Sustenance bill is just a ploy that favors urban fishermen

Posted: Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A laska Senate Bill No. 318, "An act relating to a preference for Alaska residents in the consumptive uses of fish and game," has recently attracted the attention of commercial fishermen. If passed, the new law will raise allocations of fish and game for "sustenance" to a "very high preference" over all other allocations and hurt commercial fishermen.

The consensus among commercial harvesters is that 318 is just another attempt by urban legislators to provide their constituents with a long-desired, urban "subsistence priority." The bill just replaces the word "subsistence" with the word "sustenance" and "priority" with the word "preference." As "sustenance" is defined in the bill it, "means that which is used for personal and family consumption as food or nourishment, or to sustain life."

Clearly this bill is designed to discriminate between two consumptive user groups, sport fishermen and commercial fishermen. In essence it is creating a "sustenance" preference for urban harvesters over the "sustenance" needs of commercial fishermen and their families.

Playing on the heart strings of what Chairman Scott Ogan of the Senate Resources Committee refers to as the "common folk," the implication is that there are a multitude of poor urban Alaskans who depend on these resources to sustain life who are not currently covered under the federal rural "subsistence priority."

Who are these urban sustenance users and what are their needs, the public has been left wondering? Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ralph Seekins, stated during the hearings that he has asked the constituency of this bill not to call in to testify. There is also an absence of supporting letters on the record. So, oddly enough, through two hearings in the Senate Resources Committee there was only one testimony supporting the bill and a dozen or more testimonies against the bill when it passed by a 4-3 vote.

Next the bill moves to the Senate Judiciary committee, of which Seekins is chair, where it will most certainly move quickly to rules and on to the Senate floor.

Back to the question: Are there really a multitude of urban people who need fish to sustain life and feed their families? I think not. This is just a thinly disguised attempt to further the agenda of an elite sport constituency who want more fish to fill their freezers, feed their families and share their bounty around their neighborhoods.

As a commercial fisherman of 30 years in Alaska, I speak for many of my peers in our coastal communities and our message is clear. To discriminate between the "sustenance" needs of Winnebago fishermen who travel every summer to Chitna, Kenai or any other river to dip or otherwise harvest salmon, versus the "sustenance" needs of the commercial fishermen who sustain every aspect of their lives by their consumptive use of fish for a living, is a class discrimination that all commercial fishermen adamantly oppose.

• Scott McAllister fishes commercially from Juneau.

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