Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shipping fish live and other industry assists

Alaskan fishermen could have used a good way to ship fish live a long time ago. They need to start doing research on these things themselves, since nobody else is going to do it for them. There are a number of technology applications like this one that could be helping raise fish prices. ("Let it be known in the fishing world that the Philippines has now developed a technology for waterless transport of live fish, a method that will revolutionize the way we normally handle fish after harvest," said then Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo.)

Ain't technology great. On this occasion, this fish finder was just telling us that the steelies were swimming right past our Planer-deployed luhr.

The only way fishermen are going to achieve critical mass to do the research is with RSDAs. Just as an experiment, lets look at news articles on fisheries and see if the bad news of the day couldn't be solved with a true "producers association." Alaska has used the "processors association" approach up to now and has resulted in mega loss of opportunity and low fish prices.

I heard about live shipping methods before, just that nobody got into it much. Those could have been funky methods, like carrying the fish in a baggy of water. But the new method could be a way out for fishermen to send their fish to a processor in the Lower 48 instead of getting jacked by a processor in Alaska. They could just fly 'em to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and truck 'em from there or some such.

The company in Anchorage I talked to that flys DC-3s says he doesn't do fish because the guys don't pay. When I went to Juneau to run a processing plant, most of the fishermen had sent fish south on their own account, but got stiffed by the buyers down there. Personally, I believe if paid business folk were running the Regional Seafood Development Associations, you would avoid these problems. Then you might get some cargo carriers interested in coming to Alaska for fish.

Here's something I reported on before, regarding losing waterfront for commercial fishing uses. And not only Maine is worried about it, North Carolina is too, and Georgia. N.C. has lost 33% of it's fish houses since 2001. Some of that can't be helped by any amount of grant and tax relief help. Privatization of the fisheries resources, that has spread like the plague, consolidates the industry.

I saw this site before, and even called them, about their involvement in fishermen hooking up themselves. None. But then after looking at the offerings of the organization in product development and marketing, it seemed that the RSDAs in Alaska might want to send their board members here for a jump-start.

And there are more ideas for Bristol Bay to consider:

"Dear John,

I have been reading your column for some time and appreciate the content and issues you present. I would like to comment on the recent letters about permit stacking in Bristol Bay. I started fishing in Bristol Bay in 1976, at that point I believe there was approximately 1250 Drift Permits in the bay. I have a different perspective on the Bristol Bay permit stacking than the letter expressed in your most recent posting.

I don’t believe stacking is the answer for our fishery, nor do I believe that there should be a difference in the same permits for the same fishery. The second permit allows for using less gear than the first. It seems to me that it is against the law and intent of limited entry. A portion of the fishermen in the Bay support the idea, however many of us do not.

The way I see it the State of Alaska is responsible for the problem of “too many permits” by having continued to issue new permits over the years. I believe there are now close to 1850 permits. I don’t understand why I should have to invest more money into this fishery to be competitive and to receive the production based price incentive, and potentially over-capitalize when the BOF or ADFG can continue to change the rules and leave us to buy ourselves out. The state should buy those extra permits back, because at any time they can sure reissue them.

After years of emphasizing quality we are now faced with production as the driving force for our fish price. The processors know they will get the fish regardless of how many fishermen there are. By controlling the market and forcing our participation in poundage bonus it leaves me disgusted that if I have fewer fish of higher quality they are worth less money than high volumes of lower quality fish.

Anybody been to TOGIAK lately? The buyers say the herring are not worth anything, yet do us a favor by “taking them” for us as a “favor’. So we can fish for NOTHING? Yet if I don’t produce high enough salmon volume I don’t even have a chance for the market if I do want to fish for low prices. How about SE Alaska? Fishermen there with no markets because they won’t let outside markets in to buy the fish.

If Eric Sabo is correct, when he stated the optimum number is 1200 permits, and I believe there are 1850 currently, then if 650 fishing vessels have dual permits, that leaves 550 fishing vessels without? Or do we split the 550 and have a total of 925 drift permits. Sounds pretty good, until we can’t harvest the run. In the past four years Bristol Bay has left quite a few harvestable fish on the table (over-escapement). HELLO is any body HOME. We all have seen the day when 3, 4, or 5 million fish can be harvested in one day, and we did it with 3 shackles of gear.

There is a quote that I have heard many times, it says, “United we Stand, Divided we fall.” Stacking permits is Division. It is leading to more market control for the processors. Allocation to limited entry permits is WRONG. ASK the Governor to let outside markets into The State of Alaska. What about NAFTA? LET the RSDA have a chance. Believe in your product. And last of all if 300 million Americans wanted 8 ounces of Sockeye Salmon tonight for dinner, who would supply them?
Darryl Pope"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

M/V Eastern Wind

With this title you might think I'm referring to Congressional ethics seeping into our Western institutions. Such is not the case, here anyway. Actually it refers to a vessel I took a picture of at Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle that I thought was a trawler when looking through my pics of boats. I even used it on previous occasions to illustrate how big the trawlers are in the North Pacific Ocean. Turns out this vessel never was a trawler. It is a freight boat and is currently stuck in the Bering Sea ice pack per this news snippet today:

"Two ships, the 356-foot crab processor Independence and a freighter called the Eastern Wind, also are hung in the ice, Pitzman said. (In addition to the two crab boats.)

The crab boats deliver their catches to the Independence for processing. The ship is owned by Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp. and can carry a crew of 235, although it wasn't known Wednesday how many people were aboard."

Of course you can't tell it's a trawler from this view unless you knew the boat or could remember what the stern looked like, which I couldn't. Lots of trawlers up there are bigger than this ship.The big ones, that pull nets with openings the size of football fields, can't fit in the float system I was standing on when I took the picture.

I like to use material from folks that have "been there-done that" so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself so much. Here's one account of the M/V Eastern Wind. It's easy to get into the whole boat culture thing when in the seafood industry, but I'd also like to salt my articles with letters about old-timers in the industry. I wonder if pioneers of the industry would rather have their exploits written about or how they "Crossed the Bar," as they say in Oregon.

Maybe I got on the subject of wanting stuff on the old-timers from an experience with an aging relative and former LA Rhinos team captain over Christmas. I said a few words to him and he spread his long football-playing arms, palms up, and seemingly gazed into heaven. He died smiling the next day and trying to get me to talk to his roommate at the VA hospital in Loma Linda, CA. Anyway, send some favorite stories too and I'll share 'em with the folks if I can get 'em in.

"Mr. Enge,

That’s no trawler on your ‘blog – the Eastern Wind was built as a freight tramper for Arctic Alaska to add to its fleet to show off how well vertically-integrated the firm was so as to pretty itself up for the ill-fated Tyson buyout. If memory serves, although the appearance helped charm Don Tyson enough to open his wallet, the boat never really penciled out and kicked around Ballard looking for a home for years. I think Coastal Transportation operated it for a while, but found it too small to fit its needs. I have no idea where it is now, but seriously doubt anyone would press it into service as a trawler in these days of license limitation and vessel buyback programs – there are much better pieces of steel to run.

I should add that my correction is based on dock talk from years kicking around the Ballard waterfront. I was not involved with the Eastern Wind or its management. While I believe my characterization of the Arctic Alaska/Tyson history as accurate, I cannot substantiate it. Nonetheless, a review of the NMFS Federal Fisheries Permit list reveals that the vessel is owned by Trident Seafoods Corporation. Trident became a successor to many of the boats in the Tyson fleet, including several trawlers. However, the vessel is licensed as a fisheries support vessel, and is not licensed for any directed fishing."

