Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Ratz: Kodiak assemblies’ letter misses the protective mark

January 26, 2013

In December, the Federal Register declared that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is proceeding on giving away federal fish resources to selected trawl recipients in the Gulf of Alaska. Homer, Kodiak, King Cove and Sand Point are among the most affected — all challenged to economically protect their fishery dependent coastal municipalities and boroughs.

The local city of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough’s joint fishery work group has shown concern and held many meetings over the past seven months, listening to input from all sides.

One must applaud when elected officials get highly involved; but that is only if they truly keep the public’s interests foremost. They could take a lesson from New Bedford’s former Mayor Lang’s firm stance about preserving fishing jobs and protecting the local economy against privatization forces.

The GOA trawl sector wants to move this forward without other gear sectors to avoid other measures that the council already began to favor, on bycatch restrictions and more observer coverage, and limit analysis. They covet another Catch Share ‘privatization’ scheme – a public larceny.

Catch shares are not defined in US fisheries law.  Just as the words fishermen and harvesters.  A common definition of the gifted rights is Individual Fishing (or Transferable) Quotas – IFQs or ITQs. And those rights have been designed to be salable, inheritable, and otherwise propertied and privatized.

In Catch Share programs derived from existing Limited License Permit situations, catch history years are engineered to favor certain recipients. Captains and crew – active participants who do all the fishing – get left out.  Many lose jobs, and those who remain get paid less.

The CS proponents design IFQs to strip off the excess capital of labor for themselves. Catch shares are indisputably a euphemism for directed or limited access privilege programs (LAPPs), part of the MSA (Magnuson Stevens Act) limited access systems approach, as are regional fishing associations (RFAs). Sharing sounds good when it applies to giving candy to kids. But privatization of public resources, giving away individual fishing quotas in perpetuity, ends all sharing.

It’s the death knell for young and new fishermen to enter the fishery.

A proper impact statement and required analysis for the entire groundfish and related GOA multi-species complex would take years. That’s unacceptable to greedy proponents of personalized catch shares. Total catch limits are already in place and if trawlers wanted to, they could manage catch timing among themselves in coordination with their processors.  In fact, they already do so for the large part, and accept low ex-vessel prices, because of the plenary power of several large foreign-owned processors in Kodiak.

Others propose individual bycatch quotas (IBQs) – for highly valuable black cod and other species: like one’s former Senator Ted Stevens got conveniently named ‘secondary species’ to remove them from bycatch repute. But awarding rights to harm the environment guarantees as-dirty-as-now fishing and goes against sustainability.

They are like carbon credits that cost governments hundreds of billions, get absorbed by the worst polluters, avoid needed abatement, and do zilch for cleaner air. Strategically, IBQs can provide a short step to IFQs.  CS trawl proponents say they don’t want them, for the most part, believing the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) would stop their plans.

IBQs might work if they were actually accountable by vessel (and once reached that boat is off the water for the rest of the year); non-salable, and non-transferable; but they still fly in the face of conservation and sustainability when they entrench rights to harm non-target species.  They insult the Precautionary Approach requirements and brand the USA a bad player in global fisheries management.

At the least, it’s another layer of regulations that waste money and fail to do something about obtaining better ocean stock assessments. Twisted in with all this is the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) as a volume measure rather than a dynamic definition of the tradeoffs among maximum economic yield (MEY) which in terms of competitive industry often means a volume level down the scale, avoiding operating right up against the steep slope of fishery collapse at the mysterious sustainable maximum.  Complex stuff, but simple in concept.  Especially if long-term perspective fishermen truly want to leave adequate stocks for the future.

The Kodiak city and borough merely just fashioned a generalized letter to the council about the trawl sector proposal. I say generalized because one could also call it weak.

Oh, it is well written and well-intended, for the most part. They are trying to stand up for Kodiak and probably figure the diplomatic soft touch is best.  In the face of another impending ‘disaster economics’ game of catch shares – for one of the USA’s largest fish locales. But what else can cities, let alone states do against globalist corporations who even overpower the national government?

Furthermore, the council doesn’t have to do anything communities want — especially if the governor’s squad of NPFMC members won’t take an anti-giveaway, anti-privatization perspective.

We have seen this over and over again during the past two decades.

So this current crop of elected officials – even as they attempt to get up to speed and work hard to figure out the council process and fish game – will likely be just one more to fall prey to the carpetbaggers and moneyed interests behind Catch Shares. Politicians often get in the habit of compromising, particularly where there is no right to. The USA does not ‘own’ the fish in the Gulf of Alaska. Politically tainted agencies have no right to give away ownership. You know about political correctness, but have you ever heard of a group neurosis, or a hive mentality?

It is at work here, from NOAA down to the NPFMC, and from the State of Alaska through to its municipalities in many cases, with few able to stand up based on known facts about the harms of CS privatizations. It makes sense though.  Where would the average Alaskan official, remote and parochial by placement, ever get the savvy – let alone the jadedness required – about global business tax avoidance strategies, price-fixing designed cartels, and many other relevant hard truths?

