July 24, 2008

Bill would give commercial fishermen help to offset high fuel prices


U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation that would give commercial fishermen a temporary income tax credit to offset high fuel costs.

The Fisheries Fuel Tax Relief Act of 2008 (S 3234) would allow a credit for the difference between the cost of fuel on Labor Day, 2004, adjusted for inflation, and the prices paid this year.  The special tax credit would be in effect for two years from the date of enactment of the legislation.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R – Alaska, co-sponsored the bill.

But so far, the bill hadn’t garnered endorsements from either senator from North Carolina, who are both Republicans.

Sen. Richard Burr said he supports “fuel tax relief and lower gas prices for all Americans, including fishermen, truckers, small business owners, and families,” and would review the bill, in an e-mail.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole did not respond to e-mails.

Murkowski said she introduced the legislation after visiting fishing towns in Alaska and seeing boats idled by high fuel costs that have erased profits.

The problem is hardly unique to Alaska.  Huge fuel bills are sabotaging the bottom-line for commercial fishing businesses in the Lower 48 too.

“It’s affecting us all.  Yesterday was as pretty a day as you’ll find, but most of the fleet wasn’t out because of the prices,” said James Caldwell, a Hatteras Island commercial fisherman and manager of Swartz Fisheries, a supplier of nets and other commercial fishing equipment.

Last week diesel fuel cost $4.75 per gallon at Oden’s Dock in Hatteras.

That is an increase of almost $2 per gallon over the September, 2007, price, according to manager Dan Oden.

Oden said diesel cost $1.80 in September, 2004.

Murkowski said that unlike other businesses, fishermen are in a “very unique situation” because they are unable to pass along higher costs to seafood wholesalers and processors.

“Fish prices in most cases are set by the processors, and those prices are tied to the prices in the global seafood market,” she explained. 

And with state and federal regulations, such as harvest quotas and trip limits, in place for many species, filling the hold with more fish during a fishing trip is usually not an option.

Caldwell said fishermen are trying to fish closer to home now.

“Fuel prices have certainly shortened our leash,” he said.

He said fishermen are not looking as hard or as often for fish either.

“What used to be a borderline or break-even day is now an in-the-hole day,” he explained. 

 The Fisheries Fuel Tax Relief Act has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.


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