Fishing group wants support

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Alaska's largest commercial fishing group wants the state to make sweeping changes to help the industry stave off the effects of plummeting salmon prices.

Among the changes are new laws to allow the industry to temporarily reduce its fleet and better representation in the state's Board of Fisheries.

The United Fishermen of Alaska formulated its plan to restructure the industry during a week-long meeting in Petersburg last week. Many of its proposals are being formulated still. But UFA President Bob Thorstenson said the industry needs more flexibility to fix its problems on a region-by-region basis.

"Different regions require different solutions. We have to allow those regions to come up with some of their own solutions," said Thorstenson.

The industry faces an uncertain future with a glut in farm-raised salmon expected to drive down prices for several years, said fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Farm-raised salmon account for more than half of the 1.8 million tons of salmon produced worldwide, Knapp said.

"We've got to look at this thing for the next 20 years," said Rep. Drew Scalzi, a Homer Republican. "The industry needs some stability."

The UFA wants legislation to allow for voluntary buybacks of fishing permits without purchasing the boats and gear from commercial fishermen. Buybacks under state law now include the permit, gear and boats.

The fishing group also wants legislation to require the governor to appoint at least three commercial fishermen to the state Board of Fisheries along with three sport fishermen and one subsistence user.

Currently the governor may appoint anyone to the board, which establishes some state fishing regulations. The fishing organization complained that too many seats on the board are held by sport fishermen and that commercial fishing isn't adequately represented.

"It's almost like having a gas station attendant decide how the state's oil and gas industry should operate," said UFA Executive Director Tom Gemmell. "We want to make sure there's fair representation."

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