Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New Direction For The Fisheries

Democracy worked recently in the latest Gubernatorial race in Alaska in my opinion. Special interests lost and that's the way Alaskans wanted it. Since my interest and experience is in the fishing industry, and Regional Seafood Development Associations in particular, I'm referring to the need for the State of Alaska to be a lot more pro-active in RSDA development in Alaska. Because they work.

This piece is about democracy in the fisheries. The point is that the fish business has been not significantly different in result than when Stalin ordered increased production on the Amur River every year until there was practically nothing left. You know, that river in Siberia that Captain Cook tried to sail up and said he was "stopped by a shoale of salmon." I use this as a reference point as to how many salmon the North Pacific supported at one time. Now I hear that 2013 was the first year on record that there wasn't even an opening for salmon seiners to fish for real wild salmon in Southeast Alaska, and there was no commercial harvest of king salmon allowed on the mighty Yukon River. You might say, "but there are huge harvests of salmon by seiners in S.E. Alaska" Yes, but those are 'ocean ranched' salmon. Are we facing extinction in the many hundreds of salmon streams? Are we satisfied with a remnant few genetically strong salmon in the creeks? Since the National Marine Fisheries Service is ultimately responsible, is this federal underreach?

I don't think fishermen are satisfied with the situation. I talk to fishermen all the time, I had my own boat once and worked on many other boats and in the plants, in fish banking, government, and in marine equipment design and construction. The small boat fishermen that built the coastal communities in Alaska are bailing out all the time. Power plays in Juneau and at the NPFMC have decimated the fleet. This does not work. Is there a better way; to involve the small boat fishermen themselves on a continuous basis, and to guide the communities who depend on healthy fleets?

RSDAs were proposed in 1991 and it was finally put into a program fourteen years later. The RSDA program has it's own location on the State of Alaska web site. You can read all about it there. It's just that the State of Alaska hasn't been good at effecting it. To this day the folks in Kodiak don't know anything about it, and that small group of folks who like to keep their thumbs on things there like it just fine that way. In fact there are some there that want to co-opt an idea for community shares of the catch in the name of democracy, to form a fiefdom. It just gets stranger and more disruptive under the status quo.

But several regions of Alaska have gotten together and formed up RSDAs through the State program and are making real progress. The classic example is in Bristol Bay where their efforts put three million dollars in the back pockets of fishermen in their first year. They have also been pro-active in protecting themselves from threats to the habitat in the watershed itself. Prince William Sound is following suit.

This is a State government program that was effected to allow fishermen to help themselves in a democratic way. But you wouldn't believe how many people don't want to see democracy in the fisheries. This issue is why Alaskans got together and pushed for statehood in the first place. Seattle and San Francisco canning companies controlled the harvesting, processing and marketing, with the help of their lobbyists in Washington D.C. The theory that Alaskans couldn't manage their own affairs was disproved then and again when the Japanese said Americans could never make surimi from all our own bottomfish.

The existing RSDAs in Alaska are proving that fishermen can improve their own lot and the lot of the communities they live in. The State's only role is to collect a very small percentage of the catch, pool it by region, and give it back in a yearly lump sum to pay for things that benefit the gear groups that voted to join up in a region. Not all gear groups in a region need join the merry band. 

 If you are talking hope for the future, what hope do you see right now with salmon and halibut stocks failing? Compare that to the hope production associations offer. Ask the Florida orange growers, or the almond growers how it helped them. Or the Land-O-Lakes milk producers. Lots of intertwined issues only real fishermen understand. I've stated this all before, but now seems to be a good time to remind folks. The Governor Elect of Alaska wants to go in new directions to sort out various messes: well here's one idea that already has traction. No need to re-invent the wheel with lots of ideas that benefit just that many people. Just get the word out on how it works and work with some point fishermen a little closer.

