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Fish Factor

Largest salmon fishery at Bristol Bay votes to tax themselves
By Laine Welch


May 22, 2006

With a tally of 410 'yeas' and 297 'nays', fishermen from Alaska's largest salmon fishery at Bristol Bay voted to tax themselves to fund their own regional marketing group.

The vote, released Friday by the state Commerce Department, represents 38
percent of Bristol Bay's 1,865 drift net permit holders. It means that starting this summer, the fishermen will fund their own Regional Seafood Development Association (RSDA) with a one percent tax on their salmon landings. The tax could infuse between $700,000 and $1 million each year into programs and projects aimed at boosting the value of the Bay's salmon fishery.

"RSDA Bristol Bay hip, hip hooray!" was the reaction of Bob Waldrop, who for the past year has led a tireless team of interim directors in pushing for the regional group. Under state authority created in 2004, RSDA's can fund and create their own marketing programs, product development, new infrastructure - anything to boost the visibility and value of their region's fish.

Many state officials and industry insiders had predicted that there was "no way" Bristol Bay fishermen would ever agree to tax themselves to pay for the new RSDA concept. Fisherman and long-time industry advocate Robin Samuelson said he was "surprised and elated" at the strong showing.

"A 58 percent approval rating -that's a strong statement by the Bristol Bay fishermen," Samuelson said. "It shows they have faith in the fishery and they recognize the need for change. They are willing to pay to improve the quality and value of our salmon to a world class level. Now fishermen and processors can work together to increase prices and profitability for everyone. If you don't have top quality, you have nothing to sell."

Samuelson said those who opposed the RSDA simply had no money to spare. "With the rising cost of fuel and insurances, one percent is pretty important in terms of extra dollars. Many fishermen are desperate, but the majority see this as an opportunity and they want to run with it," he said.

"Fishermen will finally be standing up and doing something about falling further behind on fish prices and quality standards that are required in today's markets. And they'll be doing it in a very cohesive and well funded way," Bob Waldrop said.

A new board of directors will be elected this fall, and Waldrop said they have their work cut out for them. "Fifty-eight percent in favor is a landslide politically, but it is not a mandate by any means. They need to pay a great deal of attention to the negative vote and reach out to consider the thoughts and feelings of those who voted against it," he cautioned.

Bristol Bay set netters are also in line to embrace the innovative concept, potentially adding another 1,000 voices to the RSDA efforts. "The show of support by the drift fleet will translate into a positive response from the set netters," said set net board member Cecil Ranney.

Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run, is only the second of 12 designated Alaska regions to embrace the RSDA opportunity, following Prince William Sound/Copper River. Salmon drift fishermen in Southeast Alaska last week voted 107 to 91 against funding an RSDA. A total of 473 permit holders were sent ballots.

HEALTH CARE WATCH ­ Fishermen are asking Congress to re-establish health care coverage for American fishing families as lawmakers retool the nation's top fisheries law ­ the Magnuson Stevens Act - in Washington D.C.

Beginning in 1799, fishermen aboard U.S. registered fishing vessels were provided health care coverage, but that was stopped in 1981. Following on a successful Massachusetts' program that provides affordable health care for fishing families, fishermen are asking that the MSA include a national health care demonstration program for the nation's fleet.

Language to create such a program was introduced in legislation, HR 4940 Section 4(e), by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA).

Groups that are watch dogging the measure said the MSA reauthorization will be a long and complicated process. "It's important to keep your eye on the prize. The fishing industry health care coverage language must be included in the final version," said J.J. Bartlett, director of the Fishing Partnership Health Plan in Massachusetts. Since 1997, the Fishing Partnership Health Plan has provided access to high quality, affordable health care coverage to Massachusetts fishing families. Nationally, the rate of uninsured fishermen is three to four times the national average.

Bartlett said it is "inspiring" to see the stack of letters and faxes growing every day. "Fishermen from every gear sector and every port in the country are writing to support this initiative," he said in a phone interview.

"Now fishermen have a chance to bring health care coverage to fishing families across the nation," said Sara Randall of Commercial Fishermen of America. Find out more at .

SEAFOOD CRAVINGS - How does seafood fare among the foods that Americans crave the most?

A nationwide survey by the American Cancer Society found that seafood ranked fourth, along with beef and meat.

The study, which was designed primarily to build awareness of the link between obesity and cancer risk, found that 56 percent of the respondents said they can't resist certain foods.
According to Intrafish, the survey measured responses by more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and over. Chocolate topped the list of cravings. Coming in at number two were pizza, pasta and Italian food, followed by cookies, cakes and muffins. Seafood, beef and meat filled up fourth place.

The survey found that 83 percent of Americans recognize the link of being overweight to heart disease, and 57 knew the link to diabetes. Only 8 percent understand that there is a connection between being overweight and cancer risk.

On a related note - Canadian researchers have found that fish proteins can help prevent diabetes. In studies at Laval University, acids gleaned from cod and other whitefish boosted diabetics' sensitivity to insulin by up to 30 percent, compared to 16 to 25 percent for some popular oral medications.



Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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