The point of my talking about trawlers all the time is that nobody knows what they are catching out there. Just what kind of fish are in the boxes they bring in, not what they throw back. We would probably be sickened by the tens of millions of pounds of high value fish they throw back dead. That's why Canada requires 100% video monitoring or observers on all trawlers there. I think I heard that the observer coverage is less than 3% in the Gulf of Alaska.

The new administration in Alaska is right to ask the North Pacific Council to stop it's privatizing of the Gulf. The Council hasn't been displaying the restraint necessary to prove that the ecosystem is all that important to them. Those big bottom trawlers can do a lot of damage in a hurry trying to fill their holds with allowed species of fish, even when a big percentage of the catch is prohibited. You can't be fish managers if you don't know what is being caught.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Trawlers lose skirmish with courts

The war for the ecology of the North Pacific fishing grounds roars on back East. Major trawl companies just lost a skirmish with the courts over Amendment 79. Right now, they can throw back 35% of their catch dead, and you know they are high valued species that other fishermen are supposed to catch.

I gotta go get some more trawler pics. I'm going to wear this one out. I offered to meet some trawlers, that wanted to talk to me, on one of their boats for a trip, but they never got back with me.

On the West Coast it's the big processing company, Pacific Group, that is trying to stick it to the little guys. They dropped the price for sole from $1.00 a pound to $.65 without any warning. Everybody tied up after that. Guys that didn't belong to the marketing group, suddenly saw the light.

And we have here a report that a report("Conserving Alaska's Oceans") was reported by a reporting group. If you don't remember any of this, just remember that it's supposed to be really high-falut'in and that North Pacific fisheries managers are admonished to respect the ecology. Which is a little odd considering the report praised the NPFMC in another breath. Which is it, praise or admonishment? We know there isn't even a bycatch limit on the amount of salmon trawlers can catch and discard. We know it's in the hundreds of thousands and lots of them are kings, which the Lower 48 is trying to keep from going extinct in their streams. Then there's the maybe 18 million pounds of halibut the trawlers discard.

Since there is a new round of meetings of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in Anchorage, I'm including a testimony from a fisherman that takes some considerable exception to what's go'in down. The new Governor takes considerable exception to a lot of what the Council is doing too and has asked it to not even talk about any plans for the Gulf of Alaska fisheries until fall. They have plenty to do to fix the mess they made of the Bering Sea fisheries anyway.

The Guv wants a chance to get up to speed on the issues, even get some fisheries people around her. Makes sense, Rome wasn't built in a day. We're going to support the authority that the voters put in power. My son does it all the time, especially as he starts providing rapid response back-up to the 1st Cav. in Baghdad next month. One reader says I chew nails, heck, I chew grapes compared to Sergeant Enge.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council 181st Plenary Session
Advisory Panel
Re: C-2 GOA Groundfish Management
Public Testimony: Alaska Jig Association
March 26, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Advisory Panel,

I’m Steve Mathieu President of the Alaska Jig Association a commercial fisherman from Kodiak. I own a 32’ Bristol bay gillnetter and have spent the last 24 years drift gillnetting in Bristol Bay. I have fished halibut since 1979 and have 18 years jig fishing around the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak. I’m here representing the Alaska Jig Association.

Once again we are sitting before this body and we have concerns about how this process is being handled. The new problem statement for GOA cod sector split and latent license removal was not available to us until 8am today. Though to come prepared to speak on this new problem statement, we would have needed to receive this brief weeks earlier, so that our organization could review and make recommendations.

The first problem that should be of concern to fishermen and coastal communities is that of diminishing stocks of cod and pollock in the GOA. We as jig fishermen follow the trends of cod and rockfish, as these fisheries are a substantial amount of our yearly income.

Next there has been a rush to rationalize or change the FMP for the GOA groundfish fisheries, but no one has submitted a problem statement that really address the problems of all of the gear groups with over 27 different species to be addressed. We want to help the process by putting these issues on the table and then giving solutions that best address the problems.

· Lack of Observer Coverage to help get a baseline of data, as only 2.8% of total catch was observed in the CG of the GOA in 2006. This percentage is so low that even members of the NPFMC have admitted that there is a problem, as well as 3 sitting AP members in this room.

(AP members: 1.Duncan Fields, 2.Matt Moir, 3. Bob Gunderson, & Al Burch: April 2006 pre-council meeting)

· Bycatch reduction for those gear groups that use indiscriminate catch methods (with higher bycatch) to bring in fish for a directed fishery. .

· The directed Cod fishery should be taken by the gear groups that promote the use of gear with verifiable and monitored low bycatch, and those who harvest fish in a manner that produce a higher value product.

· Entry level opportunities are at an all time low due to IFQs. There is an inverse affect on crewmen’s compensation compared to quota owners’ leases. I.E.: Investor BS crab boat owners extracting exorbitant rents for crab quotas, while deckhands are paid peanuts.

· Communities are dependent on cod for local incomes, especially for vessels 60 and under.

· Incomplete comprehensive stakeholder representation, as well as a process that is not a two way dialogue as mentioned by GAO report # GAO 6-289 on Core Principals and Strategy Approach.

· AFA sideboards have allowed trawl vessels that are non-AFA to cross into the GOA to double dip which takes away TAC from the local trawl fleet.

· Privatization of the fisheries has proven to make big winners and big losers, and the communities are the ones taking it in the shorts.

· If quota allocations are distributed they should be from the directed fishery only, as bycatch should be penalized not rewarded.

We’ve made a list of possible solutions for the given bullet points:

· Increased Observer Coverage for the GOA groundfish fishery, with 33% of the fleets having 365days/or total days at sea coverage in a calendar year and rotating every 3 years. This would enable the whole fleet to give wider band of data with a continued baseline of information. This program could be funded by landing taxes, by NMFS appropriations from Congress, and conservation organizations backing.

· Bycatch reduction can be achieved by increased observation, trawl web size, total net dimensions, size of doors, decreased time length of tows, vessel horsepower limits.

· Increase percentages of the TAC for the fixed gear fleets since they can validly state that they have lower bycatch than the trawl fleet. AS we’ve stated before the jig fleet as almost no footprint on fish habitat and some of the lowest bycatch numbers and almost zero mortality in the groundfish fisheries.

· To provide for entry opportunity a crewmen’s cooperative could be set up. A percentage of the TAC could be allocated to the co-op.

· Possible allocation for communities to form a small vessel cooperative. The community vessel cooperative could retain a portion of the TAC for groundfish.

· If allocations are distributed, they should be fair and equitable to the skipper/crewmen, coastal communities, small vessels and large vessels to protect all of the entities equities and futures and resources’ sustainability.

· It will be necessary to change the approach with stakeholder input, so that there always a two way dialogue, so all participants can be involved in the decision making in the council process for FMP changes.

· AFA sideboards could be modified to allow trawlers to be superexclusive in the GOA.

· If allocations are distributed they should be for directed catch only, bycatch should not be allocated.

The MSA was created to protect fish stocks, habitat and their sustainability. We have provided many solutions to the evident problems of the GOA groundfish fisheries. The NPFMC and the AP has never even ventured into the Bycatch Mitigation Toolbox, and we request that you do so to provide viable solutions. We’re responsible to provide future generations the opportunity to enter into the fisheries with as much confidence as we had.

Steve Mathieu
President-Alaska Jig Association
F/V Kahuna
Kodiak, AK

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bristol Bay fishermen to swim upstream

The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon gillnet fisheries, (there are two), have evolved considerably since the 1800s. Sailing ships full of Chinese laborers and supplies used to come to the Bay in the spring in a fleet. The canning companies owned the open sail boats that harvested the fish. Then when Alaska became a state, engines were allowed but the length of the net and the boat were limited.

