Federal panel approves crab plan

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A federal panel has approved the finishing touches on a plan to divide up Alaska's crab fisheries, allocating the amount fishermen may harvest and processors may process.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council on Saturday approved final recommendations on how prices will be negotiated under the so-called crab rationalization plan, said Dave Benton, chairman of the federal panel. The recommendations also address ways to protect the economies of coastal communities.

Benton said Monday that the panel's action are to insure that independent harvesters of crab have maximum leverage in negotiating with processors.

''We have adopted a whole sweep of community economic protection measures and measures to insure that the relationship between processors and harvesters lead to fair negotiations for price,'' Benton said.

The crab harvest plan has been under study by the council for several years. It was prompted by concern that too many vessels were venturing out in stormy seas to compete for a limited amount of crab, resulting in the loss of fishermen and vessels.

For the plan to become effective, Congress must amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act to allow certain processors the right to process the bulk of the harvest. The current legislation allows for quota shares to fishermen and does not address the processor issue.

The council took ''a really bold step in putting together a program that's going to improve safety, make crab conservation much easier, much better, and really marry the crab fishery and the communities, and benefit our communities here in Alaska in a very innovative way,'' Benton said.

The plan will strengthen the binding arbitration system by defining how a preseason market report and benchmark prices would be developed to guide negotiations, Benton said.

Under the proposed plan, fishermen would be allowed to harvest the same amount of fish they have harvested in the past.

Ninety percent of that harvest would have to be delivered to any processor who gets processor shares under the plan, but the fishermen could deliver the other 10 percent of the catch to any processor, Benton said.

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