The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) would like to express its concern about elements of HB 77. Our organization and our fleet have put millions into improving the quality of our products, to ensure better marketability. We have also dedicated huge amounts of time and resources into science to better understand and manage our resource, both on the fishing grounds, but especially in the tributaries where they rear. It is in many of these state-owned, upland waterways where this legislation proposes to change the landscape.
After reading the legislation and materials from other concerned groups, we conclude that this legislation would limit our organization’s ability to participate in Alaska’s permitting process in cases where our fisheries resources are threatened. HB 77 also would cut into our fleet’s ability to appeal decisions, instead granting the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) unprecedented authority to decide whether a fisheries resource will be impacted.
HB 77 also appears to give the DNR commissioner broad authority to authorize activities on state land through issuance of a general permit, “if the commissioner finds that the activity is unlikely to result in significant and irreparable harm to state land or resources.” As others have also pointed out, there is not a sufficiently clear definition of “significant or irreparable harm,” nor clarity on how the commissioner will make that determination. We are concerned that this removes opportunities for local and public involvement in the process of granting a general permit, and more importantly, that stakeholders should be able to appeal permits if there is concern about impacts to fisheries resources.
This legislation also restricts the standard by which a person or organization may appeal a DNR permit from “aggrieved,” to “substantially and adversely affected.” These terms are also open to interpretation, but likely pose a higher bar our fishermen to appeal decisions affecting their fisheries.
In the view of many, section 40 of HB 77 removes the ability of organizations and individuals (“persons”) to apply for a reservation of water to maintain sufficient water flow for protection of various public interests. This takes away our ability to apply to the state to maintain water flow necessary for fish habitat. Reserving water within rivers and lakes to benefit fisheries, navigation, transportation and water quality is critical for sustainable fisheries and economic development in Alaska. Furthermore, Alaska’s constitution requires that water is reserved to the people for common use (Article 8, Section 3). Organizations and individuals are thereby allowed to apply to appropriate water out of a system. We should not eliminate their right to protect their interests by applying to keep water in.
Section 42 of HB77 would give the DNR commissioner the authority to issue an infinite number of new temporary water use authorizations for the same project, with no public notice. This change would allow significant amounts of water to be used, for decades, with no opportunity for public comment.
After reviewing opinions of numerous other organizations, we are persuaded that the cumulative effect of these proposed changes would remove many of the checks in balances currently in place to provide balance among our State’s natural resources and industries. We urge legislators to consider the impact of eliminating the rights of our fishermen and organization’s ability to look out for our State’s world-class fishing industry. The BBRSDA recommends the removal or adaptations of these sections to preserve the balance in Alaska’s State permitting process.
It is our right and responsibility to defend Alaska’s largest private sector employer – the commercial fishing industry – in Alaska’s permitting process. Bristol Bay commercial fishermen and crew living in Alaska should review the legislation and convey their thoughts to public officials about this pending legislation.
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