Sunday, February 18, 2007

Last of February Newsletter Articles

2007 SEAS and UFA Legislation: Fisheries Fairness Act

There is one major bill that SEAS will be helping UFA to introduce this session.
UFA endorsed the bill in concept at the recent January UFA semi-annual meeting.
The bill will tackle 2 major issues for commercial fishermen in Alaska ( it has not been determined whether this will apply to salmon fishermen only or whether there will be application to other species as well). We have the green light from the 3rd floor on this and will be aggressively pursuing this major legislation in the coming days.

1. Bonding and Fisherman Placement- As you might know, we have only a $10,000 bond requirement for processors in Alaska. This seems to not only be insufficient for non-Alaskan based companies with no attachable assets within the state, but whenever there is a bankruptcy, we are always the last guy to get paid—as an unsecured creditor. Why are we unsecured creditors when it’s our fish? We’d like to change that also. And then there is the jurisdictional issue. Without a requirement that the processor who absconded with our fish come back to the state to stand trial, we often end up with unsympathetic judges dealing with our cases. And then we have to pay attorney fees ( which we’ll try to get out of the future bonds as well) and follow the processor to wherever they declare bankruptcy.

2. Contracts and Arbitration- There is a statute on the books to require the state to provide an arbitrator or mediator if prices are not set for up to 90 days before the season. Problem #1 exists of course when our salmon commodity market fluctuates so much. Of course we don’t want to set prices in 2007 until later as we know they’ll go up by summer. But it can and does go both ways, where we might set a price and then see markets tank due to overproduction or whatever. Problem #2 with the legislation on the books is that, although it sets up this system, no one is required to show up to meet with the arbitrator or mediator. Quite a glitch, eh?

We don’t anticipate for the contract and arbitration issues to be easily resolved. Salmon fishermen are perhaps the only relics left from the 1800’s where business was done on a handshake. And although most all of our major processors have been very honorable to do business with, there has to be a time in our future where we have a bit more transparency and have our prices tied to some market reality. SEAS is not insinuating that prices have not been fair and it is not in our charter to negotiate prices. But it is in our charter to deal with political issues and pass legislation that will make for a fairer and more level playing field for commercial fishermen.

Who knows what the next generation of processors will be? Who will own them? Will they be just major multinational conglomerates. Certainly Mr. Bundrant, Mr. Giles, Mark Palmer, Jon Garner, Gordon Lindquist and the rest of our major buyers are honorable men with whom a handshake has been more than enough. But is this our future? These men and their companies are honorable and trustworthy, but times change and SEAS believes that the time is approaching swiftly where we need to safeguard the integrity of the political process that will ensure the fair treatment of ourselves and future commercial fishermen in Alaska. With massive consolidation occurring in the global food business, we may have a completely different slate of ownership and managers than we have today, and perhaps having Alaska’s interest ( since the state of Alaska derives their major taxation benefits through our ex-vessel, not the processors wholesale price) and our interest protected will take a bit more than a handshake.


SEAS Purchases 25% of the Alaska Fishermen’s Building

For several decades SEAS paid rent on Waters Street in Ketchikan. Enough rent to have paid for the office we were in. In 2003, when Mr. Zuanich and your ED bought the Alaska Fishermen’s Building, we did it because there was no recognizable location in the Alaska Capitol for commercial fishermen.

Now there is and if you’ve ever seen a picture on the PSVOA website or been to Juneau in person in the past several years you have seen the access, location and promotion that just the SEAS has with office space in the building. There is the trademark SEAS sign(a Kevin Patrick special) on the railing along with the “Big Dipper” and 7 gold stars looks like with “Alaska Fishermen’s Building” facing square between the Legislative Office Building and the Governor’s mansion.

In 2006, SEAS board of directors determined that an investment with our reserve account would be a great way to get ahead and solidify our presence in Juneau. So SEAS invested $100,000 into the Alaska Fishermen’s Building for 25% of the ownership of the building. The independent appraisal done last spring put the value of the building at $452,000, thus showing an increase in SEAS investment from the original $100,000 to $113,000 the day we bought into the building. An automatic $13,000 gain.

There are a couple of other tenants in the 6 room, 4200 square foot building, but there is room enough to sleep 4 SEAS board members very comfortably and up to 7 or 8 if they want to bunk with the ED and/or sleep on sofa’s as well. Come on up and visit sometime. My offer is yet open to the first Southeast Alaska Seiners member who decides to come visit this spring—that I will pay his way up here.

I know this is a major step for a non-profit but longtime SEAS members who recall the opportunity they passed on in Ketchikan to purchase part of the building back then believe that this is a golden opportunity and that this will be very beneficial not only financially for the organization but also will highlight the organization by being so open and central in state capitol.

Good day


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