Alaska's independent commercial fishers quickly becoming history

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Editor's Note: The following letter was addressed to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and submitted for publication as a letter to the editor.

I have lived in Kodiak all of my life and have been fishing for over 20 years. I primarily fish halibut, sablefish and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska, along with tanner crab in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery. This fishing activity, coupled with salmon tendering, has kept my boat and crew busy.

I would like to relay some experiences I've had with processors in the past 10 years. These experiences are not unique among vessel owners in Kodiak and other parts of Alaska.

For many years, I have primarily sold all of my fish to a single processor in Kodiak. Several years before the sablefish and halibut IFQ program, I was offered a higher price by another processor for a load of crab that I brought to Kodiak for delivery. I sold my crab to the other processor and when my primary market discovered that I had done so, I lost my salmon tendering contract for the next season. The plant manager told me that it wasn't personal, just business. Another year I made the same mistake with a load of sablefish and again lost my tendering contract for the season.

When the halibut and sablefish IFQ program went into effect, I was told by my primary processor that the number of tendering days I would be hired for would be in direct relation to the percentage of IFQ product that I delivered to them, regardless of the price. Because salmon tendering has for years been a major source of income for the crew and paid the boat payment, the threat of losing that contract over 10 or 15 cents per pound didn't seem to be worth it. Again, I was assured this was just business, not personal.

I guess my point is that even without processing shares, the processors have always had a stranglehold on the fishermen. They try to dictate when we deliver, where we deliver and the price we are paid. If my boat wasn't paid off and I didn't have a substantial number of IFQ pounds, I wouldn't have the freedom to choose where I deliver my product. It's just business, they say. But, in my view, it's like working for the company store.

My belief is that if processing shares are forced upon Alaska's crab fishery, that a couple of things will happen.

First, fishermen will quickly sell out the processing sector, which under the council plan, they are allowed to have up to 5 percent of the harvesting quota for Bering Sea red king crab or opilio tanner crab. Does this make sense? Fishermen are capped at 1 percent for harvesting quota, while processors are capped at 5 percent for harvesting quota? Very soon, the independent fishermen will be a thing of the past.

The second impact will be that the processing share system will not stop with crab. Once the processors are able to convince Congress to change or remove existing protections in the anti-trust laws, why would they be willing to stop with crab? They won't. They will go after Gulf groundfish next and salmon after that. We will quickly revert to the pre-state days when the processing sector controlled the seafood industry and independent fishermen were few and far between.

As a lifelong Alaskan and one who depends on Alaska's fishery resources, I'm begging you to put a stop to this entire controversy. It's time to "just say no" and then the industry can begin to work together to resolve the issues facing Alaska's fisheries. Until you tell the processing sector that processing shares won't happen, and they better think of another way to resolve their concerns, this controversy will continue.

Instead of the industry working to try and find some common ground in reaching a compromise, the two sides are only getting farther apart. Nothing constructive is resulting from spending years or even months more on this issue.

Thank you for reviewing and considering my concerns.

Danny Powell

F/V Echo Belle


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