Capitol Update: UFA meeting offers valuable insight

By Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak
For The Cordova Times

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the United Fishermen of Alaska annual meeting from Sept. 26-28 in Anchorage.  I cannot tell you how valuable it was for me to see, in person, the interactions between industry stakeholders as well as the various departments in attendance.  The depth of knowledge in the room was profound.  I am confident that the state’s fisheries are well represented and the continued dialogue will contribute to future economic stability for our state’s largest private sector employer.  Two major issues we discussed are last year’s fisheries business and landing taxes, as well as the proposal to eliminate the $3,000 Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission interim use permit cap.

If you followed any of the fisheries tax bills last session you know that Governor Walker proposed an across-the-board 1 percent tax increase on both the fisheries business tax and landing tax. There were various tax bills, some free standing and others as part of a “tax omnibus” bill, but the underlying message was that the administration wanted to see a straight increase.

I held half a dozen hearings on the tax bill in the House Fisheries committee to gain maximum public input before passing it along to the House Finance Committee.  This bill, along with all the industry tax bills, failed to pass from that committee.

The other important issue we discussed is the elimination of the $3,000 CFEC cap. This cap affects mostly larger vessels in the trawl and king crab fisheries. The problem with eliminating the cap is that the licenses are only issued to individuals, usually the vessel captains. Many vessels run multiple captains, so elimination of the cap could have an adverse effect on these boats. One proposal from the governor’s representative at the meeting was to eliminate the cap on only the first permit and the subsequent permits would still be held under the cap.

Currently all this legislation is dead. We won’t see the governor’s newest tax proposals until next year, but I’m confident that UFA and its affiliates will be taking a lead in shaping any new legislation.

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Budget

ASMI is a marketing organization with the mission of increasing the economic value of the Alaska seafood resource. They are a public-private partnership between the state of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry, established to foster economic development. In lay terms, ASMI has the important job of keeping the value of Alaska seafood high.

I sw a presentation by ASMI at the recent UFA meeting and was disturbed by how much their budget has shrunken. ASMI’s budget has been cut by $5.3 million since the last fiscal year. They currently receive no Unrestricted General Fund money, $2 million General Fund Match, $4.3 million in federal funds (through the Market Access Program) and $9.7 million through a voluntary industry tax. This organization helps create high value Alaska jobs and I feel it is important to keep them funded. If you agree please contact my office with letters of support for ASMI.

Pink Salmon Disaster

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Governor Walker and his administration for the quick action in asking the federal government to declare this year’s pink salmon run a disaster. A large part of our community depends on commercial fishing and sadly we’ve seen the poorest pink salmon return since the late 1970s. I urged the governor and the U.S. Department of Commerce to act swiftly in declaring a disaster as the livelihoods of our fishermen are at stake. Please see an excerpt from a memo that Governor Walker sent out:

“As you are aware, 2016 pink salmon harvests are significantly lower this year than originally projected through all Gulf of Alaska fisheries, causing significant difficulty for permit holders who are dependent on these fisheries for their livelihood.

“As permit holders are struggling to cope with the economic difficulties caused by the low harvest, we understand that individual permit holders are contacting the Division of Economic Development to request waivers in payment of their existing loans. We further understand that each fishery loan is unique and each borrower has different criteria which must be examined when deciding whether or not it is appropriate to waive a loan payment.

“By virtue of this memo, we are directing that DED staff commit as many resources as possible to assisting pink salmon fishery permit holders, and that the review of individual loan payment waiver requests be expedited to the most significant degree possible. Though it is important that the state employees make decisions in each of these circumstances that are in the state’s best interest, it is equally important that those seeking relief receive timely service.”

I have been working with the Department of Commerce as well as the deputy commissioner from the Department of Revenue to request a blanket waiver for loans that are due this fiscal year. I am thankful that the department already has a mechanism in place for delayed loan payments, and I encourage fishermen who have been affected by low pink harvest numbers to contact the Department of Commerce, Division of Economic Development, at 907-465-2310.

Editor’s note: 

Stutes also had scheduled a House Fisheries Committee meeting focused on transboundary mine issues for Oct. 12., as noted in the online edition of The Cordova Times. Experts confirmed to testify before the committee at that session included Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Center for Science in Public Policy geophysicist Dave Chambers, University of Washington fisheries biologist Dan Schindler, Xat’sull, British Columbia indigenous leaders Jacinda Mack and Bev Sellars; Kirsten Shelton and Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group; Chip Treinen and Lindsey Bloom of UFA, and various tribal leaders and mining industry representatives.

Stutes urged those wishing to voice their concerns to attend in person, via their local Legislative Information Office, or by calling in on the toll-free phone number. “The health of our watersheds and way of life in Alaska ultimately depends on public involvement to protect clean water and habitat,” Stutes said.

“The United States and Canadian federal governments need prodding to secure enforceable protections and financial assurances for our transboundary rivers.”