the room and online. Vice-Chair Gara asked about Representative Ortiz's reference to a provision in the legislation about protecting against contamination or danger to wild species. He asked if the representative was referring to wild shellfish or wild fish also. Representative Ortiz asked if Vice-Chair Gara was talking about salmon. Vice-Chair Gara responded affirmatively. He wanted to make sure there were provisions in place to ensure that there was no danger of contamination that would spread to wild fish or shellfish. Representative Ortiz deferred to DFG. His understanding was that a totally different enhancement process was being discussed. He thought the shellfish were staying in one area without intermixing. He asked DFG to add to his comments. 4:31:34 PM FORREST BOWERS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF COMMERCIAL FISHERIES, DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME, explained that the enhancement or rehabilitation projects that would be promoted under the bill would target existing stocks. For example, there was a King Crab stock around Kodiak. The abundance level was too low to harvest. The efforts that would be undertaken with the bill would attempt to restore the stock to a level where fisheries could occur. The bill would allow for a restoration of native existing stocks rather than introducing a new species into an area where they were not native. 4:32:42 PM MARY HAKALA, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE DAN ORTIZ, added that a definition was provided on page 9, line 3 of the bill. The bill specifically spoke to shellfish. The definition detailed that shellfish was exclusively indigenous to state waters. She highlighted a provision on page 5, line 11 regarding collecting brood stock. The permit holder would be directed to (where feasible) first take shellfish native to the area in which the shellfish would be released. She continued that in some case where an entity was restocking depleted stock it could take from another area. She thought there were strong directives in the bill. Vice-Chair Gara was mainly concerned with protecting native stock. He asked if the bill authorized hatcheries beyond the relocation of shellfish from one area to another or if it had more to do with enhancement that did not involve hatcheries. Mr. Bowers responded that hatcheries could be used as tools for enhancements. However, there were other methods available. Vice-Chair Gara asked if there were rules in place to avoid contaminating native fish with hatchery species. Mr. Bowers replied that all of the shellfish that would potentially be involved in one of the projects would undergo pathological testing for disease. The department had a genetics policy that ensured that genetic diversity of native stocks was maintained. In addition, the department had fishery management policies dealing with harvest rates to avoid overexploiting stocks. Vice-Chair Gara remarked that he was not a scientist. He asked for assurance that there were rules in place to do no harm to native stocks. Mr. Bowers responded that the department's directive was to do no harm. The department's interest was in conserving the wild resources of the state, enhancing them if they became depleted, or rehabilitating them. The department would not permit a project if it thought it would do harm. 4:36:17 PM Representative Wilson asked how the issue was different from mixing wild salmon with farmed salmon. She wondered if the state would be raising shellfish in a separate way and then mixing them with wild shellfish. Mr. Bowers answered that there were a number of ways in which enhancement could occur. One approach to shellfish enhancement was to take, for example, female King Crab bred and fertilized naturally in the wild, brought into a hatchery where they would span. The juvenile crab would be raised up to a certain size and released into the wild. Essentially, they would be naturally produced organisms that had been helped to survive a vulnerable life stage. They would not be a hatchery-produced fish. They would be native and placed back into their native habitat. He suggested that other approaches might include moving organisms such as abalone closer together. Speculations had been made that their reproduction was limited because the individuals were geographically too far apart to breed successfully. There were other approaches as well including back planning hatchery-produced organisms to speed up natural recruitment to allow fisheries to happen more quickly. In the case of the fish Representative Wilson mentioned, some interior hatcheries were non-native species like Rainbow Trout. He noted that triploid organisms could not reproduce naturally. They were introduced into areas such as land- locked lakes where they could not interact with wild salmonids. Representative Wilson discussed the general concern about releasing them [enhancement fish] into the wild potentially causing issues with the population. She wondered how to address the concern. She asked for clarification. 4:40:12 PM Mr. Bowers responded that the native organisms would be placed back into the area where they would have been produced in the wild. He cited the example of Kodiak Red King Crab. The department was not moving organisms into places where they were not native. He noted that the existing hatchery programs were situated in areas where the department believed straying and interbreeding between hatchery and naturally produced fish would be minimized. There were protections in place. He reemphasized he was speaking about native organisms. Representative Wilson asked if any other states had similar programs. Mr. Bowers was not aware of any. Representative Guttenberg reiterated the information Mr. Bowers had provided. He asked if there had been lessons learned regarding overharvesting issues that would help in avoiding recreating problems from the past. Mr. Bowers replied that in the case of Red King Crab, some of the declines were due to over fishing. There had also been changes in the North Pacific eco system that made the environment less favorable for shellfish than it was 30 years to 40 years ago. The department had learned a significant amount about conservative management of shellfish stocks because of their volatile history. In general, the department's harvest policies were much more conservative at present then they were 30 years or 40 years ago. The department has spent a significant amount of time working on the issue with the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The department's stock assessment was better than it used to be. With regard to other research, the department believed some of the stocks had not rebuilt because they were recruitment limited. In other words, there were not enough juvenile crab being produced to overcome predation and natural mortality to rebuild the stock to levels where harvests could be sustained. The intent of the bill was to overcome the recruitment limitation in order to get the stocks back to a sustainable level. Enhancement would help to provide additional harvest opportunity. 