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the Alaska State Legislature extends its strong support to the Governor's recommendations that the proposed rule be withdrawn and a new rule and Environmental Assessment be submitted for public comment.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:
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.
We would suggest that the EA be similarly withdrawn and completely revamped
to incorporate assessments of the amendments and the resulting proposed rule.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ASL strongly supports the NPS providing for personal and cultural uses of
the fisheries resources within the Park. This issue must be addressed.
A regulatory flexibility analysis must be completed as required under
the Administrative Procedures Act.
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.
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.
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.
President of the Senate
Speaker of the House
cc: Senator Ted Stevens
Senator Frank Murkowski
Congressman Don Young
Governor Tony Knowles
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