Senate looks at crab quota plan

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) A wide gulf remains between supporters and critics of processor quota shares for crabs in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, and that was reflected in a Senate hearing Tuesday.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chaired the Senate Commerce Committee hearing about a proposal for splitting crab shares. The proposal was endorsed last summer by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

While many in the industry support the idea of reducing the fleet, conserving crab, and conducting safer fishing operations, they're badly split on the proposal for processor quota shares.

Under that plan, 90 percent of the crab harvest would go to a designated set of processors exclusively and 10 percent would be open.

Kevin Duffy, state commissioner of fish and game and a member of the North Pacific council, defended the quota system, saying it recognizes the investments processors have made and will help keep them viable.

But his view is much different from the perspective of Kodiak City Manager Linda Freed, who argued that individual processor quotas would be a step backward in Alaska fisheries management.

''The Council's IPQ plan effectively returns Alaska fishing communities to the days before statehood, when our state fishery resources were under the control of a few large processing companies,'' she told the committee.

City officials say Kodiak wouldn't receive its historical share of the crabs under the system and could lose $3 million to $10 million a year.

But quota supporters such as Frank Kelty, Natural Resources Manager for the City of Unalaska, say Kodiak's problem is that it has turned much of its attention to other kinds of fishing. Crab is much more important in places such as Unalaska, Akutan, St. Paul and St. George, Kelty said.

''The communities that have been dependent on crab are, in fact, supporting the plan,'' Kelty said.

At the end of the hearing, Stevens said more work needed to be done.

''It's a very perplexing question for us,'' said the Alaska senator. ''We're going to have to confer further on it. There's no question about that.''

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