Southeast Alaska Fish Rights Robbed:
Part 1: RICO Rendezvous at the Calhoun Street Depository
By Victor Smith
On January 11th, 2007, after stalling for over a year, the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) finally concluded its investigation into former state senate president Ben Stevens' unreported dealings with the fishing industry. Anyone hoping the APOC hearing would quickly shed light on the tack the FBI investigations on public corruption in Alaska might be taking must be disappointed by APOC's slender fines. However, many could be increasingly nervous because APOC's flimsy and reluctantly conducted investigation has since raised more questions than it answered.
Just weeks earlier, a December 23, 2006 Anchorage Daily News article stated that in mid-November a federal grand jury had subpoenaed Stevens, his partner Trevor McCabe, trade groups, seafood corporations and other persons regarding the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association (SEAS) and the Southeast Revitalization Association (SRA) for "all documents regarding 'any attempt by you or your members' to obtain funds from the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board [AFMB], or to secure a fleet buyout."
Several of these organizations operated out of a Calhoun Street Building in Juneau, within eyesight of Stevens' former senate office; and upwards of $90 million in federal funds was planned to flow through its corridors. The building is jointly owned by Robert "Bobby" Thorstenson Jr. and Rob Zuanich, who are also executives and board members of the fishing associations that remain, like Stevens, under federal investigation.
SEAS Contract at Center of Investigation:
One of the 2005-06 complaints that APOC reviewed largely revolved around a performance based lobbying contract Ben Stevens had with South East Alaska Seiners' Association (SEAS). That June 2004 ('original') contract became public knowledge on November 13, 2004 at a meeting of SEAS' sister organization, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners' Association (PSVOA) with nearly 60 members in attendance.
One member publicly asked PSVOA executive director Rob Zuanich how the association was going to pay "the $500 thousand" at that time understood to be owed to Ben for obtaining from his father, U.S. senator Ted Stevens, the addition of a one paragraph rider on an Omnibus spending bill funding the ($50,000,000) Southeast seiners' permit buyback program.
Zuanich did not correct the questioner, either about the amount of money owed or that it was owed to Ben Stevens. Instead, Zuanich replied that he was "confident that with a little convoluted accounting the payments could be kept off the associations' books." (He then approached the questioning fisherman, suggesting that a public meeting might not be the place for more such questions.)
APOC was forced to become involved when complaints filed by Ray Metcalfe of the Republican Moderate Party (RMP) in 2005 noted that Stevens didn't list the payments in public filings required to fully report sources of income to his constituency, as required by Alaska's Legislative Financial Disclosure Law.
Stevens maintained that the SEAS contract wasn't with him but instead was with Advance North LLC (AN), the lobbying and consulting firm he co-owned equally with Trevor McCabe, a former fisheries aide to U.S. senator Ted Stevens. Even though AN had made over $300 thousand in the prior two years, and still had an additional $280,000 due under the SEAS contract alone, Ben Stevens hastily sold his 50% interest to McCabe for merely $5,000 in September, 2005 - just when APOC's investigation into the contract was getting legs.
Now both Zuanich and Robert "Bobby" Thorstenson Jr. (SEAS executive director and president of UFA, the United Fishermen of Alaska) also claim the contract wasn't with Ben Stevens. Zuanich sent APOC a letter to that effect, seemingly backing up the lobbying contracts APOC had asked SEAS and AN to provide.
On May 26, 2006 APOC sent a letter to SEAS, and then followed up with a June 14 phone call. Next, on July 26, APOC sent a letter requesting more information, with its first request being for a copy from SEAS of the contract. Zuanich replied on August 7, but recent disclosures from APOC do not indicate whether SEAS actually provided the requested copy of the contract.
It was not until December 27, 2006 that APOC date stamped receipt of 18 pages (Exhibit 10) that includes Ben's unsigned and not-dated copy as pages 1-4. A second identical copy of the contract makes up pages 15-18. It is unclear if the latter is supposed to be the one APOC requested from SEAS in July. What also remains unclear, absent signed originals, is if any revisions were made to the performance-based language.
The versions in APOC disclosures might have been ones changed specifically to appear to be paying for 'new services' in the extension to cover up what was an approximately 1% performance-based earmark attainment reward to Stevens. There is a big difference between paying for consulting services (real hours worked) and paying for an earmark based on its magnitude (a political act).
