Legislature(1999 - 2000)

04/19/1999 05:07 PM FSH

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 160 - LENGTH OF SALMON SEINE VESSELS                                                                                         
Number 0048                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN HUDSON announced that the first order of business was                                                                  
House Bill No. 160, "An Act relating to the maximum length of                                                                   
salmon seine vessels; and providing for an effective date."                                                                     
Number 0174                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BILL WILLIAMS, sponsor of HB 160, Alaska State                                                                   
Legislature, read the following statement:                                                                                      
     House Bill 160 was introduced at the urging of seine fishermen                                                             
     here in Southeast.  Similar legislation passed the House and                                                               
     Senate in 1994, but was vetoed by Governor Hickel.                                                                         
     HB 160 would remove in statute the 58-foot limit on seiners,                                                               
     and give the Board of Fish the flexibility to modify the                                                                   
     vessel length limit through the Board process.  I stress that                                                              
     HB 160 alone would not change the current length limit on                                                                  
     seine vessels, but would only give that discretion to the                                                                  
     Board of Fish.                                                                                                             
     Further, HB 160 would give the Board the option to set the                                                                 
     length limit on seiners on a fishery by fishery basis.                                                                     
     Mr. Chairman, I have introduced this legislation to bring the                                                              
     discussion of seine vessel length to the table.  Some I have                                                               
     talked to believe longer vessels would provide more safety,                                                                
     allow for on-board value added processing, and encourage                                                                   
     better quality fish entering the market.                                                                                   
     Also, a few months ago at the salmon summit, ideas were                                                                    
     discussed about possible permit buy-back scenarios.  Allowing                                                              
     the Board of Fish to modify seine vessel length could be a                                                                 
     tool used in a permit buy-back plan.                                                                                       
     Thank you Mr. Chairman for scheduling HB 160 for a hearing                                                                 
     today.  I look forward to the testimony and will be available                                                              
     for questions.                                                                                                             
Number 0382                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON wondered what the original intent was of the                                                               
58-foot limit and if the intent was accomplished.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS replied that he is not sure.                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE HUDSON informed the committee that a written                                                                     
statement from Alan Austerman is included in the packet, which                                                                  
states that he is opposed to HB 160.                                                                                            
Number 0497                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS asked if there was someone who could answer                                                               
Representative Dyson's question.                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN HUDSON replied that a representative from the Alaska                                                                   
Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is present and available to                                                                 
answer questions.                                                                                                               
Number 0603                                                                                                                     
JOHN JOHANSON,  Klawock fisherman, testified via teleconference                                                                 
from Klawock.  He stated that he is in favor of HB 160, because a                                                               
larger vessel, for the reasons Representative Williams sighted, is                                                              
what they want and the 58-foot limit has outlived its usefulness.                                                               
The 58-foot limit hinders fisherman more than it allows them to                                                                 
move forward.  He pointed out that the fisherman are trying to                                                                  
bring a better quality product to market, which means better                                                                    
quality tenders and not as many.  It will be a long time in phasing                                                             
the 58-foot boats out, but it is the way to go.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON indicated that one argument in the past has                                                                
been that it would make the existing boats obsolete.  He wondered                                                               
what Mr. Johanson's feelings were on that issue and if the                                                                      
fisherman that have seiners now will try to lengthen them.                                                                      
RUDOLPH JOHANSON, Klawock fisherman since 1949, testified via                                                                   
teleconference from Klawock.  He said that he was unable to inform                                                              
the committee of when the 58-foot limit was implemented, because it                                                             
was long before his time.  His intention is not to diminish any                                                                 
value in 58-foot boats that do exist today, as they own quite a few                                                             
in their family, but to see the future extend upward in terms of                                                                
added value to the market and not just a can market.  The value has                                                             
to do with the price of fish and has nothing to do with the limits                                                              
on boat length.  There are seine vessels from 45-foot to 58-foot,                                                               
so it is a matter of choice, and the fisherman just want the choice                                                             
