One of three Bering Sea catcher/processing vessels owned by Fishermen’s Finest of Seattle
A five-year lawsuit claiming that Alaska’s fish landing tax violates the U.S. Constitution ended last week with the state’s Supreme Court ruling that the tax is legal.
The case was filed in 2017 by Fishermen’s Finest of Seattle which operates three trawlers that catch and process groundfish in the Bering Sea. The decision was first reported by Coast Alaska.
All boats offloading their groundfish catches to a shore plant or to a transport ship, pay a three percent raw fish tax based on the unprocessed value of the fish at the docks.
The tax has been in since the 1990s, and it produces tens of millions of dollars to remote communities. The tax revenues are split evenly between fishing towns and the state.
Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson told Coast Alaska the raw fish tax is a major source of the city’s municipal revenue, and anxiety about the court case was running high.
“I’m pretty relieved of that because that is roughly 17% of our budget, and it would be devastating to this community.”
Fishermen’s Finest claimed the tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and requested a refund of back taxes paid since 2017, or roughly $47 million.
But the Alaska judge ruled otherwise.
Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof has long referred to it an important case.
“Everybody that’s in the fishing business will be looking to figure out a way they don’t have to pay a landing tax on the fish that is in Alaska. That’s the real fight here, not just the immediate thing that appears to be between this one company and the State of Alaska.”
Seattle is home port to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their living from Alaska waters.
In 2017, Alaska’s gross earnings topped $1 billion for fishermen with 44% ($455 million) going to Seattle-based crews.
Of nearly 6.5 billion pounds of fish and crab taken in Alaska waters in 2016, just shy of 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington boats.
Read more about the landing tax lawsuit here at Seafoodnews.com –