This begs for deeper inquiry. "Why was there nearly a 5-month gap between APOC's request and the apparent receipt of a copy from SEAS, just days before the final hearing, of pages 15-18, and why did it arrive, apparently by hand delivery (according to circled 'HC' indicators), together with Ben's copy?"
By design, deceit leads to confusion, so remember as you read on that it is not easy, absent copies of originals and revisions, to know exactly what the facts are. It may be that by December of 2006, revisions were made because the buyback earmark amount was dropped from $50 to $25 million, and a one-percent reward for performance was accordingly dropped (approx.) in half. APOC's failures have simply helped the web of deceit grow wider as disclosures are based on uncertain, unenforceable (not signed and dated) copies.
Flashing Money Like in a Con Job:
Once again, here's what I was told in November 2004: Directors of SEAS confirmed that the payments already being sent to Ben were $5,000 per month, and were "supposed to double to $10,000 for five years after a buyback plan is funded and approved." Several said they saw the contract-one saying it had space for SEAS president, Dan Castle's signature. Another suggested payment to Ben may have started last March and that up to $150,000 for administration costs may have been received by SEAS from another source this year (2004).
This tends to confirm that grant funds (see below) were used to pay Ben up to that point, November or December of 2004. APOC makes no mention of such evidence being investigated. As previously mentioned, during the week before the weekend meeting in November of 2004, an approximately 120+ word rider (Section 209) was put in an Omnibus spending bill (by Ted Stevens). But NOAA Fisheries soon interceded and reminded those involved that normally they approve a plan and then fund it, rather than just hand out money and wait for the recipients to tell them how it was going to be spent.
This fast changing scenario immediately led to a (December 2004) renewal of the contract by SEAS, so that Ben Stevens would continue in seeking the earmark funding. Given the odds that any buyback by this group could then be attained, it began to look like just an excuse to pay Ben Stevens and promote goodwill and align seiners with the powers that be. But others thought that if seiners had got the money it would have been a payback for supporting Governor Murkowski, and for not objecting to crab rationalization and the Habitat Division move.
To me, I felt like SEAS was involved in a bait and switch con game, flashing large monetary promises around to marks who thought they were cutting a good deal, if we'd just give them access to our futures first. In any case, Ben gets paid a lot of money and federal taxpayers lose. This rip-off makes it all the more important for APOC (or other investigators) to find all signed and dated contract copies, and all revisions or addenda to them.
A deeper investigation might also uncover that the delivery and renditions of both copies were coordinated in late-December, by someone wanting to make certain APOC had identically worded revisions. Again, APOC did not publicly disclose actual signed and dated originals, or copies of the first contract followed by a second, term-extension contract. Without any reservations, these are serious reasons to suggest that both SEAS and Stevens' unsigned copies of the contract purporting to be between them might be fraudulent versions altogether. And proof of a small but effective conspiracy.
SEAS Directors Misled or Payment Ruse?
In the winter of 2004-05, while seeking information to understand why our associations were spending these huge sums on lobbying, none of SEAS directors I talked to had a clue about the involvement of Advance North LLC.
It is simply not credible to imagine SEAS' directors wouldn't have recognized earlier that the contract was with AN if they had seen the version finally provided to APOC. And another indication that the contract copy may be a deliberate deception is that it only has a space for Robert Thorstenson Jr. to sign. In December 2004, the board members I talked to who had actually seen the original contract said that it specifically had a space for SEAS president Dan Castle's signature, not Thorstenson's.
Several of the directors told me that Thorstenson and Zuanich had pitched the vessel buyback plan (also known as a fleet reduction program) to the SEAS board saying that Ben Stevens had said, "I've got the Crab deal to my credit. Hire me and I'll get my dad to fund you guys too."
That's a direct reference and claim that Ben had played a large part in obtaining the vessel reduction program funds under the federal Alaska king crab rationalization program. For anyone who doubts it, I have (and provided) a recording of one of the board members describing their pitch. Why didn't APOC search for an original copy of a contract expressly between Ben Stevens and SEAS that the latter's directors thought existed before different extended terms were proposed in a second contract?
This adds impetus to the conclusion that Ben's copy, and both copies of the contract in APOC's hands may be a subsequent fabrications; not only because they are absent a Dan Castle signature line, but because this December 2006 version includes language for the extended term, from June 2006 to June 2008. Surely it can't be a copy of either the original June 2004 contract or the December 2004 alleged extension, since the fees appear reduced to match the final earmark amount only known about in late-2006.
