State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, has introduced House Bill 181 aimed at collecting a better set of statistics on people working as commercial fishing vessel crewmen.
This is something that's knocked around for quite a while now.
The belief is we don't know enough about crewmen beyond their very sizable raw numbers, as reflected in sales of commercial fishing licenses.
Crewmen tend to be a transient and disorganized workforce, and thus potentially at risk when major changes in fishery management come about.
The prime example is "crab rationalization," the 2005 conversion of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fisheries to catch shares.
Because the shares could be leased or sold, the overbuilt fleet underwent a drastic consolidation, eliminating hundreds of crewing jobs practically overnight.
But what exactly is a crew job?
"At present, data to describe the workforce of 20,000 crew members who work in Alaska's fisheries is almost non-existent," Austerman says in this sponsor statement for HB 181. "We cannot determine whether an individual crewmember fished 5 days or 250 in a given year; whether he or she fished in a single salmon fishery or in seven fisheries across five regions of the state; on a single boat or on 10; or whether he or she fished a single year as an adventure, or is a 25-year veteran of the industry."
The bill would generate a lot more information by requiring the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to collect information on crewmen.
The department would give crewmen a "crew activity form" to fill in such particulars as name and address, the name and homeport of each fishing vessel on which the crewman worked, the total number of days he or she was obligated to a boat, and each fishery in which the crewman participated.
Under the bill, the department would annually, before March 1, collect as many activity forms as possible to compile statistics. The names of crewmen and vessels would be kept confidential.
The data would help state and federal decision makers avoid "deleterious impacts" on a large labor force when implementing new regulations, Austerman says.
Looking at the bill, its weaknesses are pretty obvious. Filling out the forms would be voluntary, and would require diligence and honesty.
Still, any new information could be useful. And HB 181, if it becomes law, would sunset in 2016, giving legislators a chance to review its effectiveness after five years.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday before the House Special Committee on Fisheries.
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