Monday, July 31, 2006

Leveling the playing field for candidates and fishermen

Jim, incredibly, there still is a whole rainbow of attitudes about the prosecution of harvesting and processing and how we feel about the old guard cannery owners.

I enjoyed the care-free, hunter-gatherer lifestyle of a independent commercial fisherman for awhile. When someone cut my allowed gear in half, it wasn't care-free any more.

Obviously we're on diffrent sides on Bob Thorstensen, one of the processing giants.We will all start to come together, and maybe then get going in the same direction, after we get everything out on the table. That's why I appreciate e-mail so much, it helps this process immensely.

Most everyone thinks the big processors are getting too greedy now. That's no news. But it's not new either. Icicle Seafoods got the Petersburg Cold Storage under clouded circumstances 40 years ago. My father and other stock holders like Washington Fish and Oyster Co. lost their stock in the deal. I know it's easy to shower respect on hardnosed, politically connected and wealthy men. I know you have a great deal of respect for Big Bob T and I'm a little jealous of people that can cruise through their careers and "see no evil." It makes life a lot easier.

But my father also lost his seine fleet and his foreman to Bob. Whereas Bob concentrated on dominance in areas of the state's fisheries, my father just ran a plant and helped start institutions in the state to help all fishermen: AFDF, FITC, ASMI. He worked for Bob after leaving Whitney-Fidalgo. I was a fish buyer for Bob one year too.

An associate ran into Bob, Wally Swanson and Bud Samuelson in Kodiak last week. Bob has NOT stopped being involved even after getting Parkinsons, and not MS as you report. Don't shoot the messenger. I do lose a lot in the process of shedding light on the fishing business. Not many seafood companies that operate in Alaska would hire me now. I've got a sale going on burned bridges these days. But one of these days I'll print a bunch of the letters of appreciation I get from fishermen who are still struggling in the business.

In the credibility department, I'll just say that I'm probably the most widely read fisheries analyst in the state. And the readership is shooting up fast. I don't get any satisfaction out of pointing out what and who is wrong in the fishing industry. I could also make a case that fishermen haven't tended to business and have concentrated on attacking everything except the problem. Because in really tending to business, they immediately become modern small business men, and that's a little mutually exclusive of being a hunter/gatherer. Hence the need for real BUSINESSMEN to help large groups of fishermen at one crack via the RSDAs.

Since you are now using your S.E. seine boat as a charter boat, I wonder if you see the odd coincidence in the precipitous drop in seine salmon prices at the dock and Bob's investing heavily in plants and equipment from Washington state to Adak and the Pribilof Islands. The latest acquisition being a cannery on Kodiak Island just this spring. I'm sure if the seine prices hadn't dropped so much, and I remember getting 68 cents a pound for troll humpies as opposed to ten cents now for seine fish, you and hundreds of other seiners would still be fishing.

The previous owners of plants and other infrastructure like boats, permits and quota shares, are walking away with the capital that could be going to prop up prices and continued investment in vessels and equipment. This is the system fishermen may not have wanted, but allowed, by not speaking up. Well, I won't go through the whole cause and effect here. Some people have written extensively on this; it just doesn't seem to make it into the mainstream of fisheries politics because it doesn't serve major players like Big Bob who have long controlled fisheries politics in Alaska.

When you purposely look at the Genuine Article for as long as I have, you see a lot of counterfeits. But amazingly, it doesn't make you want to destroy the counterfeits, like the counterfeits want to do to the genuine articles. It makes you want to polish them up so you can join up with them.

I don't wish harm on any of these processing and marketing behemoths, I just wish they would work with fishermen more. Hence my fifteen years of work towards Regional Seafood Development Associations. They give the fishermen a face to do peer to peer business with the processors so they both can benefit and stop the century long adversarial relationship between them. The solution is not going to come from power plays at the Council or at the Board of Fish or in the Legislature. The solution is going to come from new STRUCTURES that promote unbiased and methodical decision making.

And new structures will come from a fresh perspective in Juneau. From an new kind of Governor that recognizes that Alaskans are suffering at the hands of powerful industry players, not gaining somehow by getting crumbs from their acquisition of immense wealth. And not just Alaskans, but fishermen from Washington and Oregon too, that fish the waters off Alaska.

You can guess what the processors and processor linked fishermen's organizations are doing now. They are endorsing anyone except Sarah Palin full speed. The Alaska street is behind Sarah and that scares these processors all over Alaska that have been counting on cooperation from the Governor's office to acquire processor shares for all species. For the uninitiated, that's like a giant limited entry permit to harvest fish without the use of independent fishermen, like the fish traps were before statehood. They will still need to pay someone a token amount to go get their fish for them, just like the canneries needed the physical traps and trap tender vessels and crews before 1959. It increases the value of their shore plants immensely.

The other day, I was talking to a fisherman, who has always been up to his eyeballs in fish politics. I asked him if he thought fishermen were getting more astute in picking a gubernatorial candidate. He said he still gets fishermen that say, "Just tell me who to vote for." He tells them that they can probably vote Republican, because 60% of voters are registered as "party not indicated," or however it's done when you don't pick a party.

I talk about another Thorstensen operation occasionally, the United Fishermen of Alaska. Young Bob announced that the UFA would endorse Murkowski, but here's the scoop on that. Even though they claim a membership of 34 fishermen's organizations, 8 of those are aquaculture associations (salmon hatcheries). The big processor lobbying organization, PSPA, is one of them. So is the King Crab Coalition of Seattle, who helped in a big way to fire those thousand king crab crew and skippers. The Alaska Trollers Association pulled out of UFA a couple of years ago, and the Southeast Gillnetters Association voted "no" to backing Murkowski.

Actually only 11 of 34 UFA member organizations voted to back Murkowski. The UFA Board never did vote and the bylaws were fudged in a haste by Bobby to endorse a candidate that will help them thin out the ranks of fishermen.(Buyback, Ratz and other thinning techniques they back) Their basic plan is that it's easier to get rid of most of the fishermen through a governor like Murkowski, to the boost bottom line for the few, than innovating in the marketplace for the many.

