A new bill would speed up the process for permit buy-backs in state fisheries.
The idea behind a buy-back is to reduce the amount of competition in a fishery to make the industry more economical for the remaining permit-holders. No Alaska fisheries have ever been subject to a buy-back.
Current law requires the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to assess fishermen a tax that goes into the state's general fund and then may be appropriated by the Legislature to fund a buy-back. But that process takes too long, according to bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage.
Senate Bill 315 would allow the CFEC to obtain funding from another source to buy back permits and then repay the debt through an assessment based on the value of the fish each permit holder catches. By law, the assessment, which is collected by the Department of Revenue, may not exceed 7 percent.
CFEC Commissioner Frank Homan told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee Tuesday the bill would be helpful.
"It would make fleet consolidation somewhat easier to accomplish," Homan said.
Before any buy-back may be implemented, the CFEC must conduct an optimum number study to determine the ideal number of active permits to keep a fishery efficient in its harvest and reasonable in its economic returns.
The bill calls for the termination of the buy-back assessment when the CFEC determines that the assessment has collected enough revenue to purchase the amount of entry permits specified by the optimum number study.
Ken Duckett, executive director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association, said his group was on the fence about whether to support the bill.
Duckett said his main concern was that the bill doesn't require a vote of permit holders to implement a buy-back.
"As various different ideas for buy-back programs have developed, a number have contained votes by permit holders. ... This doesn't require any vote," he said.
Duckett said he would like to see the legislation include a simple majority vote requirement. But he also said he did not want to stand in the way of fleets that want to reduce their numbers.
The legislative committee held the bill for more hearings next week.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.