Ted Stevens, Don Young and MSA's Dirty Big Secret11/27/06
By Terry Haines - Sharp eyes rake the back of my neck as I bang the snow off my rainboots just outside Tony's Bar. Looking up I see an eagle perched on the lamppost above me. He gives me a disapproving look. Eagles are good at disapproving looks. They live harsh lives. They love to fish better than anything else, but will do anything to survive. So they'll hang around town in winter, lining up in spruce trees along the channel, waiting for someone at the cannery to leave the lid off a tote full of fish. Once someone at Trident forgot to cover the dumptruck they use to haul fishguts to the rendering plant. The eagles went crazy, plunging into the back of the truck like kids in a pit full of plastic balls. Many ended up so soaked with oily fish juice that they had to waddle down the road on foot to clean themselves under the tall trees at the Erskine House until they could fly up to perch, fat and happy. Sometimes there are so many eagles in town they have to find a telephone pole to sit on, or a lamppost, like this one. He ruffles his feathers in the swirling snow and trills down at me.
"Don't gimme that." I push the door open. "You'd go inside too, if you could."
Tony's is warm and dim. A furry figure slumps on a stool at the bar's left side, normally reserved for dignitaries. Oh crap. It's Crazy Fred. All he ever talks about these days is fish politics. Used to be a normal person, too. Then he got caught up in this Kodiak Revolution. Andy, who owns Tony's, he's a revolutionary, too. He's like their Ben Franklin. Crazy Fred spots me and waves me over.
"MSA is coming!" he yells at me. "MSA is coming!" Fred would be their Paul Revere. He buys two Liquid Sunshines and lures me over with one of them.
"Okay, I'll bite. What's an MSA?"
"The Magnuson Stevens Act. The big book of fish laws for the whole country. It's in the shop for an overhaul on Capital Hill. People are in Washington right now screaming about setting catch limits and protecting corals. But that's all a smokescreen, man." He smiles like Donald Sutherland, who would play him in the movie. "There's a poison pill in MSA. Hidden inside all that lawyerly monkey puzzle is a Tribble that will eat up the rest of it."
"Hey, that's metaphor abuse. I don't think that's legal."
He frisked me quickly for a wire. At least I think that's what he was doing. Then, pausing dramatically between the letters for effect, he said "R. F. A." "What?"
"If they can get RFAs into MSA then the RFMCs can AFA the USA and we'll all be SOL."
I get up to leave, but he buys me another Sunshine. "Okay" I sigh, plopping back down, "what's an AFA?"
"The American Fisheries Act. Very ironic name, since it was basically a sumo wrestling match between Japanese money and Norwegian money. It was all about the vast and valuable schools of pollock here in Alaska. The Norwegians had invested tens of millions of dollars on factory trawlers and the Japanese invested tens of millions on shorebased plants and catcher boats. Well, as the years went by the pollock began schooling farther and farther offshore. The factory trawlers started catching more and more of the quota, because the shore based catcher boats had to run to the grounds and back. It got to the point that the factory boats were catching seventy percent of the quota. But the Japanese backed shorebased companies had a secret plan. They had been lobbying the office of Senator Ted Stevens to split the quota into onshore and offshore sectors and then to flip the historic catch so that the shorebased sector was awarded seventy percent. Their argument was that shorebased meant Alaskan jobs. Of course that's not true out in Dutch Harbor. Those plants are cities unto themselves, with their own docks, stores, hotels, restaurants and housing, and they import most of the workforce from poor places all over the world. Their catcher boats drive up from Seattle and many are owned by the plants outright. They are not there to nestle into the community. They are there to extract raw materials. We're just another Third World country to them.
"Also, to be honest there is a good reason to process pollock at sea. They spoil quickly, but make excellent whitefish fillets if frozen in time. Which means at sea. Freshness is less vital for the Japanese plants, which focus on surimi and roe-stripping. Because of the increasingly long drive from the grounds to the plant, much of the pollock they process is useless for fillets.
"But that doesn't matter. The shorebased lobbyists were successfully infiltrating in all the right places: our RFMC (that's a Regional Fishery Management Council), and of course, Uncle Ted's office. Well, the factory trawlers get wind of their plan, and the fight was on. It basically became a lobbyist war. Both sides opened up their checkbooks, because pollock is big money.