Likewise, thinking that the $50 million federal guarantee was in the bag, there was no mention of an extension of the original contract at the November 2004 PSVOA meeting, either. And in December 2004, to a man, the directors clearly said the board had extended SEAS' contract "with Ben Stevens."
Avoiding any other course, APOC's investigation stayed narrowly limited to the improper filing aspects, ignoring altogether whether or not it was legal for a state senator to lobby Congress. Blinders on, they failed to note that it appears the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records shows no corresponding filings required for such lobbying. As Alaska's 2007 Legislature concentrates on Ethics because of the FBI raids and Stevens' role, it is obvious that stronger requirements need to be imposed to prevent more of this type of corruption.Why does APOC have subpoena powers if not for the purposes of doing complete investigations? Specifically, why didn't the commission obtain signed copies of both the original term contract and the extended one? And knowing that Stevens' and SEAS' disclosures fall far short of revealing "the full truth," why didn't APOC not only render a maximum fine, but also ask that the Office of Special Prosecutions follow up on the obvious attempts at deceit? At the least, the question of how state of Alaska funds flowed into SEAS and how SEAS used them in relation to the buyback, payments to Stevens and others involved should be resolved.
Hand-Washers at APOC Gladly Drop Any Further Look:
As conducted, the January 2007 hearing at APOC thwarted any examination of Stevens' deceptive motives and intents, or cross-examinations of the evidence, which assists deceit. This isolated approach merely picked at details and issues of compliance as if meager line-by-line facts were all that was needed to determine the reasons for why APOC should have fined Stevens to the max.
Ignoring that it was the fourth time Stevens filed incorrectly, and that he left off six sources of fishing and ocean industries income to avoid telling constituents about $392,500, one neglectful APOC director went so far as to suggest "compassion" and "mercy" for the serious transgressions. She had closed ears when another director essentially asked "how many times will APOC let a legislator improperly file and how many previous fines does it take before APOC finally levies a maximum fine?", because even that may not be enough of a deterrent.
Another run through of the sequence of events was more than warranted.
APOC knew by September 2005 that Stevens had been exposed for a 'secret deal' at Adak regarding 25% ownership option in a processing plant that would benefit from a pollock fisheries rider that Ted Stevens placed in a 2004 Omnibus bill during late-2003. In addition, APOC knew in early September 2006 about the FBI raids on the Alaska Legislature, also centering in on Stevens' office.
By November of 2006, APOC also knew that there were recent subpoenas of fishing company records regarding suspected misuse of federal funds disbursed over several years by a Ben Stevens chaired marketing agency. Those companies were clients of Ben's, and his consulting incomes from an association they all belonged to increased after those clients received the marketing funds. Ray Metcalfe had clearly outlined this sequence of "Ben's Booty" in his June 2006 filing with APOC.
So, in December of 2006, why would APOC put on blinders and fail to question if there was an attempt to cover up the "performance based" structure of SEAS' original contract and proposed extension, two years later because of these other concerns? Before fining Stevens, one question at least should have been answered, "Did SEAS and Stevens, in December 2006, fabricate a new consolidated contract (as if an original) that said were the buyback program funds obtained then SEAS would engage AN for another 24 months, at $10,000 per month?" Or had APOC already committed to an unchangeable course?
Obviously, a commission made up of political appointees and lacking the care to use tougher law enforcement measures often becomes a "snakes don't eat their own" agency that serves legislators, not voters. During the January 2007 APOC hearing, complainant Ray Metcalfe of the Republican Moderate Party made the point that APOC reports to the Legislature (who controls its funding) instead of to the Judiciary branch where independent interpretation of the law is more likely. APOC also failed to consider directly relevant Alaska Supreme Court rulings such as Grimm v. Wagoner.
The judge's words in that case clearly indicate that Stevens should have been ruled as ineligible to sit in office at all. Stevens did all the things that ruling indicated would have disqualified a state senator from holding office in the first place. Instead, APOC directors hid in the cocoon of regulations that dealt strictly with filing details, ignored adjudicated law, and argued that they took a year to do things in large part because Stevens was considered "exempt" from legal action while serving in the Legislature and during many 2006 special sessions.
