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Fish are among the foremost assets held by the people of Alaska. Unlike mineral and oil resources that are extracted and forever gone, fish are renewable resources that allow us to reap a harvest year after year. The importance of the fishing industry to the State of Alaska is sometimes taken for granted because it has always existed as an integral part of Alaskan commerce. An Alaska without fishing is unimaginable.
If Alaska were a nation, it would rank among the top ten worldwide seafood producers . . . ahead of nations such as Norway, Canada, and Iceland. Alaska has five of the nation's top ten fishing ports in value of landings (over $3 billion annually). After oil, it is the second largest contributor to the State's economy generating over $77 million in taxes and fees to the State in 1994. The industry hires over 35,000 workers and operates more than 550 processing facilities within the State. Yet, with the downward trend in worldwide prices, the glut of farmed salmon product on the market, and some failed runs, the industry needs the support of both the private and public sectors in order to maintain biological and economic stability.
The Alaska State Legislature was foresighted when it took a bold step by adopting the Limited Entry Act in May of 1973. The Act created a resource agency "to promote the conservation and the sustained yield management of Alaska's fishery resource and the economic health and stability of commercial fishing in Alaska by regulating and controlling entry into the commercial fisheries . . . " AS 16.43.010(a).
The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (Commission) became the exempt, independent, quasi-judicial agency to carry out the mandate. Beyond its function as a regulatory agency, the Commission is a pivotal resource development tool. Today, some 50 of Alaska's fisheries are under limitation and additional requests for limitation are pending. The Commission plays an important role in the development and economic growth of Alaska's fisheries, contributes to the State's general fund, and provides data and analysis on a variety of fishery issues. The Commission is an essential component of fisheries management and Alaska's billion dollar plus industry.
In creating the limited entry system, if the legislature had been committed only to simplicity and economy, it could have conducted a lottery, or it could have authorized auctioning a limited number of property rights to its fisheries. These approaches were rejected by the legislature because they would not have been consistent with the State's most important objectives of protecting the resource and those who rely on the harvest of the resource. The Limited Entry Act protected the interest of only qualified, individual fishermen who could demonstrate tangible dependence on their fishery.
Extensive biological, economic, historic, and cultural data and analyses have been generated to aid the development, enactment, and review of entry limitation in Alaska. Thousands of hours of hearings throughout the State and before the legislature helped form the choices made in shaping Alaska's limited entry system. Alaska's courts have carefully scrutinized the program and developed a body of law governing limited entry in Alaska that is both extensive and unique.
This governing body of law has successfully upheld an intent of the legislation to keep the permits in the hands of those who most depend on their fisheries for their livelihood. The percentage of permits held by Alaska residents has remained relatively stable. Today, approximately 78% (more than 10,000) of all limited entry permits are still held by Alaskans, and more than half of that number are held by rural Alaskans.
Absent limited entry, many of the State's high-valued fisheries would experience large increases in effort by new entrants from several states. Such increases in effort would raise management costs and would likely threaten the resource and the livelihood of many Alaskans in coastal communities where commercial fishing is the cornerstone of the economy. Unchecked growth in commercial fishing would also threaten subsistence and other uses of the resource.
The Commission is concerned about the economic plight of commercial fisheries during these troubled times and particularly Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attempts to seize and force the sale of entry permits from local fishermen who most depend on their fisheries.
Together with the State Commercial Fishing Loan Program, the Commission developed and successfully worked for passage of SB251 which resulted in a loan program that offers fishermen a chance to come forward without fear, and settle their federal tax obligations thereby preserving their entry permits and their opportunity to continue fishing. The Commission has helped to initiate a statewide effort between the public and private sector to perform outreach in order to inform fishermen of this unique program.
In addition to responding to these current and pressing issues, the Commission has continued to perform its primary functions to license fishermen, adjudicate claims, and perform research critical to the industry, as detailed in the sections to follow.
In addition to providing the Commission with cost savings, increased efficiency and productivity, the Commission's data processing section is bringing the Commission into the Information Age. The Commission now provides licensing and other fisheries information on the electronic bulletin board system at (907) 789-6159 and is now accessible via InterNet at BBS.CFEC.STATE.AK.US. The agency is also establishing a World-Wide Web server at po.cfec.state.ak.us.
Recognizing successes and disappointments experienced by Alaska's fishing industry, the Commission contends that only with broad support can the industry rebound to a level of economic health and stability. As a food source important to our State and the world, Alaskans must sustain our fisheries and exercise a combination of sound management and wise commercial development. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission renews its commitment to apply its resource tools toward that goal.
*NOTE: The above organization chart presents a general view of the Commission's primary functions. It by no means lists all activities undertaken to meet the Commission's statutory responsibilites as set forth in AS 16.43.
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