Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Legislature opens today — should fishermen care?
The big news today is the start of a new legislative session in Juneau, with the House to convene at 1 p.m. and the Senate a half-hour later.
In 90 days, we should know the outcome of our Legislature's hard work.
Don't be surprised, I suppose, if nothing of great importance comes down with respect to commercial fishing. It seems to me, in the past few years at least, that the Legislature hasn't been terribly relevant to this industry.
Now let me check myself a bit.
Of course, the Legislature has great power to affect Alaska's commercial fishing landscape. Think of past landmarks such as limited entry. Think of appointments to the Board of Fisheries. And the Department of Fish and Game's budget.
The Legislature is always relevant. And, depending on your outlook, a great friend or a real menace.
I've heard it said that commercial fishing just doesn't have the same influence in our Legislature that it once did. To hear the old-timers tell it, the halls of the Capitol used to squeak with rubber boots.
Deckboss can tell you, however, that considerable commercial fishing experience still walks those halls.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, is a commercial salmon, halibut and shrimp fisherman.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, runs tenders and has fished for salmon and halibut.
Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, has fished commercially with her family in salmon-rich Bristol Bay.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, has extensive experience with the state's novel Community Development Quota program.
Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, was state fisheries adviser to former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, formerly held a Cook Inlet salmon drift gillnet permit.
Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, used to fish herring and Bristol Bay salmon.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, holds a Kuskokwim salmon gillnet permit.
I'm sure I've overlooked a few, too.
Legislators have a couple of forums to talk fish.
The House Special Committee on Fisheries considers legislation. Deckboss recently spotlighted a few fish bills that already have been filed.
Many legislators also come together as a "fish caucus." That group is scheduled to meet at noon Thursday to hear from Paula Cullenberg of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. Attendance is sure to be good — a catered seafood lunch will be provided.
Anyway, it's evident fishing still holds some sway in Juneau. Just don't expect it to take center stage. Not like the glamour issues of oil tax policy and crime.
Maybe that's a good thing.