In a Saturday session, the Senate Resource Committee felt the weight of dozens of coastal fishermen and businesses opposing Senate Bill 113A, "an act relating to the entry into and management of Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries."
Opponents properly identified the bill as a resource reallocation measure. It would shift the catch toward the large boat trawl fleet and its corporate backers, away from the local fixed gear (pot and jig) fleet who exercise greater care and whom produce higher-quality products.
Many opponents pointed out that passage might also lead to a court challenge about how it violates the state constitution and is in conflict with limited-entry law. Moreover, passage would mean the Alaska Legislature endorses lower-quality products over local jobs and value-added revenue growth.
Dumping more second-class products on world markets hardly seems fitting to the reputation of Alaska's seafood. That argument alone should stop this misguided bill, here and now. But it appears that this Ben Stevens' sponsored bill is poised to slide through committee to the Senate floor, possibly this week.
The surest indication of this came when a Kodiak fixed gear permit holder, who had flown to the capital to protect his economic future, introduced a three-year summary of public disclosure (AL-0117) filings by Ben Stevens. The disclosures illuminate that much of Ben's "consulting income" came from proponents of earlier federal rationalization schemes for crab, such as $215,000 from Adak Fisheries processors (who readers should note just received a record civil fine of $3.44 million by NOAA Fisheries for violating crab cap provisions of the American Seafood Act).
The fisherman then asked the question of whether or not there were additional, yet undisclosed incomes from fishery associations whose leadership are known to oddly support this bill's passage. The committee reacted strongly. And in accusing the permit holder of disrespecting the Senate leader's reputation, then ordered the issue and evidence to be struck from the record altogether.
This clearly violated the First Amendment right to freedom of expression in these United States. And it could serve to hide a serious contextual concern about conflicts of interest from the rest of the Alaska Senate, which may soon be asked to grease the final political tracks of this runaway bill.
This event comes on the heels of Friday's introduction of two new ethics bills, SB 186 and 187, in the Legislature, about the conflicts inherent regarding public employees investments in corporations involved in Alaska industries. As Sen. Hollis French said in Sunday's Juneau Empire, "We live in an open society."
If the Resource Committee does not manage to retract its contemptuous suppression of guaranteed civil rights, and if it flips this over to the Ben Stevens' controlled Senate floor, then citizens and fishermen statewide should immediately phone in to stop it "dead-fish cold!"
Stephen Taufen is the founder of Groundswell Fisheries Movement.