Oh, and when you have a fishermen's meeting, for one gear group at a time, make it permit-holder only to keep the nay-sayers and shills out. That's been eating Alaska's fish and chips lunch to date. When it comes to regions of Alaska that don't have RSDAs, the old saying applies, "The curse causeless does not come."

There are no downside risks in forming a RSDA for the economy of a region. The upside is higher fish prices for all fishermen in the area, beating back external threats like Marine Protected Areas and other resource extraction industries that harm the fisheries, such as mining, inappropriate or weak marketing of the seafood harvest, the State of Alaska saves a lot of money in many aspects of prosecuting the fisheries, and the communities get a good take on what is really going on so as to guide their decision making. The State should do what it does best, offer scientific advice, organizational help, and introduce new technology.

Remember, the basis for all the privatization of the fish stocks is that the fishermen/owners have a vested interest in healthy stocks and the best ways to make money from those stocks. There's no going back on that now, so the way forward needs to be in sync with that philosophy. It's worked in countless other industries, just not in the fisheries, yet. Alaska can't afford to get it wrong, there is nowhere for these coastal communities to run, unlike in the Lower 48. Alaska just had a top-down Governor with all kinds of special interests, even in the fisheries, and we all saw how well that worked out. Not that he was the only governor to go down that path. I've been looking at this association concept since I was a loan officer at the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank in the '80s and I think this new Administration would be encouraged in this if they took a hard, unbiased look at it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remote Kodiak Homestead For Sale

John Finley's 'Lindy II' with 10,500 lbs of cod aboard

John Finley, of Kodiak, Alaska, has written a piece, below, offering his ten acre homestead on the back side of Kodiak Island for sale. To preface that, let me add some comments as a long-time Alaskan myself. I've flown into that same bay on occasion to visit a salmon cannery that the bank I worked for was financing. You have to fly in on a float plane from Kodiak City. Coming over the ridge to drop down into Uganik Bay once, I saw the biggest black-tail deer I've ever seen. And I've seen hundreds in Southeast Alaska. It was only a fork-horn, but bigger by far than any four-point I'd seen. It had the body mass of a Mule deer. Hunters get excited about things like that.

And, of course, Kodiak Island has the largest brown bears in the world. The salmon streams are numerous, so the bears are numerous and well fed. And right across Shelikof Straits is the Alaska Peninsula with it's own large populations of brown bear, moose, caribou, etc., and it's twenty-pound rainbow trout. Now, this is just skimming the surface of the fish and game that inhabit the Gulf of Alaska region. And to get around you need a real skookum run-about.

With this property, and a high-performance boat, there's not much you couldn't do out there. I'm talking about putting legal trophies on the wall, doing research projects, maintaining a presence for any reason, maintaining a lack of presence, or just for the sake of living in the land there. Any sale will be strictly confidential. A Realtor in Kodiak will be selected to consummate the sale. John, and his son Locke, who is commercial fishing his dad's boat year around, are available for support of all kinds; hauling supplies, watching boats and the property, helping develop the land, advising on local issues and resources. John has been fishing these waters for forty plus years and has been active in local politics. John and Locke now live on a few acres 17 miles out the road from Kodiak City.

I can't describe in a book what it's like to live on, or venture from a property like this: it's much more than owning an island in the South Pacific. I've lived on several remote properties, and even on a remotely anchored ship or two. Every day is a chapter in a book. A single side-band radio will definitely will keep you connected to the outside world. You won't be getting phone calls, that's for sure, unless you have a satellite phone. There is a old salmon cannery with people present at the upper end of the bay, twenty miles distant, a thirty plus minute run in a speed-boat boat. There is a machine shop there, a seaplane base, and mail pick-up. I've been over every inch of that cannery. The Finley ten acres is in the protected location of at least one, maybe two, long gone salmon canneries, a vacated place called West Point Village and a good spot for anchoring boats, and old seaplanes.

