The House passed legislation Friday aimed at helping Alaska salmon fishermen make their financially troubled industry more efficient.
House Bill 286 would let limited-entry permit holders set up associations to reduce the number of fishermen chasing the salmon.
Rep. Drew Scalzi, a Homer Republican, said while the measure hardly solves all the problems in the industry, it does give salmon fishermen one tool to try to improve their lot.
"We have too many permits, we have too many vessels out there," Scalzi said. "It's time to look at new ways, innovative ways to make the industry more viable."
Prices for Alaska's wild salmon have plummeted in the last decade, largely because of a flood of farmed salmon entering the markets. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, which brought well over $1 a pound 10 years ago, brought just 40 cents a pound last summer, Scalzi said.
"This year in Southeast, there will be dozens of seine boats tied up to the dock because there's no market," he added.
Scalzi's bill is aimed at reducing the number of nets in the water, so the remaining fishermen stand a better chance of making money and of delivering a quality product to the market.
Under the proposal, if two-thirds of participants in a fishery agreed, they could set up an association that could charge members a fee. The money would be used to consolidate the fishery, perhaps through buying permits from those willing to get out of the business or paying fishermen to sit out a season. The association would have the flexibility of deciding what worked best in its area.
The measure also allows fishermen to hold two permits in a single fishery, although it doesn't let them use any more gear than allowed for a single permit.
A fishery consists of fishermen using a particular type of gear in a particular area, such as Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishermen.
The bill is supported by various fishing groups, including the United Fishermen of Alaska.
It passed the House 36-0 and now goes to the Senate.
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