Ulmer opposes processor quotas

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer said this week she is opposed to granting seafood processors a guaranteed share of the catch of crab and other species.

Ulmer said she would push the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to reverse its stand on processor shares in the Bering Sea if she is elected governor.

Ulmer's new stance puts her at odds with the Knowles administration, which supported processor shares as part of a larger effort to divide up the Bering Sea crab fishery between existing fishermen and fishing communities. Earlier in the campaign, Ulmer had expressed misgivings about the idea but not outright opposition.

Ulmer's statement also distanced her from her Republican rival in the race for governor. Frank Murkowski is inclined against processor shares, an aide said Wednesday, but is willing to let the North Pacific council continue to study the matter and finish its plan.

Murkowski aide Bill Woolf dismissed Ulmer's statements as ''meaningless'' because the governor directly controls only one of the 11 votes on the council. The council voted unanimously in June to support a Bering Sea crab plan that included processor shares.

Even if processors get a share of Bering Sea crab, Woolf said, Murkowski won't support a similar program for other fisheries unless it has the support of fishermen.

Murkowski won the endorsement of many commercial fishing groups early in the campaign. His aides said Ulmer's position was aimed at winning some of that support.

But Ulmer says she reached her position after hearing concerns about processor shares for several months on the campaign trail. Ulmer made the comment in an interview with fisheries journalist Lainie Welch.

The issue of processor quotas has hardly surfaced in urban Alaska but has roiled Alaska's coastal communities all year. Opponents fear processors will eventually seek guaranteed shares of other fisheries, such as Gulf of Alaska cod and even salmon.

Fishermen say they will be unable to negotiate for fair prices if they are forced to deliver to certain processors. Some critics say fishermen would become ''sharecroppers'' for largely foreign-owned companies.

Critics also say guaranteed shares for processors could stifle marketing innovation by entrepreneurs at a time of economic crisis in the fishing industry.

But processors argue they have large investments in shore-based plants, often in remote communities where it's expensive to operate.

Bering Sea crab is the latest federal fishery for which quota shares are being considered by the North Pacific council in an effort to eliminate fast-paced derby fishing. Under the current system, boats compete to catch as much as they can of the allowable harvest. Individual crab quotas, awarded on the basis of past catches, would allow each boat to fish at its own pace, reducing danger to crew and wasteful bycatch of other species.

In June, the council voted 11-0 to approve a Bering Sea plan including shares for processors as well as fishermen.

Congress must approve several aspects of the plan before it can be completed. Sen. Ted Stevens has said the plan may not make it through Congress this late in the year. The processor shares would be a national precedent and have drawn opposition from some East Coast fishing groups.

Meanwhile, the council has begun studies for similarly privatizing Gulf of Alaska cod, rockfish, flatfish and pollock. The council said its plan for the Bering Sea should not be considered the beginnings of a similar plan for the Gulf.

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