By LAINE WELCH
July 20, 2009
RSDA's - a unique concept ok'd by the state in 2004 - lets fishermen in 12 Alaska regions band together and tax themselves based on the value of their catches. The tax is collected by the Alaska Dept. of Revenue and the money is disbursed back to the RSDA each year. It can be used for marketing, infrastructure, ice barges, new products - whatever the fishermen want. RSDAs also give fishermen more access to federal and state grants and programs.
Ballots were sent in May to 475 Southeast drift gillnet permit holders asking if they approved a one percent self-tax to fund the association. The state released the results last week -- of 212 votes, 60% voted no (132/80). Two years ago, a similar RSDA effort lost by two votes.
"I guess the majority just don't want it. I'm surprised it lost by such a wide margin," said a disappointed John Jensen of Petersburg, an interim RSDA board member working to get the RSDA off the ground.
"It is too bad that these
guys don't realize they need to think beyond Southeast Alaska,
and that they are competing with a much wider market,"
said Richard Mullins, marketing manager at Orca Bay Seafoods.
"They used to think they were competing with other areas
of Alaska, now they are competing town by town. Their competition
is more than Alaska, and even more than Atlantic salmon - it
is center of the plate proteins!"
"The geographic expanse of Southeast Alaska is one of the things that make it such a unique region. It's a blessing in some ways, and in other ways it's a challenge," she said. "Especially when you're trying to bring all these fishermen together under one group, and then you bring money into the picture, and that makes it even more challenging."
John Jensen agreed.
"I know from talking with people that there's a lot of apprehension that one community would get more of the money than others, and wouldn't be treated fairly. For example, Petersburg has the largest gillnet fleet, and I think people were worried about that," he explained.
The tax would only amount to a few hundred dollars each year, pointed out board member Keith Anundi, a Wrangell fisherman who initially opposed the RSDA.
"I now believe it would substantially increase profitability for gillnet fishermen in Southeast Alaska," Anundi said, adding that fishermen would elect a board with representation from all districts.
Is a third time the charm for Rainforest Wild?
Right now, everyone is focusing on fishing, Dubovsky said.
"We will reconvene in the fall and decide how to proceed. Our enthusiasm has not waned."
Southeast crabbers and shrimpers also are interesting in snapping up the RSDA opportunity, she said. Alaska fishermen have funded RSDAs in two regions so far - Copper River/Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay (where a 1% RSDA tax yields more than $1 million each year).
Down on the (salmon) farm
Wild Alaska salmon faces stiff competition from farmed fish, delivered as fresh, glistening fillets to restaurants and retailers year round.
Alaska is poised to benefit from worsening misfortunes in Chile, the largest supplier of farmed salmon to the U.S.
For a year now, Chilean fish farmers have been battling outbreaks of an infectious virus in their fish plugged pens, and salmon production is expected to drop 60% this year.
"That has helped to keep the salmon market somewhat stronger than it might have been if the Chileans had been producing as much as people expected them to," said fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp at the University of Alaska/Anchorage.
Chilean fish farmers also are being widely criticized for using 'hair raising' amounts of antibiotics to curtail disease outbreaks, according to Intrafish. The FDA recently discovered three chemicals in Chilean farmed salmon that are banned in the U.S., including a pesticide that kills sea lice.
Meanwhile, to make up for the salmon shortfall, buyers are switching to other suppliers, notably Norway. Norway increased its supply of fresh salmon fillets to the U.S. by more than 13 million pounds from January through May, valued at $50.8 million.
The average price paid to Alaska salmon fishermen in 2008 was 58 cents a pound, an increase of 32% and the highest dockside value in recent memory.
Salmon fishermen got higher prices last year for every species, except sockeye. Average Chinook prices went from a $3.07/lb. in 2007 to $4.28/lb.
Cohos increased from $.96/lb. to $1.21. Chums went from $.34/lb. to $.53/lb. Pinks went up a dime, to average $.29/lb.
Sockeye salmon fell from $.80/lb. in 2007 to $.78/lb in 2008. (Word on the docks says the base sockeye price at Bristol Bay has notched up to 70 cents this year.)
Thoughts on Arctic fishing?
A plan by Alaska fishery overseers
puts the brakes on commercial fishing in the Arctic until more
is known about the stocks and dmarine environment. For Alaska,
the Arctic waters straddle the North Slope, with the Chukchi
and Beaufort Seas. The public has until July 27 to comment on
the Arctic fishery plan at http://www.regulations.gov . See
the plan at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/arctic/.