National Geographic Channel photo; They should have named the new reality show, "Fishery gone Wild."

Then in the early '70s the number of permits to fish were limited and the imperative a cannery had to own a fleet of fishing boats vanished. The fishermen were now the owners of the fish, at least for a couple of hours. That's made the processing/marketing companies nervous ever since. And don't forget to watch the new National Geographic reality show, "Cowboys of the Sea," starting April 16th at 7 pm in Alaska (Thanks to Shawn Dochtermann for the heads-up).

Somehow the number of permits has crept up considerably to where most people think there are way too many. But I don't know of anyone who thinks that "I'm in the "too many."" Some people think that "permit stacking" causes fishermen to eat each other up. And that the processors fuel this by only offering production bonuses as they sell the pack, when they really need to be offering quality bonuses to improve the product.

That would in turn give fishermen that try hard to deliver a top QUALITY fish, and build for the future, the extra money to make selling out not necessary. These processing companies wield the power on the Board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. So with this structure, the State of Alaska is basically saying quality doesn't matter. Why is it that the breakthrough in air freighting salmon couldn't have come from the State's Fisheries Industrial Technology Center? Unless the state bureaucracy(ASMI) and the co-joined major processors don't really care what fishermen get for their catch. (Why is it that the Executive Director of ASMI, a retired Coast Guardsman and golfing partner of the husband of the former Ex. Director, needs to be on the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board? It has been a conduit for tens of millions of dollars of federal money to flow directly to the processing companies that control the Board of ASMI.)

Now to top it all off, a House Bill seems intent on allowing all kinds of machinations that would cause many more Bristol Bay boats to stay tied up. I haven't worked in that fishery since 1970 when the canneries started paying by the pound instead of the fish. But I know that if you reduce the heck out of the fleet, that region that is hard pressed as it is, won't be more than ghost towns on the edge of the tundra. Except for the mega-processing plants with their flown-in labor force.

All these attempts to engineer a perfect fishery miss some basic points; they don't take into account how the people in the region would like to live, and what kind of organization fishermen really need to be profitable to assist in that endeavor. Up to now, nobody has complained much that the canneries in Bristol Bay ran everyone's lives. A fishermen out there didn't have to invest a cent until the '70s.

The Limited Entry Act changed the dynamic forever. Aggressive young fishermen from all over the place got easy credit from the State and purchased permits for hundreds of thousands of dollars from people that got them free. But the Japanese market was heating up and it penciled out. Now the Japanese market is cool and fishermen want to increase their production, since they can't see an expedient way to get any more money for a pound of fish.

In this climate, the aggressive and well financed fishermen will continue to seek less competition and more production for themselves. The fishery managers and cannery managers will have fewer fishermen to deal with, which lowers their costs. Everyone is happy, right? Not quite. There's nothing to stop the next round of consolidation when the processors drop the price to pay for another Chilean fish farm, or the price of fuel goes to $5 a gallon.

Those that know me, know I'm leading this little dissertation toward the need for a good Regional Seafood Development Association. Under enabling legislation, an RSDA did come together in Bristol Bay, for the drift gillnetters, not the set gillnetters. Of course the drift-netters catch the lions share of the fish.

It's the ultimate solution, and here's what you do when your RSDA doesn't perform the way it should. There may be an RSDA in the Bristol Bay now, but to send it down the runway with enough speed to take off is another matter. Holding it back are the processors, of course, who see fishermen as strong like a circus bear, but tragi-comic in their captivity. Then you have the labyrinth of economic development organizations who love the attention, but never solve the problem.

Keeping in mind that fishermen hardly ever agree on anything, which is why Florida orange growers got their "association" going in the 1930s and Alaskan fishermen still haven't pulled it off. The cranberry growers in the above hyperlinked article got it together and created Ocean Spray and have a plan for the low prices they get at present.

I'm also reminded of when I was put in charge of a "Fisheries Discovery Task Force" of loan officers at a fisheries bank. There had never been a forum for them, so immediately an incredible number of issues surfaced. I have a feeling a lot more issues are going to surface in the Bay, and all over Alaska, before this is over. Hopefully the B.B. RSDA can take over this discussion at some point and become the change agent that most people would like it to be. The current is against them, but hopefully they'll remember that only dead fish swim with the current.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

HB 188 and one Bay it TRIED to target

First of all, we see HB 188 collapsing around the ears of whoever wrote it. I won't speculate on the reasons it was written, you can read somebody's reasoning in one of these memos. It's just a little tragi-comic that someone would charge ahead so half-cocked. I'm just a little miffed that the author would presume to use unsubstantiated past intent as "proof."

This gillnet caught sockeye is being bled like they do in other meat processing industries. Unfortunately, very little of it is being done in Alaska fisheries. B.B. processors paid bonuses on production only last year, none on bleeding or chilling.

Those memos from the legal beagles in the Administration speak for themselves, so I'll just shift to a letter sent in from Erick Sabo, a man-with-a-plan type Bristol Bay fisherman:


I read your most recent posting on the Alaska Report this morning (March 21st) and am
compelled to respond to the letter quoted in the piece critical of the proposals for
permit stacking in Bristol Bay. For those unfamiliar with the issue of Bristol Bay
permit stacking proposals submitted to the board in December (of which I made one of
several similar proposals), it would basically allow a person to hold and fish two
permits with the advantage of being able to fish another 50 fathoms of net.

Also, I realize everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but I wanted to offer
some comments because I think the writer’s understanding of the court’s rulings
in the Gunert cases is flawed. Also, let me say that I am all for reigning in the
broad authority, power,and deference the Alaskan legislature has given the Board
of Fish.

For example, I strongly disagree with an administrative body being given the
power to promulgate misdemeanor level criminal regulations in the fisheries(with
consequent fines of up to approx. $10,000.00 and up to a year in jail)when there is
no requirement of criminal intent, or even criminal negligence. But that is another
topic for another day.

In my humble opinion,I think the BOF is often simply a
political body (constantly working favors and deals to better one group over
another) and as we see in recent news on the national level, when a governmental
agency is used for such political gain faith in government pays the price.

I re-read both Gunert opinions while working out on the stair machine this morning
before sitting back down to write you this note to you. Below is an explanation of
why I think the writer’s extrapolation of the Gunert rulings to the Bristol Bay
permit stacking proposals is misplaced.

First, he relies too heavily on the “single fishery” and the premise that the BOF
cannot allocate between groups “within” a single fishery. A review of the first
opinion shows that the majority of the court ruled against the Co-op on two basis:
(1) the BOF doesn’t have the power to allocate within a single fishery, and
(2) the Co-op was fundamentally at odds with the Limited Entry Act, which requires
personal participation by the permit holder.

My first observation is that the bulk
of the opinion is devoted to the latter issue, and thus, it is the main thrust of
the opinion. I think anyone serious about relying solely on the first issue (the
“single fishery” allocation issue), must carefully consider the dissenting opinion
written by Justice Carpeneti. As Justice Carpeneti explains, the majority is taking
a very, very narrow interpretation of that statutory language.

Moreover, the majority admit that the legislature (and possibly the CFEC, by
changing the geographic and administrative area) could easily change their reasoning
and ruling on this issue particular issue. Heck, the majority’s narrow read of
this made me wonder why the BOF is empowered and constantly allocating fishing time
and certain percentages of catch between two groups (drifters and setnetters) in the
single fishery known as Bristol Bay?

