Poor runs prompt southeast salmon fleet buyback

The Southeast Alaska Seiners Association is spearheading another effort to reduce the size of the salmon fleet with another buyback, similar to the one in 2012 that resulted in 64 permits being retired.

The funds that will be used if the referendum passes, $10.4 million, are what remains of an original $23.5 million loan approved by Congress in 2011.

SEAS executive director Susan Doherty said that this time the goal is to buy back 36 more permits, out of the 315 remaining.

“You have to have enough permits (removed) to make a significant difference,” she said. “Anything under 10 (percent of the fleet) it would be very unlikely they would approve a referendum.”

National Marine Fisheries Service administers the referendum, and letters have gone out to permit holders asking them to vote on the buyback.

Doherty said that poor wild runs have made it difficult for the fishery to support the fleet at its current size.

“If it wasn’t for enhancement of chums in our fishery, a lot of folks would have already gone under,” he said. “If you look at time and area that fishermen have been given, it’s been decreasing and decreasing because of concerns that we’ve become more efficient, with bigger boats and more powerful skiffs, and also the sockeye, with our treaty with Canada — we’ve had big cuts in our time and area.”

The funds are repaid by a landing tax not to exceed 3 percent, but for the original buyback from 2012 it has been lowered to 1 percent.

Current prices for Southeast seine permits run about $250,000, and the $10.4 million available for those 36 permits would cover a price of nearly $290,000.

Voting starts Jan. 15 and ends on Feb. 14. A simple majority of permit holders need to vote yes for the process to move forward.

Unlike the Bering Sea crab buyback where the boats were no longer able to be involved in any fishery, the boats whose permits have been retired have no restrictions on what they can be used for.

Matt Schneider of GSI Boat Brokers in Seattle said it can lead to a glut of boats, but that often-times with these buybacks, not everyone has a boat, the permits are unused, or belong to elderly people ready to retire.

“You take a good Southeast seine guy, he’s not getting out. So who’s selling out?” he said.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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