Critics attack Stevens' fish rider

Legislation could give exclusive pollock fishing rights to Aleut Corp.

Posted: Monday, October 27, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Legislation by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens that could give exclusive pollock fishing rights to the Aleut Corp. along the Aleutian chain has come under attack by some commercial fishermen.

The Aleut Corp., a Native regional corporation, is trying to convert the abandoned Navy base on Adak Island into a thriving new commercial fishing town.

The legislation, included as a rider to a pending federal budget bill, could be worth $10 million a year or more. Some commercial fishermen say that would unfairly snatch money out of their nets.

The critics also note that the Alaska senator's son, state Sen. Ben Stevens, an Anchorage Republican, is on the board of an Aleut Corp. subsidiary that's leading efforts to redevelop Adak.

Ben Stevens also is a consultant to Adak Fisheries, a small fish-processing plant on Adak that stands to grow much larger if Adak lands the large pollock haul.

According to a legislative financial disclosure he filed in March, Ben Stevens last year received $80,000 in consulting fees from Adak Fisheries.

Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who chairs the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, said giving the pollock to Adak is important for the state, for the Aleut people and for making some use of a military installation that cost taxpayers more than $3 billion.

Stevens told the Anchorage Daily News that his son didn't lobby him for the budget rider.

"I didn't even know Ben was on that board," Stevens said of his son's position on the board of Aleut Enterprise Corp.

Wind-swept Adak Island is 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage and 400 miles west of Dutch Harbor, hub of the rich Bering Sea commercial fisheries. The naval air station on Adak operationally shut down in 1997, leaving behind a huge airport, docks, a school, utilities and houses enough for a Cold War outpost that once accommodated 6,000 people.

Now only about 75 people live there permanently, although that figure can double during fishing seasons. The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars ridding the island of stray explosives, fuel spills and asbestos. The Aleut Corp. is close to formally taking over Adak in a land exchange with the government.

Dave Jensen, chief executive for the Aleut Corp., said corporation executives approached Ted Stevens for legislation to qualify Adak as a pollock port and to give the Aleut Corp. rights to pollock available for harvest along the Aleutian chain.

Adak isn't an authorized port under current law because, as a once restricted military outpost, it had no history in the pollock industry, Jensen said.

He said the pollock is desperately needed to give Adak a viable economy and to give struggling salmon fishermen in other ports like Sand Point an income alternative.

Pollock is Alaska's money fish, yielding an annual catch worth up to $1 billion from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The white fish is used in fast food and to make surimi, a fish paste fashioned into imitation crab and other foods.

Currently, the Aleutian region is closed to pollock fishing as part of past plans to protect the endangered Steller sea lion. Federal regulators now say the closure isn't needed, and the area is expected to reopen to commercial trawlers.

A harvest there is likely to be about 30,000 tons a year. The Stevens rider would cede rights to the Aleutians pollock to the Aleut Corp., which could lease the rights to commercial fishing companies for more than $300 a ton, or $10 million a year.

The Adak pollock rider could deny others the chance to catch fish worth as much as $12 million annually at the docks, said Brent Paine, executive director of the Seattle-based trade group United Catcher Boats. Congress could pass the rider, he added, with no public hearings or process.

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