A Seattle fishing company that operates big catcher/processors in the Bering Sea is testing legal waters to get out of paying landing taxes to Alaska.
All boats offloading their catches shore side or to a transport ship in state waters, pay a three percent tax based on fish prices. The tax produced $10 million last year, split by the fishing towns and state coffers.
“If this tax went away it would be a major hit to the community and have repercussions on a lot of things we do. But also to the state of Alaska.”
Frank Kelty is mayor of Unalaska where the majority of the big boats offload their catches. The landing tax at Unalaska is 15 percent of the town’s revenue.
Fishermen’s Finest, which has been fishing its two boats, soon to be three, in the Bering Sea since 1967, has taken the landing tax to court calling the nearly 25 year old law unconstitutional.
The company is part of a fleet of 20 boats that has catch shares of groundfish roughly 800 million pounds last year. The value at the docks topped $130 million.
The state ruled on the landing tax’s constitutionality in 1997. Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof calls it an important case.
“Everybody will be looking that sin the fishing business to figure out a way they don’t have to pay a landing tax for the fish in Alaska. That’s the real fight here, not just the immediate thing that appears to be between this one company and the state of Alaska.”
If the judge rules in favor of Fishermen’s Finest, Geldhof says the case would likely be appealed. Then it would go from a dispute over a tax bill to a precedent setting case for Alaska’s fishing industry.
There are 73 catcher processors plus a dozen floating processors operating in Alaska, virtually all are home ported out of state.
Thanks to the assist from KTOO in Juneau.