SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Whirlwind of emotion centers around Gulf of Alaska rationalization
By Laine Welch


June 12, 2006

"Gulf Ratz" wasn't even on the overloaded agenda for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's June meeting in Kodiak. But in an unprecedented attempt to "hear what you like and don't like about what the council is up to," more than one full day was set aside last week to allow people to have their say on one of Alaska's most controversial fish issues.

A whirlwind of emotion centers around a complex new management scheme called Gulf of Alaska rationalization, which aims to divide up catches of 27 different types of groundfish among all users, based on their historical participation in the fisheries. By design, the plan is supposed to end the "race for fish," improve conservation, reduce waste, and provide more economic stability for harvesters, processors and communities.

But a "rationalized" program that began last year for Bering Sea crab resulted in lost jobs for more than 1,000 skippers and crew, a fishing fleet that dwindled from 250 to about 70 boats, and guaranteed quotas for processors that meant fishermen lost the right to sell their catch to whomever they choose. The majority of Kodiak's fishermen fear a repeat with Gulf ratz, and most vehemently oppose the plan. More than 100 of them wasted no time in giving the Council impassioned four minute earfuls, while two armed police officers stood close watch over the packed meeting room. Here is a sampler:

"Past quota share programs (for halibut, sablefish and crab) have not been equitable. Fishermen who catch all the fish and do all the work are denied any rights, and it is all given to the boat owners," said David Foster, his voice choking with emotion. "What right do you have to parcel out what is mine? These are our lives, not just pages in documents. Who holds you accountable? The way these programs have been allowed to go through, you should be spanked in public. You should be ashamed and embarrassed at what you've done to people's lives. You say you have our best interests in mind, but we have not seen it in the past. What guarantees do we have you'll do any better this time? I feel like you're cutting off my head to heal a nose bleed," he concluded to wild applause.

"We've seen what rationalization has done with halibut and crab," said fishermen Chris Trosvig. "It's made boat owners rich while we're left on the beach. Ratz is like some twisted and elite form of communism that makes a select few rich forever. America is the land of the free ­ let us compete in a free and open market."

"I'm not against rationalization, I'm against privatization. You can achieve all the benefits without giving all the fish away - there are traditional tools to use," said fisherman Alexus Kwachka.

Jack Hill pointed out the difficulties of meshing plans in fisheries that overlap in both state and federal waters, and worried that fishermen will lose their catch histories in one or the other. (Gulf ratz will require that the State change its constitution or laws to accommodate the new program.)

"You are giving a public resource to individuals. The Gulf has a very healthy fishery and healthy communities. Do you feel they will be better off after rationalization?" asked fisherman John Nevin.

"We can support rationalization if it is fair to small rural communities, and they are given a portion of the quotas," said Sharon Anderson of Ouzinkie. "Gulf rationalization will cut us out completely. We are water people and when others retire to Arizona we will still be here as a fishing community."

"I go to work every day doing something I love and you are working to take it away from me," said Curt Waters. "Doesn't it bother you how many lives you've disrupted? If I came into your home and took away your ability to feed your family, how would you feel? I'm putting you on notice that you are in my home. Maybe it's time for our day in court."

"I strongly support rationalization," said fishermen Mike Alfari of Sand Point. "Now we fish from January into maybe early March. Under ratz, we wouldn't be forced to fish in bad weather. You can't leave the Gulf as the last open rodeo."

"All the other cowboys are coming here from other fisheries along the Pacific coast. For us to make the best economic choices and maintain the health of the resource, we must look at some kind of rationalization program. It is a tool that will allow us to address situations. Skippers and crew should also be considered," said fisherman Jay Stinson.

"You must develop a less costly means to enter fisheries under rationalization," said fisherman Jerry Bongen.

"We are all here due to the fishing industry. But only a few businesses get their share - the processors. Where are the guaranteed shares for all the other businesseswelders, banks that will be affected?" asked business owner Jack Maker.

"Just because you've been working on a plan for eight years doesn't make it good or right. It can't be good when it has a whole community in an uproar. You are supposed to be looking out for us as government officials, but we feel swindled and cheated. We are trying to tell you not to give away our public resource and to keep an open and free market that fosters competition," echoed Rhonda Maker.

"There are not too many boats fishing in the Gulf. You already have good tools in place. What you are proposing is anti-American and anti-competitive. It is government interference in free enterprise. It puts money into the pockets of those who already have a lot and leaves all others out in the cold," said fisherman Lu Dochtermann.

"Stop this stupidization now!" said a tearful Philip Ratstopsoff of Akhiok. "It is my birthright to claim all of the fish in the ocean. I'm tired of everyone coming up here and raping our waters and taking the value elsewhere. It's mostly going to foreign companies. What good is it to Alaska? I have two beautiful children and a government that wants to destroy my life."

"I'm concerned with the long term health of the resource. Without the resource there will be no jobs and community," said Council chair Stephanie Madsen. "We might not have gotten crab rationalization perfect, but I'm proud of the work we've done."

The North Pacific Council is scheduled to take further action on Gulf rationalization options in December.

CALL FOR WORKERS - More than 1,000 workers are needed now by seafood companies throughout coastal Alaska. "Right now we're looking for a lot of people to work in Naknek for the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Workers are also needed in Petersburg, Seward, Kodiak, Cordova, Kenai and Sitka as openings are coming up," said employment security specialist Laurie Fuglvog. The state's traveling work force program will also relocate workers as fisheries end in various regions. She added that the jobs are ideal for young people heading off to college. "It offers a chance to see other parts of Alaska. There's the opportunity to work lots of overtime, and you can save a lot of money because there's no place to spend it."

Get applications and more information at and click on seafood jobs, or call 800-473-0688.


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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