Friday, November 7, 2008

Crab Ratz Problems Well Known Before Implementation

Almost Five Years Ago---The Northern Fish Council Ignored Working Fishermen Then, Too
Here is the naively worded testimony I provided the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council in early 2004, before implementation of Crab Ratz. The fact that none of the socially destructive aspects of Crab Ratz have been addressed to this day is a sad commentary itself.
North Pacific Fisheries Management Council

First of all, I would like to thank you, the North Pacific Fisheries Management council, for waking me up. I had been asleep, and the cold bucket of water that was your crab rationalization plan left me blinking, sputtering, and drenched in outrage.

Because, to me, the rationalization behind rationalization isn’t rational. As a guy who first crabbed in 1984, who has banged and shoveled many tons of salt water ice, hooked and pulled through thousands of buoy setups, pushed, tied and clambered over hundreds of stacks of pots, and dealt on a personal basis with processors, skippers and boat owners, I felt I might be in a position to point out certain errors in the plan’s most basic logical underpinnings.
To wit:
The awarding of permanent buying privileges to a limited number of processors is not justified. If the vessel buyback program is sufficient compensation for the overcapitalization of boat owners, then a similar one time buyback program should suffice for the overcapitalization of processors. To step into the arena of the giving and taking away of freedoms, rights and privileges in a free society should not be the job of the Council, only the management of fisheries. To award buyer’s privileges to these entities is, I think, best understood in terms of the stripping the right of everyone else to buy fish. To extend this thinking logically everyone in the industry should be frozen in place, from cannery workers to deckhands, skippers and owners. Is it the intent of the Council to create a permanent caste system? I don’t think it is, so the Council must reconsider this awarding of the market to an anointed few.
Since the days of the daring Dutchmen in what was then New Amsterdam, free trade has been the engine that powers America. To create Lords of Commerce in the fishing industry is to apply a medieval solution to a modern problem. The Justice Department has numerous reservations about Processor Shares and has predicted a sticky goo of lawsuits. I must concur.

The elimination of consideration for crew, and the minimal consideration offered to skippers is not justified. Every argument offered to support the awarding of shares to processors applies to skippers and crew, who pay, on average, 40% of a boats daily operating expenses plus the cost of their own equipment, and the investment of many hours of labor, for what is only a chance to make money. If they were wage earners, with the owners taking all the risk, making all the investment, and therefore taking all the profit, there would be no claim. But they aren’t. Fishing is a venture, undertaken by contractually linked businessmen, three quarters of which are skippers and crew. The Justice Department hasn’t studied this aspect of rationalization, but surely a similar sticky goo of lawsuits is lurking in the wings for this, too.

I’m an old man, nearly 43, and I thought the sight of me, bent over my cane as I shuffle painfully up the long stairways to attend the meetings might engender a sympathetic ear on the part of the Council. What I have come to learn is that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is not so much a forum of the minds as an advocacy platform. In its well meaning desire to defer to the wishes and concerns of the industry, the Council has formed policy based on the interests of those groups most forcefully represented in the hallways, at the breakfast tables, and in the seats of the Council itself.

I expected to find fire breathing dragons and evil wizards at work when I first began attending Council meetings. To my surprise I spoke to a continuous stream of pleasant, intelligent, engaging people who were doing nothing more or less than their jobs, which was to represent their own interests and those of their employers. Processors, well-informed, well-funded, and well represented on the Council, mounted an impressive campaign, and are now a driving force in the process. Fledgling Skipper/Crew groups like the Gulf Groundfish Fisherman’s Association, the Crewman’s Association and the swelling Deep Sea Fisherman’s Union will probably grow up too late to join the big boys on the field before the game is over.

Still, the potential for backlash is enormous. Every lawsuit, every protest, every disparate group with an axe to grind at the Council’s table has the potential to further slow a process that can be tracked by counting the rings in its trunk. I therefore suggest these two changes:

1. That the number of processors allowed to buy fish in Alaska not be limited. A simple buyback program, in which excess processors would be bought out by those remaining, would be better still.

