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User Groups Disagree Over Controversial Personal-use Fishery Priority Legislation

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Members of the state Senate Resources Committee heard testimony from Alaskans around the state on a measure that would give priority to state fisheries for personal use when restrictions are imposed due to reduced numbers of salmon.Senate Bill 42, introduced by Chugiak Senator Bill Stoltze, would put personal use ahead of commercial or sport fishing, but not subsistence fishing, when limits are imposed on a fishery.

It’s an idea that is popular among many residents of the Interior, especially those who travel to Chitina to dipnet for salmon in the Copper River or its tributaries.

Chitina Dipnetters Association President Chuck Derrick, of Fairbanks, called in Wednesday to testify in favor of SB42 during a state Senate Resources Committee hearing. And he urged other association members to voice their support for the measure.

“We feel, as the dipnetters association, that the best use of Alaskan food resources is to feed Alaska families,” Derrick said.

Richard Bishop, who lives in the Goldstream Valley, says he likes that SB42 because it would elevate the priority of personal-use fishing above other uses.

“Personal use fishing is for residents,” Bishop said. “It should have priority over sport and commercial fishing when the harvestable surplus is low.”

Commercial fishing interests oppose the measure, because as Alexis Cooper of Cordova District of Fishermen United explained it pits those interest groups against each other.

“Rather than uniting all Alaskans to ensure the sustainability of our salmon resources,” Cooper said, “Senate Bill 42 would perpetuate division among residents, at times of diminished run strength, when conservation most needs to be a collaborative effort.”

Cooper says it would among other things further complicate state and federal efforts to manage salmon populations for sustainability.  

“Senate Bill 42 would establish an additional priority that adds further complexity to an already complex system of allocation and management for salmon,” she said.

Longtime commercial fisherman Wes Humbyrd, of Homer, explained his concerns about the measure is more basic terms.

“You gotta look at this law,” Humbyrd said. “This opens a can of worms that you ain’t never gonna get the lid on!”

Less than half of the 38 people who signed up to testify on SB42 were able to speak during the hourlong hearing, most of whom called in from legislative information offices around the state. Stoltze told committee members that he was glad that after introducing legislation like SB42 seven times in recent years, it was finally assigned to a standing committee.

But as of Wednesday night, the measure hadn’t yet been assigned to another committee for further deliberation.