- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Sport-fishing advocates told state lawmakers they want a new fee imposed on personal-use and sport fishermen who catch sockeye on two heavily used rivers in Alaska.

The fees are part of a bill that would increase hunting, trapping and fishing license fees statewide. During a Senate Resources Committee meeting Thursday, anglers said they want revenue raised for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, which are about 150 miles south of Anchorage.

The bill, from Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, was first introduced a year ago and has been through several versions, including one that passed through the House in 2015. It could raise more than $8.6 million in new revenue for fish and wildlife programs during its first year of implementation, according to a fiscal estimate in February from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The proposed cost of the sockeye salmon stamp for residents would be $15. Non-residents would pay between $15 and $150.

According to the bill’s current language, the stamp would apply only to sport-fishing anglers on the two rivers.

The president of the Kenai River Special Management Advisory Board, Ted Wellman, said that area has been heavily affected by the growing dipnet fishery, in which bag-shaped fish nets are used. The funds could be used to improve facilities and rehabilitate the habitat, Wellman said.

Sport fishermen and personal-use fishermen typically walk the banks of the Kenai River while fishing for sockeye, he said. The heavy traffic has had a growing negative ecological effect on the region, Wellman said.

According to department data, 25 percent of all sport fishing in the state in 2014 took place in the Fish and Game management area where the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers are located. That same year, more than 35,000 permits were issued for Upper Cook Inlet dipnet fisheries.

There is not yet an estimate for how much money could be raised through the imposition of a sockeye salmon stamp.

Lawmakers grappled with a provision in the bill that would permanently impose a licensing fee that was meant to expire after the state paid off bonds for fish hatcheries in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, of Sitka, questioned the wisdom of reneging on a promise that a fee would be lifted. “I’d like to see us, when we put some of these fees in and we talk about getting them out, we get them out,” Stedman said.

Former Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Doug Vincent-Lang said in his written testimony that he was involved in the establishment of the surcharge and cautioned legislators that future surcharges could be met with skepticism if the fee was kept in place.

The bill will be heard again in the Senate Resources Committee. Chairwoman Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she wanted to see a budget plan on how Fish and Game would use the money generated from the increased fees.

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