ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Federal fishery managers moved a step closer Sunday to developing a plan to privatize lucrative crab fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.
Final action on the measure, before it heads for Congress, is expected at the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at Unalaska.
Council members voted to send out for public scrutiny a number of options involving fishing quota shares for fishermen and processors and binding arbitration, under the so-called crab rationalization plan.
Quota shares, based on the catch history of a vessel, determine how much crab each boat could harvest. Binding arbitration would establish conditions for sales between harvesters and processors.
At the present time, there are no individual quotas or processor quotas. Boats compete for whatever amount is allowed to be caught -- no matter what the weather, in some of the world's most treacherous waters -- and sell to the processor from which they can get the best deal.
The council has been trying for a decade to figure out how to deal with the lack of economic stability for harvesters, processors and coastal communities economically dependent on crab harvests, and the high levels of injury and loss of life associated with the fisheries.
However, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act contains a moratorium on individual fishing quotas, and has no provisions for processor quota shares or binding arbitration.
''There are numerous facets of this motion that would require statute authority from Congress,'' said Sue Salveson, chief of sustainable fisheries for the Alaska region of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Even if congress authorizes changes this year, it would be at least another year before they are implemented, said Chris Oliver, executive director of the council.
John Garner, an owner of Norquest Seafoods, and a member of the North Pacific Crab Association representing nine onshore crab processing companies, said the council was trying to balance interests and build in safeguards for all concerned.
''We think processor interests are necessary to a solution to the current crab crisis,'' Garner said.
Bob Storrs, vice president of the Unalaska Native Fishermen's Association, opposes processor quota shares. The matter is going to be decided in Congress and hopefully in the public process, he said.
''They are going to find the public is taking a greater interest in this giving away a public resource to a handful of largely foreign-owned companies,'' he said.
Dorothy Childers, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, urged the council to ensure that conservation issues, with full analysis, are included either in the document approved in June or the environmental impact statement for crab fisheries.
The council Sunday also moved forward for final action in June proposed changes on policy and administration of the community development quota program. The CDQ program was established in 1992 to provide small western Alaska fishing communities the chance to participate in Bering Sea and Aleutian Island fisheries that were closed to them because of the high capital investment needed to enter the fishery.
The meeting continues through Wednesday.
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