So Jim, when you say I hurt my credibility by talking like this you may be right. When you get in the trenches you get dirty. I am a firm believer that this isn't about ourselves though, but what we can do for each other, and if some folks think that's a bad thing, so be it. It's a good thing I don't know all these candidates for governor who are suspect of trying to smear Sarah Palin. You'd really see my credibility drop. Sarah's job is to be Governorial and to keep having "moxie"* and not letting anyone knock it out of her. My job is more in leveling the playing field. The readership we are getting on AlaskaReport means I'm a bulldozer driver these days for independent fishermen, and now, people-oriented political candidates.

*Moxy (mox'ie), n. slang (I thought this was a Jewish term, not slang, oh, well)
1. Energy, pep, initiative
2. Courage, determination
3. Skill, know-how, expertise

It's better if you're born with moxie like Sarah Palin apparently was, but nevertheless you fisher-wives can try to get some of your own.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oregon salmon and Alaska fishermen are endangered

The new recovery plans for the Columbia and Snake River salmon runs sounds like business as usual. Just like the new Gulf of Alaska rockfish management plan sounds like the fisherman-devouring "Crab Ratz."

The fishing and processing port of Pelican narrowly escaped becoming a ghost town. A lone entrepreneur found a foreign company to finance it's start-up, with him in charge of course. More power to him.

I don't know what excuse NOAA/NMFS uses to make it so hard for salmon to live in those rivers, maybe big power companies. But I know why they make it so hard for fishermen to live in Alaska; big seafood companies.

Now with the lone fisherman/tenderman off the North Pacific Council, the processors have the whole Council to themselves. Not that one vote made any difference anyway, and not that he was without processor linkages. Just like the fishermen in Oregon who wanted to privatize and formally link the fish to the processor of hake. They are tight with the processors, and EVERYONE loses but them. But they are fishermen by virtue of working on boats and drinking lousy coffee at 3:30 AM.

Nobody is going to radically change the way fishery management decisions are made, such as getting an "accountable" Council or holding anyone in the Federal government personally liable. Remember you can't sue the federal government unless they agree to it. We're stuck with fisheries management by political contribution. The federal judge may be the solution for the Oregon and California trollers and their communities. In Alaska, it will be the electing of Sarah Palin for governor so she can clean house, no pun intended. The cronies know it's no pun and you're seeing a lot of bizzare behavior as they see their grip on power slipping. Attacks on honest reformers will probably get worse before it gets better.

Check out the letter from a longtime freedom-fighting fisherman in Kodiak:

"Dear John,
I fished Kodiak waters for 15 years before I saw my first Cod. There were none. Then one year Kodiak's bays filled to the heads with small ones, and a few years later the fishery began. It's been going on for a long time now, and if we checked the data acumulated over the years we'd probably see a very clouded future for the Cod buisness.

But it's like pulling hen's teeth to get some idea of "what's out there". We have Julie Bonney's DATA BANK, and a gaggle of State and Federal fish managers and biologists who like their jobs and so remain as mum as possible. It's like a chess game getting anything out of them. Much of what the public ultimately gets about "what's out there" is from Julie Bonney, who parcels it out to various media outlets. It comes back to us in fish newspapers and radio broadcasts. I'm sure the information she conveys is correct, but it's arranged so that we in our ignorance will let the "Rockfish Pilot Program" (RPP) slide through on Jan 07. For all her Trawler/Processor cabal cares, we can argue about Gulf Rats and Codfish till the end of time.

It hardly needs to be said that the name of the RPP was carefully chosen. "Pilot" means, "Don't worry folks, we're just trying this out", and "Rockfish" says it's Rockfish, which it isn't. It isn't a "Program" either. It will be law for all time if it's implimented on 1-1-07, and the economic impact will be Gulf wide in all species, least of all Rockfish.
All The Best"

Just a note on Pacific cod. When I was out in the Aleutians in 1970 on a floating processor I heard of a lot of shrimp and P. cod. One shrimp trawler we passed was right outside Cold Bay. They talked of tows of 50,000 lbs. of shrimp a few years later. The cod were there in good numbers according to my source at the time, Nelson, the owner of the floater "Nelco II" of Tokeland, WA. I remember driving out to see him in Tokeland that winter to ask him specifically what species were up and coming.

It's hard to go by anecdotal information like that, except he was as much in the know as anyone, six years before the 200 Mile Limit Law. When the Japanese fleet was hammering the Pacific ocean perch in about 1968, a bush pilot flew out over that fleet and took pictures of what they were catching. Nobody knew. The late Ted Evans chartered a Lear Jet and flew over the Donut Hole to get a video of Russian trawlers targeting our pollock.

That's one reason I keep saying free market forces are more efficient in solving industrial problems. They are more innovative and timely in responding to changing conditions than bureaucracy is. Especially the bureaucracy in Washington D.C. And their henchmen, and women. Like the Chairwoman of the NPFMC says, "processors need fishermen," right after she axes one thousand of them from their employment. Go figure. When history repeats itself, it's more expensive the second time. You won't even want to see what will happen in the Gulf of Alaska if the RPP goes through.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Poll wars for governor of Alaska

Sarah leads for TWO reasons. One, she has a commanding lead in the independent polls, and two, she doesn't exagerate or spin results like all the other Dem. and Rep. candidates do.

Surprisingly few jobs in the State Office Building change in the switch in administrations.

Here's a good story on the subject. Being straight with the voters is working for Sarah, and not something the other candidates can all of a sudden adopt as a strategy.

And how are the other candidates going to attack "being honest"? There is a lot of fear that Sarah might get smeared, slandered, belittled, and otherwise drug through the mud before it's all over. Go ahead on slandering apple pie and motherhood and see how far it gets you.

The poll showed Sarah with 44% of total votes, not the 39% of just the Republican ticket an independent poll showed. But still way ahead of the nearest Rep. challenger for the August 22 Primary victory. AlaskaReport gets a lot of thoughtful fishermen readers, people that may even have seen what won over my associates in Kodiak. The fisherfolk who saw her in action at the Gubernatorial Debate in Kodiak deemed her believable when she said she was for them and against giving their fish away.

