Juneau’s Docks and Harbors Board is working to revise a portion of city code pertaining to a commercial fishing moorage discount that some people have argued is unfair. But after an hour-long discussion during its meeting Wednesday, the board hadn’t decided what it plans to do with the discount.
Currently, commercial fishermen who moor their boats in Don D. Statter Harbor in Auke Bay and sell their landings to Juneau fish processing plants can use the harbor for 20 days each calendar year without paying daily fees. The discount only applies to fishermen who register in advance or upon arrival in the harbor and who don’t have any outstanding fees with Docks and Harbors.
The board is currently a couple years into a comprehensive fee review process, which is why the board is discussing the discount now.
“We’re not just picking on that one thing because somebody groused about it,” Harbormaster Dave Borg told the Empire after the meeting. “We just got to that section of the fee review and said, ‘Ok we’re going to tackle this today.’”
But that doesn’t mean that nobody has complained about it. Some commercial fishermen — including board member Robert Mosher and Juneau resident Charles David Blattner — took issue with the discount structure. They argued it is unfair to some Juneau residents.
“I’m fairly new to the fishing community, but I was shocked last year when I went to Statter Harber,” Blattner told the board during a brief public testimony. He said he expected to receive the moorage discount, but he was ineligible because he didn’t sell his catch to a Juneau fish processing company. “It kind of felt like a slap in the face. You’re telling me who to sell to, and that’s what it comes down to. It’s deal I can’t refuse.”
Fishermen who want the discount have to sell to one of two companies: Alaska Glacier Seafoods Inc. or Taku Smokeries. For personal reasons, Blattner didn’t sell to either last year, and that decision cost him almost $800 in mooring fees, he said. Last year was a tough year for him, and if he had been eligible for the discount, he figures he would have saved $750 “and at the time that meant a lot to me,” he told the board.
Mosher, who is both a board member and a commercial fisherman, took a rigid stance on the matter, arguing that the discount needs to be changed to be more accommodating for Juneau fishermen who chose to sell their landings to other processing companies.
“I don’t think its this board’s job — or anybody else’s — to tell us where to conduct business or who to conduct business with,” Mosher said before Blattner testified. He later called the current discount setup “totally bogus” and a “spanking” for Juneau’s commercial fishermen.
After batting around a couple ideas, none of which the gained any traction, Board member Bob Janes pitched the most-universally liked idea of the afternoon. He proposed that commercial fishermen who pay up front for a year in a Statter Harbor stall and can prove Juneau residency should get the 20-day discount currently offered.
“If we do have an unfair feeling among everybody here, maybe we do want to eliminate it,” Janes said earlier in the meeting while he was developing his idea.
Though Janes’ idea was widely liked by his fellow board members, it raised enough questions with the Docks and Harbors employees in attendance that the board decided to revisit the issue next week. Borg said at the meeting that it isn’t as easy to determine Juneau residency as one might think, which would pose problems for Janes’ solution.
“I think it’s a good idea to take a breather on this one,” he said after the meeting. “We all need to get together in our groups and put together some ideas.”
The Docks and Harbors board will take up the issue again at its next meeting Wednesday at noon in room 224 of City Hall.
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 5023-2279 or email@example.com.