My Turn: Does UFA still speak for fishermen?

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2003

While following the debate over the new administration's proposal to move the Habitat Division of ADF&G to the Department of Natural Resources, it has been interesting to note the public's dismay at hearing that fishermen's associations have endorsed the plan. Most understand that nothing should be of greater importance to fishermen than protection of fish habitat. Yet the United Fishermen of Alaska has wholeheartedly supported the plan. Do fishermen really favor changing to a system that would dilute accountability, and protection for wild fish, or is it just their association's leaders?

Several times over the last two or three years, UFA executives, particularly the president, Bobby Thorstenson, who is reported to represent 12 percent of Icicle Seafoods stock, have on their own, jumped out in front on important issues. They have presented views favoring processors, to have been those of fishermen, thus preempting, and denying fishermen's input. This has been a pattern of behavior that has become so clear to insiders, that many now concede that UFA no longer represents fishermen.

Just like on the habitat issue, UFA clearly doesn't represent fishermen's interests by supporting efforts to legalize fish farming in Alaska. UFA has not organized its members to respond to National Marine Fisheries Services' plans to permit fish farms in Alaska's Exclusive Economic Zone. UFA has remained silent about conflicted members of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and the Salmon Industry Task Force, who traffic farmed fish. Recently, UFA has supported a governor's special fishing advisor who has written legislation to legalize fish farms in Alaska. Legalizing fish farms isn't going to help fishermen. UFA has been selling fishermen out.

What is it going to take before something is done to halt what is amounting to the attempted corporate theft of Alaska's fishery resources? Those who are unhappy with the way things have been going lately should seize upon the habitat issue. This issue, like no other, resonates with many people. It could be made the litmus test for where one's loyalties are.

There is a clear pattern of UFA actions that are detrimental to fishermen stretching back about three years. If we continue to let UFA tell the Legislature, and the state, and Congress what we want, we will continue to get more of what we've been getting: less. Everyone had better weigh in, because UFA thinks it has your proxy, and as it has shown over and over again, it is not concerned with what's good for you. We should take up the habitat issue both for what it is, as well as what it could be, the key to unlocking control of UFA by a handful of leaders, whose interests are not the fishermen's, or the publics.

Victor Smith was born in Southeast, spent 40 years in Petersburg, has always fished and currently lives in Friday Harbor, Wash.

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