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Clement V. Tillion
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Anchorage, Alaska 9951

As one who spent much of his lifetime as a commercial fisherman, I understand the hatred of any kind of regulation (I feel the same way myself) but, as I moved into part-time research on king crab and shrimp and then salmon negotiations, followed shortly by eighteen years of politics in the State legislature with a steady emphasis on fishery management, I began to look at the way the United States managed the fisheries under its jurisdiction and came to the conclusion that; with a few notable exceptions, we were managing our fisheries the same way that the Soviets managed their agriculture and, I might add, with the same results.

The United States imports no less than 50 percent of the fish the US citizen eats and some years we import up to 70 percent - this for a nation that has 20 percent of all the living resources of the northern hemisphere within its fisheries conservation zone.

Freedom of the seas to many is the right to plunder; what we see is the tragedy of the commons of Old England; proof to the adage, “that which we own we care for; that which belongs to our neighbour or to mankind as a whole we use and abuse”; has there ever been a common pasture that did not have more cattle on it than it could sustain?

What good land-owning farmer would allow his herd to exceed what his land would feed unless he had access to the commons, in which case he would plunder then knowing, in many cases, that he was going irreparable damage but using the excuse that if the did not do it another would? No one could refute the logic but can the world stand by and laud it as a basic freedom? Or is now the time to look at a fishery not as a means of employment or a life experience but as a way of producing food for a hungry world?

There are some who still remember Alaska as the last frontier: free land, little law, an endless supply of fish and meat for the taking; well, its over. I will never forget what it felt like to stand on a hill and look at a land that looked like it went on forever; but I also remember what it meant to have the last ship leave in October - the next one came in April. Few roads, few doctors; what it feels like to have someone sick or hurt and no one to call to; so, for me, the good old days were a mixed blessing. We still have a small population but it is five times larger than it was at the end of World War II: when I need a doctor I pick up the phone; when I want light, I no longer trim the wick and fill the bowl, I just flick the switch and we have light; and you know, I like it.

Not that I do not shed a tear for the days when the streams were full of fish and no road brought people from town. Now the season is short and on opening day people stand shoulder to shoulder to fish, and that brings me to the subject of management; we have some fish left in our streams and bays but to keep them strong we have all had to give up some freedoms.

For those of us in management we have had to say “No, we cannot kill that moose, or deer, or wolf, or salmon, or cod”, so that our grandsons may have some too; but even worse in the case of something that has become a cause celebré is to say yes: yes to a hunting season to thin 500 wolves out of an area to let moose survive; or yes to harvesting young seals, however cute they are. To manage an ecosystem you must figure that those who live must eat and, like a Swiss banker's creed - protect the principle and live on the interest - must be our motto.

When I sit as a US Commissioner to the North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, I am fully aware that it takes six million pounds of fish a month to feed them, and that is a million tons a year. In my mind I also see the hungry people and, while I would not give one inch of the conservation ethic for them, neither would I turn them away while I have plenty.

I used to be on the cutting edge of the conservation movement. Now those who claim to be the leaders prepare television programmes; often, I might add, with little regard for the truth, to protect pet species while I am still asking “How many alligators can the swamp hold without endangering something else?” Whales! What species are we talking about? Is it not a little hypocritical to condone the taking of an endangered species by a primitive race that needs it for food while raising a great fuss over the harvest of a species that is at an all-time high only because it is a highly-industrialized nation taking them?

It was this very line of thought that led me to the position of lobbying for the passage of the present law extending our jurisdiction unilaterally out to 200 miles.

Looking back in history I see the oil industry in its early years from Pennsylvania to Texas boom and bust. If one hit oil, everyone who could scrape together enough for a rig rushed to see if anyone with enough land to set a rig on would sell or lease a site so they could drill into the formation. The one who hit the pool pumped as fast as possible to get as much as possible before his competition got there.

There was no regard or knowledge for natural flow, with a result that in most cases 80 percent of the oil was never recovered, and in most cases the cost of production came close to the value of the oil itself. Then came the Texas Railroad Commission - some freedom lost but a lot more oil recovered. Primitive, yes, but a simple “If you do not have such and such an amount of acreage under ownership or lease, you cannot drill a well”. Gone was many a small outfit but generations of my countrymen grew up with cheap oil. The consumer got a break - misused, perhaps, but nevertheless until we felt obligated to subsidize instead of charging full value, he received a real break.

When I was a young man, the cowboys who had seen the open range and the great cattle herds were still alive, still singing songs about not fencing them in. The fact that their reckless use of the land was rapidly turning a vast piece of North America into a desert did not bother them. Some saw, but most had grown up watching or at least hearing the news of the Indian wars and the opening of the west. To them a fence was the restriction of their freedom.

When I was a young man impatiently waiting for my seventeenth birthday so I could join up and go to war, I doubled my fist and argued with an old veteran of the first world war. My father (as I doubled my fist and raised my voice) looked at me kindly, I now believe, and said “Go ahead and say whatever you wish, Clem; just keep in mind when you double your fist that all your rights end where my nose begins”. The cowboy at the turn of the last centry did not seem to see that his fist not only could reach his neighour's nose but that there was a very real danger that he might take his neighbour's head right off.

