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Fish Factor

U.S. Supreme court decides today if it will hear Exxon's final appeal
By Laine Welch


October 29, 2007

Today, thousands of Alaska fishermen will know if they are going to be getting checks in the mail from Exxon.

The U.S. Supreme court is set to decide Oct.29 whether or not it will hear Exxon's final appeal of a $2.5 billion punitive damages award stemming from the 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound.

"If the Court decides to not hear Exxon's case, then it's over. Exxon has no other recourse, no other place to turn to try and further delay the payment that was adjudicated in 1994 in Anchorage," said Frank Mullen, a Soldotna fisherman and spokesman for Oiled Fishermen, an ad hoc group with members from Cook Inlet, Cordova, Kodiak and Prince William Sound.

If the court closes the door on Exxon, more than 330,000 Alaska fishermen and others hurt by the 1989 oil spill will finally share damage awards totaling $4.5 billion, including interest.

Some awards will be sizeable, and claimants fear they will be clobbered by huge tax hits from Uncle Sam. The Oiled Fishermen are backing a bill (S.552) by Sen. Lisa Murkowski that would allow tax payments to be deferred over time.

"As it stands now, most fishermen would be paying 35 percent of their award in year one," Mullen said.

The Oil Spill Tax Treatment Act provides for one time retirement contributions and income averaging of awards over time.

"We are not looking for a handout. We expect to pay our taxes," Mullen said. "We're asking that we be allowed to put all or a portion of our award into an IRA account, whereby we'd be paying taxes on it as years went by, not in one huge hit. It would be spread out over the remaining years of the fishermen who are still alive."

The Oiled Fishermen are fueling a grassroots effort to build national support for the one-time tax treatment. The group so far has raised $18,500 for a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and may send fishermen to testify at hearings this year.

Mullen said response by key policy makers has been favorable.

"No one opposes it, and many are enthusiastically in favor of it," he added.

Still, Mullen said it's a huge undertaking to get a law passed by Congress, and subject to the whims of the lawmakers.

"Unless they are hearing from people, other than just Alaska's delegation, they have no reason to want to move the bill," said Mark Vinsel, director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

"It's a complex process and a lot must happen in a tight time frame," echoed Mullen. "If we don't get any action (by Congress) in the next year, it might pass us by."

Mullen said Alaska fishermen are 'hopeful but wary' of the Washington lawmakers, "who might turn a more favorable eye to the world's largest oil giant."

Contact for more information on the Oiled Fishermen tax relief effort; also UFA in Juneau or .

Crab Tours and Bad Boys

The Anchorage-based Crab Broker is famous for its fresh, never ever frozen king crab. The Brokers are also gaining fame for their annual 'Connoisseur Tours' that bring chefs and upscale retailers right to the crab grounds.

Rob George and Eric Donaldson began organizing the tours two years ago during king crab fisheries at Nome and Dutch Harbor.

"We really wanted to get them in touch with their ingredients, and gain an appreciation of the Alaska industry" said Rob George, as he prepared to set off to Dutch Harbor with the biggest group ever.

We have more than 60 people coming from as far away as Germany, others are from the Lower 48 - chefs, upscale retail buyers, some media," he said.

The group will spend three days in Dutch as the season's first king crab is offloaded next week.

"We're going to have some pots a few miles offshore and we'll pull the gear - they'll see everything, every step of the way ," George said.

The visitors will experience all phases of crab processing at Unisea, and watch how transport crews scuttle to get the crab to awaiting world markets.

"They are going to understand everything - from pot to plant to plane to plate," said George.

Beyond the docks, the Crab Brokers also have partnered with the crews of the Cornelia Marie and Time Bandit to make personal appearances and promote Alaska crab. To avoid any conflicts with 'Deadliest Catch' licensing agreements, the guys came up with a new identity ­ Bering Sea Bad Boys.

"Everybody loves the Bad Boys ­ they've got a huge following. It's almost like a cult," George said. See for yourself at

For Young Fishermen

Recruitment of future Alaska fishermen is the aim of the 2nd annual Young Fishermen's Summit, set for early December in Anchorage.

"As folks are getting older, who will be the young fishermen who take over the industry? We want to build future year classes of fishermen!" said Sunny Rice, a Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent in Petersburg.

"If folks were to sell their quotas and their permits and their boats to the first taker or highest bidder, and if none of those people were residents in those coastal communities, the communities will lose access to the resource," she added.

Rice is co-organizer of the Summit that brings together a lively mix of policy makers, market experts, business advisors and more. For two days they will key in on several elements important to tomorrow's fishing leaders - participating in the regulatory process, how Alaska fish fits into the global market, and running a fishing operation like a business.

Rice encourages communities and fishing groups to sponsor young fishermen to attend the event.

"We're hoping that folks will look around to see who's that deckhand that shows a lot of promise - someone they think could and will be a future leader in the fishing industry," she said.

The Young Fishermen's Summit is set for Dec. 11-13 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Participation is limited to 75.


Kodiak-based Laine Welch has been reporting news of Alaska's seafood industry for print and radio for 20 years. Fish Factor appears in 15 newspapers and websites. Laine's Fish Radio programs air daily on more than 25 stations across Alaska.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska