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Fishermen in snit over take by hatcheries

Fishing groups tout bill that provides hatcheries another way to pay expenses

Posted: Monday, April 25, 2005

Some Alaska fishermen are irritated that hatcheries catch thousands and in some cases millions of their own salmon to fund their operations.

Hatcheries have a competitive edge, often receiving a better price than fishermen for their catch, said Rob Zuanich, executive director of the Alaska Seine Boat Owners Association.

The other concern is more basic - fishermen would rather be the ones catching the fish.

Several Alaska commercial fishing groups, including the United Fishermen of Alaska and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, are promoting a legislative bill that would create a second option to pay hatcheries' operating expenses.

House Bill 218, sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, would allow fishermen to harvest all of the hatchery fish but assess a heavy tax - up to 40 percent of the value of the fish caught in the hatcheries' near-shore, terminal areas - to pay the hatcheries' expenses.

Though the measure is optional, some hatcheries are less than thrilled with it.

The executive director of Juneau's Douglas Island Pink and Chum does not think the proposal will work for its two hatcheries, though he is not opposed to the concept of the bill.

"We couldn't cover our operational costs, the way the bill is set up. We're taking a neutral position while the bill language gets fleshed out," said Eric Presteguard, DIPAC's executive director.

The Sitka-based Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) - which fishermen hope will take up the new method - is flatly opposed.

Steve Reifenstuhl, NSRAA operations manager, told the House Resources Committee Friday that the Legislature would be ramming the measure down hatcheries' throats if it tried to pass the bill this year.

He said NSRAA is one of the most successful hatcheries in the state. It provides 80 percent of its hatchery-spawned fish to Alaska's fisheries, keeping only 20 percent of its annual return for cost recovery.

Depending on the year and the hatchery in question, fish earmarked for cost recovery can range from 20 to 60 percent of the toal return.

Hatcheries provide about 30 percent of the total salmon caught in Alaska each year and 20 percent of the value of those fish, according to state figures.

"They do an excellent job," said Ian Fisk, a legislative aide for Thomas who testified on behalf of the bill at Friday's House Resources Committee meeting.

"It's a completely optional bill," Fisk said.

Mitch Eide, a Petersburg fisherman, testified that the bill would allow the seine fleet more fishing time and would alleviate their frustration with the hatchery's cost-recovery program.

"Most of the fishing industry is lined up behind it," Zuanich said. "No one should feel threatened by it."

But among other concerns, some hatcheries including DIPAC are concerned that the 40 percent tax on the hatchery fish caught in the terminal areas will not necessarily cover their costs.

"There's a little bit of risk involved," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Sarah Gilbertson. "(They) don't know if 40 percent will be enough."

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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