2. That a “Buy Back My Back” program be implemented to compensate long term participants in the industry:
A long term participant is defined as a skipper or crewman who fulfils his/her full seasonal contractual obligations.
The fund would have two tiers: one for Skipper/Crew participants during the qualifying IFQ years, and one for ongoing participants in the rationalized fishery.

Qualifying participants in the first tier would be assigned one point for each of the IFQ qualifying years in which he fulfils his contractual obligation. Acknowledging that Skipper/Crew often move from boat to boat while requiring contractual fulfillment for qualification recognizes the fluid nature of skipper/crew employment dynamic, while also recognizing the importance of dependable professionals. Qualified participants would receive a one time payment, amount depending on number of points, funded in a way similar to the vessel buyback program. This purpose of this payment would be to enable excess Skipper/Crew to leave the industry, or for those wishing to remain to buy into the industry.

The second tier would be comprised of present day contracted skipper/crew. Upon fulfilling his seasonal contract, he would be signed off by the boat owner and would receive a yearly dividend. The creation of a subsidized health insurance program as an alternate to a dividend could best bring permanent long term benefits to the community of fishers.

Such a program would address issues of equitable distribution of the resource to all stakeholders in the industry as well as fostering a stable, professional pool of contractors for the industry. I strongly urge that these changes be seriously considered as you refine the alternatives for GOA Groundfish and implement the BSAI crab rationalization plan.

I’m sorry I won’t be able to join you for this meeting. I know you’ll miss me. Right now I smell so strongly of squid juice that the automatic doors at Safeway open 25 feet before I arrive. I therefore officially support the efforts of Mr. Kwatchka of the GGFA, Mr. Soma of the DSFU, and the testimony supplied by Mr. Branson of the Crewman’s Association.
Thank You, Terry Haines
Almost five years ago, and the same issues sit on the table while our fishing communities suffer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Red Faced State

Alaska Says: "No We Can't!"

It turns out Don Young is right. Alaskans are the dumbest people on the planet.
And Mr. Young is going back to Washington.
McCain/Palin also easily carried the state, even though the twitchy Mr. McCain often seemed more like a contestant on "Deal or No Deal" than potential commander in chief, especially when he opened the Sarah Palin briefcase. And Mrs. Palin, who seemed to be doing a fine job as governor, didn't seem very presidential lying on the canvas at the feet of the pixieish Katie Couric.
McCain/Palin employed the classic Republican 72 hour blitz strategy. Knowing that the opposition has little time to respond, the candidate saves the most outrageous and gut wrenching ads for the three days just before the election. But, to his credit, I think Annakin McCain was conflicted to the end, and seemed to hold back the worst dogs in his kennel. Mrs. Palin certainly chaffed at her restraints. Alaska's rogue diva whipped chanting and booing crowds into a foamy frenzied meringue that now amounts to a national fan club.
Mrs. Palin has come to to relish the roar of the crowds, and is less conflicted. She will come back to Wasilla not a lame duck, but a restless one.
Don Young's 72 hour blitz was more effective. "I know Alaska." the grizzled grump said, and I guess he's right. Bombing the voters with a last minute ad campaign that claimed Berkowitz would immediately institute a 190 percent tax increase and become Nancy Pelosi's butler, the old warhorse has cruised over the finish line buoyed by the flow of panicking sheep.
Mr. Young's problem is in two years he has to do it all over again. As he continues to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to DC lawyers, desperately challenging a sea of Justice Department evidence line by line, he has to be wondering if the contributions can keep up. He is no longer chairman of anything, and many Republicans resent the King of Earmarks for tarnishing the brand.
Maybe its right that Young and Stevens return to Washington to face their peers and the prosecutors and the press. But its not good for Alaska. The Senate majority leader has promised ethics hearings for Mr. Stevens, should he return, and even senior Republicans are predicting he would be booted out. In that case a special election will be held to replace him.
Now hang on.
I know Mrs. Palin can't appoint herself as Uncle Ted's successor, but surely she can run for it in the special election.
Senator Sarah?