to get a larger boat rather than be hindered by the 58-foot limit.                                                              
He said that he cannot see one reason to stay with the 58-foot                                                                  
limit, because it has outlived its usefulness.                                                                                  
Number 0906                                                                                                                     
DOUG HOLBECK testified via teleconference from Girdwood on his way                                                              
to Kenai.  He stated that he is involved with the Klawock Oceanside                                                             
Seafood Plant, which hasn't been in operation for five years, but                                                               
will be opening shortly.  He has been in the fish business his                                                                  
whole life, and as he can recall the 58-foot limit was implemented                                                              
to keep the herring seiners from the Puget Sound fleet out of                                                                   
Alaska.  The reason he feels the 58-foot limit is something of the                                                              
past is that the fishermen either fish two days on and two days                                                                 
off, with the way the fisheries are going, and if the boats were                                                                
larger the fish would not have to be unloaded onto a tender every                                                               
day.  Also, many of the fishermen out of Klawock are talking about                                                              
getting involved in the halibut fishery on a 10 or 12 month basis                                                               
and it's a lot nicer to fish a bigger boat.  The main reason is the                                                             
quality of the fish, meaning that the fish are higher quality if                                                                
they are only unloaded once as opposed to two or three times.                                                                   
DUNCAN FIELDS, life-long Kodiak salmon fisherman, testified via                                                                 
teleconference from Kodiak.  He stated that he is representing the                                                              
Old Harbor Fishermen Association and several of the rural                                                                       
communities on Kodiak with regards to fish issues.  The people in                                                               
Kodiak are adamantly opposed to lifting the 58-foot limit.  He                                                                  
understands that the legislature is not actually implementing the                                                               
removal of the 58-foot limit, but actually just passing the baton                                                               
to the Board of Fisheries and giving them the opportunity to do so.                                                             
He explained that the key issue is balance; both balance within                                                                 
gear types in a single region and balance between regions.                                                                      
Frequently, one region is before the Board of Fisheries and an                                                                  
adjacent region is not before the board.  For example, if there was                                                             
a Kodiak Board of Fisheries meeting and everyone from Kodiak was                                                                
interested in lifting the 58-foot limit and persuaded the board to                                                              
do so, people in Kenai (the other region) would think that Kodiak                                                               
had an advantage.  That is also true for inter-regions in Kodiak as                                                             
well as Southeast; there are multiple gear types.  If the seine                                                                 
vessels become more efficient, then all of the other gear types,                                                                
driftnet and setnet, are going to want increased fishing                                                                        
opportunities.  There is also the intercept issues between the                                                                  
Yukon and Kuskokwim region, Kodiak and Kenai region and Southeast                                                               
and Canada region.  All those issues will come to the forefront as                                                              
the Board of Fish would discuss the lifting of the 58-foot limit.                                                               
MR. FIELDS further stated that the other aspect in terms of lifting                                                             
the 58-foot limit has to do with the question of why.  There are                                                                
things like quality and opportunity to process.  Fisherman with                                                                 
58-foot boats certainly have enough capacity for multiple holds as                                                              
well as the other things that were discussed for quality and                                                                    
efficiency, so he doesn't think that the 58-foot limit is                                                                       
necessarily a limitation.  The opportunity to process fish on board                                                             
is a great option, but a solution might be to licence specific                                                                  
vessels for the purpose of processing while fishing, rather than                                                                
open the gate to all fisherman.  There is also the question of, if                                                              
not a 58-foot limit, then what?  He added that the entire industry                                                              
has been structured around the 58-foot limit for years and he                                                                   
encouraged the committee to maintain the status quo in that regard.                                                             
Number 1388                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked Mr. Fields if he is aware that the Board of                                                               
Fisheries will have the option to adopt regulations for each salmon                                                             
seine fisheries.                                                                                                                
MR. FIELDS replied yes.  He stated that he is a strong supporter of                                                             
the Board of Fisheries process and he appreciates and works with                                                                
them most of the winter.  When talking about balance and whether                                                                
one area should have the 58-foot limit lifted and one should not,                                                               
frequently what happens at the Board of Fisheries is only one                                                                   
region in the state is primarily represented.  For example, if a                                                                