When the dust cleared the shorebased plants got sixty five percent and the factory boats got thirty five. And they realized two things:
"Number one, while fighting about 'onshore or offshore' they had managed to hammer out a law, The "American" Fisheries Act, which enabled them to get rid of all their competition. They split the whole multi-million dollar fishery between them. Forever. They own the market. The law they got Uncle Ted to carry to Congress does not just split it into onshore and offshore. It deals the formerly free market out to the few companies sitting at the table at the time."
"But wait, wait. Isn't this America? How can they outlaw the free market?"
"That's a good question. AFA took place so far from the light of day that no one really asked. Later on, when they turned to capturing the Bering Sea crab they hired an economist, Scott Matulich, who wrote them up a study showing that the buyers are disadvantaged when you slow down a fishery. The Government Accountability Office, and many of his peers, ripped the study to shreds. They pointed out errors including presupposing a conclusion, cherry picking and omission of data, and oversimplification. His study has never been replicated, yet it remains the sole scholarly basis for outlawing capitalism in the fish market.
"They also managed to get ownership of swimming fish awarded to fishing vessels. They picked a window of years, and simply gave the fish forever to the boat owners. The factory trawlers are their own catchers, so giving them thirty five percent is handing over both resource and market. And the shorebased plants are so financially linked to their catcher boats, either owning them outright or by holding their bank notes, that giving the resource to the boat's owners has wound up the same as giving it to the processors.
"The second thing the processors realized was that while grappling with one another, they had both grown very strong. They had stuffed lobbyists onto the North Pacific Council, all the way up to the Chair. Ted Stevens' fisheries aide, Trevor McCabe, who was personally responsible for writing much of the AFA, was a lobbyist for the At Sea Processors Association, representing the factory trawlers. Advisors, lawyers and "industry reps" from the processing sector, on-and-off shore, were in place to thumb wrestle each other at every turn of the fisheries management maze.
"So they did the obvious. They joined forces. They became the superpower of fish.
"They realized that by using the AFA formula, they could subvert the Council and the Congressman to seize the resource and outlaw the competition. So, unified, they turned their attention to another valuable fishery, Bering Sea crab. The crab boat owners were much more financially independent than the pollock boat owners and they wanted free and clear ownership of the resource. But the processors own the Council now, so the boat owners had to negotiate. They hammered out a deal to give the crab to the owners and the market to the processors, and, ignoring the clamor of the rabble, they handed it to Ted Stevens."
"Wait a minute. Why do they need Ted Stevens at all? Can't they just pull the Council's strings and make whatever laws they want?"
"Oh no no no. The Councils are supposed to make laws to protect and manage the fisheries. Our Council is privatizing a public resource and micromanaging the market like they were the Communist Party or something. It's way beyond their job description. So their plan to "rationalize" the crab fishery went straight into Ted Stevens' hand. As Chair of the Appropriations Committee, he was able to attach "Crab Ratz" as an earmark to a fat omnibus spending bill."
"Oh yeah, I remember. He caught some major heat for that. The Department of Justice, the Government Accountability Office, Senators Snowe and McCain.they all hated it. And then after it went into effect nine hundred fishermen lost access to the crab. Coastal communities lost all that revenue and absentee owners gobbled up the quota and started charging a rent of seventy percent to locals for harvesting it. What a P.R. disaster! You can't tell me he wants to go through that every time he earmarks a bill for the processors."
"He doesn't. Hence the poison pill. Embedded deep within MSA is language allowing the creation of Regional Fisheries Associations. RFAs are a legal framework for linking processors and boat owners so they can be given the market and the resource, just like AFA and Crab Ratz. And the really diabolical move is an amendment to MSA that would allow the regional councils all over the country to privatize and monopolize without congressional approval. This amendment is collaboration between the chair of the North Pacific Council and our own Commissioner of Fish and Game. Our Council chair works for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. The former Commissioner of Alaska's Fish and Game now has a lucrative job for the At Sea Processors Association."
"Great. What's their next move toward world domination?"
"Their next project is to privatize and monopolize cod here in the Gulf of Alaska. When that gets earmarked into life the same thing will happen to Kodiak that happened to King Cove. Absentee owners of a public resource will charge local fishermen egregious rents to harvest in their own back yard. And a few multinational corporations will own the formerly free market." "So why do I still live in this town? This is why I don't sit next to you, Fred. You're depressing the hell out of me."
"Because the Democrats won. MSA is right on the edge. The Lame Ducks might ratify it. But chances are they will pass it on to the next Congress because they want to go home for the holidays. If the new leadership figures out the scam they might delete RFAs, reject the Alaska Amendment and link the resource to communities rather than companies. They might realize its not in our best interest to privatize a public resource. Unless Don Young can help it."
