Chinook Salmon Interceptions Bring out Economic Hogwash

Pollock John's proposition for more 'market-based' nonsense

By Stephen Taufen

There's a great clash occurring in the North Pacific over Chinook salmon intercepts by trawl vessels. It pits the subsistence needs of native peoples in the river systems of Arctic and Western Alaska - the Yukon , Norton Sound, Kuskokwim and Bristol Bay regions, as well as Canada - against the commercial, industrial fisheries. At the next regional federal fishery council meeting in Anchorage , starting March 30, there will be four days set aside to deal with the conflict and issues.

Alaska Salmon

Some would say it's really about a more basic issue - the survival of the Chinook. They ask, "At this point, can the Yukon River Chinook salmon run ever be recovered?" Well, there's likely still time - but only if strong action takes place. Already in 2009, bycatch numbers are climbing, according to reports from crew members out West, for salmon and halibut.

Movie makers might want to consider a sequel to "NEMO" and the telling on-screen scramble of gulls - simile for humanity - screeching "Mine, mine, ... Mine!" They could have comical but sad pelicans wearing RCMP hats at the Canadian border looking over the Yukon in search of the last fish.

In December of 2008, the Council released an 839-page report, Bering Sea Chinook Salmon Bycatch Management: Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis. It is available on the NPFMC website, at: . It outlined the Alternatives that would implement new management measures to minimize Chinook salmon bycatch, as the Bering Sea pollock fishery annually intercepts up to 95% of the Chinook salmon taken incidentally in the groundfish trawl fisheries of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI).

As I said to the Council at the February meeting, this is not normally a topic for Groundswell to partake in. But, when the corporatocracy pulls out its sixteen inch guns, the fun is just beginning. And when corporate socialists want government to eliminate all competition and protect them, and use alleged 'market-based solutions', just like they're posturing about for crab crewmen, there's a responsibility to speak out and protect Alaska and its bountiful resources.

New Acronyms:

The pollock catchers and processors operating in Alaska have to be commended on their ability to distract the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with self-serving dribble. In response to the massive intercepts of Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea trawl fisheries, they were able to take over two hours of Council time to present and discuss their proposal for an Inter-Cooperative Agreement - memorize this new acronymn, ICA - which outlined a plan using a plot not unlike that of carbon credits in the pollution realm.

Somewhere along the Council line, when it is far too early to talk of "preferred alternatives", someone came up with another new acronym, PPA - a "preliminary preferred alternative." As I told one lead staff member, that's ridiculous. Who gets to name that one alternative as even the preliminary preferred one? Preferred by whom?!

I pointed out, that's like me hopping on I-5 south at the Seattle on ramp and reading a green sign that simply says " Oregon " and then hours later seeing another sign saying " Portland , 13 miles" - I am heading to Oregon ! And the Council is heading into another processor chosen alternative before sufficient public comment is heard. And that's the kind of thing that really gets our attention.

I sat through a long presentation by Joe Plesha of Trident about what the PPA/ICA trickery is about, based on a paper pollock players presented to the Council titled, "Reducing Chinook Salmon Bycatch with Market-Based Incentives: Individual Tradable Encounter Credits." Another darned acronym, ITEC. As I listened to that dribble, I dashed back to sign up for public comment, and kept notes while thinking how convenient it is to have inter-cooperative agreements (i.e. among or between pollock cooperatives only) and tradable credits (only for pollock trawlers) when once again we're dealing with public resources. Let alone the dire issue of subsistence.

As Plesha talked, he sounded like the pollock catchers and processors were begging the Council to "please make us behave", "give us the incentives to stop us from perpetrating greater harms" (in the listener's words). The mention of incentives priced at about $1,000 per 'encounter' (each additional fish taken by misbehavior) came out like gut-retching humor - but not funny at all. The notion that tradable credits are ludicrous was embarrassingly lost.

The PPA/ICA solution would be to allow over 47,000 Chinook to be shanghaied and up to 68,000 or so if the ICA was in place with "incentives" not to catch those additional Chinook. It's the kind of "industry proposal" one expects at the NPFMC, which has spent the last fifteen or more years giving away the public commons to "industry" and patting itself on the back all the while for a job well done. State corporatism. Industrial or corporate socialism. Government-backed Kleptocracy! Call it what you like, it's a leech sucking the financial blood out of citizen-taxpayers.

Unable to type-up a comment, I went off my notes and gave something approximating the following, as a public comment. You can contact Council staff and find out how to listen to all the meeting recordings on a special site where the audio files are uploaded in the weeks following each meeting.

Public Comment by Groundswell:

Introduction: Chairman Olson, and Council members - I'm Stephen Taufen of the Groundswell Fisheries Movement, and you might be wondering why I am testifying on this issue but I have a personal interest. About 95 years ago, my grandfather out-migrated, down the Yukon River , and so our genetic stock had left the region. That was, until on the other side of the family my grandmother's cousin arrived and spent 30 to 40 years ministering to the villages, often by dogsled - the very same villages that earlier testifiers had mentioned, from Nome to the dozens of outlying communities.

And as testified before, I fished my last king (Chinook) salmon on the Snake River in 1970, on the Fourth of July, as the big one was let go and we kept the smaller one. The Yukon people want the big ones upstream, as well. There's a parallel here, as even back then we knew that the increase of dams and other factors were stressing out the runs and it was no longer the right thing to do to take those salmon in a sports fishery downriver. It verged on immoral. All causes of depletion had to adjust.

In addition, as I spoke on the record at the last meeting, I also have concerns about the Ayakulik and Karluk River systems and the interception of Chinook salmon there, near my home on Kodiak Island . It seems to me that a lot of our sport fishery businesses will want to testify at the next meeting on this topic, too - especially since those river systems are not in the December salmon EIS/RIR.

