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