Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization

I sure would like to see Rep. Don Young when he comes to Ketchikan and Kodiak for hearings on MSA, otherwise known as the "200 mile limit law." Amendments keep getting added as time goes on, more hearings are held, and most fishermen wake up to the new realities long after the ink is dry. Especially in the current round of hearings. The salmon openings are in full swing now.

But I know a County Commissioner here in Oregon that had a lot of success getting road work done by getting to know Don Young. For some reason I've always liked Don even though I don't know him personally. A little odd, maybe. I just wish he would hold these hearings when the salmon season isn't going full tilt. A lot of fishermen's representatives go fishing too. In fact folks of all stripes that deal with fishing issues go salmon fishing. And even if you can make the hearings between openings, how much time do you have to catch up on the issues and maybe have membership meetings on the issues.

Personally, I think the regional product development and marketing associations should be right in there. They are fledglings, but have the potential to be political and economic powerhouses like Tree Top and Land-O-Lakes. Their potential members just have to see that potential. (Creating a buzz here, Doc.) I hope someone invited them to the hearings.

In a way I'd like to be at the hearings this week, but again I'm sure the whole thing is pretty much for show. I remember one time my father spent the better part of a week in a hotel in Juneau on a hatchery task force. They recommended bowing out of building pink salmon hatcheries because there was enough pink salmon on the market. Well, the State went ahead on 'er anyway and it was Governor Cowper who had the guts to pull the plug on state ownership of them.

I'll just stick to plugging for the association concept like I have been for fifteen years. If you want to go for bear you get a big gun. You don't get a hundred round clip for your .22. If infighting between the gear groups hasn't worked to develop new products and new markets, try the association concept by all means.

So, Don, next time, please invite the Regional Seafood Development Associations. If they go like other producing regions of the U.S., this time next year they just might have thousands of voting fishermen in their ranks. And please don't hold your hearings in the middle of salmon season. You should know that even if you don't catch salmon to sell, you catch them to home can or freeze, or just have a barbecue. You make hay when the sun shines, you don't work on your tractor.

It's just that right now, political power is improperly placed with the big processing company owners. How many of those are there? A hand-full, compared to thousands of vertical integration minded fisherment? The Alaska commercial fishing industry has never really been defined to everyone's satisfaction. The big processors think they should run the industry and government generally goes along with that, even though they give a lot of lip service to fishermen. And fishermen don't want anyone getting into their pockets, but will relinquish ownership of their product for a pittance.

Basically, losing title to the product is the biggest risk of all. The effects aren't felt quite a soon as flying your catch to some broker operating out of a phone booth in Seattle, but it's just as dangerous. You just slowly start warming up like the frog in the kettle. How many fishermen have gone out of business since the early '80s? The whole hand troll fleet for one. Much of the power troll fleet as well. Now a good chunk of the gillnet and seine fleet.

So how come it's being reported that the Alaska fishing industry is doing so well? And why does Washington D.C. think it is a shining example of grandioseness or whatever in relation to this latest round of MSA hearings? Governor Murkowski gets a lot of credit for recent initiatives, using the Board of Fisheries and offering support for the Regional Associations. These are great moves, I just hope there is good follow-through and a plan to make everything tie together.

Someone should stand up in these hearings and ask how to get a copy of the "business plan" for the salmon, longline and herring fisheries. What's the strategic plan that will make the fishing industry strong again. Who's building a bear gun and who's just loading a banana clip for a .22?


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