March 12, 2015 (Issue 15)
And we’re back! My staff has to savagely beat me with a wet noodle to properly motivate me to peck out these newsletters.
We sure have something to write about this time: fish! Alaska’s favorite political bloodsport. (We’ll get back to regularly scheduled legislative programming soon.)
This fish stuff is, like, really important. It’s a kumbaya issue that inspires common cause. No matter whether you err towards subsistence, sport, personal-use, Alaska-based commercial, or conservation-habitat, we can all agree on two things: halibut and salmon bycatch must be reduced and Alaska’s prodigious fisheries resource should foremost benefit Alaskans.
Alaska’s Fight for Fish
This doubled as a Rep. JKT op-ed in Alaska’s newspapers of record. We rarely make public statements, but when we do...well, you get the idea. -BW
Alaska First. It’s time.
Those are words I can get behind, especially when it comes to our fish.
You say fish and Alaska in the same sentence and you probably think salmon. For good reason. We have the best managed salmon fishery in the world.
We benefit for it: jobs, taxes, abundant economic activity any way you care to measure it, and the gastronomic nirvana that is my dad’s smoked sockeye salmon.
But let’s move farther offshore, away from the salmon. Now we’re talking halibut and black cod. Or other species that sound (and look) progressively more weird: grey cod, pollock, arrowtooth flounder, and on and on.
These are federal fisheries. You know how we moan about how all of Alaska’s land is locked up by the feds? Forget the land. Let’s talk about the ocean: Anything more than three nautical miles from Alaska’s coast is federal water. That means the feds manage our fish — halibut, cod, pollock, etc.
Salmon are worth a lot of money ($1.4 billion annually). Alaska’s halibut, cod, pollock, and other deep-water species are worth a crazy amount of money: $2.7 billion. $2.7 billion! Just swimming around out there, three-plus nautical miles from our shore. Yet we never hear anything about this $2.7 billion resource. Or who gets to call the shots.
Ever heard of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council?
Neither have most other normal people.
The North Pacific Council (because “NPFMC” sounds like a noise you make at the dentist) calls the shots when it comes to our halibut, our cod, or king crab. They cut up the $2.7 billion pie. They are really, really important.
“They” are 11 people; 11 voting members serve on the North Pacific Council. Six are Alaskans. The other five represent Washington, Oregon, and the federal government.
Six on five? In hockey they call that a power play. But “power” is hardly the word I think of when I think of Alaska and the North Pacific Council. For decades, the largely Seattle-based trawl fleet has run roughshod over Alaska, and the interests of our coastal communities, our economy, and often the conservation of our fisheries resource.
Bear with me as I temporarily lapse into fish-speak, but this laundry list of fisheries management woe is something to behold:
- Over nine million pounds of halibut and salmon continue to be killed every year as trawl bycatch. This — dead waste of a natural resource — has continued for 30 years.
- Only 20% of the trawl vessel trips in the Gulf of Alaska were observed last year.
- Inflexible, slow, and expensive implementation of electronic monitoring, the observer alternative for small, often family-run Alaska fishing boats.
- Council decisions, such as the quota allocations to Seattle-based fishing companies (the Amendment 80 fleet), have inequitably benefitted Washington fishing companies to the detriment of the Alaskan fishing communities.
- Fewer Alaska fishing jobs and less economic benefit for Alaskans.
Translation: Alaska has not come first.
How in the world does this happen? Six Alaska reps on the 11-member North Pacific Council, right?
It’s a sad story: if one Alaska rep crosses over, Alaska loses. It’s politics. It happens, and too often. But it has got to stop.
On March 15, Governor Walker will nominate candidates for two of Alaska’s seats on the North Pacific Council. Dan Hull’s and Ed Dersham’s seats are up for nomination.
We need to make halibut and king salmon bycatch a footnote of fisheries history. We need to make sure Alaska’s fisheries foremost benefit Alaskans, our communities, and our economy. We need an “Alaska-first” North Pacific Council delegation. It’s time.
We know Rep. JKT’s athletic inclination, but sometimes we’re surprised the word gets around. While testifying before the House State Affairs committee, Juneau Police Lt. Kris Sell recognized Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins… for winning the Alaska Peace Officer’s Triathlon two years ago.
Lt. Sell testified on the record: “I wouldn't want to be in a foot pursuit with him.” To which Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla) responded: “I'm glad you don’t have anything to report on other acquaintances you've made on the committee."
8 a.m. committee hearings aren’t always easy. Rep. Keller’s good-natured manner often makes them easier. — Berett Wilber, staff to Rep. JKT
We Screwed Up
We screwed up.
In the last newsletter, I implied that the University of Alaska gets $938 million in state funding. False.
$938 million is the whole enchilada — UA’s total, all-in budget. Most of that comes from tuition and research grants. $373 million is the State of Alaska’s contribution. The $565 million distinction is rather important.
Sincere apologies to my high school math teacher, Mr. Langbauer. Even a great teacher can’t always save the mathematically hapless.
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
Rep. JKT Media Management
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