In sum, the “single fishery” argument is very weak. Second, and more significantly,
the permit stacking proposals to the BOF for Bristol Bay are entirely different than
the Chignik Co-op regulation approved by the BOF and considered by the court in
Gunert.. A comparison of such would be comparing apples to pumpkins. The most
important difference is the fact that the Alaskan Legislature, in passing HB 251
last year, specifically granted BOF the authority to assign additional fishing
privileges to persons who hold two commercial fishing entry permits in the same
salmon fishery. (Most of the proposals followed the lead of the BOF in recent years
proposing to allow an extra 50 fathoms of net on the double permitted boat)

As alluded to above, this legislative act completely undermines any reliance on an
argument that allowing permit stacking would violate the “single fishery” allocation
argument. Also of significant difference is the fact that the stacking proposals
before the BOF would not eliminate personal participation. In fact, I would argue
that the current stacking regulation (allowing another 50 fathoms on a single boat
only if two permit holders are on the boat) has created a demand for emergency
medical transfers (being offered or purchased on agreements for approximately 10% of
the boat’s catch).

This is encouraging folks with permits to take advantage of the medical transfer
process and the opportunity to not go fishing while getting a share of the
money. This is exactly what the court criticized about the Co-op in Gunert. The
current proposals for stacking (allowing a single fisherman to hold and fish two
permits) would eliminate that niche.

Finally, the permit stacking proposals before the BOF serve the Limited Entry Acts
purpose of achieving an optimal number of participants in the fishery, albeit
without any buyback mess or taxes imposed on other fisherman or citizens. As you
know the State has determined that the optimal number of Bristol Bay drift
permits/participants is 1200, thus we need to eliminate approximately 600 permits or
the equivalent effort.

I agree with the writer, the BOF’s inaction and delay in addressing the proposals
for stacking (by deferring the proposals to the Restructuring Committee) is
frustrating. As one of the proposers, I was told a letter would come from the BOF
to explain the process of getting my proposal considered by this committee.

Despite the assurances, I haven’t received a letter from the Board explaining what
happened to my proposal or any information to guide me to determine whether I need to
complete a new, more detailed proposal on the Restructuring Committee’s form or
if I should assume they will take it up on their own.

I have not seen any progress or action taken by this standing committee, and I hate
to say it, but I don’t believe any meaningful action will be taken until the next
three-year cycle.

It is especially frustrating when I don’t understand why the BOF is unwilling to
consider these issues in a more expedient manner when they could result in an
immediate reduction of effort (more fish for everyone)and hopefully more fish for
the double permitted boats too. Everyone would happier with a little more
opportunity for production, maybe some more moneyto spend on equipment and services
and possibly upgrades to boats to produce better quality fish.

The ability to catch more fish and make more money with a double permit is
especially salient given the fact that the processors paid up to a 12 cent bonus
based solely on production. (I wish they had just given an even slice of the pie to
everyone, rather than in this manner)

Anyhow, maybe one of these days we can all afford to put that CSW circulation and
refrigeration system safely on the boat. On second thought, maybe it is better to
wait until 2010 to sink any real money into the boat, just in case the BOF lifts
the 32 foot limit, which would allow me to really do a number on the boat to make
it a quality fish, shallow hold, flush deck, limited custom processing machine? I
wish they would consider these issues sooner.

Well, you sure know how to get a guy to think about fishing first thing in the
morning. I hope this is helpful.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gone Wild Alaska Seafood Marketing and Board of Fish

I don't know if us that love the way of life of the Alaskan coastal fishing village are just in a kettle of water like the proverbial frog, happy to be still swimming, but concerned that the water is starting to warm up. The folks that are watching legislative antics, and letting us know when they crank up the heat to try cook us, are doing a valuable service.

In honor of the Sitka Sound herring fishery going on now, a picture from bygone days there: I always imagined Gary Stevens of Wrangell, on the stern, thinking, "What have I corralled here anyway." There was enough to fill all three of our tenders.

Some bills are getting reworked already, such as the one to prevent sneezing within 100 yards of a Bristol Bay creek or river. Well, it wasn't quite that restrictive, but someone might need to build a new, modern seafood processing plant out there pretty soon to match market realities for a change.

We are still getting lots of mail from folks that are just livid over HB188 and it's attempt to give Nazi-like authority to the Board of Fish. Why do we keep seeing attempts to re-engineer the free enterprise system? If folks don't want to compete in an open market, they can go to Cuba.

We hope the new Administration is not stumbling, even though we understand it is occupied heavily with gas line matters. But we are only seeing a former taxidermist working on fisheries policy for the Governor and that's not acceptable. And you know the Board of Fish doesn't research anything.

We hear that it was the Department of Law and/or the Dept. of Fish and Game that came up with HB188 for "housekeeping purposes." Who put THEM up to it. They probably figured they couldn't be blamed if townfolk started shooting at each other in huge allocation struggles all over the state.

Here's a letter I got on the subject the other day:

"Hello John,

With your recent piece on HB 188, and this bill regarding the BOF’s continued attempts to allocate "within a single fishery,” and as such, ruled as illegal again in Grunert I, and rehashed and explained again by the Court in Grunert II.

Of course the other “single fishery” and illegal allocation issue that is in direct conflict with this ruling is the Bristol Bay Permit Stacking Regulations that currently allow one permit holder a 50 fathom shackle, and another fisher a 150 fathom shackle? Evidently the Courts writing;

“We note that the boards allocation of the harvestable salmon between the cooperative and the open fishers was potentially arbitrary and capricious. Allowing some, but not all, Chignik salmon purse seine permit holders to operate different types and amounts of fishing equipment potentially raises questions of efficiency, arbitrary decision making, and equal protection.”

I suppose Peggy Wilson's Bill is to allow the Board to promote what they believe is the “equal protection” issue, also touched upon by the Alaska Supreme Court in Grunert vs State of Alaska. Good fishermen, and their communities that don't want to be ripped apart, might view the 14th Amendment’s “Equal Protection Clause" as a way to protect them from capricious social engineering, not "giving the fish away equally."

It gets better, as a result of this board's ignorance regarding this decision, as it applys to the Bristol Bay Salmon Fishery.The amusing socioeconomic engineering by the BOF in the Bay, is just another example of the fictional view of reality it has, after the Court's writing to the State of Alaska and the Alaska Board of Fisheries in this Grunert Decision.

One must wonder how this Board of Fish views the Limited Entry Act, and the voters of Alaska, who gave the Court and the Alaska Constitution this Amendment.

This “Within a Single Fishery” issue, written clearly in the Alaska Supreme Court's decision, is yet to be corrected in relation in the Bristol Bay Salmon Driftnet Fishery.

Of course in the recent BOF meetings in Dillingham, the board again dropped the ball, and took no action whatsoever to bring Bristol Bay into compliance with the Court's decision, written directly to the Board of Fish.

I guess Robert Heyano, a Bristol Bay Fisher who sits on the BOF, has a reading comprehension problem when the Court writes to him. I guess the Bristol Bay Salmon Driftnet Salmon Fishery is not a “Single Fishery” to Robert Heyano and his associates on the Board. What a concept from this Board! And their inaction on this issue is as ignorant as their action in Chignik.

The Board tabled All of the proposals aimed to correct these issues and sent them over to their “Restructuring Committee. I thought their “Restructuring Committee” was the Committee who the Supreme Court wrote to in Chignik, the BOF themselves.

