Crab plan draws protests from crab coalition

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A final plan to divide up Alaska's crab fisheries, allocating the amount fishermen may harvest and processors may process drew fire Monday from crab fishermen.

''It pits harvester against harvester and there is no room for a competitive price,'' said Jake Jacobsen, manager of the Alaska Marketing Association. The Seattle-based group, the collective bargaining arm for Bering Sea crab fishermen, is concerned that the plan gives processors too much power to set price.

Arni Thomson, executive director of the Alaska Crab Coalition, said the plan approved April 5 by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, does not protect the market for fishermen. Under that plan, ''a processor can argue that he should pay less because his costs are higher,'' he said.

Dave Benton, council chairman, last week defended the plan as insurance that independent harvesters of crab would have maximum leverage in negotiating with processors.

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

The crab plan has been under study by the federal panel for several years. It stems from concern that too many vessels venture 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 processor shares.

The new plan would allow fishermen 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 fishermen could deliver the other 10 percent of the catch to any processor, Benton said.

''The vast majority of harvesters are against this, the way it is proposed,'' Jacobsen said. ''It can only exert a downward pressure on the price.''

He said the plan will cost the state of Alaska millions of dollars in lost tax revenues because the taxes are based on the price the fishermen are paid. And he said there's going to be a lot of competition to deliver to the high price processors.

Jacobsen said the system as proposed will provide for no price competition for 90 percent of the crab, adding that the arbitration method approved by the council won't work.

''Inefficient processors can put a pretty good argument before an arbitrator for a lower price,'' Jacobsen said.

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