Rep. Stolze to ASMI Board: All Commercial Fishing Bills Dead in 2010

The following story reprinted from LAWS OF THE SEAS with permission.

Stoltze to ASMI Board: ALL COMMERCIAL FISHING BILLS DEAD IN 2010 The cochairman of the Alaska House Finance Committee announced, at an Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute meeting, that he would kill any commercial fishing industry bills that reach his committee during the 2010 legislative session. The action is a response to the Board of Fisheries’ refusal to restrict commercial fishing or reallocate Cook Inlet salmon stocks to the satisfaction of Mat Su Valley residents, Rep. Bill Stoltze indicated at the Oct. 1 board meeting in Anchorage.

“I’m just going to be blunt. The Cook Inlet people have declared war against a lot of us up north and I’m just not going to be putting any bills through,” declared Stoltze, who is the Alaska House liaison to ASMI. Stoltze first indicated his plan was not definitive. “I’m just not going to be real anxious to put up commercial fishing bills. I never say absolutely no but there have been some really bad actions by a lot of people,” he said before issuing his “blunt” statement. (A complete transcript of Stoltze’s comments follows this report.)

His action, in effect, was demanded by his Chugiak district constituents who were angry that he had not imposed the roadblock during this year’s session, Stoltze indicated. “I don’t want to B.S. anybody here. My constituency was mad at me for letting through the energy efficiency bill, which I thought was a good bill, but I got a lot of kicks in the back on that one: Why are you doing that when they’re screwing us at every other level?” Stoltze said.

Many of his constituents, in public hearings of legislative committees and the failed Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, have said commercial harvesters should be limited to the remaining harvestable salmon after sport, personal use and subsistence fishing needs are met.

The “energy efficiency bill,” HB 20, would allow commercial harvesters to borrow from the self-supporting Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund, to upgrade their vessel engines with more efficient, less polluting models. Sponsored by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, the bill was held in the House Finance Committee from Feb. 4 to March 30 this year. It passed the House on a unanimous vote on April 10, nine days before the end of the session and remains in the Senate Resources Committee awaiting its first hearing in 2010.

Helpless House Finance Chairman vs. Powerless Minority Senator

Three times during his outburst Stoltze suggested his bill blockade was a measure of desperation. “I don’t have many tools,” he said. One tool Stoltze chose not to use was the special legislative committee created last year to address the Cook Inlet salmon wars. Stoltze was a member of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, which was specifically directed to make recommendations to address conservation and allocation issues in the inlet. Like the other nine members on the panel he offered no recommendations. The panel never scheduled a meeting to discuss possible recommendations and never completed the final report that was due in February.

Stoltze also charged that Sen. Tom Wagoner, a former commercial fisherman from Kenai, is “trying to figure out ways to screw the dipnet fishery.” Wagoner said he is drafting legislation that would impose a $5 fee for what are now free dipnet permits but also eliminate the requirement that a dipnetter must also obtain a $24 sport fishing license. Wagner wants revenue from the $5 charge to pay for sanitation facilities at dipnet sites and for enforcement. The absence of both has been the subject of complaint by Kenai Peninsula local governments and many dipnetters. “I find it rather ironic that he’s taking that approach. I thought he was smarter than that,” Wagoner said.

Board members were visibly surprised by Stoltze’s comments, according to persons at the meeting, but had few had any immediate comments during the brief episode. Stoltze spoke after it was suggested that legislation might be necessary to allow ASMI to accept payments from the MSC for the cost of administering the sustainability certification. Bruce Wallace, the ASMI vice chairman and one of two commercial harvesters on the board, asked if Stoltze’s decree would cover bills concerning Cook Inlet or any commercial fishing measure. He got no specific answer. “There’s only so much influence around this table on Cook Inlet and lots of issues statewide,” said Mark Palmer, president of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, during the meeting. Neither Stoltze nor Joe Bundrant, ASMI board chairman, responded to requests for an interview. “I thought it was really itneresting to finally watch the prcoessors get a full taste of Stoltze,” said one regular participant in ASMI board meetings, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from Stoltze.

