Monday, February 19, 2007

The Alaska fish wars come to Portland

These meetings, to divvy up the fish in the North Pacific, seem to be in places that Alaska fishermen can't get to easily. They should stop the pretense and just have them in the Bahamas. The Council members are mostly lobbyists and their bosses can certainly afford to send them anywhere.

Keep an eye on this emerging pillar of integrity in the North Pacific fishing business - Shawn Dochtermann

It's pretty hard for the uninitiated to keep up with the blow-by-blow of Council business, and it's been some years since I frequented these meetings. It's easy to pick up on real obvious low blows however. Like some crab ratz lobbyist holding up four fingers to imply that that was how many discontented crews there were when the crab were given to the investors. One of the most impressive mix and match statistics shufflings I've seen.

The Governor of Alaska and the Institute for Social and Economic Research must surely be mistaken by saying 1350 crew lost their jobs. The job losses in the communities go far beyond that of course. A fleet owner from Kodiak testified that the number is conservatively well above 900 lost crew jobs. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference highlighted these ambiguities and their effects on fisheries policy making recently on their website.

And we all heard the crab guy say that crewmen were losers for not wanting to go back and risk their lives again for pennies on their previous dollars. The question was put before the Council as to what they are going to do about such obvious perjurious testimony. People that sign up to testify swear to tell the truth. Was that snoring I heard from NOAA Counsel? I don't know if this kind of thing opens the Council up to further threat of lawsuit or not.

And I heard that "Pacific cod HAVE to be caught by trawls when they school up." Another lobbyist saying that his trawler bosses want to convince everyone that they hold the Holy Grail of fishing methods. In actuality, this would be a devastating management tool, as the brood stock would be hammered. It is possible to catch all the cod with pots selectively at other times of year, AND to prevent massive by-catch of other species. After all, two big Japanese financed pot boats cleaned up almost all the Gulf black-cod quota one winter by themselves, in a very short time. You just can't make up this stuff.

In more of a show-and-tell vein, here's Shawn's testimony.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council

180th Plenary Session – February 5-13, 2007

Public Comment re: D-2 BSAI Crab

By: Mr. Shawn C. Dochtermann, Kodiak, Alaska 99615, Tel: (907)486-5749

Mr. Secretary, Madame Chair, Council members, and Honorable United States Citizens,

My name is Shawn Dochtermann. I am here representing the Fish Heads; an organization representing fishermen, their families and coastal communities. We’re here to address multiple concerns about Bering Sea/ Aleutian Islands crab rationalization.

  1. The question of whether the NPFMC had the authority to create a program as specified by the Congressional record.
  2. Whether the proper economic analysis of the impacts of all the options on communities, processors and fishing fleets were done in a timely manner.
  3. The claims of improved economic conditions for all sectors of the industry.
  4. The claims that the council designed a program that was fair and equitable, and that would protect the interests of all those that depend on the BSAI crab fisheries.

The Congressional Record dated December 15, 2000 Pages H12276-79

SEC. 144 (a) The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1801 et. seq.) as ammended--

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council shall examine the fisheries under its jurisdiction, particularly the Gulf of Alaska groundfish and the Bering Sea crab fisheries, to determine whether rationalization is needed. In particular, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council shall analyze individual fishing quotas, processor quotas, cooperatives, and quotas held by communities. The analysis should include an economic analysis of the impact of all options on communities and processo rs as well as the fishing fleets. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council shall present all its analysis to the appropriations and authorizing committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives in a timely manner.

The council was asked to determine whether rationalization was needed for the Bering Sea crab fishery. They were then asked to analyze IFQs, PQs, Co-ops, and quota held by communities. Then the council was mandated to present all its analysis to the authorizing committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

  1. There was no mention of the Aleutian Island crab fishery.
  2. There was no mention that the council had authorization to submit only a preferred alternative.
  3. It was clear that the mandate was to present all the analysis on BS crab rationalization, which never did occur.

I’m going to quote from a letter written to congress from the chairman, Dave Benton, of the NPFMC, as of August 5, 2002.

“The council recently completed an analysis of rationalization alternatives for the BSAI crab fisheries as requested by Congress.”

The final EISs were not available until late 2004. This was not in accordance with the mandate of which the Congress requested.

“Rationalization will improve economic conditions substantially, for all sectors of the crab industry.”

“Allocations of harvest shares would be made to harvesters, communities, and captains.”

