Stevens pulls legislation benefiting Petersburg fisherman

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens has dropped legislation that would have shifted millions of dollars of catch rights to the owner of a commercial fishing boat in Petersburg.

The owner of the boat, John Winther, said Tuesday that he had asked Stevens to drop the legislation, which the senator had attached as a rider to a pending federal spending bill. Stevens, a Republican, is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Winther, a Republican political donor, declined to explain to the Anchorage Daily News why he made the request other than to say, "We pulled it because we thought it was the right thing to do."

Courtney Schikora, press aide to Stevens, confirmed Winther's request and said the senator will drop the rider.

"We were asked to not pursue it, and that's what we're doing," she said.

The rider had outraged some commercial fishermen, who said it would have taken catch rights away from them and awarded them to Winther and a partner, Bart Eaton, an executive with Seattle-based fish processing company Trident Seafoods Corp.

Winther and Eaton share ownership of two boats that catch and freeze black cod. Harvest of the fish, popular in Japan, is restricted to those fishermen who hold quotas to catch a certain number of pounds of black cod each year.

The rider could have awarded Winther and Eaton quotas for as much as 450,000 pounds of black cod annually. At current prices, that much fish could be worth as much as $1.5 million at the docks. The fishing rights themselves could be sold for some $5 million, according to people knowledgeable about the fishery.

Winther had argued he was due the catch rights as credit for scientific research fishing his boats did under contract with the government in the late 1980s. But regulators with the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the federal courts, disagreed.

The courts said fish caught while researching the size and health of the black cod population was not a commercial catch that could figure into catch quota amounts.

Stevens had said he believed Winther was entitled to the quota and the regulators and the courts were wrong.

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