In the hearings, Metcalfe reminded APOC, "Immunity has a purpose and it is not being properly applied here. It is meant to bar interference with a properly seated legislator. The Supreme Court said a legislator is not immune from a legislatively imposed requirement of holding public office." And he asked, "Since when is APOC not required to follow Alaska Supreme Court decisions?" By foot-dragging, the time it takes to petition the Supreme Court and get a ruling could easily have gone past Ben's term of office and made the question moot.
Metcalfe also pointed out that APOC didn't place any credence in any of his complaints until after the FBI began its own investigations. He also noted that it was quite convenient, five days before Stevens was to leave office, that APOC finally found the courage to levy a significant fine.
Noting the discovery that Stevens failed to report six other clients and the $392,500 he received from them, Metcalfe went further in describing Stevens' methods. Paraphrasing, "When I sat down as a legislator or candidate and gathered my checkbooks and tax statements up to fill in an APOC financial disclosure report, if something looked like income it was reported. When in doubt about an item, I'd simply report it. But when Ben Stevens does so, he makes two piles. Pile one is 'what I think that I can get away with not reporting' and pile two is 'here's something I probably can't get away with not reporting'."
Metcalfe was not alone in this perspective regarding intent, as one commissioner asked "how many times will APOC let a person keep on misfiling reports before we finally give them the maximum fine?"
APOC was equally dismissive when Metcalfe pointed out an obvious conflict-of-interest that the chair has as an oil industry lawyer, when the complaints against Stevens also center on whether consulting fees from that industry are a means of bribery. The chair did not recuse himself, but it did make for an interesting hearing, especially when the final conclusion was to halve the fines suggested (and firmly defended) by APOC's own professional staff. Clearly, rules and politics don't make happy bedfellows once pillow talk turns to bribery and buying political influence on the part of a cherished and protected son.
Several days after the conclusion of the hearing, I called to express multiple concerns about SEAS contract versions to APOC's Assistant Director Christina Ellingson. She seemed disinterested that the contract copy Ben provided in December may have been fraudulent and that it was not even a signed and dated copy, nor did it have the correct signature line. Ellingson said "even if they are fabrications, it is for someone else to deal with because APOC is done with it."
The implications of APOC's lack of any attempt to illuminate a case with such high potential for fraud, and obvious evidence of it, are enormous for the current session of the Alaska Legislature. Many Ethics bills are being proposed specifically to address the FBI investigation and reflect on Ben Stevens' failures to properly report a true and full version of his financial income from "consulting" while serving in the Legislature. If legislators can answer public office commission investigators by providing false and unsigned contract copies, and if investigators will look no further, then the Ethics bills won't fix a thing.
Zuanich Answers Investigators:
In APOC's hearing file, Zuanich's August 7, 2006 reply letter mentioned above is page one of Exhibit 15. In it, he (a trained lawyer) answers five questions that Ellingson originally put to Thorstenson in a phone conversation on June 14th, telling Bobby at the time, in error, that the phone information would be sufficient. When later informed by Ellingson that APOC would require written answers, Zuanich responded for Thorstenson who was out fishing.
Zuanich's answers (1-4) maintain that SEAS only contracted with Advance North LLC and that "Stevens provided no services to SEAS".
"All communications and work product were generated by McCabe in the areas of research process and drafting relative to development of salmon fleet consolidation legislation in the U.S. Congress," Zuanich said.
Zuanich started answer number five by saying "Payments to Advance North came from SEAS general operating funds generated from membership dues," - a partial answer at best.
In 2004 SEAS membership was down in the 90's, so dues of $600 a year would only have generated $54-$60 thousand tops, barely enough to pay $5,000 a month in salary (plus expenses) to Thorstenson. And who knows what rents he negotiated for SEAS to pay for office space in the Calhoun St. building in Juneau that he jointly owns with Zuanich.
An examination of SEAS books would probably show, as was common knowledge among directors and most members, that a state salmon hatchery cost recovery program venture funded most or their activities. A January, 2005 recorded conversation with one of SEAS' directors confirmed, "Our cost recovery program funds most of our stuff."
The hatchery fish that generate that money for SEAS are more than just public resources like wild fish. Hatchery production is heavily funded with government grants. In any case, neither member dues or cost recovery contracts, nor both combined would have generated enough money to pay Stevens' contract: SEAS needed more. Zuanich went on to pronounce that "State of Alaska grant funds were not utilized for these payments. Stevens did not provide services to SEAS and any consulting services contracted by SEAS are not paid with State of Alaska grant funds."