Then came the Taylor Grazing Act to regulate the use of the commons. In concept it was simple: freeze the number of ranchers using the land, give them each the right to run that percent of total number of animals they were running at the time that the bill passed, and then reduce the number to an amount the range could feed. It was not accepted with ease but, into the minds of a few ranchers, the glimmer of light took hold. If rancher “A” had a set percent of the whole and he could get together with the other ranchers and reduce their herds well below the government requirements, thus reducing the need to buy as much supplementary feed, no one could move in on him. It cost very little to raise the beef. He did not need as many cowboys but he could still produce cheap beef, and several generations of Americans grew strong on meat a working man could afford.

As a young fisherman I knew about aquaculture but thought it was only done in a pond; true they did have oyster farms, but it did not really register until I read about the alewives run on the Penobscot in Maine. Since colonial times the county had owned the river and rented the right to harvest on an annual basis; eventually the run was down to so little they had no bidders. As I remember it, one company offered to lease if they could have it for forty years.

With stream improvement they brought it back to levels never seen by anyone then alive. True it can all be lost with pollution upstream, but the idea began to take hold and, as a young legislator, I supported the idea of limited entry in the inshore fishery of the then-new State of Alaska. Mine was not an original thought: others had brought the subject up but, for the support of Alaska's first Governor, William Egan, it would never have passed.

Lest I leave the impression that Alaska was a leader in North America, I must say here that Canada was the real leader but we were the first in the United States. Canada led Alaska by four years and, without Canada as an example, I doubt if we could have succeeded in passing the bill through both houses of the Alaska State legislature.

When looking at a system, too many people look only at the faults, not at what it would have been like if no one had done anything. For the US fishermen, just doing business as usual meant the managers trying to save the fish through gear restrictions and time limitations, while dividing the catch among an ever-growing number of fishermen: the battle was looking ever more hopeless.

When the Canadians reduced their fleet and made a property right of a fishing permit, they changed a fleet of rickety old boats owned and crewed by those left over from better days into a different kind of competitor for my country. With a Canadian salmon permit a man could go to the bank and have collateral for a boat loan. Younger men could see a future in the industry; in four short years the average age of the Canadian fisherman went down twenty years as young men bough in, modernized the fleet, and went from 40 percent of the troll salmon catch to 60 percent of the Pacific salmon catch. With their home fishing grounds secure and with modern boats to work, they used their off-seasons at home to hit the salmon stocks seaward of the US 3-mile limit.

The story became the same for halibut. The American fisherman stood in shock. Some, like the Washington State men, turned to their congress. Others, like Alaska, while supporting Magnuson's efforts to extend fisheries jurisdiction unilaterally to 200 miles, went to work on their own version of limited entry. Extending jurisdiction was a simplistic solution that brought the living resources under management control and from that standpoint I supported it; for, like a ship that operates best with a captain and not a committee, the more fragmented the management responsibility the more difficult the job.

Extended jurisdiction is a tool - if used by itself it will at best only postpone the failure, the living resource can only take so much pressure and, whether it comes from the mobile fleets of the world or from a single province, it is at best only a matter of time, so I would like to say to those in management “Are you going to be satisfied with a quick fix? Do you like to move only when crisis moves the body politic? Or are you looking for a long range solution?” I know that for some there is little choice, for politics is the art of the possible and the real solutions take time.

First the resource must be saved. This in itself can seem like an insurmountable problem when many people depend on the daily use of a resource, but if you do not take this step, the rest of what I have said means little.

When the management biologist says it requires a 25 percent or 75 percent reduction in take, or maybe a 5, 10 or 15-year ban on any harvest, he can expect little help. Those in politics will often say “Could we not get by with only a 10 percent cut?” The answer is yes. With a small cut the resource will die so slowly that with luck the people might never notice. On the other side, at great political cost, the cuts might be made only to have nature do you in the eye!

In the 1960s our Bering Sea salmon fishermen were asked to take massive cuts. Native people stood on the banks of rivers in Bristol Bay and watched their only source of income swim by while troopers watched to see that no one bought illegal fish, and then in 1972–73, the fish came rolling in; one of the largest runs ever seen. The 1973 run was the seventh largest in recorded salmon history.

The future looked bright. Then came a dry, cold winter, water levels dropped and sand bars where salmon had spawned went dry in 40 below zero weather. Eighty percent of the spawn died but all was not lost; the 20 percent survived and then next year, a late spring, the young salmon headed downstream for the sea only to find it still frozen. The seventh largest run in Alaska history was a total loss.

Back to the people, more cuts, more lean years; then in 1980 it all came together and for the last three years record runs - runs that rival anything since we bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Biologically we can be proud. We had seen a problem and solved it; or had we? The population had grown, the quality had not improved and so we had again failed to look far enough ahead.

