JUNEAU--Sen. Ralph Seekins' bill to make personal consumption the highest use
of the state's fish and game barely passed out of its first committee on Wednesday,
but not before members of the Senate Resources Committee weakened the bill's
In its original form, Senate Bill 318 set a policy for the state that the consumption
of wild fish and game by Alaska residents for their sustenance--defined as consumption
for food, nourishment or survival--is a "very important and fundamental right" when
considering the management and allocation of those resources.
Seekins argued that personal use should trump other uses, such as wildlife viewing
or commercial fishing, when there is a conflict.
an example, Seekins said Interior fisheries should have
more of a right to salmon runs that today may be largely
claimed by commercial fishing interests upstream.
his wording brought strong concerns from several state
administrators, who argued that making consumption of
fish and game a "fundamental right" of Alaskans
could lead to widespread legal challenges to any restrictions to hunting and
fishing, such as closed seasons and bag limits.
The committee members adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer,
that changed Seekins' language to have the state assign a "very high preference" for
"I'm a little concerned that the fundamental right is a little too ambiguous,
and a little too strong," Ogan said.
Even after Ogan's change, however, there was little support voiced for the
bill before the committee. Wayne Regelin, deputy commissioner of Fish and
Game, said he believed the bill would have little effect on the actions of
the Board of Game.
But he said it could have profound and entirely uncertain effects on how
the state allocates its fish to commercial, personal and other users.
"It raises some concerns for us that it could change some very fundamental things
in the way fisheries are managed," he said.
Regelin and others argued that the state's fish allocation process is a success,
and one that doesn't need fixing.
"The system that we have right now doesn't seem to be broken," said Sen. Georgianna
Several representatives of commercial fishing groups addressed the committee,
all strongly disapproving of the measure and arguing that its ultimate effect
on Alaska's fisheries would be impossible to gauge.
"I think this has huge, unintended consequences across the state," said Bob Thorstenson,
president of United Fishermen of Alaska.
Several also objected to the definition of "sustenance," arguing that their livelihoods
depended upon fish even if they weren't the ones eating them. Despite strong
opposition in testimony and from the two Democrats in the committee, committee
members voted 4-3 to move the bill out.
Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, crossed party lines to vote "no."
The bill now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at email@example.com or (907)463-4893.