One can imagine the shock to some directors of SEAS when they read that statement.
Facts Contradict Zuanich's statement:
The Southeast Revitalization Association (SRA), an entity that SEAS set up to administer the buyback, also operated out of the Calhoun Street building, with Zuanich said to be its executive director. SRA received a grant (# 45503) of $144,099 for the period of September 2004 to December 2005, from the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund (SSSF) of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). That is, SRA received this SSSF funding during the same period as Ben Stevens was being paid for obtaining the funding of the buyback, just as a SEAS director told me in 2004. (Previously mentioned in my opinion piece in "Fishermen's News" a year ago entitled, Throwing the Habitat Game.)
The stated purposes of the SSSF grant were "Planning for Purse Seine Stabilization Program. Refine and revise the draft SRA seine permit reduction plan in advance of seeking substantial grant and loan funds with which to accomplish the buyback. Legal review and outreach with the affected permit holders."
Despite denial by Zuanich, doesn't it look like the State of Alaska grant was intended to fund, "in advance," precisely what Stevens was hired to do? But how would you keep track if SEAS accounting laundry wasn't sorting the government colored checks from their membership's whites?
During a conversation with one SEAS director, he mentioned a "convoluted idea to take the administration fee from the (unintelligible) to administer the buyback, to free up funds from the other pocket, to go ahead and pay Ben." Perhaps the SSSF grant SRA had received, just two months before PSVOA's November 2004 meeting, was part of the convoluted ways by which Zuanich figured the association's payments to Stevens could be hidden.
If Zuanich and Thorstenson had plainly admitted their deal was with Ben Stevens, then we might only be talking about Stevens now. But Zuanich and Thorstenson fingered themselves as co-conspirators with recent claims (and possibly fabrications) that it wasn't Ben Stevens but rather Trevor McCabe and Advance North LLC (AN) they had contracted to their associations.
Thorstenson Jr. and Zuanich can play revisionists all they want. But the fact remains that several directors were witness the deal was strongly peddled to them in 2004 as being solely with the influential son, Ben Stevens.
No doubt Zuanich and Thorstenson have been working overtime since then to compel a reconstruction of their directors' memories of events, too. But again, back in 2004 and early 2005 before the cover up began, while memories were fresh and untainted, none of the directors I talked to had a clue about who Trevor McCabe was. They explicitly thought it was Ben Stevens whom they'd hired.
Strange Acquaintances & Phone Call Pressure:
If hiring Ben Stevens was above board, as Zuanich and Thorstenson claim, then I doubt that I'd have been approached in the spring of 2005-in the middle of writing a piece about that contract-by a flamboyant stranger who insincerely raved about my writing and offered me an expense paid trip to Washington DC for an exclusive interview with Senator Ted Stevens. When it was suggested the interview with Stevens might go better if I held off publishing the article, I knew what to do. I submitted the piece, eventually printed as "Senator Stevens' Ocean's Eleven," a reference to the eleven-member North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
I'd also got a nasty call on my answering machine from Ben Stevens when one of the editors I submitted the piece to took it upon himself to forward the draft to Stevens and Thorstenson. (That editor refused to print the story in a major industry trade journal, and he now works for Trident Seafoods.) Trying to quash the story, Ben Stevens threatened me by saying we'd "get to know each other a lot better" if I published this 'incriminating' article. Obviously the Stevens were concerned about the story, even if Zuanich and Thorstenson were afraid to make a call themselves.
APOC fails to explore deeper questions:
When Ray Metcalfe of the RMP filed complaints in June and August of 2005, it called attention to Ben Stevens' large consulting fees from seafood industry sources, Stevens quickly dumped his interests in Advance North. In September, he sold his 50% share to partner McCabe for merely $5,000. APOC also knew that the federal buyback legislation was still not accomplished, so it would have been prudent to investigate quickly and prevent any gains from the deliberate under-reported income to reach fruition.
In addition to the SEAS contract, APOC uncovered non-reported income to Stevens and Advance North from five other sources. Of these, one was a Kodiak crab boat owner wanting statutory and legislative changes in federal laws; and two companies were involved with research or other vessels needing sources of income. All in all, $392,500 of previously non-reported income was found.
