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Fishing communities left out of seafood task force but not process, Sen. Stevens says

Legislators listen during a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on March 12, 2024 (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)
Legislators listen during a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on March 12, 2024 (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

State lawmakers in Juneau voted to form a seafood task force this legislative session to help address the crisis currently facing Alaska’s seafood industry.

The task force is able to make recommendations to the whole Legislature about potential solutions for the industry such as tax incentives or changes to state laws.

State Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, will chair the group. He said he hopes to find real solutions for pervasive issues like low prices that are impacting fishermen and processors across the state.

“The issue truly is the international market for seafood. And of course communities are affected," Sen. Stevens said. "Kodiak depends very heavily on the taxes it receives on the fishing industry. So all three of those groups, fishers, processors, and communities are going to be badly affected.”

The task force will be made up of eight members, including Stevens. But the makeup of that body was modified significantly over the course of the bill’s journey in the Alaska Legislature.

When the resolution was first introduced by the Senate Finance Committee in March, along with co-sponsor Sen. Stevens, it included seven members. Two would have represented the processors, the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, and the rest would have been legislators.
Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Scott Arndt gave public testimony during one of the bill’s hearings in March and advocated for members from fishing communities to be added to the taskforce. He was one of several Alaskans who supported adding members to the taskforce to represent communities.

A version of the legislation that was amended in the Alaska House had as many as 19 members, including three members to represent Alaska Native Tribes.

Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes had the final say though, with an amendment to reduce the number of members down from 19 to eight in the final version. Here’s how she interpreted the resolution during the House Fisheries Committee hearing on April 25.

“I think this is more of an idea to work together with the industry as a whole and I don’t think that it’s limited to Native, non-Native, processors or fishermen. I think it’s all of us together. And I think that the Native population should be involved and will be involved and will have every opportunity to be involved," Rep. Stutes said.

Stutes also amended the bill so that all members of the taskforce will be split evenly between the House and Senate.

Stevens said even though the makeup of the seafood task force is limited, there will still be ways for others to contribute input.

“So the decision was made to make it just legislators, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is going to be left out. Everyone will be welcome to testify to let us know what they see as ways we can help the industry," Sen. Stevens explained.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not taken action on the bill yet, but if he does sign it into law then the legislative seafood task force plans to hold a meeting later this fall.