My Turn: SE commercial fishermen don't need tracking device

Transponder would cost about $3,000 per vessel

Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I have recently written to Gov. Sarah Palin to urge that her representative on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council take a strong stand opposing a new federal government effort to require vessel management systems for commercial fishermen. The council is considering this onerous U.S. Coast Guard requirement at its meeting in Portland, Ore., which ends today.

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A vessel management system is a costly transponder that regularly reports a vessel's position to enforcement agencies. While it might make for efficient policing of a scofflaw or help ensure that fishermen don't venture into waters closed to protect Steller sea lions, it is not appropriate for the average Alaska fisherman for several good reasons.

First, the device costs about $3,000 per vessel. For many commercial fishermen, who are fighting to stay solvent in the face of rising fuel costs, volatile markets, taxes, equipment maintenance and other costs of doing business, another $3,000 is a heavy hit. This is especially true for small-boat fishermen.

Second, some of the justifications used by the federal government for its proposal are for conservation and safety concerns. As a lifelong fisherman, I believe that the State of Alaska and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council have done a good job of conserving our fisheries resources and managing for sustained yield. There is no conservation concern that warrants this proposed requirement.

Enforcement is already very tight on the halibut and black cod fisheries. Penalties for violations are severe, and the government is able to closely monitor our fishing activity. When we return from a fishing trip, it is not uncommon to be greeted at the dock by enforcement officers carrying firearms. Fishermen are regularly boarded at sea by the Coast Guard to ensure that we are in compliance with conservation and safety regulations. Our resources have been proven to be sustainable, and safety has greatly improved in recent years.

Finally, for the average, law-abiding Alaska fisherman, a transponder is an intrusive invasion of privacy. It is the equivalent of putting an ankle monitor on someone who has not done anything wrong. Alaskans should not stand for it.

While the council is taking testimony on this controversial proposal at its meeting in Portland, most of those who will be affected by the rule cannot attend the meeting. Their voices should not be ignored, however. I urge them to write to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at 605 W. Fourth St., Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 99501-2252. Send a courtesy copy to Palin at PO Box 110001, Juneau, AK 99811-0001, and to Commissioner Denby Lloyd, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, PO Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526.

• Rep. Bill Thomas is a Haines Republican.

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