The Alaska Senate passed a bill Thursday that would tack a new surcharge on resident and nonresident sport anglers to pay for fish hatchery projects throughout Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game would spend most of the income generated by the surcharge - $8.50 for Alaska residents - renovating two Anchorage hatcheries and building a new one in Fairbanks. The estimated cost of those projects is $60 million.
Roughly $5 million would go to sport-fish hatchery projects in Southeast Alaska, including deferred maintenance on Petersburg's Crystal Lake Hatchery and increased king salmon production in Haines and Skagway.
The Senate bill passed 12-8, with no debate. All but one Democrat voted against the measure. A companion bill has not reached the House floor.
Under the bills, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks and Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, nonresidents would pay much higher surcharges than Alaska residents. For example, the surcharge on an annual nonresident $100 license would be $45.
The proposed fees would generate roughly $6 million annually, the same amount need to pay debt service on the proposed $69 million bond package for the hatchery projects, according to Fish and Game.
"I'm for improvements to hatcheries anywhere in the state," said Greg Jones, of Skagway's Dockside Charters, on hearing of the bill's passage through the Senate.
Jones said the two options proposed for Skagway - either building a small hatchery or providing an annual release of 250,000 king salmon smolts - would be a boon for the town's economy.
The same number of smolts would be released in Haines in 2007, under the bill.
A new Skagway hatchery has been out of reach for the small city in the past, costing hundreds of thousands to operate. "It's a chunk of change but it's also a big draw," Jones said.
He pointed out that Juneau's Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery draws thousands of tourists every summer. If Skagway took the state's offer of $1.5 million to build a hatchery there, "everybody who came to town would be walking right through it," Jones said.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Sitka, said Juneau and other northern Southeast Alaska towns would benefit from increased king salmon production in Haines and Skagway.
"When they come back to spawn, they'll be going by Juneau, Angoon and Hoonah," Thomas said.
He said the fee increase is acceptable because it has been 15 years since the state increased its fishing license fees.
Thomas, along with Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, voted for the bill, which is House Bill 147.
But not everyone in Southeast Alaska is happy with the bill.
Republican Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka voted against the bill, as did Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. Neither responded to phone messages left Thursday afternoon.
The Sitka city council and the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) had hoped that some money from the license fee would be earmarked for their operations.
"We (Sitka) have the biggest sport fish charter fleet in Southeast Alaska," said Steve Reifenstuhl, NSRAA's operations manager. The association operates the Hidden Falls salmon hatchery on Baranof Island and runs stocking programs in the Haines area.
Seekins said on the Senate floor Thursday that the Fairbanks and Anchorage hatcheries are needed - production will otherwise decrease at a time when demand is increasing, he said.