Most of Kodiak Island is a National Wildlife Refuge now, so there's that, as John says. Good time to have a strong conservation presence on this side of the Island. There are issues all along the coast of Alaska, just like anywhere else. Maybe more, given the chance for archaeological work and other original endeavors. There are more pictures and information we could send a serious party.

Village Islands Homestead--Kodiak Island

by John Finley

About 1945 the property in question was homesteaded by Nan and Daniel Reed whose desire was to spend the rest of their lives living out of town and close to the land. They had the entire Kodiak Island to chose from. They were familiar with the Kodiak Archipelago and knew that places which might look good to the eye of most people were not suitable for year-round living in the sometimes harsh environment. To live year around and be comfortable and safe there's criteria that need to be met.

They chose Uganik Bay, basically for the same reason that I chose it 40+ years later. It's on the 'West Side,' or the 'Shelikof Side,' of Kodiak Island, the side that faces the Alaska Peninsula, rather than the 'East Side,' which faces the Gulf of Alaska and catches most of the rain and the biggest seas out of the Gulf. So there's that, twice the number of sunny days as the Gulf side of Kodiak Island. The only other bay on Kodiak Island that has this qualification is Uyak Bay, farther west down the island. It's nice also but has a large (for Kodiak) village called Larsen Bay, several canneries, and many people living here and there. It has a general feeling of 'civilized' which doesn't appeal to those who want a bush experience. Uyak Bay is also a lot farther from Kodiak where one has to go occasionally for supplies, not only a lot farther but also a whole lot rougher, out into the Shelikof Strait and around Cape Ugat, a place that catches a lot of bad weather. It's about 65 miles from Kodiak to Uganik but an additional 40 to Uyak. It's an easy passage from Uganik to Kodiak with places to stop along the way, about 8 hours by fishing boat, an hour or 2 by skiff, or 20 minutes by float plane.

Next they needed their homestead to be close to a harbor where they could keep their boat or skiffs safe and ready for use through the entire year. I commercial fished Uganik Bay summer and winter for years and I found it amazing that there were so few places to hide from the really big storms. About the best was, you guessed it, right in front of Nan and Dan's place, So, there's that. There's also a year around stream which enters the property at the top; good water. After meandering around the property it flows into the sea by the dock in front of the house.
80 X 100 Fenced Garden Area

My family got to be good friends with Nan and Dan, sort of adopted actually, they taught us a lot about living in the area. They had first tried cattle and sheep raising but eventually found it was more trouble than it was worth. Domestic animals look like a free lunch to brown bears and besides, after they developed their large gardens, chicken flock, berry orchard, and with all sorts of things to eat from the sea (salmon all summer, cod, halibut and rock-fish year round) plus plentiful deer, clams, etc., they really didn't need that much income. So they just kept busy enjoying life but also always trying new things. For instance, after many efforts they found an apple tree that would survive and bear, virtually unheard of on Kodiak Island. It had apples the years I checked and the first thing I would do if I was moving down there would be to take starts from those trees and start some more because you can't have too many apples in a country where you can grow no fruit other than berries.

As for the garden, Nan and Dan piled on the mulch over forty years there. That makes that garden the best plot for growing something that I know of on Kodiak Island. The big volcanic eruption a hundred years ago blanketed the island with ash and killed the soil. The new soil is only about an inch or two deep. So, the garden will grow food, providing the deer are kept out.

Our family moved to Kodiak when it was time for the kids to start school, it's been 10 years since I've even visited the place so I should add that I don't know how the apple trees are doing these days. I'm still in Uganik Bay occasionally but always commercial fishing, so I never feel I can take the time to go ashore. My son has been there to take pictures for the sale, but my whole family has their new interests now and we've decided to sell the land. I'm so thankful my kids were able to spend some important formative years there. It's a very peaceful place.