These matters point to key questions for APOC:
1. Why didn't APOC bother to find out which of the partners and various subcontractors (such as lobbyist Brad Gilman, Stevens and Associates, or McCabe's own law firm) that Advance North had paid from its 2004-05 multi-sourced earnings of $300,000? Why did APOC fail to determine why only $5,000 was the sales value of Ben's half share in AN, while contracts in place foretold continued income on that level or above?
2. Why did APOC sit on this for a year, and keep it quiet, while Ben Stevens continued a nefarious plot to uphold the contract and help Advance North become eligible for payments of the additional $240,000 from SEAS if he/AN successfully secured the planned $50,000,000 in buyback funds?
On December 7th, 2006, $25,000,000 earmarked for the buyback was passed in Congress by Ted Stevens' Senate Amendment 5224 (matching HR5946) to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Reauthorization Act (MSA, S.2012), signed by President Bush, becoming Public Law 109-479. A redline version of the entire Act is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/msa2007/
That earmark triggers any of the (original or revised) contractual agreements' extended terms. Yet no record of the lobbying services by Advance North, Ben Stevens, or McCabe, nor Brad Gilman on their behalf readily shows up in U.S. Senate lobbying records.
How do you get $500,000 (or even $240,000) for a performance of two or three badly crafted sentences (to serve a limited faction's private needs) that a publicly elected official is supposed to ensure gets into an appropriations bill? What could a state senator really do to 'consult' Congress and justify such an income? Or did Ben simply lobby his father, as promised to SEAS directors?
3. Why didn't APOC check the veracity of claims made by Zuanich and Thorstenson concerning SEAS' sources of funding for the contract and obtain a legally signed copy of the contract itself? Isn't it highly possible that AN may have had a secret means to continue rewarding Ben himself, which may have been discovered if APOC had looked closer?
Again, the most important fact may be that passage of the federal MSA Reauthorization fisheries bill includes the $25 million loan guarantee clause (See section 209) directly triggering the continuance of increased monthly payments to Advance North.
In fact, after September 2005, AN would have another $280,000 plus expenses left to collect on the SEAS contract alone, yet Ben sold his share for $5,000. And if the payments doubled in June 2006, it would reflect on how reliable the presumptions were for a locked-in insertion of the earmark clause.
NMFS Administration is Normal Buyback Protocol:
Anyone truly interested in answers to these questions should start by asking related procedural questions, starting with, "Why wasn't the normal protocol for a Federal fleet reduction being followed?"
Loan guarantee buybacks are handled as a program under NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Financial Services office, not by fleet associations who by their own admission do not represent the interests of all permit holders in a particular fishery. Equally important, normal protocol usually starts with an optimum permit number study for a fleet, and in this case it would have been conducted and specifically funded by the State of Alaska. The Legislature should have knowledge of any state funds being used or channeled for such purposes.
Normally, if 60% of a fleet approves exploring a fleet reduction program, then the Governor of a state can be asked to petition the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for a federally guaranteed buyback program. NMFS then usually gets an administration fee for conducting the actual loan program under its Financial Services Branch. NMFS would not be excluded from the lead administration role in reviewing the program, its banking aspects, participant selection, and annual rates of repayment.
So, why weren't the seiners' associations following that protocol? Why were they employing Ben Stevens and Advance North to appeal directly to Ted Stevens for special legislation instead of utilizing the legislation protocol already available?
Instead, they used revenues from state funded projects and grants to pay lobbyists to seek funding for the buyback before doing an optimum numbers study. Was it intentionally done in this convoluted and secret manner to capture the administration fee in order to reward Ben Stevens? And wasn't it selfishly designed to avoid the input of the entire affected seine fleet?
So much for SEAS or UFA's leadership being advocates for fair and equitable treatment of all similarly classed fishermen.
Evolution of Buyback Program Provides Answers:
Understanding the evolution of this buyback will suggest answers to those questions, and more.
Zuanich, Thorstenson, and David Bedford (a former SEAS executive director who is now deputy director of ADF&G, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) never wanted to follow established protocol in the first place; they wanted "a buyback they could control." Attempting to dodge outside oversight and control was how the three derailed chances for a fair buyback back in 2001.
Discussing the history of the current version of the seine buyback in his December 23, 2006 blog, Thorstenson admitted, "Our plan was set in motion at a November, 2001 meeting of SEAS at the Sixth Avenue Inn in Seattle."