A lot of people may want to believe that having a fisherman in Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office is a good thing for the little guy. Guess again. The real stakes are in details of the management plans of the North Pacific Council and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, not in educating all kinds of East Coast folks about how cold and slimy fish are. The new aide for Lisa stepped into the wheelhouse of the family boat with lots of stock in Icicle Seafoods and a plum job working for Bob Thorstensen as a tender operator. He has voted in lockstep on the North Pacific Council with the PSPA, the processors' voice in fisheries politics.

I don't see that changing when he gets to D.C. He is VERY loyal to one of the biggest processors and their attempts to expand their control of resources and marketing. But, again, Lisa couldn't have hired a nicer and harder working guy. I always hated lumping him with the rest of the NPFMC cabal. He displayed his intelligence in jumping off the Council before it goes down in flames.

I don't know how I got going down that rabbit trail. I was talking about Sarah Palin. Notice how people are deriding her for not attacking her opponents. They use all kinds of phrases to describe this unusual behavior, such as light-weight. It's just that these folks don't recognize that they are the ones who are unusual. Humans weren't intended to attack each other, even though they do all the time, so it seems natural. We spend ungodly amounts of money and soldiers lives to get folks to stop attacking each other. My son fights to keep people apart in other parts of the world. He fights hard and even helped load Saddam Hussein on a chopper to go to jail. So don't hand me that it's "just politics."

So you cheap-shotters better knock it off, you do the same disservice to our country as cutting our soldiers legs out from under them trying to protect your butts. Sarah just has to be the face of integrity and honesty we are looking for in a leader, and appear to have found. The leader puts together a band of mighty men of valor to do all the work. Government employees all over Alaska will appreciate a "kinder, gentler" working environment that is conducive to innovation, teamwork and productivity. I know, I've been there.

The problem comes from candidates who spin the truth, hire pollsters to say what they want, hire consultants to do all manner of dastardly deeds, etc. So voters are left dazed and confused and leaves room for the likes of those two in Terry Haines column in AlaskaReport to say voters aren't smart enough to vote!

Folks who like the idea of integrity in government shouldn't flinch in their support of Sarah. Flinching is like saying MAYBE right is right and wrong is MAYBE wrong. Experience in the back-stabbing nature of Alaska politics of the last few decades isn't what Alaska needs. It needs someone to simply say "no" to the pillaging of Alaska's resources. Voters may not ever know the whys or hows of the "great give-away" of the Bering Sea that started under Knowles, but every normal human wants what's right. We were born with a hole in our heart that can only be filled by the truth, and that makes all of us supremely qualified to vote for what's right.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Is ours unbiased, peer reviewed and objective fisheries policy?

"It's incredibly important the science is unbiased, that it is peer reviewed and objective," said Myers. "That's the way it needs to be so the survey can deliver objective information."

P. Cod from Sand Point heading for Korea. The operation shut down when the local processor threatened to not sell home heating oil to the fishermen.

This from Bush's nominee for the head of the U.S. Coast and Geological Survey is Mark Meyers. The Gulf of Alaska bottomfish fishermen and the communities most effected, namely the City of Kodiak, would dearly love the National Marine Fisheries Service to say the same thing about managing the fisheries out there.

This is how it has been going in managing that immense area and the abundance of near-bottom demersal species: You have public meetings where 95% of the public objects to the direction the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is leading the industry, then the Murkowski administration and NOAA/NMFS declare that Congress is "instructing them," like they are good little school children, then the NPFMC Chairwoman chortles over the death of the leading watchdog on accountancy issues (Transfer Pricing, etc.), Ted Stevens writes law onto other pieces of legislation of extreme National importance that axes a thousand fishermen and gives the seas bounty to the already filthy rich, into perpetuity.

Then try reconcile what goes on in the Council process with this statement from Sen. Lisa Murkowski's new fisheries aide: "The Council pays close attention and is always listening for things that can be incorporated into different management plans. I do bristle a bit when I hear people say they are ignoring the public, because I think the Council is responsive."

It darned near makes you want to scream. I have nothing against Arne Fuglvog, the new aide, he's one of the nicest guys you'll meet and his family is from the same little spot in Norway my family came from. It's just the mind set of the whole Council process, that you forward the studies that make whatever you are doing look good, that you stack the Council and the Advisory Panel with a certain type of person, etc. This is no secret. I'd just like to see a little more of an unbiased approach to fisheries law-making, since it's fishermen's livelihoods and the health of their Alaska communities on the water you're dealing with, the 95% of the industry.

I know there is a lot of industry infrastructure in Seattle, like the brokers and remanufacturers. But these folks get to handle the fish no matter who in Alaska, the Alaska fishermen or the Seattle and Tokyo-linked mega-fishermen, get's the bulk of the benefit of the resource. Right now it's the latter. Largely it's a decision the Governor of Alaska makes as to who he favors. Poll numbers show that folks in Alaska are favoring the former and the candidate for governor who is sympathetic to them.

Here's a letter from a fisherman in the heart of the Gulf of Alaska, not nearly the area where Lisa Murkowski's new fisheries aide grew up:

John, NMFS folks came to town yesterday to meet with the Draggers. Well, not just the draggers, but that's all that came because of the surreptitious way it was annoucced in advance. They say the "Rockfish Pilot Program" will start at the first of '07 and will generally follow Julie Bonney's plan as told to us years ago. Stevens made it law with a "rider". It's 100% IFQ's and processor quotas via "Co-ops". The NMFS guy, when asked if this was really going to happen, said oh sure, it was "Congressionally Mandated". So the great charade reaches a milestone.

The end is in sight. This is the most dangerous time for "them". There's still the possibility that we might figure out what's happening in time. This is a plan that's been in the works for decades, and the power of it has even driven fishery management over the years to store up a vast resourse by under harvesting. Once their plan is in place, they'll start raising the Rockfish Quota, the "TAC".

