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The Senate Resources Committee approved a bill Monday that would allow commercial fishermen who own two permits in a salmon fishery to get even more fishing privileges.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, would allow the fishermen to apply for more time, gear and areas to fish for salmon.
Only 44 Alaska fishermen take advantage of the law that allows them to have two permits in a commercial salmon fishery, according to state records.
Potentially hundreds of others fish a second permit registered under another family member's name, according to recent testimony in the Senate Resources committee.
The bill had a contentious public hearing last week, but on Monday, legislators debated only a few small technicalities before sending it to the Rules Committee.
The version of the bill passed Monday includes an amendment that specifies the circumstances by which the Board of Fisheries can review proposals for new fishing privileges.
The board would approve or deny those privileges on a case-by-case basis at its regularly scheduled meetings, according to House Bill 251.
Four years ago, Alaska fishing groups asked the Legislature not to grant the extra opportunities, said Bob Thorstenson, a Juneau seiner and president of the United Fishermen of Alaska.
That year, the Legislature voted to allow salmon fishermen to have two permits in one fishery - called stacked permits - as a measure to trim down the size of salmon fishing fleets.
Due to the request of the fishing groups, the Legislature did not allow such fishermen to obtain extra fishing opportunities, Thorstenson said.
"Some people thought it was an unfair advantage," Thorstenson said Monday.
But the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and the United Fishermen of Alaska changed their position a few years ago, Thorstenson said.
It's fair because anybody who has two permits has to pay twice as much, according to Thorstenson.
"It's really a consolidation measure," he said.
Others disagree. Some fishermen, particularly in Bristol Bay, still believe it an unfair opportunity for fishermen who can afford to purchase two permits.
"This just speeds up the demise of local fisheries ... and favors those with the most capital," said Robin Samuelson, a Bristol Bay fisherman.
Many Bristol Bay fishermen have 18-foot "mom-and-pop" fishing boats and they will be "annihilated" by further consolidation of the region's salmon fisheries, Samuelson said.
It's unlikely that the Board of Fisheries would approve any requests for the additional opportunities if there's significant resistance from local fishermen, Thorstenson said.
"That's what the Board of Fish is there for ... to decide whether it's fair or not," he said.