Board of Fisheries meeting is occurring in Kodiak and Kodiak is all                                                             
gungho to lift the 58-foot limit, frequently the people that the                                                                
decision might impact are not present, which is an issue if the                                                                 
ball is passed to the Board of Fisheries.                                                                                       
CHAIRMAN HUDSON referred to an e-mail from Ray Wadsworth, which                                                                 
read, "Bill, Rumor has it that there is a bill to do away with the                                                              
58-foot limit.  I hope so.  I have a 56-foot seiner.  I have                                                                    
developed a machine, thanks to the Alaska Science Technology                                                                    
Foundation (ASTF), which fillets salmon and also removes the                                                                    
pinbone.  This summer we will be testing it in Southeast on a                                                                   
tender.  The idea is to produce frozen at sea salmon fillets of                                                                 
consistent high quality.  If this 'showcase' for our machine works,                                                             
the next step is to build the machine into a seiner, but the boat                                                               
has to be longer than 58-foot.  Why 58-foot, what a stupid law.                                                                 
The world is changing and if Alaska fisheries can't change too, we                                                              
will continue to go broke."                                                                                                     
Number 1587                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS explained that if the Board of Fisheries                                                                
changed the boat length in the Southeast region, it would not                                                                   
affect the Kodiak region.                                                                                                       
MR. FIELDS said that it is highly improbable that a regulation                                                                  
change in the Southeast region would impact Kodiak; however, it is                                                              
highly probable that the regulation change would impact the issue                                                               
of Southeast versus Canada.  Adjacent regions are where the issue                                                               
would occur rather than regions that are as remote as Kodiak and                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS stated that he disagrees with what Mr.                                                                  
Fields is saying.  The Board of Fishery would go to each area and                                                               
discuss the issue of whether they wanted to increase or keep the                                                                
status quo.                                                                                                                     
MR. FIELDS presented an illustration of the concern.  He stated                                                                 
that for the past ten years Kodiak and Cook Inlet have had opposing                                                             
views about the Kodiak salmon fishery and whether or not the                                                                    
fishery does or could intercept a portion of the fish headed for                                                                
Cook Inlet.  If the Board of Fisheries were to consider lifting the                                                             
58-foot limit in Kodiak, it would allow the Kodiak seiners to be                                                                
more efficient and to fish in weather they otherwise could not                                                                  
fish.  He said that no one really knows whether or not the Kodiak                                                               
fisherman are catching Cook Inlet fish, but certainly allowing the                                                              
Board of Fisheries to make the regulation change would shift the                                                                
current balance between those two regions.                                                                                      
DONALD WESTLUND testified via teleconference from Ketchikan.  He                                                                
agreed with Mr. Fields even though he could see some of the                                                                     
benefits of lifting the 58-foot limit for multiple fisheries.  His                                                              
concerns are that there is the possibility of over-fishing the                                                                  
stock, because more efficient boats will be able to be out on the                                                               
water longer.  Even though it is going to be a better quality                                                                   
product, the fisherman are going to be enticed to over-fish.                                                                    
Number 1925                                                                                                                     
MR. JOHANSON stated that there are 58-foot boats now that can pack                                                              
180,000 to 190,000 pounds.  He owns a 58-foot boat and he would                                                                 
like to make it larger to compete.  In 1996 he was fishing for a                                                                
nickel a pound and they the fishermen have to get away from that,                                                               
so that they can get paid for their investments and top quality                                                                 
fish will only be available if they are once handled fish, not fish                                                             
that go from a tender to a plant and so on.                                                                                     
Number 2004                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE MORGAN asked Mr. Westlund what fishery he is                                                                     
involved in.                                                                                                                    
MR. WESTLUND responded that he has some Individual Fishing Quotas                                                               
(IFQs), a shrimp permit and a hand-troll permit.  He also is a                                                                  
sport fishering guide.                                                                                                          
CHAIRMAN HUDSON wondered if Mr. Westlund's boat fit within the                                                                  
current standard; under 58-feet.                                                                                                
MR. WESTLUND replied yes, but it is not anything like a commercial                                                              
boat.  With regards to lengthening existing boats, it might be                                                                  
possible to lengthen a fiberglass vessel, steel vessel or aluminum                                                              
vessel, but he doesn't know of any ship yards that would extend a                                                               
