Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

I’m holding town hall meetings on Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Assembly Chambers in Soldotna from 10 a.m. to noon and at the Nikiski Rec Center from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I hope you’ll stop by to share your questions and ideas. Can’t make it? You’re welcome to call my office at 907-283-7996 or email me at Sen.Jesse.Bjorkman@akleg.gov.

Here is what we have been up to lately in Juneau.

As many are hopeful discussions on K-12 education funding are concluding, conversations are turning to Cook Inlet energy. This week I introduced S.B. 254 — a bill to provide royalty relief to Cook Inlet gas fields. This bill will work to ensure that we have natural gas to heat our homes and power our lights. Although many renewable energy projects are becoming more economic and competitive, utilities are not able to incorporate renewables unless we have firm base power provided by natural gas.

Also, the set net buy-back bill, S.B. 82, had a successful hearing in Senate Finance this week. The State of Alaska has significantly restricted the East Side Set Net sockeye fishery in Cook Inlet in recent years to conserve king salmon headed to the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. Closures in this fishery have had a huge economic impact on the Kenai Peninsula. Fishing families spend tens of thousands of dollars in our local economy and then have been given zero or very little fishing opportunity in recent years. When the fishery is operating it brings in $50 to $75 million per year to the Kenai Peninsula. However, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission reports that the East Side Set Net fishery is no longer economically viable with the current number of nets in the water.

I believe that changes must be made to better ensure this over 150-year-old fishery is able to continue while minimizing the impact on returning king salmon. S.B. 82 would remove almost half of the set nets from east side beaches allowing more king salmon to pass through the area and lowering the need for the State to shut down the sockeye fishery. This program would not use any State funds to purchase permits, instead it would be paid for with federal and non-governmental organization funds. The sale price of the permits would be uniform and fixed, and participation would be voluntary, allowing those who wish to permanently leave the fishery to do so more easily.

In another move to support Kenai Peninsula residents, I co-sponsored and voted to extend the Senior Benefits Program. Kenai Peninsula seniors have made great contributions to our community, and I think it’s important to ensure we look out for them in their golden years. The program provides modest cash assistance to low-income seniors so that they don’t have to choose between paying their electricity bill or paying for necessary medication. The program was established in 2007 and currently aids nearly 9,000 Alaskans aged 65 and older, providing up to $250 a month for eligible seniors based on their income.

Contact 907-283-7996 or email Sen.Jesse.Bjorkman@akleg.gov.

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