As reported in the February, 2002 SEAS newsletter Brailer Scoop, during that November 16-18, 2001 meeting, "The SEAS Board adopted a policy supporting reductions in the number of permits fishing in the Southeast seine fishery." They arrived at that decision after hearing a presentation I made showing how the National Marine Fisheries Services' (NMFS) Fishing Reduction Loan Program could work profitably and fairly for the seine fleet.
I made the presentation as the direct result of a conversation I had with Thorstenson in August 2001 on the docks in Craig, Alaska. That's when, while literally poking me in the chest, Thorstenson told me that "No matter who doesn't like it, any fleet reduction plan will include fisheries quotas for processors." I was shocked that the president of UFA could have such a conviction and not be warning fishermen about the antitrust harms of such a structure, particularly since the BSAI crab fleet reduction was then going on in parallel with a processor grab for crab quotas.
As soon as the 2001 season ended, I placed calls to Zuanich, Bedford and Bruce Schactler to express concern over Thorstenson's poor leadership. None of them seemed to care, and made comments like "Oh, that's just Bobby being Bobby;" and none of them seemed to care later, either. Of course Thorstenson shrilly denies ever having supported crab 'rationalization' (a euphemism for the corporate theft of public fisheries resources). But his version of events isn't supported by the facts.
Instead of warning fishermen, Thorstenson did everything he could to head off their involvement by claiming crab rationalization or "ratz" was a regional issue that others should stay out of. Thorstenson viscously attacked those who questioned that policy. It is publicly known that he holds stock in a major processor, so he has an inherent conflict of interest regarding such matters. He personally stood to benefit from processor quota shares (PQs), industry consolidation, or both.
At the same time that Thorstenson was silencing and misleading fishermen, he was doing everything within his power to help processors get what they wanted. That included heading off a 2002 UFA vote to oppose PQs and signaling the NPFMC that fishermen would support whatever option the NPFMC chose to adopt when all signs are that he already knew what the vote was going to be.
Certainly Thorstenson knew, as he later admitted that council member and ADF&G commissioner Kevin Duffy was "at the helm" of the Council, in spite of Duffy not being the chair. Thorstenson knew that ratz wasn't only for crab and it wasn't being done for safety as claimed to the Congress. It was strictly allocative, ongoing, and eventually intended for salmon, too.
For instance, before Crab Ratz was passed, Thorstenson hosted a spring 2002 meeting in Petersburg where Senator Ted Stevens told a crowd that ratz was a done deal for cod too. Meeting Stevens at the airport, Thorstenson took the Wrangell Seafoods hat that the senator was wearing off and playfully gave Ted a noogie, slapped an Icicle Seafoods hat on his head, and said, "You're in a real fishing town now." Not long after that, I suggested to several association members that they should keep Thorstenson away from any politicians they really valued, but no one seemed to care. In hindsight, it didn't matter much, as they were all in cahoots anyway.
The discussion of this could go on and on, but you have to question when Thorstenson disingenuously (and too late) says, "While it took us a while to get untracked and officially oppose processor shares, we weren't alone in this endeavor. The whole state was asleep at the switch on this one." He might have added, "Because of me."
It was Thorstenson's responsibility to see the State wasn't asleep. As UFA president, he has been repeatedly credited and (wrongly) relied upon for representing some twenty-five thousand Alaskan fishermen. Even if he hadn't been duplicitously working behind the scenes and stifling dissent, it was clearly malfeasant for a fishermen association leader not to oppose a developing processor monopoly. It was worse for him to sacrifice the fishermen's price-bargaining position. (But his worst leadership failure may have been not standing up for sustainability and fishermen rights, with any opposition to the move of the Habitat Division from the ADF&G to the Department of Natural Resources.)
Knowing fleet reduction was soon going to be an issue for seiners, I decided to become involved by offering Southeast seiners the NMFS plan as an option to try to avoid the outside influences lining up to manipulate fishermen's desire for fleet reduction. But the influences weren't just on the outside, and they weren't only limited to Thorstenson.
"Prior to taking any action promoting effort reduction," SEAS' Brailer Scoop continued, "the Board surveyed the membership to gauge their support. A committee of the Board will investigate options."
Part Two - Common Law Conspiracy Achieved Early Control
By Victor Smith - Groundswell Fisheries Movement
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