Former Alaska governor and Secretary of Interior, Wally Hickel once said, "If you steal $10 from a man's wallet, you're likely to get into a fight, but if you steal billions from the commons, co-owned by him and his descendants, he may not even notice." Well, I think the Council has already learned that there's a big fight coming here.

Economic Theory: I heard mention this morning that the processors would like to introduce you to a "well-respected economist" - one of their choice - to tell you more of their side of the story and argument. Well I do some economics myself, and I don't know anyone who joined the field of economics specifically to get respect. It seems to me that these folks are just reaching into the grab bag of economic theory for anything to save themselves.

All of this talk about market-based solutions is pure hogwash, as it misapplies alleged tools to mitigate pollution in an industrial or manufacturing realm with a situation involving indeterminable and unpredictable life cycles and the biology of living creatures. Furthermore, such market-based credits are not tools that are working out for pollution either.

Where does this kind of erroneous thinking come from? Well, back around 1960 at the Chicago School of Economics, privatization theory was drummed up as free market environmentalism to fill the need for corporations to get government off their backs. It was the heyday of many Chicago school theories, the likes of which the USA is still trying to shed the damaging effects.

An economist named Roland Coase "challenged the then-prevailing orthodoxy that government is the only way to protect nature" and "he argued, nature can be protected through property rights, provided they're clearly defined and the cost of enforcing them is low." Let me read further from a book I have here that discusses this foolish notion.

"For fans of privatism, Coase's theorem was an intellectual breakthrough. It gave theoretical credence to the idea that the marketplace, not government, is the place to tackle pollution. Instead of burdening business with page after page of regulations, all government has to do is assign property rights and let markets handle the rest."

I was in Central America for awhile in 1997, and President Clinton was there on that topic and for trade discussions. Some of the country's leaders I knew described the proposals and free trade agreements, as regards their harms to the smaller countries of Latin America , as "the worms, with which they bait the hook, with which they catch you."

And if you have followed the U.S. Congress, regarding such issues, like I have for many years on Energy and Environment Daily's reports, you'd know that many of these alleged market-based tools are not working out. Deforestation in Brazil left a huge gap in the carbon sink, one that will take hundreds of years to repair, as soy plants are no replacement for natural jungles - so forest offsets are another failed example.

And just because carbon credits get made available and even if they get purchased by a large corporation's accounting department to meet compliance and other goals, there is no guarantee that the technological and operational divisions of those corporations will implement any abatement technology or fixes to actually reduce carbon outputs in the long run. The solution is not to guarantee a certain amount of harms simply continue.

You're being sold here a similar non-solution. Do you really plan to sell this to Congress, when it already knows the issue of market-based solutions is not exactly working out well elsewhere? After all, we're not talking about mere pollution harms here; this is a much more dynamic situation involving food subsistence and critical species survival.

Acronyms - PPA/ICA: I have to admit that it is easy to get lost in the new acronyms, but I finally figured out what PPA stands for: preliminary Prostitution Alternative. It's like proposing that it is better to put 68,000 hookers on the streets and in the hotels, and have the "cost per catch" or incentive level run about $1,000 per encounter, than to have it set at 47,000 - and maybe limit it to the hotels. It pays to have the market setting consequences of more, as if you got the number too low, the incentive cost of an encounter might go up to a few thousand a catch. And if set well low, it might run that value so high that it would even tempt the moral fortitude of an Elliott Spitzer.

You see, this PPA is really just "A John's Proposal" - one that is based on the stupid premise that if you just set 68,000 prostitutes loose on the market with the incentive that they all go get blood tests that things won't be "dirty" any more, and the encounter price would be right.

What's not accounted for here is that Capitalism has its diseases too. It has been said that, "Capitalism can distort democracy." And, "It can absolutely devastate what's right."

All this talk about "zero-sum games" just reinforces the idea that there are indeed a lot of games being played. And hearing pollock players asking you to "make us behave" is just begging you to impose corporate ethics that should already be voluntarily in place.

Groundswell favors the idea of a hard cap, under the alternatives that have an option for around 30,000 or so Chinook intercepts, or less.

Young Leaders Emerge ...:

I was most impressed at the last meeting with the promising presence of so many young native Alaskan leaders who were present to speak out impressively on the Arctic Ocean issues. The Council voted to keep those waters closed to federal fisheries for the time being. It was a big show for the cameras, as the Council recognized its chance to once again back-pat itself.

ADF&G Commission Denby Lloyd was brief and to the point, and gave appropriate comments on behalf of the State of Alaska . Chairman Eric Olson was equally professional. But council member Bill Tweit of Washington State went on for twenty minutes: like a leaking air hose - with an attached generator running hard to try and keep up. Someone made the argument that it was necessary for the details to be read into the Council record, but that merely sounded like an excuse.

In fairness, we'll admit to being particularly intolerant because Washington State has been deliberate in its failure to handle crab crewmember issues equitably. These long-festering intercept concerns have now pushed Crab Crewmember concerns into the waiting basket; so we'll be writing more about that, soon.

Anyway, the cameras went away before the Chinook salmon issues came up next, as did many of the young AYK Delta native leaders. Groundswell hopes that they are both back at the March-April meeting in Anchorage, and capture the big story. After hearing former councilman Robin Samuelsen, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation speak with encyclopedic strength in February, and lay it on the line for 120,000 natives, it's guaranteed to be an interesting four days.

A public watchdog and advocate for fishermen and their coastal communities. Taufen is an "insider" who blew the whistle on the international profit laundering between global affiliates of North Pacific seafood companies, who use illicit accounting to deny the USA the proper taxes on seafood trade. The same practices are used to lower ex-vessel prices to the fleets, and to bleed monies from our regional economy. Contact Stephen Taufen

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