“He just went off,” Wallace said in an interview following the meeting. “It was not an extortive kind of thing, at least I didn’t catch it as a threat to go and take something else. He’s expounding a view that’s not held by ASMI with respect to state management,” Wallace added.  Asked if Stoltze seemed to be offering to trade bill passage for salmon reallocation Wallace said, “He said that and later modified it. The legislative year will bear out the truth of that and I don’t know how to draw that line. There will be fishery bills going into House Finance and we’ll see what comes out the other side.” Wallace said Stoltze’s comments were the most “strident” he has heard in the three years he has been acquainted with the lawmaker, but not the first time commercial fishing bills have been threatened. “I think that was the most hard-line I have heard him say it, but it is not something that he has not said in varying degrees over the last couple of years,” Wallace explained. Wallace added that Stoltze expressed some regret for his comments later in the daylong meeting. “He apologized for being so hard-nosed and said things will be judged on their merits … It leaves you wondering what the line is.” Wallace, also on the board of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said Stoltze’s comments would not change their legislative efforts “We’re going to do what we’re going to do as far as bills and an approach. I think we can’t do anything other than that.” UFA Pres. Joe Childers had no immediate comment.

Cora Campbell, fisheries advisor to Gov. Sean Parnell, said Stoltze “is obviously very concerned about something going on in his areas … “I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily shocked. Certainly I knew that some of the tensions in Cook Inlet would be bubbling to the surface again with some of the recent issues. It wasn’t surprised to hear that express by a legislator that he is passionate about.”

The sole topic of the session had been the question of whether ASMI should replace the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game as client for Marine Stewardship Council “sustainability” certification of the state salmon fishery. Pending responses from the MSC a final decision was postponed until the board’s Dec. 3 meeting. Stoltze was apparently not present when the 8 a.m. meeting began. He arrived after more than two hours of discussion on the MSC question made his announcment as Eric McDowell, the consultant hired to facilitate the meeting, was asking the participants for final observations on the MSC questions.

‘Sustainability’ Confusion

After Stoltze’s outburst McDowell welcomed him to the meeting and returned to the agenda but Stoltze pushed the discussion back to salmon allocation a few minutes later. Stoltze began the second exchange declaring his confusion over the “sustainability concept” and its interplay with the Fish Board. After the board adopted its “Sustainable Fisheries Policy,” the lawmaker said, “That terminology became a big political fight. In one region, there’s a real objection in Cook Inlet to having a sustainable fisheries policy.” “Somebody’s objecting to having sustainable fisheries? a surprised Bundrant cut in. “That was a big board fight. Kevin and others are familiar with it,” Stoltze said of board member Kevin Adams, a Kodiak fisherman. Apparently referring to commercial harvesters he continued, “The Cook Inlet folks fought that definition. It was a big internal Board of Fisheries fight not to have a sustainable fisheries policy for Cook Inlet. I get kind of confused by that.” Stoltze, who had earlier noted a lack of help from the governor’s office to apply political influence to the allocation process, then asked Campbell if she could “decipher” his version of events. “How can we have one region where we say it doesn’t apply here if we don’t want it, but spend couple million bucks to brand our salmon product?” he asked. “This is a political question. I think I can answer your question,” McDowell began. “I’d rather have the governor’s office answer it, quite frankly,” Stoltze interjected. After expressing her appreciation for the opportunity to comment Campbell said, “I don’t know that I can really speak for Cook Inlet stakeholders and the approach they might have taken at the Board of Fish. My understanding is it may have been not an objection so much to having a sustainable fisheries policy but to some of the details that were implicated in that policy. I don’t speak for those people as to what their opinions are.”

Over several years Stoltze and other lawmakers critical of the Cook Inlet fleet have attempted to force the board’s policy into law over the objections of several administrations. The Dept. of Law has warned, at legislative hearings, that statutory enactment of the policy would leave the board susceptible to a flood of lawsuits that could challenge virtually any action it took and create huge legal and administrative financial costs.

