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Juneau – The more Alaskans fishing in Alaska’s commercial fisheries, the better.
That’s the vision behind House Bill 188, sponsored by Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), which will be heard in the House Fisheries Committee for the first time on Thursday, April 13. HB 188 empowers fishing communities to access the economic opportunity of fisheries right off their shores.
Alaska’s commercial fisheries employ over 30,000 people and have been the economic engine of Alaska’s coastal communities for over a century. There are no shortage of Alaskans, especially rural Alaskans, who are extraordinarily good at running a boat and logging 18-hour days slaying salmon. But it’s becoming harder than ever to break into the industry, especially for Alaskans with more limited access to capital.
HB 188 gives regions in Alaska the option to establish regional fisheries trusts. Similar to and complementing the hugely successful Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund, regional fisheries trusts provide a mechanism to help Alaskans enter Alaska fisheries.
If — and only if — a region chooses to establish one, a regional fisheries trust would be able to hold and temporarily lease permits to Alaska fishermen for a limited period of time, offering a stepping stone between deck handing and taking out a loan for individual permit ownership. Just as you often rent before buying a house, fisheries trusts offer fishermen the opportunity to skipper a boat and gain confidence, experience, and resources, better situating them to make the six-figure decision to finance a permit and become an independent fisherman and small business owner.
Similar to regional seafood development associations, fisheries trusts are opt-in: two-thirds of the municipalities in a region must petition to establish one.
An amendment to the bill, to be introduced in the House Fisheries Committee, will create a “limited authorization.” The limited authorization will restrict fisheries trusts to only three regions in Alaska, to allow vetting of fisheries trusts only in regions that opt in to test the idea.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of advancing the concept of regional fisheries trusts to create a ‘stepping stone’ for emerging fishermen on the path to permit ownership,” said Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins. “As with regional seafood development associations, fisheries trusts are ‘opt in’ on a regional basis. With passage of the legislation and its limited authorization, we’re excited to pilot the concept to help more Alaskans enter Alaska fisheries.”
Partners around Alaska working to develop HB 188 have spent more than two and a half years developing the idea, contributing time, energy, and good ideas. The concept was released publicly last year, for maximum transparency and public input.
Fisheries trusts are not a silver bullet. They are an innovative way for fishing communities to help Alaskans convert their work ethic, responsibility, and fishing skills into economic opportunity.