Salmon fishermen are opposing a bill that would allow for an increase in the taxes they pay to support regional hatcheries.
Senate Bill 322 would allow regional hatchery associations to increase the salmon enhancement tax to up to 30 percent. Currently fishermen pay up to 3 percent, and each regional hatchery association sets its own assessment.
"Regions can assess themselves to pay down large capital debts for those hatcheries," said bill sponsor Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage.
The bill would require a vote of fishermen in a given association to increase that association's tax, but most fishermen who testified oppose the measure.
Juneau fisherwoman Kate File said the bill would just heap more burden on an industry she says is already overtaxed and overregulated. She said the bill could be harmful even though it requires a vote of fishermen.
"There's a lot of apathy out there. A lot of fishermen get ballots in the mail, and they don't even open them anymore," she said.
Ken Duckett, executive director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association, said his members didn't even want to make available the option of raising the tax.
"We just are not interested in a situation that would have more direct taxes against a fisherman's gross (earnings)," Duckett said.
In his sponsor statement, Stevens wrote that fishermen would like to raise taxes in order to cut down on the amount of fish harvested for cost recovery. Hatcheries allocate some of their fish to be caught as part of cost-recovery programs.
"They're all done differently," said Stevens aide Cheryl Sutton. "One group may put out ... a bid process and three or four fishermen win the bid and they're the folks that go out and are hired to capture fish for the purposes of sale to cover these expenses."
Sutton said some fishermen have taken the view that those fishermen who aren't part of the cost-recovery fishery are competing with harvesters who are.
"The processors that are buying the (cost-recovery) fish perhaps are paying more for those fish than they are to fishermen who are not participating in the cost-recovery fishery," Sutton said.
The Southeast Fishermen's Alliance has said the bill is premature and has asked for research into the difference in the price processors pay for cost-recovery fish as opposed to other fish.
The bill moved out of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee this week and goes on to Senate Rules.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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