wooden vessel.  The older wood seiners will not be able to remain                                                               
in the fishery, if the 58-foot limit is lifted, and continue to be                                                              
competitive.  He reiterated that he is opposed to HB 160.                                                                       
CHAIRMAN HUDSON stated that he is assuming, since Mr. Westlund does                                                             
not have a seine permit, that he is not speaking in reference to                                                                
himself, but rather an opinion based on conservation or other                                                                   
aspects of the bill.                                                                                                            
MR. WESTLUND replied, "That's correct.  It will directly affect me                                                              
if those fisherman ... can catch more fish.  If they are more                                                                   
successful in being out there longer in rougher weather.  I've been                                                             
on a seine vessel myself.  I no longer do.  I've chosen other                                                                   
things.  I've also been in the processing end.  ... The value added                                                             
at sea might be a good idea, but who is going to be the one                                                                     
inspecting ... the fish out in the ocean as they're doing this."                                                                
Number 2167                                                                                                                     
DAVID DANIELS testified via teleconference from Valdez.  He stated                                                              
that he is opposed to HB 160.  He said, "I think maybe we could                                                                 
hold off at the Board of Fish [Fisheries] meetings having the                                                                   
58-foot limit dropped here, but there are other circumstances that                                                              
affects us.  I think what would happen first is Southeast ... Area                                                              
M, False Pass, [and] out that way, would be granted the right to go                                                             
out with bigger boats.  Your talking about doing away with the                                                                  
tender fleet, which Prince William Sound we rely on heavily.  Most                                                              
the people I know do not have the over-loaded capital construction                                                              
funds.  The price; most of our buyers have either sister companies                                                              
or are the same company that buy in Southeast and these other                                                                   
areas.  They start getting fish.  You get bigger boats that could                                                               
start offering to fish for less money [and] deliver to the dock                                                                 
refrigerated.  We've seen that up here affect us.  We always have                                                               
the fact they can get the fish in Southeast any time we're trying                                                               
to negotiate price.  Why should we give you this; we can get them                                                               
cheaper there.  I see that happening.  I think the 58-foot limit                                                                
and limited entry are two of the finest things this state has ever                                                              
done.  I think it works.  All I see in this bill is a lot of people                                                             
being put out of work. ...  Like I say, I really oppose this."                                                                  
CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked Mr. Daniels if he is a seine fisherman.                                                                   
MR. DANIELS replied yes.  He said that he has a Copper River                                                                    
gillnet permit and a Prince William Sound salmon seine permit.                                                                  
Number 2348                                                                                                                     
GERON BRUCE, Legislative Liaison, Alaska Department of Fish and                                                                 
Game (ADF&G), stated that the ADF&G is neutral on the issue.  He                                                                
referred to a question that was heard earlier with regards to where                                                             
the 58-foot limit came from in the beginning.  The 58-foot limit                                                                
originated in the 1940s or 1950s as a means of protecting Alaskan                                                               
small boat fishermen from competition from larger boats from other                                                              
areas, especially Puget Sound, which was involved in the herring                                                                
fishery.  Puget Sound also had a salmon fishery and they developed                                                              
their salmon fishery along a different line than Alaska.  He said                                                               
that he could only guess as to why 58-feet was the magic number,                                                                
but he believes it has something to do with the largest size boats                                                              
that were involved in the fishery during that time.  He reiterated                                                              
that the main reason was to protect Alaskan residents with smaller                                                              
boats who had less capital available to them from competition from                                                              
non-Alaskans who could get bigger vessels.  Many of the arguments                                                               
heard today on both sides are good and cannot be ignored.  For                                                                  
example, the quality of the fish could be improved with the larger                                                              
vessels, because there is no question that the more a fish is                                                                   
handled the more the quality is reduced.  On the other hand, the                                                                
efficiencies and the distributional effects that might affect                                                                   
different Alaskans is a real issue as well.                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS asked what Mr. Bruce meant by                                                                           
distributional effects.                                                                                                         
Number 2479                                                                                                                     
MR. BRUCE replied that there are a couple different ways                                                                        
distributional effects could affect people.  One would be                                                                       
