Terry Haines is a Kodiak deckhand and representative for Fish Heads, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the vitality of Alaska's fishing communities.
Catching the Cheetah
"It's like trying to catch a cheetah; even with a go-cart it's impossible" That's how Shawn Dochtermann describes keeping up with the zigs and zags of fisheries "rationalization". A greased cheetah, I would say. But after seeing first hand what the effects of crab rationalization are, to our fishermen, our businessmen and our communities, this is one large predator that must be tackled.
Al Burch, a long time Kodiak fisherman, made a point the other day which I thought was as deep as a sablefish. His comment was, and I hope I do it justice, that rationalization has broken the fishing community into pieces. "Fractionalization" he called it, and I thought that was dead on. It just keeps dividing and dividing. It used to be that everyone in the industry was, in effect, a community linked by where we are and what we do. Processors, owners skippers and crew shared common interests, schools and neighborhoods. Their kids played on the same basketball team.
Now all the things that knit our community together are being fractured by fear. The fear of being left out. "Rationalization will produce winners and losers." I can't tell you how many times I've heard that. And, as everyone scrambles to get a seat at a table with only a few chairs left, the biggest loser will be our way of life. Can we make a place for everyone in the family? Yes. We just need to catch that cheetah.
And the only way to catch a cheetah is to be a cheetah. Or at least look enough like one to sneak up on it. Right now the North Pacific Management Council will probably allocate groundfish quota directly to Co-Ops (Alternative Three). The Co-Ops will be made up of boats that fished during the qualifying years. This is simpler than allocating to individual boats and then requiring them to form into Co-Ops (Alternative Two). So the solution is for those who will be left out to form their own Co-Op. Such a Co-Op would be made up of skippers and crew, the ones who fished all season, the ones who you see year after year, in the coffee shops and at the City Council meetings. That Co-Op would in turn operate under very specific rules:
At a recent meeting of SWAMC (the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference) someone from Dutch Harbor made the observation that even though many processors had millions of dollars in fillet machines on hand most sat idle while fish are sent to places like the Peoples Republic of China, where hungry workers will do it cheaper by hand. Is that where we are headed? Or can we still be a place where human beings can work together as a community, with pride and dignity? Let's catch the cheetah.
We can do it.
We have to do it.