Of course now the explanation of why Frank Murkowski’s Attorney Generals resigned, may have come to light. Evidently, over at the Department of Law, these Court Decisions still confuse them. Facts speak for themselves, as far as the Board of Fisheries goes. Still “unable and unwilling” to read State Board of Fisheries v. Grunert

Thank God for that Third Branch, obviously the “Least Dangerous,” compared to that Alaska Board of Fisheries."


"I sent a strongly worded opinion to Sonya Hymer(Legislative Aide) regarding HB 188. I know there will be people from Kodiak that support this bill. My educated guess is that the Olga Bay Seafood Producers Alliance will see it as the only way to further their co-op fishery agenda. This is the cycle year for Kodiak proposals to the BOF. I expect to see a proposal for "allocation within a fishery" from that group. HB 188 would pave the way.
The Alitak set net fishery has been very very contentious over the years. We have had bitter conflicts and beach brawls over line changes, rock sets, shore leads,area boundaries, site surveys, escapement and management issues, allocations and co-ops.
We now have regulations that the vast majority of seiners and setnetters are satisfied with, and we have enjoyed stable management for several seasons. In Kodiak, HB 188 will serve a very few setnetters, with the destabilization of the entire fishery.

I am aware that some regulations that are already implemented may need adjustments if HB 188 is not passed. I say don`t correct a wrong with another wrong. I am on record a few years back, with the BOF, as being in support of a per-capita allocation plan. Oddly enough, the folks from up the bay were adamantly opposed to such an idea. My change of opinion is a result of education, observation, and adaption. Today, I see RSDA`s as the new hope for a stable industry.

Fishing has never been fair. Some folks have luck, some don`t, some have connections or better work ethics and some are born with an edge. Its what makes us who we are. HB 188 is not for real fisherman.
Please be very careful when considering HB 188

Well, right off, you can see the contempt the old guard has for the people and their courts. I refer also to the leadership of the United Fishermen of Alaska who wanted the Courts and regular folks' lawyers to stay out of their way in a recent proposal to the Board of Fish.

I sympathize with Sarah Palin, not knowing who to trust to guide her in fisheries policy. I remember when I used to run buying stations far removed from the main plant locations. When I was put on as a signer on one company fish buying fund they said, "Well, I guess we're just going to have to trust you." Another company that put me on as a signer on their main cannery account didn't bat an eye. They knew me better. Just wish Gov. Palin would get to know some folks better herself.

And we still get a ton of mail about these major processing companies that work the farmed salmon business, being the ones that run the Board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and the "Wild Alaska Seafood" brand. I maintain that the whole "institute" concept is wrong to start with, and this scandal just proves it. That was a mouthful. Need lots of soy sauce for that one. Well, it'll be awhile before lots of folks see how much better the Regional Seafood Development Association concept is. I think the water supply in Juneau has blinding paradigm in it.

Stephen Taufen offers this letter to forward on to the Governor to express your outrage. Be a hero for some kid in Chignik, and Naknek, and write Sarah. She'll listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Food Riots at the Board of Fish?

Sensible people in Alaska are incensed by new proposed legislation that would turn the Board of Fish process into the biggest squabble for fishing rights in history. It will pit everyone against everyone else in a most bitter struggle for chunks of the pie in each commercial fishery. The Alaska Supreme Court stamped out this madness a couple of years ago. This is an end run around those sensible Judges.

You know I need to download more pics when I have to use ones of myself. Port of Anchorage in background at low tide.

That begs the question, since Rep. Peggy Wilson, who is proposing this legislation, doesn't have the background to write something like this, nor has Wrangell had an issue with "allocation WITHIN a fishery," who the heck wrote that piece of blarney? The justification PDF document with her name on top is full of half truths, suppositions and belittlement. My mind screams, where is an unbiased, academic, fisheries industrial research body when you need one.

Well, you won't get one with all the folks that float around spitting out stuff like HB188, trying to get their own way all the time no matter what the cost in social upheaval. This reader outlines the cost of such legislation:

"Hello John Enge,

Let’s see, a year ago we wrote and talked because the former Chignik Co-op was attempting to introduce legislation expanding the authority of the Board of Fish. I guess its not just coincidence that I am back in touch with you.

Just received news today that Representative Wilson from Wrangell introduced House Bill 188, intended to expand the power of the BOF to allow them the ability to allocate fish as they see fit. Seems criminal to me that after having virtually destroyed the villages of Chignik Bay, Chignik Lagoon, and Chignik Lake by setting their residents against each other, and eliminating numerous jobs for local residents, topped off by having outside investors with no fishing experience purchasing “investment permits” and destroying the dreams of local young people to some day grow up and skipper like their fathers did, that there is still a strong movement to allow the BOF to do this again in Chignik and in fact any area they see fit.

I also find it interesting that Representative Wilson submitted the HB 188 to the special fisheries committee chaired by Rep Paul Seaton, from Homer, who owned a tender that has been employed by the Co-op at Chignik. With recent events in Alaska fisheries regarding questionable ethics, it seems unthinkable to give the BOF the ability to restructure, via allocation, any fishery they deem “needs” it. All other fisheries in the State of Alaska should be aware that this dog and pony show could show up on your door step. As brutal as IFQ’s and Rationalization has been to those who did not get a ticket to the party, to have the BOF have the power to allocate each permit in a limited entry fishery equal shares, regardless of who catches them, or whoever worked to catch their share, be allocated an equal share to every other permit holder in the fishery is absolutely wrong.

The BOF has already demonstrated their willingness to do this in Chignik and all limited entry permit holders in Alaska should be aware of what is currently being submitted via House Bill 188, lest they see the volume of their catch dictated to them by appointees. I am hopeful of pushing this topic into the media to make sure the citizens understand what is currently on the table in the Legislature.

Hope to hear back from you, Thank You"

Remember this allocation scheme in Chignik allowed almost all the permit holders that wanted to to sit at home while a designated few caught all the fish. They then split the proceeds. That allowed some purchasing of permits by investors from God knows where to sit God knows where and receive their settlement check while sipping umbrella drinks or whatever. The sponsor of this bill says that's not going to happen again. Well, there's nothing stopping it if the Board of Fish can split up the catch in a certain fishery.

But the worst thing about it, and I'm sure Peggy Wilson doesn't understand this, is that it ends up pitting neighbors, and even family, against each other in the allocation disputes that follow. The experience was that at weddings and funerals and any social event in the community, people grouped up and glowered at each other. How is that going to enhance the sense of community so necessary for the health of people and the survival of the community. It's like a civil war. And a Alaska Legislator would want to export this kind of thing around Alaska and set a precedent for the same kind of power plays elsewhere? Elsewhere goes for 25,000 miles around as the crow flies, right?

You allow allocation WITHIN a fishery just see how many proposals the Board of Fish gets, if they don't come up with their own like last time. The quartile analysis of earnings I used for each fishery showed that only 10% of fishermen were making the good money. And don't tell me that the long-ago Legislature and Board of Fish INTENDED for highline fishermen to catch the same amount of fish as one who only fishes part time, or who can't get up in the morning.

I won't beat a dead horse to death here, but the Board of Fish already has strong allocative powers. Everyone only gets to catch two king salmon with a sport rod, etc. These legislators seem to forget that they passed legislation to create Regional Seafood Development Associations that can hash out allocation issues, being so connected to marketing and all. But at the moment, when you mention marketing, a whole new cast of characters emerges. As the woolly mammoth said in the movie "Ice Age," "Spit it out, you don't know where it's been." Sorry Peggy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fish Farming Blues

When Secretary of Commerce Guiterez announced the President's bill on off-shore aquaculture at the Boston Seafood Show the other day, some folks there were still questioning why the bill didn't provide for peer review of research. That's what happened when the North Pacific Council hired a shill researcher to justify the Crab Rationalization they wanted. Guiterez says that the public will be involved all the way. Then ignored as usual.

