Senate OKs bill to allow fishermen multiple permits

Legislation in limbo as Ellis reconsiders his vote

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Alaska Senate voted 17-2 Monday to allow commercial salmon fishermen holding two permits to obtain additional fishing privileges from the state Board of Fisheries.

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But the bill - which would allow fishermen to apply for more time, gear and area to fish - is on hold while Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, is reconsidering his vote.

The bill passed the House of Representatives during the 2005 legislative session.

Ellis said Monday he is rethinking House Bill 251 after hearing fellow Democrat Lyman Hoffmann, of Bethel, speak out against it on the Senate floor Monday. Hoffmann and Sen. Gretchen Guess, R-Anchorage, voted against the bill.

In his short Senate floor speech, Hoffmann said he worries the new fishing privileges would line the pockets of wealthier, out-of-state fishermen rather than struggling Bristol Bay fishermen in his legislative district.

Bristol Bay fishermen also have testified to the Legislature that the bill could accelerate the demise of their local fisheries.

The double permits - also called stacked permits - are more likely to be bought by nonresident fishermen in a higher income bracket than the resident fishermen, according to Hoffmann.

The bill's proponents contend that it's just. For example, anyone who has two permits must pay twice as much for that privilege, United Fishermen of Alaska President Bobby Thorstenson has said in previous reports.

The original intent behind creating stacked permits was to trim the size of Alaska salmon fishing fleets, especially when there are many more permits than are actually being fished. It's another "tool in the toolbox" for the Board of Fisheries, said Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, who spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate floor.

Fewer than 50 fishermen in Alaska have obtained two permits in a single salmon fishery, according to state records. Potentially hundreds more fishermen fish under more than one permit because they also use a permit registered under a family member's name, according to previous state testimony on the bill.

The bill is supported by the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, the United Fishermen of Alaska and the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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