As far as buildings, there is the main house that needs work and a small house in good shape (approximately 24 by 24) to live in while a person is doing it. There's a large (for Kodiak) barn that's still sound and a few other small buildings that don't amount to much. It's been almost 20 years since anyone has lived there on a permanent basis and it's on the market for the first time since it was homesteaded in 1945. If you'd like more info or pictures of the land please call owner John Finley at 907-486-3849 or John Enge at 541-601-6904. The lat/long of the land is 53 46 and 153 32 if you Google Earth, or I can (I think) email Google Earth pictures showing routes and locations.
Main House

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Great Fisherman Throttles Back

When great Alaskans run into trouble, a lot of the time we take a wait and see attitude instead of being pro-active. In this case I'm talking about long-time Kodiak fisherman and community advocate, John Finley. (Some of the greatest fishermen, in my book anyway, haven't acquired the biggest boats. John is one these.) It was hard for him being a lone, or unaffiliated, advocate. If you want to keep at it, you have to be like a politician and get a paying gig and then hope you can get out what you really want to say in the midst of all the things you don't want to do. In the end, the lone wolf often ends up like Nikola Tesla, alone in a hotel room.

John recently got on Medicare and now is being taken care of in Anchorage at the Hickel House. John has given a lot of his own time to the State and I refuse to wait to write this testament to his life, until later. Besides that, for any Christians reading this, I want to remind that "the fervent, effective prayers of the righteous availeth much." John could use any help at this point in his life.

The 'Lindy II with 10,500 pound of Pacific cod aboard

His son Locke is fishing the boat these days for a scrap of halibut quota they have and what Pacific cod he can get. These guys are the ones I was able to find that could ship 'bled' and blast frozen halibut fillets to us here in Oregon. You just don't know halibut until you've had 'bled' halibut, and Locke is a fanatic about it. But it might be too late for them to exercise this passion as the halibut resource plunges deeper and deeper. I'm talking about numbers of fish here, of course. The cod? The jury is still out on them. Locke tried his hand at beach seining, but wild stocks are down: the focus is on ocean ranching in Alaska, since it's too hard to manage all the thousands of individual salmon streams, or so it seems.

Some of his notable accomplishments include authoring the plan to manage the Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska. (Even though others took credit for it.) And being the principal advocate for ending the joint ventures that had trawlers delivering cod ends to foreign factory ships after the '200 Mile Limit Law' went into effect. John felt these fish needed to all come to an Alaska community for processing and marketing.

When John first came to Alaska, he wanted to fish halibut, but that iconic cannery-man, Winn Brindel, told him, "we don't buy any halibut." Kodiak was enthralled with it's king crab at that time, earning it's reputation as 'The King Crab Capital of the World,' and it's abundance of wild salmon. Going way back, the Karluk River had sixteen canneries and a beach seine set could net 100,000 sockeye salmon. The very first commercial fishing regulation in Alaska was enacted here by the canneries themselves, providing for turns in setting the seines. There are only memories of commercial fishing the Karluk now and the king crab are all gone. But when John first landed in town, he got a crew chance on the 'Pacific Lady,' owned and operated by that iconic pioneer king crab fisherman, Ole Harder.

John always lived life to the fullest and it wasn't long before he was setting crab pots from his own boat and seining for salmon. He was the first fisherman in Kodiak who gave a woman a chance as a crewmember. I think John was tempered greatly by his mother who was a Registered Nurse and his upbringing in that wide open country called Montana. In fact, he thinks he was the first organic farmer there, starting his first ranch/farm at the ripe old age of nineteen. After some travel that included Europe and Mexico, and trying to start a health resort, the whole wide open North Pacific was urgently calling.

I think John was always outspoken, so it was natural that he started writing letters to the editor of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. He had good friends in many quarters and many didn't like the power politics of the few. He led efforts to stop the privatization of the fish resources. He ran for the State Legislature, without a campaign, and nearly won. Back then, privatization wasn't an accepted fact like it is now. The losers in privatization always go away, never to be heard from again. It works out real nifty for the winners that way.

