Sunday, December 30, 2012

Frankenfish or Dinofish

Shannyn Moore's latest column in the Anchorage Daily News on GMO fish started my gears grinding again. Not that I'd touch an 'Atlantic Salmon' with a ten foot pole with all the hormones and chemical therapies used to keep them alive in pens. Besides just not tasting right. I guess I'm like the small rodents that won't eat GMO corn. I sense some danger there somewhere, even when it's hot smoked.

AquaAdvantage is counting on most people not being able to notice anything wrong with their new version of Atlantic salmon since nobody notices anything wrong with the current version. Of course, most folks haven't been a commercial salmon fisherman like me to have had so much top quality salmon readily available to consume than one person can tolerate. I admit it, I'm spoiled on good fish.

There are some serious flaws with the hype to get this new GMO version of the Atlantic Salmon on the market. As for feeding the world, there is a snowball's chance in hell that any seafood at all will find it's way into Sub-Sahara Africa. In fact, there is a snowball's chance that it will end up on Appalachian dinner plates either. The U.N. figured tilapia would be 'the fish that will feed the world.' They were wrong. Just look in grocery stores, especially ones in third world countries.

As for growing twice as fast: that means these fish have to eat twice as much. What are they going to eat? They like other seafood, and that takes food out of the mouths of other commercial species. If fed corn, wow!, you're feeding GMO feed to GMO fish, how awesome. Not. Tilapia fed corn is considered as inflammatory to the body as a breakfast of straight bacon. Remember, 85 % of disease is caused by inflammation. The Europeans did a lot of research on GMO crops and don't like even the thought of it. The research was damning. In this country, the FDA just uses the company's own research. How cute!

The Federal Government may well allow open ocean feed lots for these fish as the way to get more profit back to the GMO community of companies, Monsanto included. I realize that saying this has no effect on the companies pushing the GMO wagon along. They have their own channels of influence to 'git 'er done.' And I have no insight into how to stop them except to point out what I think adds up to a danger to society and the environment.

To start with, where would this stop if allowed to begin in animals? What kind of creatures could we begin developing? Would we develop hordes of flying Tasmanian devils that could rip insurgents, or American citizens, to shreds. Researchers certainly could get creative. My first concern was the fact that they use a growth gene from an eel to really get the pounds of meat on, and the bones and teeth and fins. Do they stop growing when at a nice market size, or do they keep on growing? Some other land animals like iguanas have this same trait. I think in the wild these organisms die before getting too big. Or do they just grow real fast and then stop at the right size?

The dinosaurs had this 'grow big' trait too. Who's to say that these new fish wouldn't keep on growing if they found enough food. If a school of say 20,000 of them escaped, like often happens in the existing farmed salmon industry, there could be behemoth fish swimming all over the ocean eating who knows what. That is a question that you probably won't get answered. Even if these things are grown inland in swimming pools like catfish.

While I was on a Kibbutz in Israel, they were raising fish in ponds, had tank trucks, a cold storage plant, etc. They said 'Moroccan Jews' from Beit Sean would sneak around and steal fish. Who's to say the same thing wouldn't happen with these fish, and they get put into the environment like starlings or Tibetan blackberry were in North America.

If there is a big 'oops' and this gets out of control, the investors sure don't have to worry. The corporation just files bankruptcy, and they form a new corporation with a new name and keep right on chugging along. If that's even necessary. Has any corporation been sanctioned seriously for environmental disasters? Not so much. But recently looking at a list of 32 abandoned major cities in the world throughout history I'm reminded that being great, if indeed we are, doesn't mean we will last. And it was mostly bad leadership that did the places in.

The citizenry now, as back then, are screaming to stop the insanity before it's too late. I have a bit of direct experience with eating food that isn't compatible with my health, yet is touted widely as saving humanity from starvation. Wheat. I went to a Naturopath a couple of years ago for peripheral neuropathy (skin going numb) and other skin problems I've had since childhood. He said I was intolerant of wheat. It took a year and a half to completely kick the wheat habit, but now a multitude of problems have corrected themselves. Food can easily be made to be toxic, yet be widely advertised as healthy and even subsidized to promote the consumption of such. Nobody can argue with that.

I'll bet that the exiting head of the FDA, Lisa Jackson, is bailing out so she isn't implicated in this train wreck, and others in their realm. Let somebody else be in the wheelhouse when it goes off the tracks. In a way this started with Tyson's relationship with Clinton and Tyson's new ability to buy into Alaska's fishing industry, thanks to Clinton privatizing the fish resources with Individual Fishermen's Quotas. Now IFQ's are wreaking havoc on the marine environment and our fish supplies are dwindling and someone thinks we need a replacement source of fish. Just fix the fishing industry by ditching the privatization.

