Fishing industry considers petitioning for import relief

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

Members of the fishing industry are considering petitioning the federal government for financial relief to alleviate the effects of the salmon industry decline.

The federal Trade Act of 1974 allows relief for American industries seriously injured or threatened with serious injury by increased imports. Industry members can petition the U.S. International Trade Commission for relief, and the commission in turn may recommend to President Bush measures such as temporary import ceilings or tariffs on imports. The president has the final say.

Some fishing industry members learned about the import relief petition this week at a salmon industry conference hosted by the Juneau-based Tlingit-Haida Central Council. The council cannot submit a petition because it is not a member of the industry, but its staff recommended fishermen and processors explore the options available to them.

"Everyone has been impacted by the importation of salmon, so it's in their economic best interest to participate," said Myrna Gardner of the council's economic development division.

The Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance, Southeast Conference of Mayors and the Southeast Intertribal Fish and Wildlife Commission are considering submitting petitions, members said.

"I think we're going to take the lead, at least for the tribes in Southeast," said Matthew Kookesh, executive director of the intertribal commission.

Kookesh said his group is considering asking for tariffs on imported farmed salmon, and may ask for some of the money from the tax to be funneled back to the industry.

"We want some of that money to build an infrastructure to increase the salmon markets," he said.

Mac Demmert, another member of the intertribal commission, said if the price of farmed salmon is raised to match the price of wild salmon, consumers would recognize wild salmon's quality and stop buying the farmed fish.

"If you have to pay an equivalent price, you'll make comparisons," he said.

Angoon Mayor Walter Jack said he thinks the mayoral conference should support a petition.

"I'm going to bring that up in the Southeast Conference of Mayors and we're going to see what kind of support we have," he said.

One group that isn't looking seriously at a petition is the United Fishermen of Alaska. Executive Director Thomas Gemmell said his group looked into it, and found it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to sustain the advocacy and lobbying a successful petition would require.

"It's on the back burner now, but unless some large chunks of money fall out of the sky it's going to be very difficult to do something like that," he said. "You've got to have money to play those games."

Gemmell also noted some Chilean fish farmers already pay tariffs as a result of a trade complaint filed by Atlantic salmon farmers in Maine in 2000. The Chilean farmers were found to be "dumping," or selling large quantities of fish for less than it cost to produce them. The tariff is set to expire June 30, and he noted it didn't help the Maine fish farmers.

"Since they filed that suit their numbers have gotten smaller. They've been bought up by Norwegians," he said.

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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