The daunting task of fisheries revitalization was dealt another blow by the Board of Fish in Ketchikan last Sunday (Feb. 19). In a 4-2 vote, the board rejected a proposal to split the quota equally among the 51 permit holders in the Sitka sac rose herring seine fishery.
Never mind that 27 out of 28 Southeast resident permit holders were favored equal harvest shares and that less than 10 percent overall opposed. Never mind that only one out of nine processors was opposed. Never mind that a McDowell Group study showed that the Southeast regional economy would benefit through an increase in overall fishery value and more processing activity, that the local tender fleet would likely carry a greater proportion of the product, and that crewmen would have more stable incomes. Never mind that ADF&G, although forced to be neutral on the proposal due to its perceived implications, acknowledged that there would be some management advantages, that it would help in "development" of the fishery and that an equal split of the quota would make it easier to accommodate thorny subsistence issues. And never mind the safety and liability issues.
The prevailing wisdom of the board, expressed by one member, was "I'm looking out for the guy who wants to 'fish.'" Another member, before casting his no vote said, "it's about more than economics." Well, take that one to your banker! And for all these years I've been thinking that a commercial fishery ought to be designed to make money that can support families and communities - silly me! Another board member said he was concerned about and "investor" fishery. Excuse me again, but doesn't any potential new entrant, except maybe a trust-fund baby, have to be pretty careful about how that hard-earned money is invested in the fishing business? Many if not most younger fishermen these days have been able to leverage into bigger and better fishing operations only because "investors" have chosen to stay home. How do the mothers, fathers, wives and other loved ones feel about a Board of Fish that expressly rejects valid safety concerns when crafting management plans?
While our Board of Fish looks out for the "real" fishermen, the real world market may just decide to go somewhere else to get the right product. In case of roe herring from Sitka, we are faced with a dwindling consumer base in a narrow Japan-only market, Canadian producers who have already restructured for more rational market-based system and Russian stocks that are a lot closer to the final consumers than Alaska. Does anyone remember the "salmon crisis?"
Charles W. Treinen