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 519 - APPROP: FISHERY ENFORCEMENT VESSEL Number 0481 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN read a portion of the sponsor statement for HB519, which was also provided in the committee packets: "Enforcement of fishing laws is difficult over Alaska's vast distances. The Department of Public Safety has need of a seaworthy vessel of at least 150 feet for fishery law enforcement activities in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. With a reduction in force of Coast Guard vessels, it is more important than ever to provide the Department of Public Safety with the means to provide fishery law enforcement. "On February 5, 1996, the state reached a settlement with Tyson Seafoods that resolved the state's pending lawsuit against the company's predecessor, Arctic Alaska Fisheries. In the settlement, Tyson agreed to pay the state $4.1 million in civil damages. Money from the settlement would go into the fish and game fund, which could be used to purchase a new enforcement vessel. "There is a serious need for increased enforcement in Alaska's waters. When fishing grounds are protected, commercially important species are permitted to maintain maximum populations. Money appropriated for fishery enforcement will be recouped by violation fines, landing taxes, and a healthier resource providing for increased fishermen incomes and tourists dollars." Number 0551 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON moved that HB 519 be put on the table for discussion. There being no objection, it was so ordered. Representative Elton referred to the fiscal note and said, "if you add a vessel, you add skippers, you add mechanics, you add future capital costs." He asked that testifiers address that. REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS expressed that was his concern also. Number 0587 JOHN GLASS, COLONEL, Director, Central Office, Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection, Department of Public Safety, expressed strong support for HB 519. "The purpose of this bill is to give us a patrol vessel to patrol the Bering Sea, primarily," he said. He pointed out that the fisheries resource, which was a renewable resource, was a multi-million-dollar industry in Alaska that needed protection. "Hopefully, with an enforcement vessel of this type, we can continue to have our fishery resource available to use in the future." The requested vessel was a replacement for two vessels that had been, basically, decommissioned. The 97-foot patrol vessel Vigilant, used in the Bering Sea, had been decommissioned in 1992. "It took a beating, a pounding, in the Bering Sea for approximately 15 years and was ruled to be unsafe," Colonel Glass said. In addition, the Polaris had been dry-docked the previous year because of budgetary considerations; they had since found that it was also unsafe. He suggested they could put a patch on that vessel to make it last another two or three years before substantial repairs would be needed. Number 0666 COLONEL GLASS referred to a hand-out he had provided to the committee, entitled "Draft FY 97 Vessel Plan," that showed the potential patrols for the vessels. "As you know," he said, "we have a 121-foot vessel currently, the patrol vessel Woldstad, that has and is being used in the Bering Sea Area. This gives you an approximation of what fisheries are out in the Bering Sea that a vessel of this sort - a 150-foot vessel - could and would be actively participating in." Colonel Glass explained the hand-out also showed, by replacing the current patrol of the Woldstad with the new vessel, where the Woldstad could be used for other fisheries. "By obtaining a 150-foot vessel, we could get into some of the areas that we are not able to patrol at all or are very limited in scope," he said. He noted that the commercial fisheries and crab fisheries in the Bering Sea were rapidly changing. The Woldstad, built in 1982, "was not keeping up or maintaining the technology that is going on with the fishing fleet," he said. Colonel Glass advised that Lieutenant Alan Cain, who had been a vessel operator with the Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection for the past 18 years, and who was knowledgeable about the Bering Sea, was available to answer questions. Number 0754 COLONEL GLASS said, "I look at the East Coast fisheries and see what has happened to those over the years. I do not wish or desire that the same thing happen to our Alaska fisheries. And by having a vessel of this nature, we will at least be out there to cover some of the fisheries we are supposed to be protecting." He voiced that the Department of Fish and Game had done an outstanding job of managing the fisheries. "But if we do not have some sort of an enforcement, all the management in the world is not going to do us any good and we will not have that renewable resource for our grandchildren," he concluded. Number 0785 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN asked Colonel Glass to touch on the operational costs of a new vessel and how that would affect his division's budget. COLONEL GLASS responded that the plan he had given the committee showed what they wanted to do with the fisheries. He explained that when the legislature gave them a budget, they knew the cost of the vessel and budgeted those days out. "Currently," he said, "the Woldstad is scheduled for 164 days. This shows an increase because we've added some other fisheries to that. If we had the money, this is what we would do." Number 0850 CHAIRMAN AUSTERMAN thought that the concern was more that by adding the vessel, there might not be funds next year to operate. COLONEL GLASS replied, "We would reduce some other fisheries and put this vessel on line." He explained that if they built a new vessel, it would be 18 months to two years down the road. "I will come back to this body asking for more money for more sea days for that vessel, for those fisheries, that's true," he added. "We would have to ... take one other vessel and alter its schedule to operate these two vessels for approximately 100 days. I would come back to this body, or the legislature, asking for more sea days down the road. In order to effectively do our job, we have to have those days," Colonel Glass concluded. Number 0891 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON said, "I can't think of a more appropriate use for this money." He referred to Colonel Glass's initial testimony about one vessel going into dry-dock for budgetary reasons. He expressed concern that if they took the $4.l million and converted it to a vessel, that vessel might also remain in dry-dock for budgetary reasons. Number 0930 COLONEL GLASS responded, "We can share those concerns with you. This is a one-time opportunity that has presented itself to the state, that this body can give us a patrol vessel that will last into the 21st century, if you will, for the enforcement. There's probably, in my opinion, no larger single item that we can do for the fisheries enforcement than buy this boat. We will work around the monies that we are given, as we do now, and get the most bang for our buck for this vessel or any vessel that we have and operate. Yes, it will be reductions in places, but we also have a safety issue in the Bering Sea. We have a 121-foot vessel. We have a fishery that's out on the Aleutian Peninsula that has gone now to ten-by-ten pots; we can't even inspect those ten-by-ten pots with the current vessels that we have, and we need the modernization of the equipment to do that." Number 0983 REPRESENTATIVE MOSES said he thought it could be proven that with a capable, adequate vessel, the additional fines coming in would more than pay for the operation of the vessel. "And that's been proven up in Bristol Bay," he added. "In some cases, it's four or five times the cost of the enforcement operation." Number 1010 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS said, "It seems a little strange that the Tyson settlement was $4.l million and the request is $4.1 million. Tyson doesn't have a boat they want to sell you, do they, to take care of their debt?" Number 1020 COLONEL GLASS replied, "I wish they did because then we could put it into use tomorrow instead of two years down the road." He added, in response to Representative Elton's concern, that his division had also been in contact with the Department of Fish and Game. "As you will see, on some of that, they are interested," he said. "The fisheries are expanding out there; they're changing. We've talked with them. They have come on board and want to use this vessel also for research on the fisheries that are going on out there. With a few modifications of this vessel, that can be accommodated. So, it's going to be, if you will, a multi-purpose vessel, not just solely for us." Number 1068 REPRESENTATIVE ELTON thanked Colonel Glass and said, "I don't disagree with anything you say. I guess I'm just cynical about us living up to our responsibility. I have no doubt at all that you'll live up to your responsibility. I just hope we give you the resources to do it." COLONEL GLASS replied, "We sure hope so, too, and that's why we're here. It's extremely important to us and to the fishery. Number 1091 REPRESENTATIVE MOSES moved that HB 519 bill move out of committee with individual recommendations. There being no objection, it was so ordered.