Fish and Game Bill Softened

Tom Moran / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / April 8, 2004

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 language.

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.

As 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.

But 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 consumptive uses.

"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 Lincoln, D-Rampart.

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 or (907)463-4893.

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