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Stephen Taufen

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.

Stephen Taufen's first post on

February 16th

Tensions High at Advisory Panel on GOA Privatization

During the recent North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting held in Seattle, a strong tension entered the Advisory Panel session on Gulf of Alaska "rationalization." Returning after lunch from a long morning of public comment, with Duncan Fields tardy as the 1:00 pm gavel fell to start the AP's review and motion proposals, a major processor-led plan was laid on the table. How such a detailed and extensive motion was ready, with public comment just having ended one hour earlier, was never explained. But we've seen these tricks before.

Everyone knew that attorney Fields was likely to lead the effort during the after lunch discussion of the four sectors -- trawl, jig, and the just separated longline and pot sectors -- and would carry the AP discussion forward on behalf of the public, municipalities and communities, as well as for all of the various fleet sectors. After all, Fields is usually the most well-versed and highly organized in AP presentations. That's important when the public can not have further say during the motions. It is a time for fairness, not games.

Julie Bonney -- representative for the Groundfish Databank of trawlers and large processors -- was physically absent from the audience (due to a family emergency), but her group of players took the stage through an obvious representative on the AP, when Joe Childers made a motion about how to proceed on GOA Rationalization to review of each sector's details. The air quickly stank. And AP member Al Burch of Alaska Draggers was not going to help clear it, either.

Former Kodiakan, attorney John Iani -- once head of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association and a vice president of UniSea during the 1990's -- had been watchguarding the interests of the large processors all week long, and had made sure to observe the public comments of jig and other gear representatives and participants. From the back of the room, his silent overlording could not be mistaken. It was the same way at December's meeting with Trident's Joe Plesha in the room, but Plesha carries it off with a bit more relaxing face. In any case, it is clear that both control Bonney, and Childers.

Childers was ready to run the show their way -- full steam ahead, as if all sectors were ready to proceed. And with several opponents out of the room still, it was time to lay out their already prepared plan to keep GOA Rationalization moving forward for a "before or by December" final action. But what would have made more sense was a motion to have the longliners come back in April with their outline, and have the jig group see if they could get their sector ready by June (the Kodiak meet), because so many jiggers need to be out fishing in the meanwhile.

In addition, all of the GOA cities and boroughs need time -- and the April meeting is too close. Likewise, the crewmen issue was quickly fading from the plate -- and no mention of their appropriate share was in the policy outline. It's time to slow it down until ISER studies and other facts are known, and the task force can meet, not to speed it up.

The public shock reached its crescendo when Joe Childers revealed a long motion already in hand -- one he argued was so long, in full color, and otherwise so extensive that it was too expensive and time consuming to even provide copies to all of the AP members: let alone to the public. Several hands in the room reached into their pockets for quarters, silent comment on the hypocrisy of Childers' feeble attempt at control.

The air thickened as it became undeniably clear that the fix was in. Next, AP member Michelle Ridgeway calmly suggested that the AP secretary could possibly resolve matters by easily projecting the full GOA Rationalization breakout proposal on the overhead screen, for all to see, while it was edited in the open. But it was soon clear that the AP chair -- Tom Enlow, an employee of UniSea's Grand Aleutian hotel -- was also controlling the game. Enlow had been in corporatocracy serving mode all week.

When Enlow scolded Fields for being late, the audience stirred. No one thought that being a few minutes late, obviously because Fields was still in the hall gathering public ideas before rushing ahead, had anything at all to do with the issue of whether or not the AP members should immediately get a written copy in front of their eyes of any motion currently underway. It was a cheap shot by Enlow (and we let him know it), who earlier in the week had the AP meeting halted on another issue so that the secretary could make copies of a motion on a lesser topic. Rules are meant to be broken when convenient to the rulers.

It was symptomatic of how the AP, like the Council, often fails to contain their conflicts of interest. Key processor employees and representatives dominate our regional fish meetings at key intersections in policy making. We have watched over the past three years as the AP -- once our fleet and community representative body in this federal process -- has shifted to high numbers of large corporate representatives, lobbyists and otherwise hired guns, instead of being a body with many independent fishermen. And this February, the AP could not have been more appalling to watch. This should serve as a warning to the sectors and cities and boroughs about what is to come next.

And should the large processors and their captive trawl fleets once again come so prepared, and unwilling to share their game plan with you, it might be wise for a few elected officials to be there to see it firsthand. It is time for the new Kodiak GOA task force to meet, and for the large processors to lay out their plans there publicly, long before we get to the regional federal meets. And it is also time for the large processing company executives to sit in the public comment chair and speak for themselves. Global Seafoods' Oleg Nikitenko and Pacific Seafoods' John Whiddon kindly did, and they are to be commended for their participation in what is still an open society and a representative democracy. Given the already questionable attempt to privatize more national resources, the light of transparency helps keep the dark tensions down.

Stephen Taufen - Groundswell Fisheries Movement