UNALASKA, Alaska (AP) -- The North Pacific Fishery Management Council late Monday approved a plan to restructure the Bering Sea crab industry with a quota-based system aimed at improving safety and management. The vote was 11-0.
Under the new system, crab fishermen with quotas could fish at their convenience, during good weather, rather rushing to fishing grounds in risky weather during narrow openings set by fisheries managers. The result is expected to be safer, slower fishing that could benefit smaller crabs that cannot be harvested.
Gov. Tony Knowles' representative on the council, Kevin Duffy, pushed through the ''three pie'' rationalization system, with quotas for fishermen, processors and regions.
A provision allowing for collective bargaining was included, aimed at calming fishermen's fears of processor quotas leading to artificially low prices.
Established local companies will receive 90 percent of processor quotas, with 10 percent in an open access section.
Of the harvester quotas, 97 percent of the catch goes to boat owners, with 3 percent to captains.
Under the plan, the Bering Sea harvest would be split between communities in northern and southern regions, to protect the economy of the Pribilof Islands.
The quota system creates a new form of wealth. Harvester shares alone could be worth $850 million, according Arne Thomson of the Alaska Crab Coalition, based on the valuation for halibut individual fishing quotas.
Council member Bob Penney said since crab quotas represented the giveaway of a public resource, He unsuccessfully argued that the council should have the future option of collecting fees such as those collected for grazing and oil development on public lands.
Crab rationalizaton still requires the approval Congress.
Fish management council members defended their action in extending quotas to crab, following earlier votes in the past decade creating quota systems for halibut, sablefish and pollock.
James Balsiger called it a long-needed rationalization of the crab industry.
James Fluharty said the council needs to sell the restructuring to the public, and hopes to see the new system in place within six months.
Stephanie Madsen said quotas will allow for improved information gathering.
The new system also expands the community development quota crab harvest to 10 percent, up from the current level of 7.5 percent.
Duffy said his proposal does not create a closed class of processors, and allows for new entrants into the fishery. He said it does not mean a return to the pre-statehood days of company towns.
Many fishermen are not so sure and they opposed processor quotas while favoring harvester quotas.
Beth Stewart of the Aleutians East Borough said assembly members from King Cove, Sand Point, and Nelson Lagoon remember the days before statehood when canneries dominated their communities. She said the fishermen on the assembly oppose processor quotas because of that history.
On Sunday, about 50 processing workers demonstrated in support of processor quotas during the meeting at the Grand Aleutian Hotel. The processor demonstration was organized by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.
''We wanted to show the human face of the processing sector,'' said association President Glenn Reed.
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