For every added lb of Rockfish they'll get that much more of the Halibut and Cod for by-catch. As the by-catch increases, the value of any IFQ's held by local families will decrease accordingly. What kind of numbers are we talking about here? Here's a sample. In 1967 the foreign fleets took 44 times the present day harvest. These days drag skippers and crews tell of mind boggling masses of Rockfish out there.

IFQ shares are about all a lot of Kodiak fishermen have these days. These will be degraded over time. The equity will evaporate. Meanwhile we're all tied up in a debate that has very little to do with anything. Yes Cod is a big deal, but it's just one very fickle fish that likes to totally dissapear for 30 years at a stretch and seems to be already starting to do that.

They've hidden the hook well but it's there to see if you want to look.
All The Best

Friday, July 21, 2006

E-mail from a Kvichak sockeye salmon

"Hi John, I enjoyed reading your column as I checked in to get my "internets" at the head of the Kvichak. Good thing I was late returning, as it took Senator Ted's office 5 days to get the report "internetted" to me.

Maybe this is what the rumored black-market Alaska sockeye looks like in China.

Must be because of all those guvmint filters and spam blocks the bureaucrats installed, and the darned anti-anthrax firewalls.

My cousin had no problem getting an internet from his Klamath girlfriend, who made it into the river safe this year after the bureaucrats ruined the river itself and using that as an excuse, pushed the fishermen off the ocean. She got on the Sacramento web hub and got out an internet in a matter of seconds, even though she was using the Blackberry she swallowed from the Russian trawler who dropped it overboard off Kamchatka last winter. But I have to say that these Alaska sandbar "tubes" that connect little fish like me to the world wide Web are fantastic, thanks to uncle Ted, the big fish, installing them so all us lowly sockeye can reach out in net neutrality.

Although I do worry about the set netters with a subsistence mentality, it was great to be able to return to Alaska this year. The ADF&G website showed my cousins came back about 25 percent stronger than usual. But if you had just asked me, I could have told you about the secret option we held to install a tracking pill behind our dorsals so that NOAA could watch to see if the Japanese fleet from Hokkaido captured us in the Russian zone.

But thanks to Al Gore's man-caused videography and Lisa Murkowski's weather experiments, more of us swam outside their reach. However, my cousin Finny got caught last year, and he had the secret option implant, so we heard later that his flesh showed up in southern China on the black market. Imagine that fate for a red salmon like him.

Rumor on the Nippon fish site a few of us Japanese speaking sockeye visit when at the internet pipe was that the foreign trawlers were scared that they might intercept our mini-me GPS pills and get caught, so they stole Patagonia toothfish instead. Well, all I have to do now is navigate the substistence crowd and I am home free, ready for a milt spewing mate to redd down with me in the headwaters of the Kvichak.

With Trident paying fifty cents, I could see the slack in the gillnets as we went by this year. Thank god for price fixing. Migrate like you have no tomorrow!
Your friend, Peduncle."

Monday, July 17, 2006

One fish, two fish, Red fish, Blue fish

The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) says a Democrat and a Republican working together must mean their amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act must be "exceptional"!

My visit to the Japanese owners representative of our fish company, and this scouting expedition for herrng, started the rush for roe-herring gillnetting in Alaska. (We only got a couple buckets of clams that first year. Steve Enge and Craig Norheim digging.)

The only thing that's exceptional is how far off government and fishermen's estimates of the value of their catch is. (Democratic and Republican governors of Alaska have equally advanced the "poor processor" mentality for years.) Surely nobody believes now that Richard Pombo, a real estate person, has a crystal ball spelling out a perfect solution in fisheries management that unites the parties. There's enough billions of dollars in the fisheries for both parties to devise strategies to partake of the seafood industry food chain.

After you read about the NFI saying how healthy the fisheries are, then read the following article on there not being enough fish.

Here's an excerpt from the latter article.
"The National Marine Fisheries Service recently painted a rosy picture of the country's ocean fisheries, noting that most fish species are not being over harvested. This assessment does not hold true, especially for New England, according to a soon-to-be-published study. The study finds that only three of 67 types of fish labeled by federal regulators as "overfished" in 1996 have seen their population increase to the level deemed acceptable by NMFS.The study is further evidence that a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to weaken existing federal fisheries regulations is misguided."

Now, the NMFS is being called "morally bankrupt" by many Congressmen in California and Oregon because of their stonwalling of the king salmon fishermen that need help. This after the Administration killed off one of the main sources of their income, the Klamath River king salmon run, to get some more votes for a favorite candidate. It's not just "nymfs" who's at fault here, it's the whole package of partisan politics, Red against Blue. The Republicans have glommed onto the cash cow and the big losers in their not wanting to let go for a second are the rank and file of fishermen.

Again, it's about staying in power by the Republican led Congress and the processor dominated fishing industry. Take a look at the food chain. First, you have the fish. They eat other fish and plankton at no cost to the taxpayer. Second, you have the fisherman, who gets the fish "not free" because with privatization (rationalization) a fisherman has to buy an expensive permit, or quota shares at so much a pound. (Halibut quota shares are up to $20 a pound, compared to a dock price of a few bucks a pound.) (You can see why a lot of fishermen want privatization, especially the more well established ones.)

Third, you have your processors. A more cutthroat bunch you'll never see. Their job is to try to get the fish free by cutting out the fishermen and maximizing their profits, you know like they teach in Harvard Business School. The Senate version of MSA Reauthorization provides for this real nicely. I don't understand cutting out a step in the food chain. If seals bypassed eating fish, they would have to try munching on plankton. Just like cutting out the fishermen who support the towns, it's not guaranteed to work.

Fourth, you have your trade associations, like the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, who lobby like mad for the processors' interests, hire people to represent them on law making bodies (amazing!), threaten state employees' jobs, etc. The PSPA will collect $3 million a year for these functions from their members.

Fifth, the National Fisheries Institute is made up of PSPAs from all around the country, along with brokers and wholesalers. Their job is to keep the applecart from being upset. A lot of influence on the Congressmen is represented in the mouthpiece for NFI. Of course they say whatever advances their agenda, and right now it's encouraging that scourge of endangered species and other valuable chunks of civil society, Richard Pombo.