Bristol Bay gillnet boat going through it's paces off the Homer Spit in Katchemak Bay. Pretty hard to cram fish chilling systems on a 32' legal boat.

I got thinking this morning that it would only take an atlantic salmon/trout escapee about 15 minutes or less to swim the three miles to shore from his off-shore net pen. You know the fish farmers won't want to run their support boats any farther than they have to. And the sea lice infestations from near-shore pens could easily extend into the path of migrating smolt. Well, I'm just being critical here. I'm sure this will all be accounted for, hopefully.

The stakeholders Guiterez mentions sure aren't you or I either. It turns out it's the big seafood companies in Alaska, that are buying and marketing the salmon, halibut, cod and crab up there. They have been salivating over the opportunity to expand their production facilities like this, or in Chile, for years. Yeah, they are the only ones that have any money or credit to do off-shore fish farming. And they aren't likely to let an interloper from San Francisco into their back yard. They'll just return the courtesy the folks that control the S.F. waterfront extended to them.

How ya going to feed such a hungry lot of fish anyway? Some folks wanted to start scooping up the krill off the West Coast. That idea didn't get very far because it's the main course for everything swimming and wild, but who knows if that's the end of it. Maybe they will feed the new fish, parts of wild caught fish. Parts that could be marketed for "wild" harvesters benefit. Well, the processors never did anything for the fishermen's benefit before. It might look like it on the surface to a gillnetter pitching off at a company tender and being offered a cold beer though. Heck, I just heard a story about black cod collar soup lowering a fisherman's blood pressure 40 points after being "on the soup" for three days.

I agree with the gal I talked to at the Boston Seafood Show, who had just spoken with Secretary Guiterez, that you can put on all the dog and pony shows in the public arena you want, but if you don't have peer review written right into the Bill, ya don't got a thing. If they were serious about doing it right they would work it like Wikepedia does. But then the States could do the reality checks if the Feds won't. If they see the problem coming and have the willpower, that is.

In any event, these companies that have been vying to get to the head of the farmed fish permit line, shouldn't be put in charge of marketing fishermen's wild caught fish as board members of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Does that make sense? And don't count on ASMI to do the peer review to slow up board members wanting to farm fish in Alaska.

Speaking of ASMI, I made a correction to my last article "Heartburn in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Boardroom." A source was describing a board member of ASI being a leader of a fish farming group. My ears, or his tongue, issued an "ASMI" signal to my brain, so that's what went into my article. It was fixed in a day, after a kind reader called me on it. This is what another reader said about that article:


"I appreciate the opportunity to know what others are thinking(about Regional Seafood Development Associations) and hope that it will lead to ideas turned into action one of these days.

I am steaming this morning, after just learning that Icicle is now in the business of producing farmed fish. I know that they have been marketing the stuff for years, and that never sat well with me, but now to learn that they are investing profits made from Alaska fish in Chile and going to start a partnership to actually produce the stuff, it makes me sick. I read the anniversary book about Icicle last year and was impressed with it origins, which boil down to fisherman trying to survive and committed to keeping fisherman the focus of their business. Wow, how recent times have changed.

Clearly, they are just looking after their bottom line, and now taking profits from Alaska fish to invest in farming crap in Chile. I realize that farmed fish is probably here to stay, and it fills the bellies of the lesser informed at an attractive price, but how can I as a fisherman stomach selling my fish to such a business. I am in a quandary. Isn't it a conflict of my interests to sell fish I would like to be seen marketed as a wild Alaska product that has so many advantages over the farmed crapola??

I am a guy of principles, and this news just sickens me. Is there an opportunity to get a better price out of Icicle in the future, other than from their need to be competitive with other processor's prices to keep their fleet/source of sockeye salmon? Doesn't producing farmed salmon defeat any hope that Icicle would join in educating consumers about the advantages of wild salmon?

I have always been one to say that the only thing a fisherman can do is move to a market/processor that you believe is doing the right stuff to market fish that can produce a better price. Shouldn't I be true to my own convictions?? I need to move markets..... but where shall I go???

Anyhow... I am venting. At the moment, I am not prepared to switch companies. But it makes it more imminent that I either make the necessary outlay to put RSW on my boat and see if I can get into Lowrance's fleet, or continue to wait to see if some Processor is going to commit to an ice/quality program that is feasible (I put slush bags on my boat last year, as I was excited that Icicle was the first to announce they were going to try Ice on a large scale..... unfortunately, the delivery of the ice from Arctic Star(a floating processor) was problematic, difficult, if not impossible while tenders were being pumped 24/7 during the peak weeks).

Snopac has
announced an ice program for this coming season, I will probably have a conversation with them. Like I said I am just voicing some frustration on this news..... please don't attach my name to any of this as I would be in hard straits to lose Icicle as a market, until I have found an alternative."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Heartburn in the Seafood Marketing Board Room

Now we've seen it all. An Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board member investing in a Chilean salmon farm. We were supposed to believe that what is good for the big Alaska seafood processors, was good for Alaska.

Icicle Seafoods started in Petersburg with fishermen who wanted a piece of the action. That never happened. I wonder if they knew their company was marketing competing products too.

No different than what Exxon tries to make Alaskans believe. We were supposed to believe that as Board members of ASMI, they had the best interests of the wild "Alaska Salmon" brand at heart and hence Alaska fishermen and their communities. And that no consolidation of the processing and marketing sectors was happening. Not.

So what happened here? This is vastly more than heartburn. Should Alaska keep this farmed salmon company on the ASMI Board. Insiders tell of these board members' plans to jump into farming salmon in Alaska the first chance they get, and their dealing with Chilean farmed salmon for some time. And do we need to remind anyone that the recent past President, and current Board member, of the United Fishermen of Alaska has millions of dollars of Icicle Seafoods stock. (see my previous article on shell games in the fishing business)

Isn't it about time Alaska had a mechanism that could deal with this chronic double dealing. Seafood processing companies from Seattle and Japan aren't going to voluntarily look out for Alaskan interests: make the right decisions on product development to create more jobs in Alaska, agree to assist sustainable fishing practices and reduce bycatches, expend the time and energy to develop high value niche markets like small marketers do. And is it really expected they would share the largess with their suppliers, the fishermen?

Regional Seafood Development Associations could fill the bill if every area of the state had one, and they worked together. There needs to be something that works on these issues all year, not just a couple months during the Legislative session. Heck, these legislators have to spend most of their time getting up to speed on the issues, then there's no time to do anything constructive. They have to read up on consolidation of big Japanese seafood companies, the resident requirements for senior fishing permits, taking the eggs out of fish for the Japanese market and throwing the fish away. Hundreds of issues, murky and important, all of them.

The industry goes on all year, not just during the Session. And Board of Fish members aren't paid to work all day long all year on the issues.(If they get any pay at all, and legislators get paid peanuts.) At the moment it's just guessing by majority. And you can imagine the Governor doesn't have the time to study every industry in the state in much detail.

A solution that seems to be in vogue is the continuous writing of reports by known researchers. These guys don't come from industry or work in the industry any more than the ASMI staff does. Nobody in industry is required to even read their reports, much less follow their recommendations. Here's one on farmed vs wild salmon that just came out. But it keeps non-profits and consultants in business, and that's a big industry, so some good comes of it.