Well, now that the system is cast in stone, like in the government would have to spend billions to buy out fishermen who bought quotas. The vastly fewer fishermen left, who won in the program, don't want change either. We have run our coastal economies into the ditch, but going into the other ditch isn't the answer.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Forgotten Crewmen in the Sea of Privatization

 Shawn Dochterman rolled into our driveway one winter day in Southern Oregon after visiting family in Germany and California. He had also just come from a speaking engagement at a WWII Veterans convention in Washington D.C. I loaned him a favorite book of exploration and cannery building in Alaska in exchange for his signed copy of a tome on Alaska history by a University of Alaska professor

That loaner book traveled with him into the Bering Sea and was in peril when the halibut boat he was on took a rogue wave over the stern and he had to abandon ship in a survival suit. I'd heard about the sinking and the next day I received a call with him saying, "John, don't worry about your book, I threw it in my water-proof duffel bag before I went over the side." Then he explained how he and his crewmates fared floating alone in that big body of stormy water. This blog post is a study of contrasts on who is really looking out for the health of the fishing industry. 

Shawn's article is suddenly newsworthy for the National Fisherman magazine, as the East Coast is feeling the shackles of privatization. Alaskans were sounding warnings as far back as halibut and black cod privatization, and salmon limited entry before that in the early '70s. 

Crab crewmembers in Alaska aren't the drooling automatons that politicians would like to paint them as by the way they are treated. And of course you won't learn a thing about the social engineering in the Alaska king and snow crab fisheries from the 'Deadliest Catch' show. Shawn wrote this piece on his favorite fishery and I think it does the best job of succinctly describing the train wreck of fisheries management at the hands of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, et al.. 

Remember, Sen. Stevens famously said "Alaska is a lot closer to Japan than Washington D.C.," when asked about his machinations in helping out his favorite fishing industry players, some of whom were Japanese investors. This is the model of fisheries management that prevails today, complete with all the original obfuscation, stonewalling, deceit, and flouting of the very body of law they derive their authority from. This is no kind of authority that has the approval of We the People, and it's been going on since the '200 Mile Limit Law' was enacted in 1976. It's no protection for the fish stocks and no protection for the coastal communities with their schools, stores, churches, home values and all. Privatization of the fisheries is no different than past British colonization throughout the world and the use of indigent peoples to create wealth for them..

Forgotten crewman in the Sea of Privatization

The Bering Sea Crab Rationalization plan has resulted in the Godzilla of all privatization programs that leaves the labor portion of the industry with the short end of the crabstick, while granting the quota holders free harvest quotas and the ability to extract hundreds of millions of dollars more in profits right out of the crews' pockets.

This program was planted into the federal register by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). In 2001 he asked the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to decide if the Bering Sea crab fisheries needed to be privatized and if the processors deserved some type of allocation, as well. The council in June of 2002 passed a fishery management plan that gave 97 percent of the active fishing privileges to LLP holders, a pittance of 3 percent quota shares to crab captains, nothing to crewmen and rights to processing companies that ensured they would receive 90 percent of the deliveries.

There were protests at that June 2002 meeting, "What are we doing; is it even legal?" asked Robin Samuelson, a council member.

There were alternatives to give quota to crew in the documents, but the council never even read them into the record. The advisory panel had a minority report that predicted every problem that would be created by rationalization, but Chairman Dave Benton skipped over it. The AP members had to use their personal public comment time to read it into the record. This shows that the council was not in compliance with the standard operating procedures of the regional fishery councils and deviated from being in compliance with the regulatory process.

More than 1,000 crewmen lost their jobs with this decision, and most of them had been in the fishery for 20 to 25 years. Now about 420 jobs are left in both the Bering Sea red king crab and opilio (snow) crab fisheries, and most are being paid much less now because the quota holders have control and charge exorbitant lease rates on quota for which they never paid a dime.

The normal rate of lease for king crab quota is 70 to 75 percent, while 50 to 60 percent is taken for opilios, and the crew usually pay the 7 to 8 percent IFQ, buyback and administration taxes, as well as all of the expenses after the quota holders have taken their leases first. Before rationalization, on average crewmen made 6 percent of the gross minus raw fish landing tax (borough), fuel, bait, and pot loss, then their share of the provisions was deducted. If a crewman makes 2 or 3 percent now, he is one of the lucky ones; many make only 1/2 to 1 percent.

Crewmen as an aggregate used to receive 35 to 40 percent of the gross proceeds for crab minus expenses, but now they receive 15 to 20 percent, while many quota shareholders do not own a boat but take the lion's share of the profits. A publicly held common resource has been privatized so an elite few investors can extract profits.

