By Laine Welch
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is quick to name the issue that’s giving him the biggest earful so far in his new post as Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, and Coast Guard: “marine spatial planning.”
The concept is listed as a top priority by the 2010 National Ocean’s Council which is already preparing to draft action plans on nine coastal/ocean objectives. It would affect all users and uses, on and beneath the oceans.
“I hear it over and over again,” Sen. Begich said in a phone call from D.C. “Let’s call it like it is, pure and simple – ocean zoning. “I don’t think Dr. Lubchenco, the director of NOAA, appreciated my blunt categorization of it,” Begich added, “but as a former mayor, that’s what it is. You are determining winners and losers in terms of utilization of the oceans, and that is what zoning does.
“What is the value in it? And by what authority are they able to do this?” he continued. “In land use zoning there is a whole process you must go through by law. Here they are talking ocean zoning but there has yet to be any stakeholder involvement or economic analysis.”
And just who are “they”?
“It is a classic situation of people within the bureaucracy believing it’s a good thing to spend their time on regardless of cost,” Begich said, “When in reality, they have not worked with the stakeholders and they haven’t done their homework.”
His biggest beef with ocean zoning plans is the $60 million price tag.
“It’s money we don’t have,” Begich said. “With Congress reducing funding in so many areas, we can’t get ourselves stretched so thin that NOAA is doing new stuff that takes away from research and all the rest of the work that’s necessary to maintain our core missions.”
Deadline to comment to the NOC on ocean zoning and other objectives is April 29. www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/oceans
Begich said among the biggest threats to Alaska and U.S. fisheries is widespread poaching by foreign fleets, called Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported fishing (IUU).
“I will echo the late Sen. Ted Stevens that IUU fishing is growing to be more of a problem,” Begich said. “Foreign poachers are taking almost 20 percent of the worldwide seafood catch. That’s huge! And it is hurting the fishery resources and taking away from the people who are following all the rules.”
Begich said a first line of IUU defense comes from the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard needs additional resources for patrols and enforcement. Even though we have tight fiscal constraints, this is one area that is worth the additional investment.”
What’s the hold up with the U.S. not ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty, needed in order to negotiate Arctic uses and boundaries?
“Part of it is we have a couple Senators who believe that it will take away our sovereignty, and our ability to manage our own waters,” Begich said, adding that he is hopeful the LOST will be ratified this year.
“When you think of the countries that have not signed on to it – Libya, Iran, North Korea - I’m not sure I want to be in that company, but we are. The reality is, every day we are not part of this agreement, we are losing part of our sovereignty.
“It is estimated that there is an area of the outer continental shelf the size of California that could be available for the US to take rights to. But because we are not part of the treaty, we are unable to be at the table with other countries to negotiate boundaries and parcels that are under our control.”
Speaking of his quick rise to the No. 5 leadership spot out of 51 Democrats and his chairmanship of the oceans/fisheries/Coast Guard subcommittee, Begich said:
“If you asked me two years ago if I thought I’d have this opportunity so quick in my term, I would have told you no. I feel very honored. This is the committee that Ted Stevens had for many years, and it’s where the Magnuson Stevens-Act was developed. It’s very much what I would call an Alaskan committee with huge national interest as well.”
Halibut dips – About two weeks into the season, halibut prices took a tumble, which is typical after the buying frenzy for the first fresh deliveries.
Opening prices at Homer topped $7 per pound when the fishery opened on March 12; ditto in major Southeast ports. Halibut prices at Kodiak started at $6.50, dropped to $6 by the second deliveries and last week were at $5 – $5.25 – $5.75 pound depending on fish size. Likewise, Homer prices dipped to $6 and $6.50 for 20 ups, and $5.50 – $6.25 and $6.50 at Southeast.
Still, those prices are nothing to sneeze at, but Alaska fishermen need every penny they can get in the face of big cuts to their halibut catches - down 47 percent in Southeast to just 2.3 million pounds, and down 28 percent to 14.3 million pounds in the Central Gulf.
Despite the overall shortfall in supply, buyers believe the market is starting to resist the record high prices. At retail, halibut fillets were fetching $17.99/pound at Costco; at 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage fillets were $18.95 and customers were happy to have a taste of the year’s first fresh fish. The halibut fishery remains open this year through Nov. 18.
Hydraulics help – Many a fishing trip has been cut short by a break down in any number of hydraulics systems, from a single pot hauler or anchor winch on skiffs to huge freezer compressors or deck cranes on floating processors.
“We jokingly refer to the hydraulics as the ‘ghost of the machine’ because a lot of fishermen have a real understanding of their engines and most of their gear, but very few have a really good working knowledge of how the hydraulics actually work,” said Paul Rioux, a Sitka-based marine hydraulics technician and instructor for an online marine hydraulics course starting next month.
Fishermen brought the need for training to university program planners, who helped craft the online hydraulics classes – a first of its kind. It includes animations on system basics, troubleshooting and hydraulics ‘lingo’ – plus direct interaction with instructors and class mates via online forums.
“Modern communications have really opened things up for on line classes,” Rioux said. “It allows us to reach set netters in Bristol Bay or trollers in Yakutat Bay.”
Rioux said student feedback will fine tune the course to what people really need. The six-hour marine hydraulics course is open to everyone and can be taken over four days during three sessions in April starting on the 12th, 19th and 26th. The charge is $95. Contact the University of Southeast/ Sitka. www.uas.alaska.edu/sitka 907-747-7762
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