JUNEAU — A bill before the House Resources Committee would tighten residency requirements for sportfishing, hunting and trapping licenses.
Community groups have raised concerns that a gap in state law allows people who don’t live year-round in Alaska to claim residency to harvest fish and wildlife with cheaper licenses and higher bag limits. The measure, introduced by Sitka independent Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, would align requirements to renew those licenses with requirements to get a Permanent Fund dividend.
Like the dividend, applicants would need to have lived in Alaska for most of the past year to renew their license, unless they had an allowable absence like serving in the military.
Himschoot said renewing a license would remain a self-certification process. The change would be with enforcement. Officers would now have a criteria to ensure the angler, hunter or trapper is fulfilling their residency requirement, she said.
State law does not have a good definition of what is needed to maintain Alaska residency to harvest fish and game, she said. There are no requirements for time spent in Alaska each year to get resident benefits, and a person could claim a boat or storage unit is “a domicile” to maintain residency, she said.
Maj. Aaron Frenzel, deputy director of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, said the state’s current residency rules mean “there’s not much we can do for enforcement.”
The problem of enforcement was brought to Himschoot’s attention by Kurt Whitehead, a Klawock resident and owner of a fishing lodge. He said he knows of people who return to Prince of Wales Island for a few weeks each year to exploit the state’s lax rules.
“When they come back to the state, it’s to whack and stack as much fish and game as possible,” he said.
Sitka and Petersburg assemblies passed resolutions in support of Himschoot’s bill — alongside multiple fish and game advisory councils and hunting and fishing groups. They argued that Alaska’s fish and game resources should be protected for residents and that the state is missing out on revenue.
Resident licenses and tags are substantially cheaper than those for nonresidents. An Alaskan pays $60 for an annual sportfishing and hunting license, a nonresident pays $260; a nonresident pays $1,000 for a brown bear tag, a resident $25.
Some species and harvest methods — such as dipnetting — are reserved for Alaska residents. Bag limits can also be substantially higher.
Republican majority members on the House Resources Committee raised concerns about the unintended impacts of stricter licensing standards.
Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, worked as a pilot internationally and regularly left Alaska, which means he would have lost his resident license under the new standards. He said tying residency requirements to the dividend would be a “mistake.”
“I might have a freezer to fill, just like anybody else,” he said.
Himschoot argued that resident privileges should be reserved for those people who spend the bulk of the year in Alaska.
Fish and Game Commissioner Douglas Vincent-Lang on Wednesday said he wasn’t aware of a widespread problem of people exploiting residency rules but supported discussing how they can be enforced.
The House bill had its first hearing Wednesday, with another scheduled for Friday. Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, is supporting a companion bill in the Senate.
Himschoot was hopeful the bill could pass the Legislature this year.
“I think it’s good to be optimistic,” she said. “It’s always good to be optimistic.”