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Fish Factor

Fishing communities hurting from high fuel costs
By Laine Welch


May 16, 2008

A petition is circulating through Alaska's fishing communities in hopes of catching some breaks at the fuel pump. The price of diesel fuel has topped $5 a gallon in several Alaska ports and in many cases, the price of fish is simply not enough to cover the costs of tying loose.

"We want to get people's attention around the country that this is a very serious concern," said Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen's Alliance.

Hansen discovered a bill introduced four years ago by U.S. Representative Tom Allen of Maine that would give a temporary tax credit to small businesses, farmers and fishermen to offset high fuel costs. The bill - H.R. 2133 ­ has languished, Hansen said, but Alaska fishermen hope the industry' efforts might breathe some new life into it.

Sara Stoner, a Petersburg fisherman, penned the petition to Congress that asks for an emergency tax credit, "or any other measure you can enact to offset the high cost of fuel and get us untied from the dock and out fishing."

"From the smallest little fishermen to the biggest boats, everyone is suffering. I'm just 24 and my husband and I are just starting our business," Stoner said. "It's really hard to make all the payments and we're really struggling. So are a lot of other people."

Stoner had gathered nearly 300 signatures in one day last week by taking the petition directly to the docks and downtown businesses.

"I think no matter how many emails or other things you send over the internet, some fishermen just don't go there," she said.

The tax relief petition is circulating among fishing groups across the country. Kathy Hansen said the petitions will be collected through May 22 by United Fishermen of Alaska in Juneau, and then sent to Congress.

Lawmakers are hearing the cries for help, but special breaks for fishermen aren't likely, said Arne Fuglvog, legislative assistant for fisheries, transportation and natural resources at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office.

"We're going to look at this and see what we can do," Fuglvog said. "But it's going to be difficult to do something just for the fishing industry, because so many industries are hurting from high fuel costs."

"Frankly, I think this should not just be a federal issue," he added. "It should be a state issue as well, and we should work together."

Fuglvog, a lifelong Petersburg resident, said he is hopeful the state's new energy plan will provide some relief, especially for Alaskans and fishermen in remote regions.

Exxon tax break tanks

On another tax front, the so called "oiled" fishermen were disappointed last week when a new law to provide tax relief from any Exxon oil spill settlements was pulled from the U.S. Farm Bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Murkowski, the measure provides one time tax breaks to 30,000 oiled plaintiffs, of which 80 percent are fishermen. Instead of paying 35 percent off the top, awardees would be able to income average over time, and increase retirement contributions.

"The tax provisions that were not strictly related to agriculture ­ the vast majority of those were taken out of the Farm Bill," Arne Fuglvog said.

"That's the bad news. The good news is that there did not seem to be any opposition to the substance of the provision, and senate leadership seems committed to include it at some point," he added.

Fuglvog said he is confident the measure will be included in other pending legislation.

"Probably the next one we'll try is a tax extenders package. It's more of a natural fit in that," Fuglvog said.
The U.S. Supreme Court must decide whether or not Exxon must pay the $2.5 billion punitive damages award by June 27.

Loans for farmers, not fishermen?

Also yanked from the Farm Bill was a measure by Senator Ted Stevens that would make fishermen eligible for operating loan programs through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, similar to farmers. "Sen. Stevens will try to get it included in other legislation," an aide said.

The answer is blowing in the wind

It's back to the future for shipping and fishing boats! For the first time in over 100 years, sail-powered cargo ships are crisscrossing the Atlantic.

The BBC World News reported that the merchant ship Beluga made its maiden voyage from Germany to Venezuela in January. The kite reportedly cut fuel costs by $1,500 a day and reduced harmful emissions by 35 percent.

Nearly 90 percent of the world's goods are transported by ships. The BBC claimed cargo ships now dump more carbon into the atmosphere than all the cars and trucks combined.

A company called SkySails based in Hamburg, Germany is the apparent leader in wind propulsion on ships. Its single, oblong shaped SkySail taps into stronger, more stable air currents 350 to 1,000 feet in the air. The system is connected to a computer in the wheelhouse, and can be launched, controlled and recovered in real time at the push of a button.

Cargo ships and fishing vessels with an average cruising speed of under 18 knots and larger than 75 feet are best suited to using sails, the SkySail website said. It said that all seagoing vessels can be easily retrofitted with wind propulsion systems.


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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