U.S. Senate hopefuls propose changes to fisheries program

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Senate candidates looking for votes from Alaska's commercial seafood community are pushing proposals to strengthen a federal fishing program that's already proved a multimillion-dollar boon to Western Alaska villages.

The proposals, from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and her Democratic challenger, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, would make changes to the Community Development Quota program. The program reserves a portion of the lucrative Bering Sea fish and crab catches for the benefit of 65 coastal villages.

Murkowski said she filed a bill last week to settle legal uncertainty about which villages are eligible for the program.

The bill is not likely to be controversial, unlike a proposal Knowles unveiled late last week to raise the amount of fish and crab set aside for villages from 10 percent to 12.5 percent of the amount available for harvest.

This likely would mean tens of millions of extra dollars annually to six nonprofit, Alaska-based corporations that manage the fish harvests on behalf of the villages. The added revenue would come at the expense of predominantly Seattle-based fishing companies that historically have dominated the Bering Sea commercial fisheries.

Knowles likened the fish to crude oil, saying the state generally gets a 12.5 percent royalty share of oil that private companies produce on state land. The same principle should apply to pollock, king crab and other seafood taken from waters off Alaska shores, he said.

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