He had a following of his letters up and down the West Coast, but he was hitting too close to home for some. So in the summer of 2008, someone just bought the Kodiak Daily Mirror and declined to publish any more letters to the editor about fishing. In one of the largest fishing ports in the U.S.! It wasn't like John didn't try work within other groups trying to create more opportunities for the regular family fisherman and get more product into the local communities. It's just that most of the time someone would co-opt the organization for their own gain and throw everyone else under the bus.

Limited Entry has always been the blueprint for success in privatization, albeit not nearly as 'private' a privilege as quota shares. When John took a delegation down to Juneau to oppose it, which was watched state-wide, some of his compatriots just took a permit and flew home, leaving the delegation much reduced. The back-story of the privatization of the Alaska fisheries is the epitome of the saying, 'the devil is in the details.' Maybe if it was more widely known that this wasn't exactly a democratic process, privatization wouldn't be so popular. But then one look at Congress and it's pretty obvious, about democracy, that is.

So, like Nicola Tesla, John met his Thomas Edison in the form of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council 'family.' That extended organization with roots in the boardrooms of Seattle. But John ultimately bought a Hanson built wood troller/longliner for fishing halibut and P. cod. He was forced back into the three-mile line around Kodiak by regulations for his cod, and his halibut quota has shrunk and shrunk down to a fraction of what he figured was an OK amount for him and his son.

Well, he left for Anchorage this week and the fight of his life, with a new laptop and a box of books. He plans to read 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' for the third time and maybe some more of a favorite historical figure, Frederick the Great. If he had had the resources, I think he would have first gone down to San Diego to his favorite wellness center, staffed by many people who have beat cancer by going there.

This is by no means an eulogy; he has promised to send me starts from his gooseberry bushes, the root stock of that famous gooseberry wine he makes. Nothing better than a shot of it after getting a chill on a cold winters day. And I still need him to guide me through building a chicken enclosure to move around a field of comfrey. He has some of the best ideas. And they have been researched to the max. I know that he was loathe to leave his infra-red warmed mattress in the house he built himself, with solar heating and a foot of sawdust in the walls. And his dried halibut, and gooseberry and home-ground six-grain sourdough pancakes.

John lived on a homestead in Uganik Bay, on the back side of Kodiak Island, for a number of years. His ten acres has a good anchorage, protected by the Village Islets. A lush compound in the midst of wild Alaska. There is a cannery complex at the head of the bay, with mail service and human presence, but other than that he shared the country with only Sitka black-tail deer and the famous Kodiak brown bears, the biggest bears in the world. And now he wants to sell it. Offered to the sturdy of heart only, not to mention the sturdy of pocketbook, because you'd need a good rig to get around on the water. My apple orchardist friend from Eastern Washington has the perfect boat for sale for this type of thing; a high endurance, custom welded aluminum Alaskan cabin cruiser. Think charter cruiser on steroids. Anyone interested in a good 'bug-out' site could contact me for more details. Locke would take care of things, too, if need be.

I've probably lost most readers by now, so I'll wrap it up. John recently send me some bottles of his gooseberry wine in exchange for a e-cigarette outfit. In the bottom of the box was a ten by ten inch piece of three quarter inch plywood from his boat, the 'Lindy II,' installed 90 years ago. Hanson built this boat for himself and put in all the best materials available. The fuel tanks were iron, not steel, aluminum or fiberglass. I could go on and on, but this piece of plywood is still sound and smells just like all the old wooden boats I've been on; hints of fish, oil and rust, combined with salt air and bacon and coffee. I'm thinking of making a men's cologne in the scent. In the least I'll put a brass plaque on it and hang it in my nautical guest room right over the bed so my older Alaska guests will feel right at home.

John doesn't want sympathy cards, just your best thoughts. I don't have his new number yet, and he will be checking his e-mails soon. Thanks for your time.