They are often lambs to the slaughter at the council meetings.

They are very good at handling city and borough business, and must answer to the clamor of their constituents first. But a fish dependent community should be concentrated as well on the real sources of its economic wealth – high ex-vessel prices, no sealord lease fees – capital flight, and lots of working fishermen.

Serving as a branch economy to Japan and a few other transnationalists is not a worthy ‘stability.’

The letter ignores current policy atmospherics. The inspector general of the Commerce Department just issued its first report on concerns over transparency and problems with council members’ financial disclosures and conflicts of interest on votes. How many times in the past decade have corporate and catch share proponents prevailed at the NPFMC over addressing crab crew concerns by 6-to-5 votes and other faction-based squeakers?

Not only crew suffer as sealords sell off their steel and only a few new owners – like former captains who got cheated out of their 15% or more rights – and bleed 70% of the fishing dollars off the top in lease fees.  They pass through Kodiak’s banks (if at all) for mere hours – on the laundry trail to Arizona and Hawaii sealord domiciles.

The letter ignores the widespread violation of federal Lay Share laws designed over a century ago, and currently part of the Commercial Fishing Industry Safety Act of 1988 (and other statutes) that is an Admiralty law which is supposed to protect crew.  Groundswell believes that even before CS programs are in place that these federal laws are widely broken, and the US Coast Guard – if they be ‘the Admiralty’ – seems to turn its back on active fishermen.  Or is NOAA OLE responsible to insure all vessels have proper contracts before voyages commence?

Back to the letter. Kodiak shouldn’t fall to divide and conquer and the public relations Wurlitzer of the trawl sector’s trickery to get IFQs and get them first. The city and borough are being alienated by the sweet cake of community shares ownership (under a first ever RFA?) while other fishermen are getting net-hanged. Yet they have been fully aware that in repeated fish work group meetings the CS trawl proponents are playing their cards close to the vest, and not disclosing what they want, while opponents and other proposal groups are engaging in a fairly open dialogue. The joint fish members can do nothing about the CS proponents acting as spies and quislings rather than good citizens. But they don’t have to believe the privatization Wurlitzer messages.

Given Bering Sea pollock privatization then Crab Ratz’s harms, and knowing the history of halibut IFQs, to ask for more of the harmful ‘intended consequences’ follows the definition of insanity. By now, fishery dependent communities should have a hardened and rejecting stance toward IFQs that in any way represent rights of ownership by a select few recipients.  The public larceny. Accordingly, the joint letter’s biggest defaults are that, first, it failed to loudly declare support for captains and crew. Kodiak and other GOA communities were Alaska’s ground zero for the Crab Ratz financial firebombing of hundreds of fishermen.

Second, it disregarded exorbitant lease fees that already do and for the new program will drain Kodiak and its fishermen. Yet those jobs and dollars generate local taxes. And without stealing the capital surplus of labor, the IFQ loans don’t pencil out well for quotaholders and their banksters.

That’s why it is important Congress set in statute the definition of fishermen and harvesters, and ensure that those fishing at-sea, in the wheelhouse and on deck, get recognized for their investments, too. Vessel ‘investment’ through NOAA backed loan guarantees shored up by promised wealth in perpetuity of once-public resource commonwealth, but now gifted private riches, is depreciated. That means the net investment is already recovered from the US government, in effect.  Why subsidize it further and ignore labor’s investment?

Third is the problem of the global tax evasion strategies of foreign-controlled firms and other TNCs, and the hundreds of millions, billions, they do and have taken out of the regional economy. Visit the GroundswellAlaska-dot-com website to read about Abusive Transfer Pricing. We might better off asking Congress to set a national fish price per pound, and some floor prices on pollock and cod. Kodiak might also be better off to ask NOAA to invite US Customs in to check every single vanload of fish products – for both quality and quantity and honest labeling – and to tally up the real worth.

If the globalist kleptocracy can’t operate here without extreme scrutiny, then game over.

The game might also be contained with trawl speed restrictions and vessel monitoring systems.  For now, the “revised” observer program is rolling toward a huge drop in coverage for the major trawl vessels catching a majority of the GOA groundfish.  The City and Borough knew this too.  So, maybe what we’re dealing with here is just how difficult it is, even for a well-meaning set of transient public officials, to handle what also confounds the rest of us: resource policy itself.

Remember foremost, there are fixed gear ‘directed fishery’ groups able to catch fish and maximize the net national value and sustainability who provide far more jobs. The letter needed to open up the door to concerns for value-added products, processed and bound for the USA, and local processing plant jobs, too. Those of you familiar with the problems and dilemmas of New Zealand, Iceland and other catch share experiments know how hard it is to put the genie back in the bottle.

Kodiak needs to put all hands on the cork and fasten it down tight, not take a compromising peak inside. As fishery expert Seth Macinko of the University of Rhode Island recently told the community leaders, “there are no unintended consequences, we know exactly what harms will come about” from IFQs and fleet concentration. He then inquired, “The question to you as policy makers: Is this what you want for Kodiak?” Groundswell Fisheries Movement Comment here