By Jenny Neyman
A bill that would require a management priority on subsistence and personal-use fisheries in Alaska did not get priority treatment in the House Fisheries Committee on April 7. The committee heard a presentation on the bill, but Chairwoman Louise Stutes announced from the outset that no testimony would be taken and the bill would be held in committee.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, a Republican from Big Lake, requires that subsistence and personal-use fisheries be considered ahead of sport, recreational and commercial fishing interests in times of resource scarcity.
“HB 110 provides guidance to the Board of Fisheries when they’re making management decisions for fisheries, requiring them to make a decision with the priority first for subsistence, and second for personal use, before making any decisions for closures or reduction in catch limits or anything else, to make a management or escapement goal,” said Darrell Breese, a staffer for Rep. Neuman.
Breese said that the bill does not require that subsistence and personal-use fishing be allowed to continue if managers decide a fish stock needs to be spared fishing pressure altogether.
“HB 110 in no way prohibits the Board of Fisheries in making decisions for management to close personal-use fisheries altogether,” Breese said. “That is still an option to them if the management and the fish stock and the return is not significant enough to support the fisheries.”
The purpose of HB 110, Breese explained, is to provide for Alaskans who are providing for their families.
“Personal use and subsistence are the only two Alaska resident-only fisheries,” he said. “All others are fisheries allow anyone from anywhere to come and fish. These fisheries are geared for people who are putting food on their tables, putting food in their freezers, and feeding their families. … This bill simply says, ‘OK, we need to make sure that the people of Alaska can get fish to feed their families.’”
It is not intended to shut down commercial or sport fishing, just to make sure Alaskans’ freezers get their cut of the resources before wallets do.
“We recognize the traditional significance in the state of Alaska, and community value and economy value of all the fisheries,” he said. “Commercial fisheries is a vital part of Alaska’s economy, and we don’t object to any commercial fishing at all. (And) sport and recreational fisheries provide great economy benefits to the communities with thriving fisheries throughout the state.”
Rep Dan Ortiz, of Ketchikan, was the only committee member to speak to the measure. Though he didn’t identify his position on the bill, his line of questioning evoked skepticism.
“The common thread that I hear when I hear comments about management of fish and game is that they do the best job of managing the fisheries. The state of Alaska does that,” Ortiz said. “This would change that process, and why would you change a process that is considered to be one of the best-managed resources around the world when we’re talking about fishing?”
“I think the answer is, ‘To make it better,’” Breese said. “… We’re just asking that the Board of Fish carefully looks at this in-state fishery that people use to catch fish to feed families, remains open. I think that makes our fishery management better. Some could say it hinders it, I think it improves it because it’s putting feeding Alaskans above the other priorities, the other fisheries.”
HB 110 remains in the House Fisheries Committee.
As of Tuesday, it had not been scheduled for another hearing.