Sunday, August 26, 2012

City Managers Up To Bat Next In Fisheries?

Since Fox News is replete with stories that begin with "some say," I should be allowed the same commentor liberties. Even if I qualify that my "some" was possibly the first of the Kodiak small boat halibut fishermen (1962) which became a fleet of several hundred small boat operations over the next few decades, and that he penned the regulations that split the cod quota in the Gulf of Alaska to this day. So I can say my "some" is in fact fairly visionary and a hard, honest worker.

Further, he says that "All, or 98%, were eased out of the trade by Halibut IFQ's.  Eased out may not be the term. A good 50% were gone in two years along with a net loss of $20 million or more out of Kodiak's "net worth".  An $800,000 longliner capable of the most distant fishing could be had for $100,000 a year or so after passage." I have yet to see the drop in vessel values factored into anything once privatization goes into effect in a fishery. NOAA refuses to this day to do the required cost-benefit analyses on their North Pacific privatization programs. Anyone want to venture to privatize Medicare?

The issue of this post is a backroom deal that apparently was hammered out by our favorite fish data banker for the Gulf of Alaska to allow the cod draggers to not only catch their quota, with newly minted IFQs, but to switch gear and go for other fishermen's quota as well. Namely the pot and longline fishermen's quota. And the jigger's quota. Although they probably will stick with just using pots since the gear is a better match-up for their boats. 

And that our favorite back-door deal-maker takes money from both fishing and processing interests. But not from the small boat fleet, the bread and butter of the coastal communities. This is the kind of thing that is now before a judge in Oregon: the stripping of the harvesting rights from the small boat fleet. The best guess is that the Kodiak fleet would contract 20 to 25% if this were to gain traction. The plot seems awfully brash to be taken seriously, but then so was the 'two-pie theory' that launched crab ratz and the loss of 1,100 good crab jobs, or the halibut and salmon stock crashes that are not being pinned on the trawlers to much extent.

This give-away to the GOA trawlers isn't on the North Pacific Council agenda yet, but maybe in December if the Council still feels they are invulnerable to public opinion. The current Republican administration in Alaska has a hands-off attitude when it comes to North Pacific Fisheries Management Council business. Just like they do for Western Alaska and all the Native villages, which spawns such unbelievable corruption and consolidation of wealth. 

I started raising these issues with the Alaska Municipal League twenty years ago to not much avail. (They did publish my Fisheries Infrastructure Development 'white paper' though.) There is a nascent movement in American communities now to go directly to the heart of issues that affect them, instead of relying on higher levels of government. Take a good look at your representatives in Washington and see if this might be wise. That is if your representative isn't skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee like a now famous U.S. Representative recently did..
One mayor in Alaska I know did form a group to "discover what is going on in the fishing industry." Haven't heard if that went anywhere, but one of the more robust members of their business community was famously sent to prison back East recently, so all that hoopla must have educated the good mayor a little. I think the city managers should be the ones to get a handle on the overall business environment that affects the health of the community so profoundly. And if THEY can bring home the bacon in EXPANDED business activity, pay them handsomely. The converse should be true as well.
If there isn't a mechanism in place in coastal communities to initiate a written report for public consumption, there should be. Better yet, the drafting of it should be like Wikepedia does: public input on a web site that is moderated by a totally unbiased board dedicated to the truth. Well, I know that doesn't sound like fun, but it sure would be good for business, the environment, and cultural norms like apple pie and motherhood and shoes on the kids and all that.

"-the need to preserve and sustain America’s fishing communities like Gloucester before the likes of Lubchenco’s NOAA and EDF succeed in bringing about a virtual “agribusiness” of the seas." This was taken from the most recent e-newsletter of 'Saving Seafood.'  Lack of transparency is going to be the downfall of Alaska's pillar industries. One might say, "Well, our institutions aren't any different that they always have been." The problem is that modern devices such as factory trawlers and mineral extraction processes have the capacity of doing as much damage in a year as all of history before it. And there doesn't seem to be much resistance to the deployment of such destructive technology. Mostly because whatever administration is in power, they always turn a blind eye to such activity it seems, state or federal. 

The public can't conceive of an Alaska without it's king salmon or halibut, because pictures of barn-door halibut and big Kenai kings from years past keep getting plastered all over to bring in the tourists. Guess what? it makes it very difficult to get anyone excited about fish stock crashes to prevent them from dropping below the recovery point. It happens all the time in Alaska. Take king crab around Kodiak for example, and the blue king crab around the Pribilof Islands, multitudes of individual herring stocks along the thousands of miles of shoreline, and unknown thousands of the ten thousand streams that had salmon that are now down to a remnant - far below 'endangered.'

To keep the fish plants running, they had to start 'ocean ranching,' which accounts for half the total salmon production now. But I digress, from what looks like another major step toward the 'agri-business' model for Alaska's fisheries. And areas like Western Alaska are being just plain sacrificed for these ends. If this statement seems baffling, read back through my blog posts. And subscribe by hitting the RSS feed button on the top of my blog.

I want to add one more comment, lest someone blame Obama for the mess. Lousy fish conservation and consolidation of wealth has been going on for decades under every administration, hinting at some higher power in control of such things, and I don't mean in the spiritual realm. Under Obama at least nine salmon stopping dams have been removed in the Pacific Northwest. None were removed before his administration. Just say'n.