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Five Alaska CDQs challenge reopening allocation issue

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
Loren Holmes photo

Feisty and outspoken as always on fisheries issues, Clem Tillion tells it like it is when it comes to the history of Alaska's community development quota allocations.

The CDQ allocations were not based on population, but on the odds of people actually going to sea, said Tillion, of Halibut Cove, whose passion for and participation in Alaska's commercial fisheries industry stretches back over more than four decades.

A veteran commercial fisherman, Tillion has served nine terms as a state legislator, as a charter member and chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and on numerous state and federal councils and committees dealing with Alaskans issues. He was also the state's fisheries czar who advised the administration of Gov. Walter J. Hickel on the CDQ legislation.

"I wanted the people of the Bering Sea to own the Bering Sea and not just own it and hire people, but own it and put people on the boats to fish it," Tillion said.

So Tillion, like leaders of five of the six established CDQ groups, took umbrage when the Coastal Villages Region Fund began efforts this summer to get Congress to change millions of dollars worth of allocations for fish harvests to be based only on population numbers.

Phillip Lestenkof, president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association, fired off a letter July 17 to Morgan Crow, executive director of CVRF, saying CVRF's effort "is turning region against region, using propaganda-like tactics to destroy the new sense of unity you yourself helped to build."

CVRF's efforts to persuade Congress to change the allocations of all CDQ species to be based only on population "is a fruitless and misguided mission," Lestenkof said.

"If the larger entities had resource access based only on population, the smaller entities would cease to exist, leaving those regions without support -- and negating the very purpose of the CDQ program."

Then on Aug. 9, Lestenkof and leaders of four other CDQ groups wrote again to Crow, saying that CVRF's efforts to reopen the discussion on CDQ commercial fishery allocations was contrary to the vision of uniting the diverse populations along the Bering Sea for long term benefits. Signers included Lestenkoff, Larry Cotter, chief executive officer, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association; Robin Samuelsen, chairman and chief executive officer, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Janis Ivanoff, president of chief executive officer, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and Ragnar Alstrom, executive director, Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association.

With passage of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, the CDQ program was amended to allow for some level of adjustment of allocations through a decennial review, they said. After that legislation passed, Alaska's congressional delegation urged the CDQ groups to work within the new framework and focus their energies on betterment of their own regions as well as that of the state, they said.

Board members of CVRF responded on Sept. 7, telling the other five CDQ groups they did not agree with them. Then on Sept. 13, CVRF issued a news release vowing to continue to seek changes to the fisheries allocations.

"All of the CDQ groups have acknowledged in the past that the allocations are flawed," said Crow. "It is time to have the strength to correct the mistakes of the past."

In its 2011 annual report, CVRF reported assets of more than $312 million, up from nearly $304 million a year earlier. The 40-page annual report also included a page advocating for CDQ allocations based on population, saying that under the present allocation system "over $10 million per year is going to other CDQ groups at the expense of CVRF's residents."

According the CVRF, their CDQ should rightfully be allocated an addition 11,439 metric tons of pollock, 117,510 pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab, 868,496 pounds of opilio crab, 3,419 metric tons of Pacific cod, 7,910 metric tons of flatfish and 524,734 pounds of halibut.

So far, Crow has no takers.

"All six CDQ groups bought off on the Coast Guard regulations," said Bristol Bay's Samuelsen. "They are not ideal, but that's what we have to work with." "A lot of these CDQ groups are making major investments now and decisions, and you start moving 10 percent or 20 percent of some of these quotas around and you could put them into bankruptcy.

"We run a lot of programs here on the royalties (of BBEDC)," Samuelsen said. "To move quota around because one group doesn't like what they are allocated is pretty shortsighted."

Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.'s board of directors also is sticking with its decision to not join in an effort seeking reallocation.

"Simply put, NSEDC believes this is not a gamble worth taking, especially in light of the success we have achieved over the past six years," the corporation said in a written statement. "NSEDC believes there is much more potential risk than reward in dedicating our focus and energy to resuming the allocation battle, which has never been based solely on population. To change CDQ allocations would literally take an act of Congress, and there is no guarantee that the end results would be any more favorable - or even maintain the status quo- for NSEDC or the CDQ program."

APICDA's Larry Cotter, also a former chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said that while it is natural for human beings to always want more, it is important to temper that hunger with recognition of what you have, what you need and what is fair.

"A person would be hard pressed to find an example where things are divided up equally by population," Cotter said.

"I am really disappointed in what I see coming out of Coastal Villages," Cotter said. "They have the right to feel the way they want to feel, but I am disappointed. I don't feel it is based on an attitude that recognizes that all of us need to share."

This article first appeared in The Cordova Times. You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com