NPFMC Tables Community Protection Measures

Thursday, February 14 2013

A push to give communities where crab is processed more input into the sale and trade of crab processing quota got a lukewarm reception at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland over the weekend.

Of six proposed revisions to the Right of First Refusal program, the Council passed only three, tabling the others or dropping them completely. Unalaska resource analyst Frank Kelty says the decision was unexpected, and disappointing.

“Community protections measures were basically watered down so much that there wasn’t any community protection," Kelty says.

Under the program, communities are given the option to buy processing quota that is slated to move elsewhere before it’s sold on the open market. One of the proposed revisions would have closed a loophole that allows companies to do 'custom processing' without community approval -- essentially process their quota at another company's plant. And another would have specified that only the quota is part of the deal -- not the processing assets. Kelty says the council’s decision to stick with the status quo on that revision is particularly frustrating.

“It would basically throw in everything in the kitchen sink that community would have to pay for. It could mean boats, it could mean the groundfish plants, it could be assets that they have in other communities in Alaska.”

Councilor John Henderschedt proposed removing both of those provisions. He explained that he was concerned about the administrative burden, and also about shifting the balance of power too far in favor of the communities.

“That we’re essentially setting new policy, and that we’re creating big shifts in negotiating power, and control over the use and ownership of processing shares. And I think that reaches far beyond the original intent of this suite of actions.”

Other councilors agreed that it would be setting a new policy direction, but some of them didn’t see that as a problem. Councilor Sam Cotten said that after more than five years of experience with the program, it was time to trust communities a little bit more.

“I think it does strengthen the hand of the communities. It offers protection for communities that have for a long time now enjoyed the economic benefits of processing in their communities.”

Ultimately, the Council voted 7-4 against the changes. But the issue isn’t dead. After hearing further testimony from representatives of the Aleutians East Borough, St. Paul, and Unalaska, the Council voted unanimously to allow for further study of the provisions. The issue will come back at a meeting later this year, possibly as soon as June.

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