My turn: Rainforest Wild benefits all Southeast fishermen

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009

Have you ever tasted the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County and one from Napa Valley? Each region has its own soil structure, geology and weather conditions that create a unique and celebrated wine experience. Bring that idea up to Alaska and you have seafood, which comes with an incredible story for every fisherman, boat and region that harvests from the sea.

By voting to pass a 1 percent assessment to fund Rainforest Wild, Southeast's Regional Seafood Development Association, Southeast fishermen have an opportunity to not only tell their story to the marketplace but also realize infrastructure and quality improvements, and conduct education and training programs for new products and methods. Doing so will also allow Southeast's RSDA to seek outside state and federal funds and funnel those dollars directly to member fishermen.

The Prince William Sound region's drift gillnet salmon began assessing a 1 percent tax in 2005, followed by Bristol Bay's drift gillnet salmon fleet in 2006. In somewhat different ways, we both implement programs geared toward our fishery's goals and needs. For Copper River and Prince William Sound, we've split our revenues between quality improvements and continued marketing by supporting an ice staging barge in Prince William Sound, hosting media tours to promote the full season Copper River brand and publishing quality handling and best practices guides for our members. In Bristol Bay, we've opted to improve the quality and value of the fishery by providing grants to support a wide array of projects such as dock improvements, quantifying results of various handling practices, providing ice and using the strength of our numbers to leverage discounts from selected suppliers for vessel services and equipment.

During our election processes, we encountered concern from fishermen about how assessment funds would be spent and worries that the RSDA would only benefit a select few fishermen. Ethically, only a board of directors elected by the membership has the license to set these strategies, and for both of our organizations developing a strategic plan was the first step in determining how to best put our members' money to work once elections were over.

Looking into RSDA statues and IRS law, an RSDA cannot spend assessment funds in a way that discriminates one segment of a gear group over another. For example, assessment money cannot be used to improve members' vessels. This has helped our members know that our organizations are working on behalf of the entire fleet, not individual fishermen.

Regardless of the specific strategies, forming and funding our respective RSDAs has opened doors for our fisheries and allowed us to address issues facing our respective regions. Both of our boards of directors are made up entirely of fishermen, who set the priorities and programs for our organizations. As RSDAs we have a common goal to promote and improve Alaska's seafood industry, in addition to our regional fisheries. We are committed to working together to share our experiences and best practices as we chart the course for Alaska's RSDAs, and we welcome Southeast Alaska to the table.

As groups with mutual interests, and after having witnessed the benefits that RSDAs can bring to Alaska's fishermen, we support the Rainforest Wild RSDA and encourage each Southeast gillnet salmon fisherman to cast a vote in the current self-assessment election. Your ballots must be post marked by June 16 to be counted.

• Beth Poole is the executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. She is a Cordova resident. Bob Waldrop is the executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. He is an Anchorage resident.

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