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Fish Factor

Tinkering begins with biggest fish law on the books
By Laine Welch


July 03, 2005

Kodiak and Ketchikan are preparing to roll out the red carpet as some of the most notable names in fisheries converge on those communities later this week. The business at hand is a big deal - what visiting law makers hear will be used to shape U.S. fisheries policy for years to come.
jpg Laine Welch

The impetus comes from Congress as it begins to tinker with the biggest fish law on the books - the Maguson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The law was adopted by Congress in 1976 with the aim of protecting the American fishing industry and the species off its coasts within a rapidly changing, global legal scene. The Act created a 200 mile U.S. exclusive economic zone; it also created the National Marine Fisheries Service and eight regional councils to manage and preserve the nation's fish stocks.

The MSA was last rewritten in 1996, before new management schemes dubbed   "rationalization" and "restructuring" were a part of the fishing industry's daily reality. Alaska industry members and communities want to make sure their interests are heard as the Act is retooled to reflect today's changes and challenges. 

First up in both communities will be a State meeting to give its recommendations on MSA changes, and to hear public input. That meeting will be followed by an official oversight hearing by Reps. Don Young, R -Alaska, and Wayne Gilchrest R-Maryland, as members of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans. They want to hear why Alaska has proven to be such a "shining star" in its development of some of the healthiest fisheries on earth, according to Sue Aspelund, special assistant to the state Fish and Game Commissioner.  "Our assumption is that they'll use that information as they proceed with MSA reauthorization. But the hearing has more to do with Alaska's management per se," she added.  Dave Whaley, staff spokesman for the House Resources Committee, agreed. "That system is working. People are making money and putting out great seafood products," he said from Washington, D.C.

The witness list for the committee hearing includes Governor Murkowski, NMFS Director Bill Hogarth and reps for shorebased and at-sea processing companies, trawl, longline and crab fisheries, conservation and fishing groups; research organizations and local communities. As expected, the list has prompted grumbling from some industry watchers as to who was left out.  "Who is going to address the needs of the crew members? Once again they are getting the short end of the stick by not being asked to testify," said Kodiak City Council member Charlie Davidson.

Kodiak City Manager Linda Freed said her testimony will recommend that federal fisheries management remain in the hands of regional councils. Ditto, said Dave Benton, director of the Juneau based Marine Conservation Alliance and a former North Pacific Council chairman. As the nation's fish laws undergo Congressional scrutiny, he said the industry should closely monitor the growing national "mantra" towards ecosystem based management. Benton called it "a great sound bite," but said it is very difficult to do. "If the Magnuson-Stevens Act was to have requirements to move in that direction, it could become a playground for lawyers. It would be another way to disrupt and harass our fisheries with little benefit out on the water," Benton said.

The fish meetings begin at 9am on Wednesday, July 6 at the Ted Ferry Convention Center in Ketchikan, and Friday, July 8 at the High School Commons in Kodiak.

For the past four years, the annual Symphony of Seafood has been celebrated in two events ­in Chicago, where new Alaska seafood products are judged for market appeal, followed by a tasting party in Anchorage where all the winners are announced. But the next Symphony will be hosted in a different Outside city. "Chicago was great, but we decided it to move it around to give more Alaska seafood more exposure," said Art Nelson, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which launched the popular event 12 years ago. The new venue isLas Vegas.

"With all the family buffets to white table cloth restaurants, it's a great place to get exposure. Everyone goes out to eat in Vegas," Nelson said. Interestingly, the opportunity to host the Alaska seafood event was not an easy sell.  The famous casinos on the Strip turned up their noses, saying they had bigger fish to fry. "From our standpoint it s high profile, but compared to some of the events and conventions that go on in Vegas, it's quite small. The larger casinos weren't all that interested in talking to us," Nelson said.

That prompted AFDF to shift toward the Lake Las Vegas region, about 20 miles from downtown. Plus, that location has a touch of home as Cook Inlet Regional Inc. is part owner of two hotels there. "It's a lot mellower and we won't get lost in the din of everything else going on. And it gives us an Alaska connection," Nelson said, adding that the actual venue has yet to be announced. The Symphony of Seafood occurs in late January. Winners in three categories- retail, food service and smoked - receive a free trip to the International Boston Seafood show in March.


The Wild Alaska Salmon car finished 14th in its class at the Brumos Porsche 250 at a slippery Daytona track on June 30. An incident on the second to last lap took the car (#24) out of competition after it accidentally rear ended another car. Get more information at


For 17 years, Laine Welch has covered the Alaska "fish beat" for print and broadcast.
Along with her statewide Fish Radio programs, since 1991 Laine's weekly Fish Factor column has appeared in more than a dozen newspapers and web sites.
Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. She can be reached at

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