Monday, February 27, 2006

Fish traps and "rationalization"

When you read these excerpts, do what the reader from White Mountain suggests, substitute "rationalization" for "fish traps" and see if it doesn't sound like what is happening in fisheries politics today.

Giving away Alaska's resources may be the way they do business in Washington D.C., but not in Alaska. Alaska may need a referendum on "rationalization."

"We Alaskans charge emphatically and can prove that the fish trap is a menace to a continued successful operation of fisheries in Alaska. By this measure you would legalize the destruction of the major industry of Alaska and jeopardize the livelihood of the many resident workers, of the many small businesses; in whole, the entire economic structure of Alaska. For what? The continued exploitation of Alaskan resources by an absentee monopoly that must have a profit far in excess of that of any other business."
--RR Warren, a resident Alaska fisherman, testifying before the U.S. Senate on a bill to formally lease fish trap sites to persons, 1948
Senator Moore: The claim is made -- and it looks rather a reasonable thing to us -- that if you eliminated the trap you would be eliminating the most efficient operation up there....
Delegate Bartlett: That, I think, Mr. Chairman, is the desire of the people of Alaska -- for the simple reason that they feel that the trap is too efficient. It is like other things in this world that are regulated and governed sometimes out of existence because they do away with employment.

And: "The attempt to "enclose" the fisheries by executive order met with fierce legal and political resistance from Alaskans. The White Act of 1924 was the result of the ensuing political battle and remained the foundation of all further federal regulation through 1959. The act prescribed an escapement goal of 50% of all Salmon and allowed the Secretary of Commerce to regulate all aspects of Alaska salmon fishing except for access to the fishery. No "exclusive right of fishery shall be granted." The House version of the bill abolished fish traps, but the Senators from Washington blocked that provision."

If Governor Murkowski, in his "rational" experiment in social engineering, wanted more efficiency in the seafood industry, then give the gillnetters 800 fathom gillnets and the seiners the ability to have tuna seiners if they wanted. That would have the same effect, few fishermen in the end producing a lower cost fish.

Fishermen should realize that when "rationalization" is cast in concrete, a few chosen boats will be used to harvest the crop. Just enough equipment to get the job done. They will be the oversize boats, and fishing will be like working for giant agri-businesses. You go out at 4 in the morning to the spot the company tells you to go and come back at night with the potatoes.

Again, this is not fiction, this is what is happening and what these fledgling agri-busineses have in mind for the other fisheries too. Since we got AlaskaReport going like it is, people have been sending in first hand accounts. And these are lifelong Alaskan industry insiders who have had good standing in the community. And other researchers like the occsional newspaper reporter. It's all coming to a head this spring.

Personally I believe the "rationalization" folks are rabid about getting a quick victory before the fisherman controlled Regional Seafood Development Associations can gain any momentum. The RSDAs need representatives on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, on the Council Advisory Panels, on the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee of the Department of Commerce, in leadership in the National Fisheries Institute, the United Fishermen of Alaska, and that's just a start. That is if fish traps are still against the will of the people and there are good folks that will step up to the plate like RR Warren.

But first of all, by all means, vote for your nearest RSDA or fishermen won't have the political power to blow the water out of a fuel line. If they didn't need political power, why did 800 fishermen lose their jobs in one fishery alone recently? And that's with over 55 fishermen's organizations in Alaska. Divide and conquer. They are just the wrong kind of organization. They can't help the fish prices either. Guess how many fisheries there are in Alaska. There are 62 in Southeast Alaska alone.

And I'll say again that City Managers and Mayors are remiss in their duties by sitting on the sidelines in this struggle for fishermen's livelihoods. A little dilligence in studying the issues and they might have a real epiphany.

I have to relate a story along these lines because Stephen Taufen is writing in detail these days on the economics of resource extraction and why Alaska isn't benefiting nearly as much as it could. And why, in some cases, the return is so little that the social fabric is in jeapordy, i.e., King Cove.

Here it is. I agreed to get the Douglas, AK cold storage going one time. So I brought an industrial electrician friend along to meet the Juneau electrical department at the plant's transformer. My friend demonstrated with his meter that one leg was shorted out. The upshot was ...........nothing. The city didn't do anything about it. The plant had an inherent electrocution hazard and they didn't care. Several years later the plant burned down completely.

A good example regarding not following through by city folks when they have the proof something is amiss. Coastal cities in Alaska know all too well that their ecomomy is mostly driven by fishermen. Just ask Stanley Mack, the Mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, the first region of Alaska to bite the dirt through "rationalization."

"Rationalization" needs to be banned in the Alaska Constitution just like fish traps were, it's plain and simple.