Homer fisherman Buck Laukitis usually makes about 15 percent of his yearly income fishing coho salmon at the end of the Alaska Peninsula each fall. Not in the last five years, though. The fall fishing season in the False Pass area has been reduced drastically or eliminated since the processors stopped sending tenders to transport the fleet's catch back to the plants.
By law, fishermen have to be present at the point of sale to sign a fish ticket that certifies the weight of the fish they have delivered. They can sign the ticket upon delivery to a tender or a processing plant.
Fishermen stop fishing because they find the low fish prices -15 cents a pound for coho recently - are not worth the extra work of transporting, Laukitis said.
"You get no sleep; you're running all night and fishing all night," he said in a phone interview from Homer.
Laukitis hasn't fished the past two autumns, and he said he only fished part of the season in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
A bill passed Friday in the House Fisheries Committee could change that.
Under House Bill 118, someone with a fish transporter permit could deliver a fisherman's catch to a processor. That transporter could be another fisherman, a crew member, a family member or another third party with a permit to transport.
"This deal is kind of a dream come true. Four fellow fishermen could put all the fish on my boat and then tonight I could run to the cannery, and then tomorrow night another guy could run and I could get some sleep," Laukitis said.
At Friday's hearing, a representative of the Department of Fish and Game testified in support of the bill, as did fishermen representing various organizations. There were no opposing testimonies, though Kenai fisherman Paul Shadura expressed concern that the bill didn't go far enough.
Shadura, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, said he doesn't think it's necessary to require transporters to have permits.
"It's just another layer of bureaucracy that we don't feel is necessary," he said.
Shadura said a lot of fishermen are breaking the law now by having family members deliver their fish. He said his organization would like to see that practice legalized.
"It's probably the reason we're surviving in this state," he said.
The bill is one of 14 measures proposed by the Joint Legislative Salmon Task Force, and was sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, a Kodiak Republican and chairman of the House Fisheries Committee. It next goes to the House Resources Committee.