Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bering Strait Blues

"In the latest nomenugget.net; Charlie Lean, NSEDC's new Fisheries Development person,  is advertising for a state sanctioned aquaculture association. In meetings and on paper it has the same name precisely as the state certified aquaculture association presided over by Tim Smith, President of the Nome Fishermen's Association. He uses no name in the solicitation. If he changes the name it won't be the one ADFG certified."
This is one real head-scratcher from my Nome correspondent. I've been following these antics by the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation for a long time and it just gets stranger and stranger. The State of Alaska has certified on numerous occasions that a Tim Smith is the legal head of the first legal salmon enhancement program in the Bering Strait. In NSEDC's desperate attempt to co-opt the program, they have hired former Fish and Game Dept. regional biologists, such as Charlie Lean. What are they doing anyway, is what I'd like to ask. Keep in mind that NSEDC is invested in trawling the Bering Sea, to the tune of over $170 million, with it's attendant interception of coast bound salmon. Producing more salmon would of course increase the by-catch, likely beyond the hard cap that would trigger a shutdown of trawling. Never mind that the locals have had plentiful salmon runs up until the trawling kicked into high gear. I know, it sounds stranger than fiction.

To put some clarity on the subject, the head of the NSEDC is a Dan Harrelson, a Village Public Safety Officer in White Mountain, a short distance from Nome. I won't go into the Barney Fife aspects of law enforcement in this village, because it is overshadowed by the more Conan the Barbarian aspects of it, and the attendant quality of life effects on the folks there. These next two letters, in chronological order, help us understand the wonderful life (not) of the 'theoretical' shareholders of NSEDC in the frozen north. The feudal society that the indicted Sen. Ted Stevens set up.
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2007 11:39 AM
To: (Alaska) Sen. Donny Olson

"The Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) program is a private police force that covers the majority of the land mass of Alaska. Something without parallel in this or any other democratic nation. Although the Alaska State Troopers provide training and liaisons with the program; VPSO's are corporate employees, with a supervisor who as likely as not started his or her job with no law enforcement, or legal background.

The State can not hire or fire a VPSO. In the worst instances, they can arrest them. But short of that, expressing a negative legal opinion about a VPSO by a Trooper leaves them open for a defamation suit.
State troopers tend to be rotated every few years and much of what they've learned goes with them. If a VPSO is under suspicion, all they have to do is wait out a change.

In living in a village in Western Alaska I witnessed a wide open drug trade, and physical reckless injury to one of my children. The response of the VPSO in that community always was influenced by the relationship he had established over decades with the dealer or the reckless operator, not necessarily the law.
In going directly to the Troopers to attempt resolutions of these issues I detected a sense of frustration , similar to what I experienced, in varying degrees. I had no honest response from the program's corporate management within the nonprofit. Any public action or admission that would reflect badly on their management, and adversely effect future funding or continued management, were buried with bureaucratic finesse.

As a result I feel a deep skepticism of the program as currently constituted. But there are several ways it could be improved.
1. Direct supervision of a region's VPSOs, with the right to hire and fire, by the State Troopers.
2. Any corporate supervisory personnel be required by statute to have several years law enforcement,
a degree in criminology, or equivalent legal experience.
3. Have the boundary of the VPSO program in various areas of the State correspond to the Trooper
contingents districts; ie. A,B C etc. This would help maintain a continuity in oversight of the program
as troopers are transferred within their area.
4. Recruit returning veterans to become VPSOs. Veterans have useful training, institutional integrity,
demonstrated courage, and commitment to public service. Alaska Natives have a great history of
service to their country: why not continue it here?
5. Where possible recruit State Troopers from young competent VPSOs.
6. That the Trooper overseeing VPSOs in an area spend substantial time in its villages gaining a
greater knowledge of their region and those they supervise.
7. Make VPSO's employees of the State. It would allow oversight of the program by competent
professionals. It would also legitimize and ensure the continuity of the program."

Jump to the present and here's what can happen with run-amok law and order in Bush Alaska.

"It's great the Norton Sound Salmon  RPT (Regional Planning Team for salmon enhancement) met and decided to spend a few years putting together another 10 year salmon plan after the expiration of the previous 10 year plan. With the same folks running the show. Into the tundra.

Charlie Lean and Jim Menard know why there are no salmon in Salmon Lake. They were responsible for the project and they just quit feeding them. After record escapement the Salmon Lake fertilization project was terminated. Salmon smolt were starved to near extinction.

State personnel have even taken the incubators from the hatchery here. I asked respectfully at the meeting as a gesture of good faith for their return. If you plan to restore runs why cripple a hatchery in the first place?
It would seem more productive to reinstate the previous plan in the interim until the next plan is in place. By the time all is said and done under the current regime, all that are likely to be hatched isempty promises and per diem checks.
 Mr. Rabung, the state biologist presiding at the meeting, has a distinguished career behind him in salmon enhancement. But his suggestion to a group of us in favor of a hatchery outside the meeting was to form another non regional aquaculture association as has been done in Southeast Alaska. What is operational just beneath the surface is the vast political reverse auction of ethical depravity, funded by antipoverty funds. It
is a political ghetto, and the quickest way to a 10 dollar bill is to be mercenary, for a corporate interest ,against the public welfare.

It is the norm out here rather than the exception for a publicly funded effort, led or influenced by a nonprofit to fail. There is a communal yawn in Norton Sound at yet another corporate fiasco. And the same lot of entitled poverty pimps keeps us 20 years, and growing, behind aquaculture efforts in the rest of the state, that have really benefited their regions.
King Salmon in Norton Sound have been mismanaged to the brink. Red salmon, the same. The hatchery ripped off. Tier 2 imposed over the united consensus of the community, in disdain of it. And now a commercial salmon fishery planned in Nome while we are still under the subsistence restrictions of Tier 2?
  Do we have another 20 years?"