4:44:52 PM Representative Guttenberg asked if the department would be able to monitor the habitat changes to determine the success of the harvest. Mr. Bowers indicated that the major benchmark of success would be abundance or stock size, which was measured through annual surveys. Even fisheries that had been closed for several years, such as Kodiak Red King Crab stocks, were still surveyed annually. Representative Ortiz furthered that in addition to overharvesting being a contributing factor to decreasing stocks in shellfish in Southeast Alaska, sea otters and other predators have influenced stock levels. Representative Guttenberg referred to page 9, Section 6 of the bill. He asked about the definition of a shellfish facility. He thought the definition was placed within the definition of farmed fish. He asked for clarity. Mr. Bowers answered that the section simply adds shellfish to the exemption provided in the farmed fish definition. The existing language exempted salmon hatcheries from the farmed fish definition and added shellfish operations to the exemption under the bill, as they were wild fish. 4:48:58 PM Representative Guttenberg asked if shellfish hatcheries were being added. Mr. Bowers responded that a hatchery could be used. It was one tool for enhancement or rehabilitation. Shellfish produced in a hatchery or any other enhancement operation that would be permitted under the bill would not be considered farmed fish. Co-Chair Seaton spoke of segments of shoreline in his area that did not have clam populations return after an earthquake. He wondered if the state had been successful in reestablishing subsistence and sport harvest areas that had reduced stocks such that they were not available for harvest. He also wondered about an overly large population of pink salmon interfering with other stocks. He wondered if the bill would apply to his examples. He wondered if there were concerns about filter feeders. Mr. Bowers appreciated Co-Chair Seaton bringing up his question about clams in South Central Alaska. They were stocks that had declined significantly over the previous several decades. They would be candidate stocks for rehabilitation under the bill. Co-Chair Seaton clarified that he was talking about the harvest of stocks from beaches and repopulating the beaches - not bringing in stocks from another area. Mr. Bowers answered in the affirmative. He relayed that the department would look for the nearest available stock that had surplus biomass available which would be used as brood stock. He was unaware of concerns that had been raised by increasing any shellfish populations to their native or historical biomass levels. It would be a reasonable part of sustaining eco system diversity. Representative Pruitt made a joking remark. Representative Ortiz responded in kind. Co-Chair Foster OPENED Public Testimony for HB 128. 4:53:34 PM GINNY ECKERT, ALASKA KING CRAB RESEARCH, REHABILITATION AND BIOLOGY PROGRAM, JUNEAU, spoke in support of HB 128. She was a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She provided additional background information indicating her shellfish expertise in Alaska. She had been doing research on King Crab since 2007 to investigate the feasibility of rehabilitation. She had learned a significant amount about King Crabs in their early years of life. She was convinced that one bottleneck was their early life history. For example, in Kodiak when she went looking for small baby King Crab she did not find them in the places they had been historically. She had worked on methods to rear King Crab in a hatchery. She had also conducted experimental out-plantings to determine which habitat would best promote survival for juveniles. She also looked at predation. She reported that she had not done any experiments in areas where there were wild stocks. She indicated that some of the concerns that had been discussed such as genetic issues were real and viable. However, crabs were very different from salmon and other fish. King Crabs were reproducing in the wild. She reported that the goal was to increase the survival of offspring that had been produced in the wild. She noted that in some cases the rehabilitation could increase genetic diversity through the process. She reported examples of hatchery production in the wild to restore wild stocks including a huge effort on the east coast to restore wild oysters and an effort on the west coast to restore Abalone. 4:57:16 PM TOMI MARSH, OCEANS ALASKA, KETCHIKAN (via teleconference), spoke in support of HB 76 and HB 128. She believed HB 128 was very important because it allowed an infrastructure in order to enhance some of the wild stocks that needed rehabilitation due to predators or environmental changes. She emphasized that Oceans Alaska supported both pieces of legislation. 4:58:34 PM ANGEL DVOBNICA, ALEUTIAN PRIBILOF ISLAND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION (APICDA), reported she was also a member of the Mariculture Task Force. The association had submitted letters of support on both of the mariculture bills. The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association was one of six groups in the Community Development Quota Program and represented six communities in the Aleutian Pribilof Region. She provided additional information regarding the association. She opined that HB 128 was necessary to bring a certain program out of its research phase into implementation. The association saw tremendous opportunity in mariculture in Western Alaska for increasing access to commercial and subsistence fisheries and to better understand in impacts of climate related ocean changes on important fisheries species and building resiliency to those changes. The communities of APICDA were heavily invested in fisheries and were very interested in mariculture development. Such development could play an important role in diversifying the existing seafood operations. She indicated that both mariculture bills had wide support throughout Western Alaska and thought both were necessary. She added that on a personal note as a Dungeness crab fisherman in the Southeast she would support Representative Pruitt's amendment. 5:01:08 PM Co-Chair Foster CLOSED Public Testimony on HB 128. Co-Chair Foster indicated amendments for HB 128 were due on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 by 5:00 p.m. HB 128 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration. Co-Chair Foster relayed that there were two additional bills to be heard before the end of the meeting.