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KETCHIKAN - Federal money could reduce the commercial fishing fleet in Southeast Alaska next year.
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The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act, which received final approval in Congress on Dec. 9, provides up to $25 million to purchase commercial fishing permits from purse seine fishermen.
Buyback proponents hope to retire up to half of the 415 existing limited-entry permits to improve the economics for permit-holders who want to keep fishing.
Work has begun on a plan that permit holders would have to approve in a vote.
"We'd really pushing very hard for implementation before the 2007 salmon season," said Rob Zuanich of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association. "By June of next year would be our hope."
The National Marine Fisheries Service is studying the legislation, said Mike Sturtevant, fish capacity reduction program team leader for the agency's Financial Services Division.
The legislation provides for the Southeast Revitalization Association, a nonprofit corporation formed in 2003, to develop a buyback plan and submit it to NMFS for approval. The association's membership includes all Southeast Alaska seine permit holders.
Two-thirds of the fishermen casting votes would have to approve a plan for it to take effect.
Dan Castle, president of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, said the economics have improved for active seiners in the past two years in part because of fewer fishermen.
"There's so many permits possible to re-enter the fishery, it would reduce profitability," Castle said. The number has increased 10 to 20 percent in two years. "Now as it becomes viable again, we don't want a bunch of latent permits to become back into the fishery and make it hard for everybody to survive."