Terry Haines is a Kodiak deckhand and representative for Fish Heads, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the vitality of Alaska's fishing communities.
February 7thCatching The Cheetah
February 1stNo Fisherman Left Behind
The Rush to Rationalize:
How Fear and Money Drive Fisheries Management Policy
Open wide, Alaska. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is about to jam Gulf of Alaska groundfish rationalization down your throat like a big spoonful of cod liver oil.
Yuck. For most of us who work on fishing boats and live in coastal communities this tonic will be hard to gag down. Bering Sea crab rationalization (crab ratz) meant the typical skipper or crewman is now paid one quarter what he was paid last year. That's if he can find a position at all in a vastly reduced fleet. The Aleutians East and Kodiak Island Boroughs have testified to grave concerns about the loss of opportunity and income that crab ratz has meant for their fishermen and businessmen. The City of Kodiak has commissioned a research project by Dr. Gunnar Knapp to assess the effects of crab ratz. They and others requested an eighteen month cool-down period to look at this kind of data before rationalizing anything else.
After all, the Gulf groundfish stocks are already well managed. There is no perceived safety issue. There is no mad rush of participants into the fishery. Smaller boats manned by local fishermen harvest more of the quota every year, producing a higher quality product more selectively. So why the rush to rationalize Gulf of Alaska groundfish?
Fear and money, that's why.
When fixed gear fishermen started wondering out loud about a system that could make ghost towns out of their communities, the trawl sector cleverly asked to be rationalized without them. Afraid of being left behind, the fixed gear sector jumped onboard. The trawl sector had already wisely allied themselves with processors in the form of the Alaska Groundfish Databank. This oddly named lobbying entity supplies the Council with neatly typed proposals. They all feature "processor linkages", which will remove the free market for groundfish in much the same way "processor quota" did for crab. Why? Why would the boat owners give up a free market? Remember, the Justice Department opposed the near monopoly given to processors by the crab ratz program, and the General Accountability Office said the study done to justify processor shares lacked scientific credibility.
But that doesn't matter because the processors own the Council.
The Chair of the Council, affectionately nicknamed "the Red Queen", is able, personable and knowledgeable. She is an executive of obvious talent. She also works as a paid lobbyist for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. Eight of the eleven companies in the PSPA are owned by four giant Japanese corporations.
Another Council seat is held by an employee of Trident Seafoods. Crab rationalization gave them a bigger share of both harvest and processor quota than any other individual or company. A third seat is held by a board member of the At Sea Processors, a politically brawny group of eight big corporations including Trident.
So that's three processors. Next you have one trawl vessel owner, one longline vessel owner, an executive from one of Alaska's Native corporations and a banker. Coincidentally, the trawl vessel owner recently sold his boat to a company owned by a vice-president of Trident Seafoods. But that hardly matters, since trawlers and processors are on the same page anyway. Government representatives fill out the rest of the seats; including one from the National Marine Fisheries Service, and one each from state fisheries agencies in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
If you subtract the last four, who should be neutral, that leaves a voting bloc of four compared to one vote each for small boat fishermen, Native Alaskans, and bankers. You do the math. The folks paying the salaries of the lobbyists sitting on the Council certainly have.
Can you blame a lobbyist for doing his job as well as he can? Of course not. Lobbyists will be lobbyists, the scamps. Can you blame corporations for acting like corporations? They will always pay money for lobbyists. If they can get the lobbyist seated on the Council they will do that too. Wouldn't you?
No, the blame lies in a Fisheries Management Council system that has repeated shown that it can be hijacked. Whether its sharkfinning, overharvesting, or the ratz, the Councils sometimes make bad decisions when it comes down to who has the most seats.
Gulf of Alaska groundfish is a big old moose bone that a lot of dogs have been able to gnaw on. Rationalization is the big dog grabbing the bone and running and running until he gets to Arizona, or Tokyo.
The Red Queen said to Alice:
"Try another Subtraction sum. Take a bone from a dog. What remains?"
Alice considered. "The bone wouldn't remain, of course, if I took it--and the dog wouldn't remain; it would come to bite me--and I'm sure I shouldn't remain!"
"Then you think nothing would remain?" said the Red Queen.
"I think that's the answer."
"Wrong, as usual," said the Red Queen; "the dog's temper would remain."
"But I don't see how---"
"Why, look here!" the Red Queen cried. "The dog would lose its temper, wouldn't it?"
"Perhaps it would," Alice replied cautiously.
"Then if the dog went away, its temper would remain!" the Queen exclaimed.
The tempers will remain. After the towns have closed down and a way of life is sold, after the lobbyist shuts his briefcase, and the fisherman's son slogs southward, the tempers will remain.