Ray Riutta, ASMI executive director, attempted to explain to Stoltze that a hallmark of Alaska’s sustainable fishery management is the separation of science-based management decisions from the allocation process and that ASMI’s promotional efforts draw them into neither. “What happens at the Fish Board and North Pacific Council frequently is an argument as to who gets what. That is not part of the argument on sustainability that we uses in the market,” Riutta said.

Stoltze remained muddled. “Frankly it’s confused and baffled me because I support sustainability in all of our resource management. That’s why I was really troubled by the mixed message coming out of one region. I’m not the one that brought the politics in. It’s another, another minority user group for the multiple resource. I didn’t mean to overly contaminate this procedure but it has come up in legislative debates numerous times,” Stoltze said following Riutta’s explanation.

Adams seemed ready to continue the discussion and said it was relevant to marketing issues. “Look at Jack’s  He has to explain that to the market,” Adams said. He was referring to board member Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, and the continual closures of Yukon River commercial salmon fisheries that provide his raw material. “I’ll let it rest,” McDowell said. Still later he invited Stoltze to make final comments and the lawmaker said he has moved “maybe not 180 but 165 degrees” from a critic to supporter of ASMI during his seven years in the legislature. “It’s only through frustration that I can’t even get bills heard that affect my priorities,” said one of the most powerful members of the legislature, by virtue of his Finance Committee chairmanship. “I have to use every forum I have so I apologize to you guys for bringing an issue that doesn’t have one hundred percent relationship, but it does have bearing on this whole policy discussion in my branch of government,” he concluded.

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Rep. Bill Stoltze’s comments, transcribed verbatim, from Oct. 1 meeting audio recording, provided by ASMI on request: STOLTZE: “I wouldn’t expect I’m going to be scheduling too many commercial fisheries bills into House Finance Committee because of the cold war that’s going on. ” (Audible gasp from unknown person.)

STOLTZE: “I’m just going to be blunt. The Cook Inlet people have declared war against a lot of us up north and I’m just not going to be putting any bills through.”

BOARD MEMBER BRUCE WALLACE: “For the entire state or just Cook Inlet?”

STOLTZE: “I’m just, ah, not going to be real anxious to put up commercial fishing bills. I never say absolutely no but there have been some really bad actions by a lot of people. I don’t know other ways to get attention.”

BOARD MEMBER MARK PALMER: “There’s only so much influence around this table on Cook Inlet, and there’s a lot of issues around this state.”

STOLTZE: “I’m just telling you I don’t know what else to do. I did let bills go through last year when our bills were being held up and feel good will was engendered. I don’t want to B.S. anybody here. My constituency was mad at me for letting through, letting through the energy efficiency bill, which I thought was a good bill, but I got a lot of kicks in the back on that one: Why are you doing that when they’re screwing us at every other level? “I don’t have many tools. I’m not talking about ASMI. I’ll continue to be an advocate for that, but, uh, I don’t want to, ah, raise hopes that you’re going to have a bill going through that’s going to get a lot of support from our valley delegation and I just happen to be one member of the delegation that’s sitting up there determining bill flow.” “It’s gotten even nastier. It doesn’t help that Tom Wagoner is out there along the Kenai Peninsula. Public officials are out there trying to figure out ways to screw the dipnet fishery. It hasn’t helped. It’s not your fight but, uh, I’m not left with a lot of tools. I haven’t had a lot of help from the administration, so …”

Laws for the SEA is written and published by Bob Tkacz at Juneau, Alaska. All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced, broadcast, e-mailed or otherwise transmitted in any manner without specific prior approval. All comments and suggestions are welcome. Written communications should be directed by email to: junobob@att.net or by postal mail to Bob Tkacz, 416 Harris Street, Suite 203, Juneau, AK 99801; by telephone to 907-463-5455. All contents ©Copyright 2009 Robert P. Tkacz.

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