competition within a fleet.  He said that he was not sure if there                                                              
would be that much difference in catching efficiency between a                                                                  
larger boat and a standard 58-foot boat, but they are going to be                                                               
able to pack more fish, deliver those fish to a processor, and get                                                              
the extra money from those incentives.  Naturally, someone who                                                                  
doesn't have those things is going to want them, because they will                                                              
feel at a disadvantage.  The end result is that the fishery is                                                                  
going to become more capital intensives.  Another disadvantage is                                                               
the perception that there is going to be an increase in efficiency                                                              
and it is going to affect intercept fisheries, such as Kodiak and                                                               
Cook Inlet.  The latter is more difficult to understand in terms of                                                             
what kinds of differences will come about, compared to the economic                                                             
differences that could result from the larger capacity and economic                                                             
advantage that some fishermen might have.  He reiterated that                                                                   
vessel size is only one factor that goes into the fishing                                                                       
operation; there are fishing quotas based on a percentage of the                                                                
return and there are limits.                                                                                                    
Number 2616                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON wondered if there were other jurisdictions                                                                 
that they could learn from that have implemented limits and then                                                                
abandoned them.                                                                                                                 
MR. BRUCE responded that he is unable to answer that question and                                                               
would have to research it.                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON wondered, with regards to management of wild                                                               
stocks, if HB 160 makes a difference.                                                                                           
MR. BRUCE replied that the ADF&G management is based on achieving                                                               
escapement and then harvesting what is left in accordance with the                                                              
allocations that the Board of Fisheries sets up.  The vessel size                                                               
itself is not a factor.                                                                                                         
Number 2716                                                                                                                     
DENNY WEATHERS testified via teleconference from Cordova.  She                                                                  
first testified on behalf of her husband, Eric Weathers.  She                                                                   
stated that he is a  salmon seine fisherman and he is opposed to HB
160 for removing the 58-foot limit.  Most of the processors or                                                                  
canneries are foreign owned already, and if they are allowed to                                                                 
have their own permits and catch their own fish, then where do you                                                              
suppose the local fishermen will be able to sell their fish?  At                                                                
present, the local fishermen are on limits, because the canneries                                                               
won't take their fish; therefore, the fishermen will be paying for                                                              
the hatcheries and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI)                                                                
for only the processors with no place to sell their fish.                                                                       
MS. WEATHERS further stated, shifting to her testimony, that her                                                                
husband is also a crab fisherman and they have tried to get crab                                                                
limits on both pot sizes, but because they can't get limits, people                                                             
come in from outside with giant crab boats and clean up the season                                                              
in one or two days and leave.  Not only do they leave, but they                                                                 
take their crab and sell them in Seattle; therefore, the market and                                                             
the fishery are being lost.  If it is allowed to happen with the                                                                
seine fishery as well, then there won't be anything left.  They                                                                 
tried to talk to the Board of Fisheries, and the Board of Fisheries                                                             
said that it would be discriminatory to the outside fishermen if                                                                
they granted limits.  Her husband has to go to Icy Bay, outside of                                                              
Yakutat, to fish for crab now.  He only gets a short term limit,                                                                
because all the boats from Oregon, California and Washington hit                                                                
Cordova and leave them with nothing and the local fishermen are                                                                 
shut down.  She indicated that it is very difficult to fight the                                                                
Board of Fisheries and probably not a good idea to them too much                                                                
power.  She urged the committee to try to support the local                                                                     
fishermen instead of the Oregon, California and Washington                                                                      
WEBSTER DEMMERT, Chairman, Klawock Village Council, testified via                                                               
teleconference from Klawock.  He informed the committee that                                                                    
currently there is a fisheries plant in Klawock that they are                                                                   
trying to start back up.  He stated that he is a seine fisherman                                                                
and he is supportive of a larger boat size, because it means better                                                             
quality fish, less handling of the fish and more safety.  He added                                                              
that the boat size will probably only increase to 65 or 70-feet.                                                                
It is not going to be a huge increase, because of the gear.                                                                     
