Limited access to fisheries was a dominant theme before a congressional panel last week in Soldotna.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan chairs the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard committee. They are on the road with hearings as part of the renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which sets the rules for all marine fishing in federal waters.
Many Alaskans called for a halt to Limited Access Privilege programs, such as catch shares, which they claim has shrunk fishing fleets, jobs and the futures of young fishermen.
“In Alaska, the problem is now too few fishermen, not too few fish.”
Linda Behnken of Sitka testified for the Halibut Coalition and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.
“We found the conservation and management benefits commonly attributed to limited access, can be achieved with limited consolidation of fishing fleets, and that more fishermen making a living is better for a community. In addressing the LAP provisions of the Act, we ask that you and the committee focus on supporting, rather than reducing fleet size.”
Catch shares were described in a dessert analogy by Julie Bonney of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak.
“So the race for fish is trying to get the most pie you can before your neighbor eats more than you do. The catch share program basically allocates to individuals or cooperatives, basically cuts that pie up into individual pieces. And each participant that has a fork at the table gets a slice of the pie. And then you can choose to eat that slice as slowly or as fast as you want – and whenever you want.”
Duncan Fields of Kodiak testified on behalf of the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition and added rebuttal –
“What she didn’t amplify is that once those pieces are cut – first of all, they’re not all equal pieces – and then only those people initially allocated a piece of the pie ever get to eat dessert. That’s the barrier to entry that creates the graying of the fleet and the problem for young fishermen. That’s it. That’s what we’re facing.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten asked that Congress take no action to further fishing constrictions.
“And we’d ask your committee and the U.S. Congress to avoid imposing programs here in Alaska outside the council process in either this, or other legislation, that could result in promoting consolidation, restricting competition in the processing industry, making access to fisheries more difficult for our resident fishermen, or generally having a negative impact on our fishing community’s economies.”
Thanks to the assist from KDLL in Kenai.