The 2002 council-preferred alternative for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island crab crewmen was a $3 million NOAA loan program that allowed crew to buy quota. The program was initiated in October 2005 (the quota shares were issued to vessel owners), while the loan program was not available until 2011. The approximate value of Bering Sea/Aleutian Island quota shares is $1.2 billion, and the loan program is supposed to make $5 million available to crew. One of the problems, there is almost no crab quota available on the market for crew to buy. Second there is no way to ascend in the fisheries to skipper or vessel owner, as the quotas never have to change hands to active participants. The families of those who inherit the quota can reap the profits as a dynasty without ever stepping foot on a boat. So the crew is left only with empty hands and hurting backs.

The Bering Sea/Aleutian Island rationalization program was written into law as a rider (November 2002), at the hands of Sen. Stevens, into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2003. The environmental impact statement for the program was not finished until June 2004. Chairman of U.S. Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Subcommittee Chairwoman of Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) wrote Sen. Stevens a letter stating that they had jurisdiction of fisheries issues in protest to his fisheries legislation that was being prepared to be inserted as end-run legislation, to no avail.

The council had the chance to collect data on the crew, leasing of quotas, and profits to quota shareholders in a motion to collect the legally required federal contracts and reconcilable settlement sheets (that we've asked the council to collect for five years) for all vessels over 20 tons and the reconcilable settlement sheets for all the crew in a meeting in Seattle February 2012. But the council declined to collect this data even though their own Science and Statistical Committee voiced that there was a social contract to collect the data when privatizing a public resource. The council received a letter from an attorney, Peter Van Tuyn, in April 2011 requesting that the council collect the necessary data on crew and leasing for the rationalization program to be in compliance with National Standards No. 2 and No. 4 that crewmen were never treated fairly and equitably in the allocation process. The council never responded to the letter or made an effort to collect the data.

There is also the issue of the restraint of trade as a result of the regionalization of landings. There were eight processors in the northern region of the Bering Sea. Now there are only two , which slows the ability of the fishing vessels to offload their crab. The fleet will be lucky to deliver all of the total allowable catch by the May 31 season closure. The landing requirements (processor quotas) have forced vessels to wait to fish so they could make delivery to their processor.

Of course our Alaskan delegation in Washington as well as the council tout crab rationalization as one of the best catch shares fishery management plans in the land. And to think that Alaskan catch share plans are supposed to be the model for the nation. From a crewman's point of view there is no light at the end of the tunnel, only a spotlight on corrupt fish politics from Anchorage to D.C.

Shawn C. Dochtermann
Kodiak, Alaska

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Bycatch = Goodby Catch

Dear Ms. Bonney of Kodiak. Your theory about giving the National Marine Fisheries Service the "tool" sounds a little fishy to me. The 'tool' in your mind is that sledge hammer called privatization. The problem is that it's the absolutely wrong tool for the job, irrespective of it's 'killer capitalism' traits that kill the American dream for thousands of people, just to enrich your clients.. Like using a bowling ball to drive a tack into the wall. Maybe more like giving the class bully a garden hose to hose everyone real good. Just plain wrong on many levels.

What is becoming painfully apparent is that there is a finite amount of fish in Alaska. Now the halibut fishery, that famous by-catch of the Kodiak trawl fleet, is down 75% in the last half dozen years. And you want to reward the folks who have perpetuated it?  The East Coast Canadians found this out when their cod stocks collapsed from deploying factory trawlers.. They didn't really start trawling on those iconic stocks until about the 1950s. Hook and line fishing had gone on there for about a thousand years prior to that. The early seafarers like John Calbot, a contemporary of Columbus,  had found fleets of hundreds of Portugese salt codders. The Portugese had been quietly hauling back big sailing ships full of salt cod for hundred of years by then.

The problem is not which tool NMFS uses to manage the bullies, but what the ground rules of the game should be. Why is it that other gear groups aren't pursuing the Pacific ocean perch, that vast cloud of a resource that resides near the bottom out on 'the edge', unlike pollock? Is it because the ground rules don't give other gear groups an equal footing? I think it is. The rest of the strategy to keep competing gear groups away is to only offer peanuts for the POP at the dock. That way the little time that is given to longliners or pot fishermen is just about enough to cover fuel. It's just one malfeasance after another. I about gag when I hear the term good 'science' thrown around. About as much science going on in the Gulf of Alaska as the 'cow pie theory' in the Bering Sea. Chances are good that there is no stopping the resource slide that the rest of the continental U.S. has experienced.

Trawls aren't the only way to catch bottom-fish. The trawlers just got there first, and they aim to keep other folks out. As soon as they can get 'Qs', they will be hounding NMFS to up the limits on POP. And they can go WAY up, and so can the price. POP is almost a luxury item in Asia. Look at what the Japanese and Russians were catching in the sixties.Of course the foreign fleet knocked the POP down so bad they took all this time to come back.

