The Highliner

Commercial fishing is a bedrock industry in Alaska, and has been for more than a century. Every year scores of fishermen net millions of migrating salmon, challenge the icy Bering Sea to trap king crabs, lay miles and miles of baited hooks for halibut, and scoop up enough pollock for a zillion fish sticks. And when fishermen aren't out fishing, they're usually talking about fishing. That's what this blog by Wesley Loy has been all about for the two years he has written it.

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A day for crab ratz

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council sank most of its energy today into the thorny subject of crab rationalization.

Crab ratz, you’ll recall, is the new management style that swept over the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fisheries three years ago. That’s when the harvests switched from dangerous derbies to individual shares for fishermen and processors.

Like most revolutions, this one was contentious, and the resistance remains strong.

The council today took some modest steps toward fixing what some see as big flaws in crab ratz.

• The council voted to study the idea of increasing the level of fishing shares for crewmen on crab boats.

When rationalization was first implemented, 3 percent of the highly valuable catch shares were awarded to boat captains, but none to other crewmen. The rest of the harvest rights stayed with the boat owners.

Many crewmen who labored in the deadly crab fisheries felt ripped off, especially after boat owners radically consolidated the fleet and shed hundreds of jobs once rationalization took hold.

The council will now consider redirecting up to 10 percent of the catch rights to crewmen.

• The council asked its staff of economists to prepare a “discussion paper” on the idea of getting rid of rationalization’s most controversial element – processor shares.

These unique shares, which give each of the big crab processors an exclusive piece of the annual harvest, raised antitrust concerns and drew criticism from the likes of Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Denby Lloyd, a council member and Alaska’s fish and game commissioner, is also no friend of processor shares, and the discussion paper was his idea.

Processors argue that, hey, if fishermen enjoy protected rights to a share of the harvest, the packers should too. Both sectors, they argue, need security for the huge equipment investments they’ve made.

Anyway, there’s my quick and dirty summary of a long day of crabbing down at the council, which is expected to wrap up its weeklong meeting Tuesday at the Anchorage Hilton downtown.

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