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capitol building Maggie Wall
Senate Majority Press Secretary
State Capitol
Juneau, AK 99801
Phone: (907) 465-4582
Web Site: http://www.akrepublicans.org
Actuality Line: 1-800-478-6540


For Immediate Release: January 29, 1999
Contact: Sen. Rick Halford at (907) 465-4958.

Juneau -- Below is the Legislative Leadership's comments on the proposed Federal Rule-Making and Environmental Assessment concerning commercial fishing and other uses in Glacier Bay National Park.

These comments were sent as a letter to Ms. Tomie Lee, Superintendent, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve:


January 29, 1999


Ms. Tomie Lee, Superintendent
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
P.O. Box 140
Gustavus, AK 99826

Dear Ms. Lee:

The leadership of the Alaska State Senate and Alaska State House submit these comments on the National Park Service's (NPS) proposed rule restricting commercial fishing within the boundaries of Glacier Bay National Park. The National Park Service published the proposed rule on April 16, 1997 and has extended the comment period until the end of business on February 1, 1999.

It is our understanding that the NPS intends to consolidate their initial published proposed rule with the legislative Omnibus Act amendments adopted in 1998 in final rulemaking. No attempt was made to rewrite the proposed rule incorporating the 1998 amendments to the law.

Although we have submitted our specific comments below, we wish to particularly emphasize that the Alaska State Legislature extends its strong support to the Governor's recommendations that the proposed rule be withdrawn and a new rule and Environmental Assessment be submitted for public comment. As you will note below, we actually believe that, legally, a full Environmental Impact Statement is required.

Commercial fishing is extremely important to all of the communities in Southeast Alaska. Rebuilding of our fish stocks in this region and the rest of the state was a long and tortuous process following the decimation of our fisheries under federal control prior to statehood. Since then, the commercial fisheries have become the foundation of the regional economy and one of the principal lifestyle preferences of many of the residents of the region. In addition, fishing in general and commercial fishing in particular has been a cultural mainstay of Native Alaskans.

Competition in the world markets, treaty obligations and conflicts, and declining world prices have placed considerable strain on the commercial fishing industry throughout the state. Despite near record levels of salmon and halibut stocks, for instance, prices have fluctuated significantly which has resulting in some financially depressed segments of the industry. It is easy to understand why artificially creating further competition within the industry or closing major segments of the region to commercial fishing could exacerbate an already unstable situation and create additional economic hardships.

The leadership of the Twenty-First Alaska State Legislature has the following comments about the proposed rulemaking and Environmental Assessment (EA) and offers suggestions for improving the process and the product:

  1. The Alaska State Legislature (ASL) proposes that the NPS withdraw the proposed rule and draft a new proposal incorporating the 1998 amendments. The existing process is impossible for the public to follow, with little or no guidance given by the proposed rule.
  2. We would suggest that the EA be similarly withdrawn and completely revamped to incorporate assessments of the amendments and the resulting proposed rule.
  3. We also recommend that the NPS look carefully at the need to do an EIS rather than an EA. Certainly, the complexity of the issues involved and the potential impacts on the public warrant a full EIS.
  4. The EA or EIS needs to be expanded to include broader socio-economic impact assessments, such as assessments of impacts on communities, processors and other fisheries within the region. The cursory treatment of community and related fisheries impacts in the existing EA are totally inadequate. For example, the economic impacts on communities like Petersburg have been for all practical purposes ignored.
  5. The NPS needs to clearly explain their interpretation of what "cooperating in the development of a management plan" means. The state has consistently taken the position that marine waters were not included within the National Park boundary. The 1998 amendment package very clearly enunciated that commercial fishing would continue within the park under the existing regulatory structure, subject to existing state and federal statutes. The only way that state management jurisdiction or authorities can be altered is through the legislative process. State agencies are not empowered to cede or negotiate state jurisdictions and authorities.
  6. The phaseout of commercial fishing within the Bay proper was a total surprise to the commercial fishermen, as the working group in which the NPS participated had been carefully pursuing a course where portions of the Bay could remain open, subject to seasonal restrictions. The proposed rule limiting qualifications for fishing rights in the non-wilderness waters of the Bay to 6 out of 10 years is the most restrictive criteria possible. If a person can demonstrate any previous fishing within the Bay, he or she should be allowed to continue. The NPS has provided no basis for these additional restrictions. Further, the definitive closures in the 1998 amendments show additional closures or restrictions were not envisioned.
  7. The buy-out compensation package for dungeness crab fishermen in the Beardslee Islands and Dundas Bay is inadequate. We realize that the 1998 amendments stated that the application deadline was February 1, 1999. If all of the fishermen had been contacted, which it is clear they have not been, then this might be a reasonable timeframe. We recommend a bipartisan attempt to get Congress to extend the application period.
  8. The proposed rule advocates a 15 year review of commercial fisheries within the outer waters. This should be dropped as the implications are that the fisheries could be unilaterally closed and the 1998 amendments make it clear that commercial fisheries are viable uses and purposes of the park.
  9. The EA continually references possible seasonal closures, vessel limitations and other restrictions. The 1998 amendments do not appear to provide for this type of agency discretion unless documented impacts on park values can be demonstrated. We suggest that NPS adhere strictly to the provisions in 1110 (a) of ANILCA.
  10. The NPS must define exactly what is meant by "cooperative research." The implications that cooperative research activities will drive the regulatory process is disturbing unless it is carefully explained exactly what peer review process and quality standards are applied.
  11. The ASL strongly supports the NPS providing for personal and cultural uses of the fisheries resources within the Park. This issue must be addressed.
  12. A regulatory flexibility analysis must be completed as required under the Administrative Procedures Act.
  13. We support the request by the Alaska Trollers Association that a small business economic impact assessment be conducted as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.
  14. The ASL opposes closing Lituya Bay and the lower portion of Dundas Bay to commercial fishing. The 1998 amendments make no provision for these closures and the existing commercial fisheries do not negatively affect Park resource values.
  15. Once a comprehensive assessment of impacts is completed we urge the Department of Interior to cooperate in a bipartisan effort to seek additional compensation funds for fisheries related activities that have been negatively impacted by this proposed rule, including deckhands and fisheries dependent communities.

We thank you for considering our recommendations.

Sincerely,

{Signatures}

Drue Pearce
President of the Senate
Brian Porter
Speaker of the House

cc: Senator Ted Stevens
      Senator Frank Murkowski
      Congressman Don Young
      Governor Tony Knowles

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