Allowing salmon fishermen to harvest in multiple state-managed fisheries could help them diversify, though some fear it would hurt them by increasing competition.
The House Fisheries Committee is considering the dilemma in House Bill 415, which would allow fishermen to purchase permits to fish in more than one area in the same year.
The committee heard impassioned testimony on both sides of the issue Friday, and is holding the bill until some legal questions are resolved.
Ken Duckett, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association, said his members do not support the bill.
"It would increase the number of permits that are active. Quite frankly, they don't want competition from folks from other areas," Duckett said.
But Bob Thorstenson, president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, which requested the bill, said the bill won't really increase competition. He and others argued that many fishermen already fish in multiple fisheries during the same year by buying permits in other people's names, such as a family member or crew member.
"Frankly, (UFA) voted this in largely as a simple housekeeping measure. ... (The law) has not prevented the movement of fishermen around the state at this point," Thorstenson said.
Bruce Schactler, a Kodiak fisherman and president of the United Salmon Association, said he didn't think the bill goes far enough. Fishermen would still be required to use a different boat for each administrative area in which they fish. Schactler said he'd like to see legislation that would allow him to use the same boat.
He also argued that fisheries wouldn't be subject to undue competition, because many processors have put their fishermen on catch limits.
"It's really a matter of how many you can sell, not how many you can catch," Schactler said.
Schactler said the bill would help fishermen who process onboard and market their own products by helping them diversify.
"It does provide those people an opportunity ... to get different species and different products," he said.
But Robin Samuelsen of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. said the bill would hurt coastal communities by increasing the number of permits fished by non-locals who don't contribute to the local economy.
"It will allow fishermen just to cherry-pick fisheries and be disruptive," he said.
Samuelsen also said he thinks the issue should be argued before the Board of Fish and not in the Legislature. Thorstenson said he would be willing to let the board handle it, but he didn't think the board had the authority to do so.
Committee Chairman Paul Seaton asked a staff member of the Department of Law to look into that issue and others.
"The problem is this Legislature isn't very well equipped to analyze the social and economic impact (of the proposal) in a short amount of time," Seaton said.
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