I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. 2020 has been a challenging year, but nowhere is that more true than in communities reliant on fisheries and tourism. Please know that my staff and I are here for you. Whether you require assistance navigating the overworked UI system, need information on relief programs, have questions about health mandates, or have any other issues, please do not hesitate to reach out. The best way to contact us is at 907-465-3271 or email me directly at Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov.

Below, I will provide a brief update on several fishery relief programs, as well as my legislation and priorities for next session. 

SEAFOOD TRADE RELIEF PROGRAM

 There is newly available federal funding for fishermen negatively impacted by retaliatory tariffs the past few years. STRP, previously in place for lobstermen, was expanded on Sept. 14 to include dungeness, king, snow and tanner crab, as well as geoducks, herring, pacific cod, pollock, black cod, salmon, squid and tuna.

STRP will disburse payments to permit holders based on poundage landed in 2019 multiplied by the per-pound loss for each species.  The loss rates for each species, along with the application and all other information on STRP, can be found at farmers.gov/seafood

 STRP is NOT a first-come, first-served program, and applications are open through Dec. 14. Please note that although the application is seemingly only one page, there is a requirement hidden in fine print that additional forms must be submitted within 60 days as part of your application. 

For a complete application packet, including all the necessary forms, please call the STRP hotline at 877-508-8364. You can also email my staff at matt.gruening@akleg.gov and he will email you the complete PDF application packet the USDA provided to us.

2020 CARES FISHERIES AND 2018 PACIFIC COD RELIEF

 ADF&G is hopeful that a draft spend plan for $50 million in CARES fisheries relief will be out for public comment by “early October.” 

This funding is for commercial, charter and subsistence fishermen. Hopefully, a lot of stakeholder input and previous lessons learned will produce an equitable result. 

Honestly, I am not optimistic regarding a fast payment as NOAA must ultimately approve any plan the state forwards on. The funding is required to be disbursed by September of 2021, but I am certainly encouraging a more aggressive timeline

On a related topic, the department estimates that a revised draft plan for the 2018 pacific cod disaster will be out for public review by the end of September. 

I will update you when both of those drafts are available.

LEGISLATION AND

PRIORITIES FOR

NEXT SESSION

 I am currently working on a bill that is best described as Board of Fisheries (BOF) reform legislation. Due to unusual circumstances and a loophole in our statutes, we currently have four members of the seven-member BOF able to vote on matters without being confirmed by the Legislature. The BOF is a unique allocative board that is far too impactful on Alaskan livelihoods and our way of life to allow this lack of public process.

We are still drafting this legislation, but the intent is to ensure due process, board balance and legislative oversight of BOF appointees before they can vote on critical resource allocation decisions. 

Another bill currently in drafting would allow developing fisheries to self-impose assessment taxes to help fund surveys needed to expand that fishery. The key concepts are that the assessment would be voluntary, could be reduced or zeroed at any time by the stakeholders, and is limited to newer, developing fisheries. 

Particularly with the state’s current finances, this mechanism could allow promising fisheries such as Prince William Sound tanner crab to expand opportunity despite downward pressure on the budget. 

While I’m on that subject, ADF&G’s budget will again be a top priority. Commercial fishing generates an amazing return on investment for fishing communities and state coffers, but it requires strong up-front investment in fisheries management to realize that return. 

Over the last several years, we have been successful at restoring most of the governor’s cuts to the comfish budget, and I will seek to continue and improve that going forward.

I am also bringing back HB 35-Conflict of Interest: Bd Fisheries/Game; in the interest of space, I will only say that this legislation is a longstanding priority for the United Fishermen of Alaska and this office, and that it addresses a problem with the BOF process that disproportionately affects commercial user groups.

You can view the sponsor statement and associated documents here: https://bit.ly/33OFYzp

My top legislative priority remains restoring Alaska Marine Highway service and enacting meaningful reform toward long-term sustainability. The path toward restoring service in the short term is simple: AMHS needs more money. The Legislature has been restoring the budget, the governor keeps vetoing it, and the sad reality is we have been unable to reach a three-quarters majority vote needed to override those vetoes. I will continue to work with my colleagues and fight to increase AMHS’s budget with every fiber of my being.  

I will be bringing at least one AMHS reform bill forward this session, possibly several. As I write this, it is Sept. 21. Next Wednesday, the Alaska Marine Highway Reshaping Work Group, which I am member of, will provide its recommendations to the governor. The legislation my office introduces will depend in part on those recommendations, but I believe there is a real opportunity to enact meaningful reform that not only makes the system sustainable, smarter and better, but also gets AMHS naysayers on board with the budget discussion. 

Finally, new revenue should be an urgent priority of every legislator.

We have seen the effect of a “cut only” approach on the essential services like AMHS, fisheries management, health care, education, etc.; further, these cuts are only a portion of those needed to close the fiscal gap.

With the governor set to propose another round of cuts, it is critical that the Legislature take action on revenue options like oil tax reform, some form of a broad-based tax, structural changes to the Permanent Fund and other creative revenue ideas. There certainly is room for continued reductions in some areas, but not on the backs of rural Alaskans, and not as the only means of balancing the budget. 

You have my word that as long as I am your representative, I will continue to fight for communities like Kodiak, the services you need, and your way of life. 

A fiscal solution and AMHS reform are not only closely linked, they are both critical issues that warrant their own updates. After the AMHS reshaping work group concludes next week, I will provide a comprehensive AMHS reform update, followed by an update of Alaska’s fiscal options.

 Again, I know these are challenging times for all of you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for assistance with any issue, or to share your thoughts or concerns.

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