You get a research and strategic planning arm of the RSDAs going and then you have something. Then what they come up with, they'll set about doing. They will BE the industry before long, if they follow in the footsteps of all the other producer groups in the rest of the world. And that's what fishermen, their communities and state government are looking for. But state government or other grants would have to fund it to start with; the RSDAs will be struggling for some time to come in Alaska. And I suppose the consultant industry and other bureaucrats and Boards wouldn't want their fun ruined.

But you get the big processors running the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and the State's involvement in the seafood industry, and you get an Exxon-like relationship. The Legislature and past Governors have turned a blind eye to the whole mess. Why? To not make waves and avoid it being uncomfortable at cocktail parties in Juneau? To stay on the gravy train for the next election?

You might say ASMI is funded by the processors and that it's their program, so go jump in a net pen. Well, it is in a narrow way of looking at it, but the money is just taken out of the fishermen's take-home pay. And the marketing clout is used to maintain hegemony themselves, at the expense of fishermen's efforts to vertically integrate their businesses.

While everyone else does damage control somebody should consider whether it would be easier to just elect and appoint more conscionable folks to start with. Just like State government should foresee the problems they might have by allowing the foxes(lobbyists, large processors, glory seekers, sky pilots, etc.) to guard the North Pacific Council and ASMI hen house. We'll be able to tell a lot about this Administration by who gets appointed to the NPFMC real soon. I keep hearing the leading candidate is a bottom trawl, ocean clear-cutting lobbyist. You know that that would be a betrayal of the throw-the-bums-out type folks that elected the new Governor.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bad projects take on life of their own

There isn't an attempt here to diss the Pebble Mine project in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. Just thought I'd pass on some information for those who live in that neck of the woods. Check out this Southern Oregon mine from hell.

I took this picture of a derelict salmon cannery on the back side of Kodiak Island while flying by. The Karluk is just a few bays down. Notice the superintendent's house in the hill. The "super" used to effectively rule the area around a cannery. That tradition dies hard.

Number one, is that all the fish in an 18 mile stretch of two creeks are dead. Steelhead, coho salmon, trout, and whatever other small fish live in these streams. Second, all the bug life fish eat in the streams are dead and gone and not coming back. Third, the wildlife wouldn't touch this water source with a ten foot pole, so the area is devoid of game.

Who did this to this spot 25 miles south of Roseburg? A Canadian company. But Legislators in Alaska need to be cautious. Their current House Bill 134 would foreclose the driving of any new pilings that the new Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association might want at the mouth of the Naknek River. A bill protecting the rivers and streams is great, but caution is the word of the day so you don't end up making it a crime to sneeze within ten feet of moving water. (Already there's a law that you can't pee behind a tree in the Tongass National Forest.)

The processing companies that already have docks on the rivers would love to have exclusive rights to ownership of piers out there. It would make for tough negotiations for custom processing of fishermen's fish to be able to market their own production. You'd hear processors shouting, "Go jump in a river" all over the Bay. Heck, that might not be legal pretty soon either.

To tie into the title of this article, I probably helped Northern Dynasty by just mentioning Pebble. You know, if you say something loud enough and long enough,................. Maybe we should use a word that reflects a future where fish and toxic metals co-exist if need be. Use it on all correspondence and in all conversation, if you can think of one.

On a different note, I love the profiles of Alaskan communities in the Anchorage Daily News. This one is about Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet. Remember all the action is on the EAST side of Cook Inlet; the people, the roads, the lodges, hotels, Kenai River kings, etc. The 200 residents are the die-hards that survived the 1836 - 1840 smallpox epidemic, the 1918 flu pandemic, and the flooding of the whole town in 1930.

I was reminded of a chapter in a book on the life of Mont Hawthorn who describes building a cannery there in the 1800s. You can get a whoppin' S.E. blow on top of a big tide and that spells trouble. They got one the first year (the previous cannery had washed away) and they had a log come end wise into the Chinese bunkhouse. I guess the Chinese thought they'd be start'n back to China in a salt barrel right then.

I'm looking forward to seeing that book back from a friend who borrowed it. He went overboard with it in the middle of the Bering Sea when the fishing boat he was on went down last fall. That's a responsible friend. Actually he has a list of people who want to read it next and that's OK by me.

Mont also described, to his historian/writer daughter, the first commercial fishing regulations in Alaska. It regarded the huge sockeye runs in the Karluk River on Kodiak Island. So many "outfits" built cannerys there, and had beach seines, that they got together and drew lots for turns setting. They also outlawed fishing on Saturday so the cannery crews could have a day off on Sunday.

Although absent from their rules was any mention of leaving any fish to sustain future runs. They were more interested in preventing any more cannerys being torched from all the squabbles. Historians will look back on 2007 and wonder what the heck was with rule makers letting fishermen throw a healthy chunk of all the off-shore catches back dead.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tribes recall a dam closure that ended a way of life

The story at the end of my article is about the demise of Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. The lesson for Alaska is obvious when you read it.

I took this picture pulling into the float at Port Alexander in 1981. I was going around S.E. lecturing on fish quality for the U.of A. (Note all the trolling poles.)

I thought I was seeing where residents of the villages near the proposed Pebble Mine on the Alaska Peninsula were frustrated with the fishing industry to the point they would support a big mine in their back yard. I'm here to tell you that two wrongs don't make a right.

Residents out there in Bristol Bay need to get behind their Regional Seafood Development Association to give voice to the smallest fishing family and to get back to the things they know and love. To get together on a grass roots level to effect change. Villagers and fishermen have a chance to mold a fishing industry out there in the way THEY want. In the rest of Alaska too, for that matter.

As they were given this opportunity, and they might not even know they were given it, other people want to ban any new seafood processing along the rivers there. The proposed legislation this language is in is benign enough; protection of the watershed. But just something the processors would try slip in there to keep the RSDA down on the farm.

Speaking of "midnight riders" look at this site that tracks the destination of over 1700 riders on one appropriations bill. There's even a competition among programmers for a prize to make the best website, called "mashing," that tracks Congress. Maybe we need a program to allow stakeholders to interface with bill writers so these explosive devices don't get attached all the time.

And to top it off, political forces, that have nothing to do with rank and file fishermen, want to end the sustainability protections salmon streams have in Alaska. That wouldn't do much to help "MSC Sustainable" and "Eco-Friendly" certification efforts in the fisheries. It is sponsored by the United Fishermen of Alaska, a shell made of special interests. The shell is in Juneau and painted blue and has "Alaska Fishermen's Building" written on the side. It should say "Shell Games Played Here."

UFA says the current laws open the state up to lawsuits and court control, but they really want more latitude to influence local Fish and Game managers. The processors have been doing that forever and look at what they did to Bristol Bay, S.E. and Kodiak red king crab, many, many salmon runs, and even the smelt in Petersburg. The examples go on and on. That's why laws making managing fish a uniform thing across the state were enacted. And to keep exclusive commercial fishing club interests from hijacking the runs. Those runs belong to the public, not some "rightful use" as the Southeast Alaska Seiners say. Fishermen have hour-by-hour fishing privileges, that's all.

Well, no lawsuits in seven years, and if it ever gets like the Lower 48 up there the courts come in mighty handy. Federal judges are calling the shots now on the Columbia and the San Joachin Rivers because dominant special interests wiped out the salmon and nobody would agree on a solution. I won't go further into the low regard UFA management has had for the concept of sustainable fisheries except to say read Victor Smith's article again on

The better proposal that should be passed is that any proposals coming out of fishermen's organizations have the signatures of a majority of their entire membership. Unless you could get some anti-gullibility legislation through that applies to decision makers.