Sixth, you have your Congressmen who fly in Number Four's fourty odd million dollar jets to paid-for fishing lodges and get investment opportunities nobody else gets. Is all they have to do is keep Four and Five happy. You have to be brash and loud to foist on the public the malarkey that gives 4 and 5 what they want. You also have to ignore and marginalize anyone who gets in the way of this process. And you have to get voting for your stuff to be unanimous, one way or the other, to make it look to outsiders like you have a perfect scheme for everyone.

I'm going to stop there because I don't get any hint that the President knows or cares about this particular food chain. The National Marine Fisheries Service is up on top of the food chain somewhere, in the Department of Commerce. They aren't capable of gobbling up someone under them. They are just happy to continually nibble for their nice salaries and not draw attention to themselves by taking too big of bites like the rest of the seafood industry food chain.

Right now, rank and file fishermen have their tail fin clipped by not having EFFECTIVE representation. That allows the processors to easily swim up behind them and gobble up as much of the value of the fish as they can digest (literally thousands of fishermen being told they can't fish anymore for one reason or other, paid low ex-vessel prices, trickery at every turn.) And they can digest a lot. Ever see that movie about the kid who spends a million dollars? The rest of the food chain above them encourages the feeding frenzy so they can get bigger bites later on. Reminds me of a song we used to hear on the radio, camping at Castle River in Duncan Canal in about 1963, called "Oh, when will they ever learn."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Picture of Greed and Other Fishing Photographs

It's such a nice morning I'm going to talk about photography in the fishing industry. Cool site No. 1 comes to us from a longshoreman/fisherman in Unalaska.

This Pacific cod jig boat is typical of efforts by the residents of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor to catch some of the Bering Sea bounty themselves.

The picture of the skipper leaning out the pilothouse window reminded me of the first gillnetter my brother and me fished in '65. You could warm your back on the stack, which was against the back of the pilot house, and put an elbow out one window. He sent me this letter with the websites with his photo galleries at the bottom.

"Hi John,
I enjoy your take on Alaska politics, especially when you hammer on the fishery issues. I live in Unalaska and have gone head to head with our local politicians on more than one occasion about a number of issues. Most recently I went on a duel of letters and opinions about crab ratz with Frank Kelty. He was so badly beaten by me in the local paper that he stopped writing and just shut up. If you know Frank, you will understand just how significant that is.
I work as a longshoreman and one of my friends is Pete Hendrickson. You probably know him as he's been involved in fisheries issues out here for a long time. At any rate, he mentioned that Stephanie and her gang are going to be here sometime before the end of the year for their annual meeting. I understand it's going to be held at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.
I've known Stephanie for a long time, probably 16 years and have had the priveledge of flying with her late husband on quite a few occasions. Just the other day I was driving past our local airport and noticed the new name given to it. "Tom Madsen Memorial Airport" (or something close to that.) What I'm getting at is this: Tom was born in Kodiak. His dad was a famous bear guide and local character, Alf Madsen. When Tom decided to move from Kodiak, he chose the Aleutians, specifically Unalaska. During his time here, he performed many miraculous feats with his airplanes, including flying locals out of here on medical emergencies when mere mortal pilots wouldn't go near their planes. Tom loved the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and all of Southwest Alaska and he was of great service to all who live here. I find it ironic that his wife would, at the stroke of a pen, damage the entire region with her promotion of crab ratz. In fact, it turns my stomach.
I'm thinking of writing an open letter to Stephanie just before she arrives here and ask her why she hurt the communities her husband loves so much. In your opinion, do you think that's hitting below the belt? As you can tell, I wouldn't make a very good politician....I have morals.
Take care and keep up the good work,"
Dan Parrett

Shoot, I wanted to talk about photography, but I see this letter is getting me sidetracked. First, Dan, the more we get everything out on the table of public scrutiny, the better off we'll be. You know, in some places in Europe, they have town council meeting right in the town square and everyone comes. No hiding anything from anybody. Their system has had a lot longer to evolve than Alaska's, that's for sure. Sometimes I think our political system is devolving into pure personal gain.

Dan, you mention Stephanie Madsen, the current Chairman of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, that the people of Kodiak call the "Red Queen." These kind of people go where the money trail leads. And at the moment it leads to the big corporations in the fishing industry. Ironically it was another woman, from Kodiak, who was also instrumental in ratcheting free enterprise down a big notch. Now she's jumping on the bandwagon of the leading candidate for Governor where the platform is diametrically opposed to what she has stood for in the past. It's not necessary to say "go figure," because you can figure "personal gain" there.

Red Queen No. 3 is a Groundfish Data type who has been the constant nemesis of the rank and file of fishermen of late in the Gulf of Alaska. This proves my point, in a way, that fishermen are going to really suck it up the tailpipe if they don't get professional, across the board, full-time representation. Someone from the food industry in the Lower 48. Maybe the RSDAs all together can afford such help. It isn't working the way it's going. Fishermen know it, and everyone else is taking advantage of it full bore.

When you have fish buyers in Alaska also buying $47 million French corporate jets, and this is not an isolated case, and then see pictures of these grizzled fishermen in today's mentioned picture gallery, you know something is fishy in the income distribution department. It's just that you've had Governors who would go along with these "billion dollar boys" in controlling the marketing; through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's processor listing service, and generic marketing, etc., the 13 year delay in supporting the RSDA movement, cozying up to fishermen's representatives who only support a few other rich fishermen and have processor ties, and sending free enterprise axe-men to represent the State of Alaska on the NPFMC.

What a mess, and it's such a nice day out too. I'm going out and work on my old Mustang. See ya later.

P.S. Dan, it's a shame your local paper isn't scanned by Google News so people all over Alaska can easily get news from "the Nation's largest fish port." Making your debates and news more accessible would help all of the rest of us help you balance Alaskans' desires with those of Seattle and Tokyo. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is the processing and shipping port for the huge Bering Sea marine resources and has spawned processing and marketing behemoths that are threatening to gobble up the rest of Alaska too. I get a ton of industry news from Viet Nam, Australia and Scotland, but zero from Dutch Harbor.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Alaska Governor's race is about right and wrong vs. right or left

Like the old saying goes, "The only thing worse than beating a dead horse is betting on one." The predominant mind set about how to govern Alaska has caused a shambles in the fishing industry, is nearly costing Alaska it's oil wealth to some half-baked deal with oil behemoths, causing good government employees to flee, etc.

