Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egyptians, Inuit and fish

"In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it." Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Today, the country of Egypt is apparently imploding due to the repressive regime they have. The police have vanished and the army is doing nothing. Where this ends is anyone's guess. Also on this morning was the Alaska Wilderness Wings reality show. The only Alaska reality show that isn't just a plain waste of time in my opinion. Maybe because I used to fly out of Petersburg with my dad when I was young, never went king crabbing, or found anything to like about Sarah Palin. And the only time I was ever fooled while making commercial vessel loans was in dealing with an ex-state trooper, so heck with that show too.

I don't want to delve into flying in the bush in Alaska today, but I appreciate Western Alaskan's dependence on all types of aircraft. The show today included a segment on the only people living inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Talk about remote. There also was a segment on flying in explosives for the whalers' harboons on St. Lawrence Island. It's a lonely battle for survival out there. Even in the villages on the mainland, very few have a road connection to anywhere except their own garbage dump. Not that they don't have a lot of government help. And not that some don't bemoan that fact either, given that there is a lot of time for a lot of people out there to sit around and think about how bad they have it. Same thing happens in a city.

Those folks out there are like most small owner/operators of fishing boats. There just isn't a lot of strategic thinking long term. Which many people in condos in Maui aren't good at either. But this could be a good time for Western Alaskans to do a little just for drill. The lessened amount of sea ice is allowing more sea time up there. Not a good thing for walrus. It could be good for some village folk who got the idea to go throw some commercial fishing gear in the ocean though. Not that it's culturally ingrained like in other societies, but they might want or need to get into it before long. Some are already thinking about going to sea. In places like Dutch Harbor the locals did. After they got a ten mile buffer around them to keep the trawlers out, that is.

There is a cold storage plant in Nome that will buy any amount of fish you want to bring in. Teller, too, has some thoughts of commercial fishing, as they are behind a sand spit, behind a sand spit to keep boats. It used to be the wintering spot for the Nantucket whaling fleet. They could winch their boats up on shore in lieu of a boat harbor like in the Mediterranean.

If the Bering Straits are going to be open an extra couple months a year, then you have a crack at bringing in some cod to salt down. Then you'd be looking at a small boat fueled economy like the northern part of Norway where my ancestors came from. It was working well until they industrialized the harvesting of the cod, like what happened on Eastern Canada's Grand Banks as well. And if you had a little larger vessel to fish from like my great-grandfather had, you could sail somewhere and trade them or sell them.

Where am I going with all this? Get a load of this e-mail I just received from our subject area:

"There is so much ice out there now that the idea of open water is a dangerous rumor, difficult to believe. The co-op of bottom trawlers has been meeting behind locked doors here in Nome, no reporters or public, with the regional nonprofit, Kawerak, and elders flown in and hoteled at great expense, from the Kuskokwim delta to the Artic circle.
The co-op wants to move north. And assures that there's no salmon bycatch. Neglecting to mention (king) crab, halibut etc.
NSEDC (Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.) funded the Kawerak shindig. But when people are engaged in their own holocaust it's such a monumental irony that it defies description."

Then a few days later I get this addendum. The writer was hot, despite the sun only just clearing the horizon in Point Barrow for the first time all winter.:

"The break-in and attempted theft at the hatchery here by ADF&G was 'passed' on by the DA to 'Special Prosecutions' in Anchorage. They kicked it back to the Troopers for more investigation. Basically the State in this region, in fish and game issues, is subservient to the political dictates of certain hypercorrupt tribal leadership, or quasi-tribal amalgams like NSEDC. I'd be shocked if they prosecute."
"Tyler Rhodes, a (Nome) Nugget reporter, moved to a public relations job with NSEDC a couple days ago after printing in the Nugget some slavishly flattering pieces about the CDQ group."

To tie the repression of the regime in Egypt to the life and death struggle for survival in Western Alaska; you know that any opportunity to establish a commercial fishery in Northwest Alaska will be coveted by those with the best connections to the U.S. regime. Not that the trawl companies needed to sneak around and try hoodwink the tribal leaders out of a chance for them to have community fisheries of their own, with living wages and a good multiplier effect of fishing income spent locally. Their lobbyists who control the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council repeatedly flout National Standards No. 8 (Economic development consideration). Their response to wreaking havoc on Alaska community economics is, "so sue me."

I doubt poor Egyptians thought suing President Mubarak was much of an option either. So where does that leave us? Big Japanese, Norwegian and a couple of Seattle trawl companies meeting in the frozen north of Alaska with the elders of coastal villages, without any transparency, about fishing off their shores. The elders should ask the Pribilovians how that worked out for them. Part of the justification for the massive investment in harbors in the Pribilof Islands was to develop a small boat fleet. But after the trawlers circled their islands a thousand times there wasn't much left to go out in a little boat and fish for.

The Elders need to keep in mind that lying is company policy by the trawl companies. There are no shortage of examples. And way up in the Bering Straits, like out at Adak, nobody is going to see what they are doing. And keep in mind that bottom trawling extinguishes 30% of the species complex of the bottom where a trawl has passed, per Oregon State University where the NOAA chief worked. Don't grey whales just munch on the mud and filter out all the good stuff? Would anyone want the trawlers to filter out the good stuff first. Maybe they would promise on a stack of bibles not to do that.

Bottom line: the trawl companies have been eying Northwest Alaska waters since the moratorium was put in effect there. No new research has been done. Why conduct these meetings in secret? And, there are much better fishing methods than trawling if fishing was so desired out there, ie., live capture by jig and pot. There would be any number of takers using these sustainable methods if fishing were allowed in those sub-arctic waters. It's amazing what the new fish attractants can accomplish.

Reference is made to the Tholepin blog for the true damage that bottom trawling has on crab and halibut stocks alone.
Good crab bycatch picture here:
Video of serious halibut bycatch here: