Thousands of king and coho salmon return to the Crystal Lake Hatchery on Mitkof Island near Petersburg each summer. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

A bill to fund maintenance work and enhancement programs at state owned sport fish hatcheries passed the Alaska House this month but time is running out on its passage this session.

House bill 80 would reinstate a surcharge on sport fishing licenses. A higher surcharge was in place until this year and the money from it was used to pay back the debt from building sport fish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Some of the money also paid for hatchery king salmon production near Petersburg and Juneau.

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman was one of two votes against final passage in the House. He wondered if the bill violated the state’s constitution.

“In article 9, section 7 we have a provision that states that the proceeds of any state tax or license shall not be dedicated to any special purpose,” Eastman said. There is an exception for requirements from the federal government. I’m not aware that we are required to have these surcharges from the federal government to contribute to those programs.”

Money from the sale of fishing, hunting and trapping licenses goes into a state revolving fund for Fish and Game resources, one exception to that Constitutional prohibition. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr noted this bill would create a sub-account of that fund similar to one that was already in place to pay off the hatchery debt.

“I also thought I might just point to the fiscal note so that folks could notice that largely this would be absorbed by non-resident individuals coming to Alaska, so the non-resident 14-day sport fishing, 7-day, 3-day, one day and I think that’s just great for us to consider at this time because you know of course we love that the visitors come but we need them to also contribute to the services that they receive while they’re here,” Tarr said.

Reinstatement of the surcharge was proposed by the Dunleavy administration but it was increased in the House. It has support from both commercial and sport fishing interests. The bill would add 6 dollars and 50 cents ($6.50) to the cost of a resident license. Non-resident licenses would increase by $6.50 up to $42.50.

The bill directs the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to use some of the revenue from the surcharge for fisheries management, research, invasive species and habitat restoration. The rest would go to maintaining the state’s hatcheries in Anchorage, Fairbanks and near Petersburg as well as enhancement programs for sport fishing.

The measure passed the House May 7 on a 36-2 vote and goes to the Senate next. The session ends May 19th. Bills that don’t pass this session will carry over until next year.