Trawling reminds me of the old Greek fishing method of using dynamite, which was popular after WWII. I didn't see any fishing going on when I was there thirty years later. Remember, it was Jane Lubchenko's own contemporaries in Oregon who found that bottom trawling extinguishes 30% of the bottom species complex, much like using dynamite. And in some cases, like arrowtooth flounder fishing, going for the crap fish just to get to keep some valuable species as by-catch. Halibut not being one they can keep.

Ms. Bonney is strictly a trawl lobbyist, so it baffles me why she is quoted all the time in the press. Did they quote Jack Abramoff all the time? And don't bother asking NMFS  what are the alternative gear types. They have had decades to forward their knowledge and they didn't. Maybe I should have shown a little more interest in moving to Kodiak back in the '80s when I was queried whether I wanted to go there and do gear research. I didn't go because I had seen enough to figure out that trawls were just wrong.

I had just invented an automatic baiting machine for the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. I've done a lot of private reading on gear before and since that. My brother and I got the first dedicated fin-fish pots in the water in Alaska in Clarence Straits for black cod in the mid '70s and pioneered the gillnet roe herring fishery. Both methods are selective for specie, and in the case of herring, size as well. There are places fishermen selectively fish for POP type rockfish. Remember, this is the pearl of great price for the trawlers; damn the rest of the fleet and the resources, full speed ahead..

Here's some more reading on trawl bycatch, from the front lines:

Pollock trawlers exceed king salmon cap, driving debate
by James Brooks/ editor@kodiakdailymirror.comKodiak Daily Mirror
Nov 28, 2012
Next week, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council will consider a proposal to extend a cap on king salmon catches to trawl fisheries across the Gulf of Alaska.
Intense debate over that proposal is being colored by the performance of the pollock trawl fishery, the sole group already operating under a king salmon cap.
“Basically, the whole thing was a disaster,” said Julie Bonney of the Groundfish Data Bank, which advocates on behalf of trawlers.
This fall, trawlers in the western Gulf of Alaska were put on a diet of king salmon for the first time. Under new rules, they were allowed to catch up to 5,589 king salmon in their nets as they pursued pollock, the fish that shows up in fish sticks and makes up the majority of Alaska’s seafood production.
According to data from the National Marine Fisheries Service, western Gulf trawlers pulled in more than 8,300 king salmon —150 percent of the cap.
That’s alarming, said Kelly Harrell, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, which is in favor of king salmon caps for all trawl fisheries. “At a time when many of our Chinook salmon stocks are in crisis and literally every king counts, it is extremely disappointing to see data showing the Chinook bycatch cap has been greatly exceeded in the western Gulf pollock fishery,” Harrell wrote in an email.
Under normal circumstances, western pollock trawlers would have been shut down as soon as they reached the cap. NMFS fishery manager Mary Furuness said that didn’t happen because few fisheries observers were assigned to western pollock trawlers and didn’t deliver data to NMFS fast enough for that agency to react.
“It’s unfortunate,” Furuness said.
Sport fishermen prize king salmon, which also fetch a high price in a small commercial fishery. This summer, fishermen in Cook Inlet endured abysmal king salmon returns that caused the federal government to declare a fishery emergency and residents to draft letters lambasting trawlers as the cause.
NMFS failure to keep the pollock fleet within regulatory limits raises doubts about the federal agency’s ability to impose similar caps on non-pollock trawlers, Bonney said. She pointed to a portion of NMFS’ own analysis, to be presented next week.
“NMFS’ ability to manage Chinook salmon PSC limits in the (Gulf of Alaska) nonpollock fisheries is likely to be difficult,” that analysis states in part.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
3:34 PM
Unfiled Notes Page 1
"... is likely to be difficult,” that analysis states in part.
AMCC advocates a cap of 5,000 fish for nonpollock trawlers, and Harrell said if NMFS gets good data, a cap can be managed successfully. “Limits on bycatch are critical, and fishery managers have an important opportunity to put a cap on Chinook bycatch in non-pollock Gulf fisheries where there currently is none. However, accurate, timely and increased observer data is essential to ensuring bycatch caps are meaningful," she wrote in an email.
Bonney, meanwhile, advocates rationalizing the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, a process that would assign each boat an individual catch quota.
Without rationalization, Bonney said, NMFS doesn’t have the tools to address the king salmon problem in either the pollock fishery or any other kind of trawling. “We don't have the infrastructure and the management tools to manage to that kind of precision,” she said.
The North Pacific council is scheduled address nonpollock trawl fishing caps Thursday afternoon in Anchorage. Additional information is available at the council website,
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at
Read more:
Unfiled Notes