"Don Young? Our lone delegate to the House of Representatives? What does he care about fish? I thought he just built bridges."
"To nowhere. Right, he has been the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Stuck hundreds of last minute earmarks onto highway bills for everything from a thirty seven million dollar road for Wal-Mart to our embarrassing bridges connecting us to the great outdoors. But he's been talking about moving over to become ranking member at Resources, for two reasons. First, and I quote: "There's a movement afoot to try to not allow chairmen to become ranking members, and that's to be expected with younger bucks that want to take and replace the old bucks." He said the second consideration was if MSA gets put off. If that happens he might want to be the number two buck at Resources."
"So its bucks and ducks' I said, starting to understand. "If the young bucks horn him out at Transportation, or the congressional ducks are too lame to pass the MSA he would jump to Resources. But why does Don Young care about MSA? Isn't that Uncle Ted's baby? I mean, he's the 'S' in MSA."
"Yeah, but this is Alaska. It's just like Hazzard County. Uncle Ted and Captain Don are twin Boss Hoggs. They've been in office so long they don't even bother to campaign anymore. They have their pick of sweet committee seats. Let's face it. These two guys sling around more money and favors than most Arab sheiks. Alaskans figure it would be decades before new guys work their way up to where these guys are now. So they just vote for them every time, good, bad or ugly."
"Yeah, but why does Don Young care about the MSA?"
"I'm getting to that. In Hazzard County you are either a Duke or a Roscoe. Remember Roscoe? He was Boss Hogg's brother-in-law and henchman."
"I bet you see yourself as one of the Duke boys."
"Of course. Andy is Uncle Jesse. Anyway, it's easy to figure out why Captain Don wants the MSA to include the poison pill. Look at those bridges to nowhere. Did you know one of them goes to Point Mackenzie? Captain Don's son-in-law, Art Nelson, is partners in a company that owns land over there. They claim it was coincidence that the company, Point Bluff LLC, bought land over there shortly before Captain Don's earmark for a bridge over to it. Anyway, Point Bluff LLC is described as "heavily involved in the fishing industry", and Nelson's partners include Al Chaffee, owner of Highland Seafoods and Yardarm Knot Fisheries and Trevor McCabe. McCabe, of course is the same aide to Senator Stevens who was at the center of AFA. Nelson and McCabe are both past Executive Directors of the At Sea Processors Association, and Nelson is the long time chair of Alaska's Board of Fish."
"So he's a Roscoe?"
"He's a processor Roscoe. Okay, look. Between 2003 and 2005 Trevor McCabe ("Doing Business As" the Alaska Fish Marketing Board) was the direct recipient of twenty seven million dollars in federal funding from Uncle Ted. His qualification? He's a high powered processor lobbyist. Stephanie Madsen is the chair of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Her qualification?
Hot shot processor lobbyist. Art Nelson is appointed chair of the Board of Fish. His qualification? Well, because he's Don Young's son-in-law, but he is also a processor lobbyist. They are all in place because the processors spent money putting smart and well-connected people in position for the AFA fight, and then turned that two headed monster to the task of eating the rest of Alaska's fisheries. Is it a coincidence that the same good old boys who are getting an earmark bridge built to them are also having Alaska's fish given to big corporations? Corporations who whisk our Boss Hoggs around in private jets and pad their campaign accounts? Is it?"
Fred is starting to froth. I order two cooling Sunshines. Fred slumps a little more.
"In the end it will be AFA all over again, but on a national scale. And when the dust clears all the free swimming fish within two hundred miles of America will be owned by someone. All the fish in America's oceans and their spawn, forever. Bottom trawling locked in, bycatch awarded as "secondary species", and no way to stop them. No real ecosystem management, because they own the Council. They own everyone. Here in Kodiak the fish have belonged to the people for over six thousand years. Air, water, fish- that is what you need to survive on this rock. Tell your son he will have to get by on air and water. " He rises suddenly. I reflexively shake his hand.
"Hang in there" I say lamely. He sealegs his way through the door.
I look up as I leave the lounge. A raven is sitting on the eagle's lamppost.
"What's going on buddy?" I ask.
I could swear he smiled as he warbled "Nevermore"Previous posts from Terry Haines available here
Terry Haines is a Kodiak deckhand and representative for Fish Heads, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the vitality of Alaska's fishing communities. Contact Terry Haines