Groundswell – Opposing Catch Share Embezzlements for the Gulf of Alaska


Gulf of Alaska groundfish trawl bycatch amendments for analysis top this week’s North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Kodiak. First up is the 10-year review of the Crab privatization quota system. It put roughly 1,350 fishermen out of work and shifted roughly $800 million of labor’s surplus to some sealords — embezzled from captains and crew.

Many sealords don’t fish now. They lease out their individual fishing quotas (IFQs) for up to 70% to those who do fish, for reduced net revenues. One of the largest recipients used his government social welfare awards and annual crab profits to buy up property that’s now putting over 100 Kodiak families out of a trailer court.

King Cove was economically devastated by Crab Ratz, too. Social values and community benefits are simply steamrolled over by resource exploiters as more money leaves our shores.

Into today’s capital flight torrent enters 40 groundfish trawlers, also wanting a mixed economy of brutish capitalism combined with another socialistic program of government giveaways. That’s Alternative 2 in the analysis outline, an IFQ proposal. It will result in more capital fleeing Alaska, robbing our communities of the labor surplus that drives rounds of respending that stimulate coastal economies.

Greed and lazy are common economic bedfellows. They’ll embezzle 70% off the top, too. IFQs are euphemistically called “catch shares,” while those who do fish get less of a share than before.

Since they saw trawl IFQs as inevitable politically, a splinter group of weak feeling local fishermen came up with a nonsensical idea to at least get one piece of the giveaway trawl pie, in something misnamed a Community Fishing Association.

That would be Alternative 4, that a non-profit group holds minor quota in the hopes of allowing a few future new entrants, maybe, to get some groundfish. Yet the CFA board would consist nearly exclusively of elected public officials, not real fishermen at all. With the marriage of those two alternatives, you’ll probably need twin beds: only one will be king sized and the other lucky to get a pecuniary blanket.

The main issue remains the destruction of the halibut biomass, migrating salmon, and the bottom trawling that smashes crab restocking into oblivion, so along came Alternative 3, Bycatch quota allocations (BQAs). Introduced by the State of Alaska, it’s an absurd and eccentric form of a market-based solution. It takes a page right out of globally failed Cap and Trade emissions trading systems. It would award harms to ecosystem to the greatest plunderers known around the globe’s seas, bottom trawlers.

BQAs conveniently ignore bycatch stocks belong to sport fishermen, longliners, and subsistence users. Letting cartelized cooperatives swap and trade these BQAs, instead of reducing harms until bycatch stocks recover, is perversely called a needed incentive. Just give your teenager a new SUV, wallet full of cash for gas, and hand over the keys right after he recklessly totaled the old family car, because you trust he’s learning and soon to become a responsible adult.

Incentivize harms? That’s carbon credit failures all over again.

All this would occur without the nation demanding deterrents, say offsets like giving up of black cod stocks caught in trawls in order to pressure abusers to reduce harms on the halibut stocks.

Last time the Council met in Kodiak, the name of the regulation game was hard caps and percentage reductions in bycatch levels for each of the fleet or gear sectors involved. Something concrete and meaningful, and truly incentivizing if one’s goal is to support sustainable fisheries. But the would be IFQ sealords again want to convince the Council and public that only by going anti-competitive will they be able to magically find the incentive to fish clean, and be good stewards of the oceans they rapaciously plunder. Common sense about human nature bets otherwise.

Alternative 1, the status quo of open fisheries, with some important features such as full-time observer coverage for all trawl tows on every GOA trawler, combined with greater transparency requirements of businesses who use the public’s commons, is the clear choice for the foreseeable future. NOAA should pay most of those observer costs – the biological component – from the federal budget of over $5 billion it received from Congress, and trawlers and processors pick up a regulatory portion.

The governor should initiate another joint state and federal study of the foreign and outside ownership of fish companies and vessels in Alaska, emphasizing the groundfish industry and related directed fisheries. Also, invite US Customs in to ensure exported products are properly weighed, labeled and valued, so Alaska gets the proper severance tax or fish taxes on our host nation resources. Only then can the Council proceed informed.

Before we forget, let’s also remember that crab ratz analysis was just a means to go around Congress instructions to determine whether or not privatization was needed, and a corrupt Senator Ted Stevens ordered a unanimous Council vote. Then, violating Senate rules, he inserted language in a must-pass Appropriations bill that effectively threw out the restrictions of the Magnuson Stevens fisheries Act, and substituted a new statutory language to grant sealords quotas. Then matched up to what have to be treaty violating processor quota shares to about five specific transnational corporations, excluding the remaining world’s nations from directly competing for USA crab.

A better solution might be Cap, Cut and Balance. Cap bycatch at existing levels, as we also do for target stocks; then continue hard cap percentage reductions, with individual vessel responsibility. The Council was already pursuing hard cap reductions in 2010 by sectors. They could demand offsets from the dirtiest bottom-trawlers, since black cod used to be the longliners’ business realm, and it’s their halibut stocks being taken away by dirty trawling.

Then force technological solutions, on-the-water tools to be used. Don’t create the political anti-competitive, ownership tool of IFQs and allow unbridled BQA greed. Demonstrate the best fishing practices yield the cleanest fishing. Then force all others, dirtier, to balance with the best. Don’t let socialism destroy what’s left of competitive capitalism. Not just for the sake of government sponsored corporate welfare for 40 trawl permit holders.

The hundreds of comment pages already in the NPFMC record under C-5 GOA Trawl Bycatch Mitigation agenda demonstrate how many communities, fishermen, and residents first want up to 10 years of fully observed trawl tows, for every trawler from the time they leave the docks until they return. With NOAA paying for a large part of the science gains. Many also repeat the well-known ills of catch share regimes around the globe.

Even Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker should be able to grasp that capital flight has been destroying coastal communities that are fishing dependent; and the wholesale values to foreign parent firms from their USA exploiting branch’s profit hollow subsidiaries is nothing short of economic treason. Pritzker could get on a plane to Iceland and go talk with the women who have helped retract IFQs, after the UN Human Rights panel found that they violate Article 26 of the International Convention on Human and Political Rights. Iceland itself does not own the fish, and could not legally give it away to a few sealords there either.

In this election year, a reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act without correcting forced statutory IFQ regimes already illegally passed will not go forward. Pritzker has an opportunity to lead, follow, or get out of the way, as the entire globe is rejecting the privatization and profiteering by a few transnational corporations of the public resources belonging to all. It’s the only way to bring back jobs, create a larger middle class, and actually share the commonwealth, especially of the world’s oceans.

Stephen Taufen

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