Here's what I found out regarding the 50th anniversary of the flooding of the key fishing hole for the Umatilla Nation on the Columbia River. Seems that they had been fishing there for 10,000 years, give or take a few years. And the spot became the trading hub for the whole Pacific Northwest. Those guys that had the good platforms at the falls were like the Bill Gates of the American Indians.

Fishing wasn't rubbed out only by the dams on the Columbia. The big canneries at the mouth of the Columbia used fish traps, beach seines, gillnets, etc, to get in as much of a pack as possible. They even built a rail line out there to bring the pack to market. So when the Dalles Dam flooded the Falls in 1957, there wasn't a lot left anyway. But the big selling point for the dam was that it was going to inundate the area with new industry and jobs from the cheap power. Didn't happen.

Boeing got a good source of aluminum, for awhile, that's about all. There were other sources in the Northwest, so it's not like it was a national security thing. The locals at Celilo were promised new housing, and got recycled lumber and no water pressure. But don't forget, they were paid $3,700 each, to leave as a legacy for their children and their children's children, ad infinitum.

Most of the pictures that remain of the fishing activity at the falls are in black and white, but the old-timers remember those times in vivid color. The mist from the falls made the surrounding area green and lush. Now it's desert like the rest of Eastern Oregon.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Podcasting politicians and halibut wars

Here's a glimpse of future "Blackberry politics" as described by this Democratic strategist. "You'll not only be able to text people with messages, you'll be able to raise money, deliver video, audio, create viral organizing — where one person sees something really interesting and it gets passed on and on," said Fowler, who recently started a company, Cherry Tree Mobile Media, to promote wireless communication as a campaign tool.

These schooner style halibut boats were designed to make money at 25 cents a fish. Commercial fishermen could put plenty of moolah in their pockets at today's prices if they chose boats like these. I know a fisherman who made his own out of ferro-cememt.

"Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans were online in 1995, compared with nearly 8 in 10 a decade later, according to Michael Bassik, a vice president with MSHC Partners, a leading online political ad agency. Some say the Internet is no more inherently good or bad than, say, a printing press."

"If you've got someone out to polarize and they're good at it, they'll polarize," said Internet consultant Michael Cornfield. "If someone's out to build a consensus, and they're good at it, they'll build consensus."

"Whether accessed via laptop, BlackBerry or cellphone, the Internet is indisputably empowering, making politics more horizontal and creating broad new communities of interest, even in an age of increased fragmentation."

The point I see is that issues can easily go "viral" on the Internet and spread like no campaign buttons ever could. Maybe this is a peek at how old dinosaurs in Congress will be leap-frogged by the nimble.

On to bureaucrats; William Hogarth, the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, has no business giving his opinion on what should be done about the charter halibut fishing sector of the fishery. Here's an alternative to his wanting Alaska fish at his favorite D.C. restaurant after not being able to resurrect the East Coast fish stocks: allow as many charter operations as there were professional halibut fishing crewmen who got nothing when passing out the Individual Fishing Quotas the first time.

For all anyone knows for sure, these charter operators are the halibut crewmen just trying to stay fishing. The Administration did the right thing and rejected the low blow to the charter fleet by the industry-connected commissioners of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Why can't Mr. Hogarth just act like an administrator and not like a sore loser. Whose side is he on anyway, the public's, or the halibut fishing corporations and the processors'? I'll give you one guess.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

SalmonTreaty and the "gift economy"

Or maybe the Treaty should be called the Alaska vs U.S. and Canada Salmon Treaty. I'm down in Oregon now and, even though I used to commercial troll in Alaska and want the Alaskans and Seattlites to do well, I sure wouldn't want them to stiff everyone else to the point that the runs fail.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council would simply split all the fish between themselves if it wasn't for volunteers-with-heart like Kodiak fisherman Lu Dochtermann.

Look at these quotes from the News :

“If we don’t solve the interception problem, we will never solve the recovery problem, and some of these stocks will go extinct,” said Bill Bakke, executive director of the Native Fish Society, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Portland. “Columbia River, Puget Sound and all coastal stocks will be affected. This treaty is vital.”

"When it comes to the treaty, there is a certain triangulation involved, say those close to the negotiations."

"Washington and Oregon argue the Canadians are catching too many endangered wild fish, and unless there are restrictions their runs will become extinct. The Canadians say they understand the problem, but aren’t going to shut down their fishery to address endangered species issues in the United States while fishermen in Alaska are catching Canada’s wild and endangered salmon. Alaska, meanwhile, feels everything is working fine and it should be allowed to continue catching salmon from Canada, Oregon and Washington along with fish hatched in its own rivers and streams."

It's not all the fault of the Alaskans however. These other areas have done a pretty good job of doing in their own runs of salmon. Dams are all over the place, whether needed or not. It has always been just plain cool to build a dam, whether on a small stream like a municipal dam on Rickreal Creek in Dallas, Oregon, irrigation dams on the Rogue River and Bear Creek in the S. Oregon Rogue Valley, or on the bigger rivers.

When I first moved to the Rogue Valley last year I noticed an extraordinary number of cabin cruisers in people's front yards. These are ocean boats. They are all vintage boats too, like the sort we used when I was a teenager, maybe some 70's models too. That's because there were kings and coho galore off the coast of Oregon back then. Just like there were coho galore in the streams around Petersburg, Alaska when I was growing up there. In both areas, you might as well hang up your boots, because if you do see a coho it's probably one of the last ones. Don't blame any one group either, it'll take a quantum shift in public perception of the fragility of these runs.

Thank goodness for some people who just get their rain gear on and go out and dismantle little old dams. Like social entrepreneurs and activists in fisheries management and conservation all over, they are principals in the new "gift economy." All this volunteerism in the last decade was looked at like, "is this real?" In the next half decade it will be like, "what do we do with it?" State governments should be asking that question full bore.

Some of the biggest things coming along are being created and carried out by volunteers: Wikipedia, that largest of all reference resources, the Linux operating system that IBM is making billions off of, and the Firefox web browser. And of course other shareware like my friend's friend who wrote the code that was taken over by the guys that called it YouTube and sold it to Google for $1.65 billion.

Time Magazine says that clever entrepreneurs and organizations can profit from this volunteerism if they don't get too greedy. "The key, Benkler says, is "managing the marriage of money and nonmoney without making nonmoney feel like a sucker." The point is, there are a lot of people who would like to help the fisheries stakeholders, because of special talents and dispositions they have. People, like most groups of animals, really want to help others. Heck, even herring work together. It's a huge lost opportunity to not harness volunteers. Think how many people would love to adopt a salmon stream to pamper like they do roadways.

Dam removal? There would be a thousand volunteers with rock hammers show up the first day. Don't say it's too expensive to do. A spilled tanker of asphalt tar on the banks of the Klamath River like last summer? Just provide the buses. When politicians and lawyers get involved you can actually have SWAT teams fending off volunteers, like when they shut off the water to the Klamath and practically wiped out the entire run of king salmon.

And the Klamath was the third largest king producer in North America. And do you know how many king salmon the bottom trawlers catch? Nobody else does either because the Federal government won't fund observation of U.S. harvesters like the Canadian model. But then that's not the end-all, be-all solution either. There are solutions out there, it's just a little before their time at the moment though.

To make a long story short, Federal interference in the fisheries has been a disaster. Remember how they kept Alaska from statehood, and outlawing the destructive fish traps, for over 50 years. Only when Edna Ferber wrote "Ice Palace" and a movie was made based on it did the federal government do the right thing. So don't hold your breath when you hear that a negotiator from Washington is out here trying to save the salmon. Unless you're holding your breath because you're shooting a good video of the negotiators to put on YouTube.