Fishermen being away from their desks in the summer is as bad as having their boats iced in.

Would you want to do good work and save the taxpayer money if your boss was jetting around on the taxpayer nickel to meet his yacht all over the place?

There's a lot of indication that voters won't be betting Alaska's future on the "same 'ol, same 'ol." They want to bet on themselves. They just need to get someone running things in Juneau who will let them do that. No more, "I have to make these tough decisions," which is code for "I have to make these ridiculously rich folks happy or I'm sunk. I have nothing else going for me and the voters will throw me out if I don't spend gobs of these rich guys' money to make me look good."

As an aside, another term for the listing of the "Most outrageous understatement or double-talk." The Native Americans appropriately called it "speaking with forked tongue." They were closer to the truth than anyone at the time imagined. The 85% of Americans that now profess to be Christians admonish to not walk around with a forked tail. But the new statement that joins "rationalization" and "water policy" is none other than "crew jobs have been reduced." And this from our own favorite Dr. Gunnar Knapp of the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the U of A. Guess who his boss is in Juneau?

The "billion dollar boys" need to wake up to the new realities of instant communication of every slight gaff and slight of hand. Your "internet" doesn't take until tomorow to reach you as Senator Stevens thinks.(Boy, everyone sure smells blood on that gaff. He's not likely to live that down.) But that's how it is anymore. There are dozens of ways to get your news that weren't around when these guys came to power, and I don't think they realize it. They sure don't know how it works.

Here's an e-mail from a reader that speaks of the new consciousness of fishermen in Alaska. The sooner we can empower fishermen themselves, instead of compromizing and self-appointed "fishermen's representatives" and seafood processing concerns, the better off Alaska will be. The Regional Seafood Development Associations are the only groups that can say they represent the rank and file fisherman and their families living in Alaska, and elsewhere. Their elections are monitored by the State.

Hi John,

"I use what passes for my free time volunteering for what I think is important for mine & everyones kids. Our family, like most, are having to work harder and longer these days trying to make the mortgage. Sure do appreciate all you do to keep us informed! Like many others, we feel we have to sleep with one eye open with all that is going on, and feel that your insight has been a vital element in our defense in "tracking the cheetah." ( re; S.Dochtermann, T.Haines) We all must inform & look out for one another."


This brings two points to mind.
One, fishermen's wives need to get more involved in their husbands affairs while they are out fishing. The guys write me full bore up until the starting gun of the new season, then silence. Then I get a tentative e-mail once in a while from the wives. Guys and gals, your competition is still at their desks!

That competition is mostly in the form of groups like the Pacific Seafood Processor's Association who has lobbyists in Juneau and Washington D.C. working nonstop to eek the most out of the value of the fish for themselves. How they do that is unfolding all the time on this web site. Politicians are involved and if they don't hear from the fishermen for long periods, guess who they listen to. The only chance I ever saw was for the RSDAs to hire full time, professional staff to represent them all the time. That would also trump the fishermen that pretend to represent lots of other fishermen, or ignore a host of important issues.

Ladies, you have a chance to really help your menfolk by keeping up on the issues and letting other fisherwives know what is going on too. The kids are really important, and I cherish the times my mother took us kids to the Slough swimming or mountain climbing in the summers, but keeping up on the issues won't take up much time. And by all means don't forget to vote in the Primaries August 22.

The other point is that, now is the time to start thinking about whether right or wrong is what you really want to hear candidates talk about, or rather just right or left. I can't heap enough praise on Juneau Senator Kim Elton for talking like this. And of course, both me and him are going to get it from the vitriolic champions of "business as usual."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ben Stevens cost US a lot for his father to try groom

In a recent article, I mentioned the concept of "the ends justify the means." I remember learning this concept in high school during the height of the Cold War.

It's sunset for the way Alaska State government has operated the last couple of decades.

It was used strictly in association with the Communist ideology. Why is it so commonly seen poking it's ugly head up around here then? It's the antithesis of free enterprise and it is why Johnny can't read, the deficit is so large, etc. It's pure self-centeredness by politicians and others in power. You want change? elect people that have a history of unselfishness. Campaign promises? Fugetabowdit.

A lot of us are relieved that we don't have to put up with the Ben Stevens brand of politics any longer. As Peggy Noonan says, "If he pierced his ears, gravy would come out." We just have to be more vigilant. As everyone knows, one rat can do a lot of damage. Please don't send a rat from your district to Juneau.

The only difference between our Cold War nemesis and us it seems is that the State built the hunting lodges for their favored henchmen to entertain ideas for legislation with, but both systems seem to be geared to stifle free enterprise and individual initiative. The first-mentioned system did it from top to bottom. The other just in select, high profit margin industries like resource extraction (and Internet services). You can flip all the hamburgers you want, they don't care.

Here's a real Stevens "the ends justify the means" letter I got recently from a reader.

"Good Morning John,

The news that one of the Generals of Fish Rationalization has fallen is great news and might be a very important sign that the needs of a greedy few don't outweigh the rest of Alaska. Like many stories about Alaska's ethically challenged Father and Son team of corruption, the reason for dropping out of the Senate race given by Ben is questionable. Considering the forthcoming scandals; regarding Adak, taking unreported stock options from Enstar while he was supposedly representing all Alaskans' interest in a fair gas pipeline bill, are we now to believe that a few weeks after filing to run, he has decided that 120 days is too much time away from his children? What about other unreported stock options and cash bonuses? Are they that big that it will shock people into action?
Or is it after numerous (pitifully small) fines for willful non-reporting he now realizes it will all unravel? Notice the attempt to bring the kids into it, who can argue with that?