TAPE 99-10, SIDE B                                                                                                              
Number 2950                                                                                                                     
MR. DEMMERT continued, he said that the halibut season will be                                                                  
longer, the fishermen will be able to start fishing earlier and the                                                             
fishermen will get good prices for their fish.  He said, with                                                                   
regards to the boats coming up from Washington, that a lot of                                                                   
Klawock's village permits are already down there, because they were                                                             
sold out over the years.  He reiterated that they are not asking                                                                
for huge boats; they just want a better quality fish and more money                                                             
for the fish when they are brought to port.                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS stated that even though, as Mr. Demmert said,                                                             
they are not asking for a huge boat, the Board of Fisheries could                                                               
potentially allow for very large boats, so the legislature has to                                                               
be careful in giving up regulatory power.                                                                                       
Number 2865                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS pointed out that a very large boat would                                                                
not be able to maneuver the seine.  A lot of the boats coming up                                                                
from Washington, Oregon and California that are 70-foot long and                                                                
fishing for halibut get most of the IFQs, because they are able to                                                              
fish out there.                                                                                                                 
CHAIRMAN HUDSON stated that the combination of operational                                                                      
capabilities and the economics of the fisheries are all factors                                                                 
MR. DANIELS interjected that many people have testified on how the                                                              
quality of fish is compromised when the fish have to be unloaded on                                                             
to a tender.  He said that he doesn't think that argument holds                                                                 
Number 2687                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY stated that he has always felt that the                                                                  
ADF&G should develop policies with regards to fisheries and game.                                                               
He said that he sees the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game                                                               
as implementers of that policy; not developers of policy.  Since                                                                
the ADF&G is neutral on this issue, he doesn't see any reason to                                                                
give any more authority to the Board of Fisheries.  He is finding                                                               
it difficult to support HB 160, because he is concerned that an                                                                 
inequity is being created between the older wooden boats trying to                                                              
compete with the larger boats.  He is also concerned with the                                                                   
distributional impacts within districts and in competing districts.                                                             
For example, Cook Inlet has seining, setnetting and gillnetting,                                                                
and if the Board of Fisheries were to allow larger size seine boats                                                             
that potentially could fish longer and catch more fish it will                                                                  
impact the resources available for those setnetters and                                                                         
gillnetters.  He referred to Alan Austerman's letter where it                                                                   
reads, "I feel that passage of this bill would open the door to                                                                 
other changes that might eventually destroy the limited entry                                                                   
system as it now stands."  He said that the fact that a larger boat                                                             
can serve as a catcher and processor may eliminate shore-based                                                                  
plants and that is a concern.                                                                                                   
Number 2557                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS referred to Representative Hudson's comment                                                               
on economics.  He said that there is already a limited entry in the                                                             
seine fishery and it seems that with the passage of HB 160 a larger                                                             
limited entry will be created when the smaller operators are forced                                                             
out of the industry, because of the economics.                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS stated that one of the reasons Governor                                                                 
Hickel vetoed the bill originally was because of the reason                                                                     
Representative Harris just touched on.  The prices are low in the                                                               
fishing industry right now.  Alaska has been fighting a battle for                                                              
the last two or three years.  He asked, "What are we doing to help                                                              
these fishermen?"  He believes nothing is being done and the                                                                    
fishermen need the opportunity to see how they can better their                                                                 
return on the investments they have made already.  If getting the                                                               
best return for their dollar means having a bigger boat then so be                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE HARRIS explained that he wants to do what is right                                                               
for the fishermen and feels that he is not prepared to vote one way                                                             
or the other on HB 160.                                                                                                         
Number 2265                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN HUDSON announced that he is going to hold HB 160 until the                                                             
next meeting.                                                                                                                   

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