Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Politics and Chairman Thomas


As we mentioned in our last newsletter, 2012 will be the biggest political gamechanger since 2002 when FH Murkowski became Alaska's Governor in the middle of the biggest economic crisis our industry has ever faced. So that's a decade, straight up. While there is no Governor's race in 2012, there are some major landmark House and Senate races due to the census induced redistricting.

We'll highlight some of the changes here:

Petersburg joins Juneau, Skagway and Tenakee to form a new district. Petersburg used to be just Petersburg, then it was Petersburg-Wrangell, then lastly....Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and Ketchikan.

So this means that Peggy Wilson will be running against Kyle Johanson in the Republican Primary this August. And there will likely be a couple more folks in that primary who we’ll tell you about in the next newsletter if/when we get a chance to interview them.

While Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan become uncoupled from Petersburg they do pick up Angoon and a mishmash of communities in the Senate District.

So Senator Bert Stedman will run against Senator Albert Kookesh in November.

Haines joins Sitka, so Bill Thomas will have to run in a district that has both Sitka and Craig.

So Sitka and Craig have around 40% of all those Chatham Strait pink salmon being caught by their fishermen and processed in their community. Welcome to the world of seining, Mr. Chairman!! SEAS has supported Chairman Thomas since day one, even before USAG supported him. Chairman Thomas has passed 2 major bills for SEAS in the past as well. But there is a need for Chairman Thomas to settle into his role in the bigger picture of the state of Alaska position he is in and rely upon the ADFG management. More particularly in the ‘shared’ salmon resource of Southeast Alaska and particularly northern Southeast Alaska.

After all an average of 80% of all sockeye bound for the Juneau and Haines districts are harvested by gillnetters. If we were to bargain for a fair share we’d be looking at more like half. This is a pretty good indication of our harvest rate on most sockeye systems. With 80% of the harvest being conducted by the gillnet fleet after taking into consideration generally a 20-30% escapement on most years, the seine fleet is only harvesting only 20% of the commercial and subsistence total harvest and only around 15% of the total run sizes of any particular sockeye system on average. And while some smaller, lower Admiralty or upper or central Chatham systems may be a smaller percentage harvest, we could reasonably assume that our average harvest rate would be similar to the overall on the Chilkat, Chilkoot and Taku Rivers. This means that Chairman Thomas is in the unenviable position of pointing inward and pulling the trigger if he has issues with ADFG management.

So we are with him if he decides to stick with us. Hard to imagine with the numbers on our side and the district he is running in this year, that he will decide to oppose and continue to attack our longstanding historical fishery that is fully justified by the test fisheries, escapement counts and manner that it has been conducted since the resurgence of pink salmon in Chatham Strait in 1982, thirty years ago. Oh. And that’s another topic. There’s this myth amongst the Federal managers, notably Ben Van Allen, that the fishery is somehow a ‘new’ fishery in Chatham and that when you look at the 70’s, the fishery increased a bunch. Well, duh? We hardly fished from 1974-1981. The runs were rebuilding after the ‘unsustainable’ fishing patterns up through 1973. It wasn’t Icy Strait that was ever the problem. It was too much fishing time that was the problem. WE don’t fish 6 days a week in July anymore, do we? The fishery operates only on surplus pink salmon to escapement needs.

And to get even more off track here, look at the comments people mistakenly make about the sustainability of Chatham Strait seining. Here we are, after a fishery that began in 1878- albeit slowly in those northern districts- but fullswing by a century ago- and we have the biggest harvest and one of the most massive pink salmon escapements in 2011 EVER. HELLO MR> THOMAS. And the best of it was that over 20 million pounds of pink salmon were harvested by his current constituents of Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Kake, Metlakatla, and Hoonah. Over 50 million pounds were harvested by his new constituents, which include some of the old ones plus Sitka.

Congratulations Bill Thomas. If you indeed win the privilege to represent us seiners in Sitka, you are now the proud papa of a pretty massive group of pink salmon harvesters and processors.

There are a lot of other complex races that were created by the Republican controlled redistricting that we won't go into here but let's just say it will be a huge year to pay attention to the major changes that will be taking place amongst the state's political power brokers.

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