But do not cry for poor Ben, as the headlines of missile launches are all over the news, and as his father says "we will shoot them down." Rest assured he is well taken care of by Aleut Corp's cash cow of leasing dock space, obtained for free from the Navy, back to the Navy's missile radar boat. Seems like the Navy's scrapping of Adak was bad idea. One has to wonder, when they were building this huge boat many years ago, where was it going to go?

Ted is Alaska's "smartest" senator; supposedly a leading visionary of defense issues, and advocate of big weapons systems, large defense contracts, missile launching in Kodiak, moving Coast Guard from Seattle, and of course the big base improvements in Alaska. (ex: Ted wrote letters to Generals threatening them if they stopped using his then-partner John Rubieni on a $400,000,000 base renovation in Anchorage.) So why did he let Adak be shut down without a word? Why did we not hear of Ted putting on his Hulk tie to stop the Navy's closing a $3,000,000,000 base? Is it that if his son is going to profit, then anything or any behavior is acceptable? Even if it means destroying 3 billion dollars of tax payers' toil, while putting Alaska and the rest of the country at risk?

To be fair, I looked hard for news about Ted Stevens making a case against closing this base, all over the net, back newspapers, etc, and all I could find was his stance against bases closing in Dillingham, Fairbanks, Anchorage, etc, not a peep about Adak (except for his involvement in changing the laws to give fish to his son's company in Adak, beneficiaries of the closed base.) Has the world suddenly changed? Do missiles now have different ways of flying without following Laws of Physics? Did Ted think North Korea was going to change into a friendly country?

One has to wonder, after his asinine speech about the changes needed to the Internet, what exactly Ted knows. I do know that he knows a lot more about the Internet than he does about the Fishing Industry, which isn't much.

The Internet, fishing Ratz and Ted Stevens actually have more linkages than you might think. Ted claimed big problems in the fishing industry which did not exist, which he had to solve by turning the free enterprise system upside down, and giving the rights to own fish to a billion dollar company that flew him and his family around in a Falcon jet and had his son Ben on the dole. Now we find him claiming that "the internet tubes are clogged up." And although the access to high speed web is rapidly getting better just about everwhere, without goverment inteference, this is all going to hell if Ted does not change the laws to allow his Comcast buddy to start charging for services that should be free. Maybe the internet is just fine, and maybe what changed is that Comcast's Mr. Roberts is now flying him around in a Falcon Jet for the Ted Stevens Foundation. Just like last years' big event at El Capitan Lodge in Southeast Alaska where countless CEO's of only the biggest companies showed up to "honor" Ted.
I guess some qualty time fishing with Roberts allowed him to explain "clogged tubes." Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafoods [$700,000,000 annual sales] was also there with his Falcon 50 jet, but I guess Comcast [$5,600,000,000 sales in 2005 & profits up 64%] was much fancier. Comcast also has a Gulfstream IV and a nice Beaver on floats.

When a bully like Ted can hold kangaroo court hearings with hand-picked guests, with carefully predetermined testimony, he can and has created "problems" that he then solves by middle-of-the night, non-debated changes in laws which rip at the very core of being an Alaskan. Fortunately it is a different world where Ted has to stand up in front of his colleagues, and in front of the public, and try to explain these non-existent problems. Imagine the damage he has done in 20 years of addressing the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, cloaking his statements with double talk about the harm the fish resource will sustain if such and such doesn't happen. Can he now do that with people who use the internet? I don't know a single person who believes that an email (or an "internet" to use his words) will be delayed because unrelated internet users are downloading a movie.

His son is gone, let's retire this guy too."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bottom trawling: Always a good choice. Not

All you have to do in these days is say, "efficiency is better for fisheries" and ya got their attention. Just like the Atlantic salmon folks say their product is "organic." And then there's, "Always a good choice" when you're buying a six-pack of Samuel Adams. Then you mix and match terms and thrown in "rationalization' and ya have Fisheries Management 101.

I always wondered what kind of salt-water fish might be under this waterfall in Cascade Bay on Baranof Island.

The point is that you got fishermen in the South Atlantic fishing black sea bass, a rockfish-like fish, with pots. Then you have the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council saying you need "canyon buster" trawls to smoothe out the ocean floor and catch the same kind of fish, Pacific ocean perch. That's really generalized, but you get the idea. It's just that the big money boys, the "billion dollar boys" like Ted Stevens calls them, want to use aircraft carriers to harvest them in one swipe before anyone else can get a crack at them.

I remember a Japanese technician telling me about being on a trawler off Africa going after octopus. They would use this incredibly heavy duty chain mesh trawl and drag up the whole bottom practically. They would dump a small mountain of boulders on deck and then after a few minutes all these octopi would come crawling out and turn the deck red with their numbers. Great way to get octopus, but raises heck with the forest down there.

I gotta hand it to the NPFMC, they didn't pass a law to get out of closing trawling the coral forests in the Aleutians. Must not have been much down there to give up.(Any more, you pretty much have to sue them to get them to do anything right.) Remember, these federal fisheries management councils are not elected.(That's the problem.) They are hand picked, by you guessed it, the biggest players in the fishing business. And what do they like to do most? Catch lots of fish. That doesn't include letting anybody else catch them, even if they can stop short of overharvesting them, but that could change.

The South Atlantic Council may only have a 58% success rate in keeping fish stocks healthy, but the North Pacific Council has fished the tar out of 12% of their stocks. And look how much they get ballyhooed as to how great a job they are doing. A veritable "Age of Reason" like the one they had in France. Although the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had a lot to do with it.

Well, the real point is about using pots for bottom dwelling fish species. There are a zillion kinds of fish traps that keep the catch alive until you can inspect them; see if you got the right ones, if they are the right size, etc. And the traps/pots can be strung on a longline. They can catch all the fish you can imagine. One time a Japanese financed king crab boat geared up to longline blackcod pots in the Gulf of Alaska. It caught almost the entire quota for the whole fleet before the weather got good enough for the Alaskan traditional fleet. They outlaw pots, but allow trawls? Then they have this huge bycatch problem that threatens the whole ecosystem?