Next I will refer to the Minority Report of the Advisory Panel, dated June 2002 Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The multi-sector effort was undertaken to provide a viable alternative to the two-pie proposal. The motion offered was flatly rejected by the processing sector.

"The minority feels the IPQs will:

  • Un-necessarily complicate management of the crab fishery
  • Create a highly segmented market, negatively impacting competition and prices
  • Contribute nothing to achieve resource conservation goals
  • Artificially allocate market shares
  • Turn fishermen into a commodity, extinguishing market freedom
  • Constitute economic protections rather than rationalization
  • Accelerate irreversible consolidation
  • Undermine the ability of Kodiak and other communities to benefit from rationalization
  • Allocate public fishery resource control to the foreign corporations"

Here the council had a minority report that predicted all the ills of crab ratz, and now the ugly head of the beast has arisen . We’re sitting in this room today with vessels that can’t go out and prosecute the Opilio fishery or even make a delivery until March and probably April. This council, the Department of Commerce, Ted Stevens, and the Congress are all responsible for halting the natural progression of commerce in the Bering Sea crab fisheries.

You have allowed the very basic properties of the problem statement to be broken. Trident, Unisea, Icicle and Snopac have been given special rights to not process in the Northern region and this violently goes against the community protections that this program was first based on.

The city of King Cove has been devastated by the onslaught of crab rationalization. The new boat harbor that was built is almost empty year round. The pot hauling business has 6 or 7 boats now, versus 60-70 boats, to haul gear for. The stores have lost about 90% of their crab food orders and crew gear buying sprees. Where were their protections?

In just two years we’ve seen a dramatic decline in prices of king and opilio crab. Binding arbitration is like negotiating over a cow after the product has been processed through the sewer plant. IPQs have given the processors the overall control of the price making mechanism. There is no comparable uncontrollable price as the crab market is controlled by a cartel that you have created. IPQs violate antitrust laws of this country. The Council, of their own volition, can change the extreme distress to the industry. I would appreciate it if all of you would move to make a motion to remove IPQs from crab rationalization forthwith, to let the free market operate as it has since this country gained its independence.

The fishermen, the actual harvesters, were given nothing, I will repeat, nothing, for our life- risking services. Without crew, not one single crab would have been hauled aboard, sorted for legal size, put in the holding tanks, and brought to the dock and unloaded. We work in some of the most adverse conditions in the world and all this council came up was “it was too hard to figure out who the crews were,” as spoken by Dr. Earl Kreiger. There are such things as crew contracts, vessel logs, and 1099s that the boat owners retain, so I beg to differ. The most interesting fact that will need to be dealt with in the very near future is that there is no definition for “fishermen” in the MSA. But the council decided to allocate quota without a definition.

Well, I’ll tell you what a fisherman is: a person that puts on his boots, goes down to the dock, prepares his boat and gear, and actually goes to the fishing grounds and prosecutes a fishery, then returns to port and delivers his catch. This council gave all the fishing rights to investors, not to the true harvesters, except the pittance of 3% of allocations to the skippers/captains.

I will repeat, as I have previously spoke to this council, that they have disregarded Sec. 600 .325, National Standard #4, Allocation. "If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among various U.S fishermen, such allocations shall be:"

"(1) Fair and and equitable to all such fishermen"

"(2) Reasonably calculated to promote conservation"

"(3) Carried out in such a manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquire an excessive share of such privileges"

The crab allocations were not fair and equitably distributed to the crewmen and if this council will not make provisions in the future for crewmen allocations we will have no other choice but to seek judicial review.

A letter of update to the Congress from the NPFMC, April 2003: Additional Provisions

“A program that would allocate a portion of each fishery for the exclusive use of captains and crew”

So where is it? The so-called program for crew to purchase quota is devoid, as there is no money appropriated for the program. Why should the crewmen that worked for 5, 10, or even 20 years, such as myself, have to purchase the public resource that was given to investor/boat owners. For the 3 year review, we expect this council to initiate a motion for a discussion paper from the staff on the redistribution of crab quotas to crews, with a guild system built in, so that there is a viable future for crab fishermen, AKA Crewmen.

I would appreciate it if this council would take careful consideration of my comments. Many professional crewmen did exist before crab rationalization and are now out of work and would like to participate in the Bering Sea crab fishery. They will not work for peanuts, which is how the majority of the vessels/co-ops are paying, because of the intolerable lease fees as the result of crab rationalization.