PUBLISHED: 3:54 PM on Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Surcharge fee to fund new hatcheries

Photo by Karen Wright
  New license fees will make sport fishing a more expensive pleasure for locals and visitors.
The cost of an Alaska sport fishing license will rise by $9 for state residents and increase by as much as $45 for nonresidents, depending on the type of license, for visiting anglers beginning with sales for the 2006 season.

Over the next 14 to 17 years, the "surcharge" will raise an estimated $69 million, most of which will fund the construction of a new hatchery in Fairbanks and reconstruction of the antiquated hatchery on the Fort Richardson Army Base in Anchorage.

The Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association will get roughly $1.4 million over the next ten years for the Crystal Lake chinook hatchery, on Mitkof Island near Petersburg, and the City of Skagway will get a like amount to build a small chinook hatchery to help stock Upper Lynn Canal.

The surcharge is being imposed by passage of SB 147, sponsored by Fairbanks Sen. Ralph Seekins. The funds it raises will repay bonds that will be sold to pay for the construction projects, and the bill requires termination of the surcharge when the bonds have been repaid, sometime between 2019 and 2022

"It's a 20-year bond, but think we will end up paying it off sooner than that," said Gordon Garcia, project manager for the Department of Fish and Game.

Upgrading the almost 30-year old Ft. Rich facility is necessary because it and the facility on Elmendorf Air Force Base, which will be closed, are losing "waste heat" that had been provided free from electrical generating plants on both posts. Access to water in the mid-60 degree range from the generator cooling systems, allows the hatcheries to heat their natural, 38-degree, well water and raise juvenile fish twice as fast they could otherwise, Garcia emphasized.

Upgrades to the military power plants are closing the tap on the warm water pipes.

ADF&G trucks salmon, grayling, char and trout to Fairbanks waterways from the Anchorage facilities, but the new $25 million facility on the banks of the Chena River near Pioneer Park will fill that need.

Tentative plans call for the start of construction at both hatcheries, possibly late during the 2006 building season, with completion in 2007 and first production of fish in 2008.

The Fairbanks facility is planned as the anchor of a new tourism facility and interests in the city are working to takeover the construction project.

"Fairbanks has certainly indicated some desire to do somewhat more than the hatchery. We're talking a visitor center there, a lab for the university," Garcia said. ADF&G background information says a $10 million federal grant will pay for the "visitor/education and research center facilities," with license surcharge funds covering the remaining $15 million of the entire project.

When completed the new facility will produce 642,000 fingerlings annually, including more than 350,000 "catchable" rainbow trout, grayling and fresh water chinook salmon for the "put-and-take" fisheries in area waterways

The Anchorage hatchery is priced at $45 million, to be funded entirely from the license surcharge. It is intended to produce 6.4 million smolt and fingerling of the same species for Southcentral and Interior lakes and streams.

Fairbanks area lawmakers put a happy face on everything associated with the hatcheries. A news release issued after Senate passage of the bill said it is "virtually guaranteed to put a smile on every fisherman's face by filling Alaska's lakes, rivers and streams with more fish in the summers to come."

Committee hearings during House consideration of the bill showed that even sport fishing interests weren't all smiles.

Speaking for Ketchikan-based Alaska Sportfishing Expeditions, Russell Thomas told the House Fish Committee that the bill will force Southeast charter boat operators to pay to lose business.

The bill was heavily promoted by the Fish and Game Department and Fairbanks lawmakers as another one of those virtually free rides for Alaskans, with visitors footing most of the bill. Department projections indicate that state residents will pay $1,488,762 in annual surcharge while nonresidents will fork over $5,301,106.

"What you're asking me, as a business owner, to do is encourage my customers to fund my competition farther north," Thomas said. He asked that the bill be amended to spend surcharge fees in the region where they are collected, but got no support.

Ketchikan Rep. Jim Elkins, a retired liquor dealer, rejected his constituent's views.

"I was in the most competitive business in Ketchikan for 30 years. I firmly believe the more competition the keener you are. I can't buy into that," Elkins said at the April hearing.

Thomas may not have gotten any relief to his specific issue, but charter boat operators, and other businesses that sells sport fishing licenses, are getting a $6.4 million raise out of the bill.

As originally proposed by Fish and Game Department the surcharge was $8.50. In response to complaints from charter operators who said it would be inconvenient to have to make change for a $23.50 license, the surcharge was hiked to $9.

In addition, state law allows vendors to keep five percent of the sales price of the licenses and king salmon stamps they sell. The surcharge translates to a $6,450,375 raise for vendors, according to department projections.