"The amendment also changes the fishing year to June 1-May 31 and requires at least a 2 inch mesh for the back panel of sea bass pots and removal of all black sea bass pots from the water once the quota is met."

That sounds good to me. Why can't fishermen use the same strategy in Alaska? A point of order today, I won't be able to print the e-mail I got in defense of the Thorstensens from a fisherman. The fisherman slid into the fishing business way too easily with Icicle management's help. I did, however, check around and couldn't find anything to support my notion that Icicle Seafoods paid anyone in stock for fish. I'll let everything else stand. After all, the founder of Icicle implied just last summer that it was cheating to build another cold storage for fishermen in Petersburg with grant funds. "I just want to make sure the playing field is level."

He's the one who refused to buy gillnet herring from some fishermen this spring, so they were stuck without a market. (In fact, one of those fishermen helped us pioneer the fishery to begin with.) When I was buying gillnet herring in the infancy of the fishery, I bought from everyone, without a thought as to who was loyal to who. Some of those guys I think got permits based on those deliveries. The Thorstensens have made millions off of the aforementioned. If you aren't for the fishermen, you're against them. I have to hand it to the "defender of the Viking Ship Logo" though, he bailed out of Bristol Bay because he didn't like being around the ramming on the Egegik line.

Back to fisheries management, Congress could have "instructed" (lol) the North Pacific Council to study other fishing methods as well. God forbid that Alaskans would have a chance to gear up their boats to have a crack at the Pacific Ocean Perch. Not to mention use a method to catch them so they could discard the black cod, halibut and scores of other species of slow growing fish alive, and not tear up the ecology of the bottom as well. It's no wonder the public is working through environmental groups to buy out the trawlers in California. The fishery managers (the billion dollar boys and federal recipients of their largess) can't restrain themselves to do what has to be done.

One more point of order. The federal fisheries spin doctors are calling turning off the water to the Klamath river and killing off the big king salmon run just "water policy." Just to get a Republican Senator in Oregon elected. Then it became, "some people don't agree with our water policy." Pretty soon the spin doctors will be blaming the wiping out of the troll fleet on Bigfoot. Then, that it never even happened. Just as long as they don't have to admit their wrong doing, that's why NMFS doesn't want to help the trollers and the communities in Oregon and Calif. When you start down the "means justifies the ends" slippery slide, you don't know where it will end. Voters, pay attention. "Rationalization," "water policy," I'd like some readers to add to the list.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Congress is instructing us": Part II

McKie Campbell, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game Commissioner, didn't like what I said about him just having the job of defending a fraud on the fishermen and communities of Alaska. So I checked around about my statement that Congress is not in the least "instructing" him to privatize more fisheries. He is perfectly willing to abide his boss, Gov. Murkowski, in helping huge political donors on his own. Here's one response I got back.

"Hi John, happy 4th

Like I've said, McKie needs to learn how to read. Maybe you should send back his quote with the words "to determine whether rationalization is needed" in RED
Ask him if WHETHER means whether or NOT. How does he get DO IT from words like Examine and Whether?
Ask him for a copy of the Economic Analysis they were supposed to get to Congress "in a timely manner" (after all, it has only been nearly 6 years)
Ask him if Congress was supposed to then make a decision on whether or not to instruct NOAA to do the Rationalizations IF IF IF needed at all, IF IF IF economic analysis was done and indicated a need. Who was supposed to make the DECISION whether to do Ratz?
In short, it sounds like Congres did NOT order Ratz, but just analysis of potential Ratz schemes, and wanted some real Economic Data/Analysis to go on, with options. Where is it? Why did they proceed first on Crab Ratz instead of present a complete analysis to the Congress about all programs?
Did they follow the Regulatory Flexibility Act and interview many concerned/affected/to be affected businesses? (NO)
McKie is just being a butthead.
I'll leave it to you to take him on, just using the plain English of the Congressional Record of Dec. 15, 2000 (page HR12276) as it will be fun.

Antics by one Congressman (riders, motions, etc.) certainly don't constitute the pointed direction of Congress, even though they might have allowed it or couldn't stop it. These minute details bore the pants off a Congressman from Iowa anyway. Everyone just goes along with him, especially when he has a 'request for information' written up as law of the land. Then it's taken out of context and hailed as a mandate to do something and the public is none the wiser. I just say thank God this web site has given voice to a lot of people that never would have been heard otherwise. (Don't forget that great link in to the Kodiak radio station.)

Now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is using the same strategy that Commissioner Campbell is using. NOAA held a meeting June 26 in Kodiak to say there will be a private rockfish fishery, as long as they sell to designated, favored processing plants. (This doesn't even sound good on paper.) And that it will all start in early 2007. This isn't about jigging up a few red snappers, it's about giving favor to political allies to the tune of billions of pounds of Pacific ocean perch that have been reserved for such a give-away. The stock has built back up, finally, after the Japanese sent a huge fleet of factory trawlers over to wipe them out in the early '70s.

Another person I consulted on this said this is the same strategy the Murkowski administration uses when it quotes the United Fishermen of Alaska. Industry insiders know the UFA doesn't represent anyone except a few rich people, but they SAY they represent 23,000 fishermen. So with UFA fudging their numbers by a factor of one thousand, the administration can explain to the public that his fisheries policies are sound and based on the will of the fishermen. The governor gets his jet and trips to fishing resorts and the UFA leaders and some members get the competition whittled down.

95 % of the Kodiak folks opposed "rationalization." But you aren't required to read the Gettysburg Address to get a job in this kind of state and federal administration, or even believe in government "of the people, for the people and by the people." Why would Congress micro-manage all eight Regional Fishery Management Councils, down to the plan one part of one Region, and one particular species complex? They don't have the time by a long shot.

This morning I attended a great tribute to veterans, with children giving roses to men, some who had parachuted into Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Just about everyone will have to fight continually for their freedom. My last source for this piece implied how free I am, per Janice Joplin's definition of "nothing left to lose." The rest of the speech was about David and Goliath. Remember how it was the overconfident one who got his butt kicked. Part of the speech was about how this nation is wounded. "Congress is instructing us" is another one of those wounds, but you have to fight for the healing.