Regulations had been made with only short-term goals in mind. Fish and shellfish can be managed with only biology in mind and be extremely successful but fail sociologically. So now I would like to place some questions as well as recommend solutions or explain what we have done and/or want to do.

The question is: “What do you want from your resource?”

  1. A quality product at a reasonable cost? (my choice)

  2. As limited a number of fishermen as necessary to make a good living on a full-time basis?

  3. Unlimited fishermen fishing often for a subsistence income but with little restriction?

  4. A highly mobile fleet pulse fishing to take the best of each species and move on to the next along the coast?

All of the above can be done within the biological limits of good management.

In most cases the decision of what kind of fishery you want has been made by those with narrow or short-term views. While I criticize the politicians for their approach to biology, I now criticize the biologist for trying to make political decisions, for how the biological pie is cut is, and should be, a political decision. A wise politician will let the biologist bake the pie but never let him cut it.

For example, there is a crab fishery that allows only males of over a fixed size to be harvested. Traps are used that require an escape ring of such a size that small males and females can escape (good biology) but to make doubly sure an overall quota is placed on the area involved. This should have been a political decision for without understanding they had also decided what kind of fisherman would harvest the crab.

With an overall quota, the fisherman with a vessel that can fish in any kind of weather, haul huge amounts of gear and travel great distances has such an advantage that the quota is filled in shorter and shorter seasons. The smaller vessel is forced out or into another fishery that might also be marginal for those already in it.

You can say: “That's competition”, but it is negative competition in this case. If the season had no quota, only size and sex limitations plus spawning area closures, what do you think it would have looked like? With a long season there would have been a drop in catch per unit of effort; in this case, the number of crabs caught in each trap each day or lift. The smaller vessel with one or two or three crew, often families, could make a living on less crab than a large vessel needs to pay for fuel and expenses. True, they would have days they could not fish, but the gear would not be out and the season long enough so they could affort to wait.

How does this affect the price? If the crab were caught in a short season the product must be held, canned or frozen, for market - often for months.

In Alaska, king crab can spend eight months in the freezer (cold storage). As 90 days is about maximum for quality, much of the year the consumer has only a second or third rate product to choose from. Now add to this the cost to the packer and you have a product of lower quality that costs the consumer more for storage and interest than the fisherman got for what should have been a quality product. A king crab packer talking to me about this said that before the quota he had 60 employees, mostly local, working year-round and by the time the season quota was filled in under two months he needed 300 workers for two months' work, most of them migrant workers from 2,000 or more miles away, and for the local people the season was too short to make a living.

A system like crab or any species where only excess males are harvested is much easier to manage than those like the mixed-stock groundfish that take both sexes and often mixed age groups. Here are found selective types of gear, seasons, closed areas where no fishing takes place, exclusive registration, areas where only certain types of gear may be used, and a vessel may fish only one area. It all comes down to the need for some form of limited entry or each area will have more vessels, men and gear than the area can support in any but the best of years.

The longer the decision to institute a limitation, the less likely it is to work without great hardship. The sad part is that politically it is often difficult to move without a disaster for impetus.

Another decision that must be made is: do you want a major part of the target species to be processed ashore or aboard a catcher-processor? The catcher-processor must have room to move to pulse fish over a large area. The plus side of this is that the fish are processed as they come aboard - quality at its best - and it also allows the exploitation of areas distant to good shipping and harbour facilities. The down side is that the operating costs are 15 percent higher and long-term workers are hard to keep, so again, just saving the fish will not in itself bring the desired results.

In Alaska, during territorial days when the fishery was managed from Washington D.C., the coast was cut up into smaller districts to discourage pulse fishing.

Before I go too far here, I should point out that Alaska has 32,000 miles of coast, or 50 percent of the total United States coastline, and 60 percent of the United States continental shelf, so most of the fishing areas I speak of are still as large as many a nation.

After statehood, when a fishery management became a state responsibility, the areas were still kept, but the fleet in most areas had grown to the point that a management error of a few hours could cause great biological damage; and with the then high price of salmon, new gear arrived every year.

For many areas salmon limited entry came late but at least it put a lid on. In Alaska, salmon and herring limited entry permits are the property of the fisherman; they may be sold but not leased. The person owning the permit must be on the vessel both fishing and delivering the catch. The law provides for an assessment against the fleet of each area to provide funds to buy permits as a method of reducing the fleet in areas of too much gear, but to this date no buy-back has taken place.

In those areas where the fleet is not too large, the private property concept has made major changes. Fishermen are banding together to build their own salmon hatcheries. Last year, in the Prince William Sound area, a fisherman-owned-and-operated facility harvested eight million returning pink salmon. With a vested interest, fishermen tend not only to accept restrictions but, in some areas, have asked for even more conservative management, and not least is the advantage to law enforcement. No longer is the man who breaks the law and violates regulations accepted by the other fishermen as one who is just stealing from the government. Now it is his brother's fish!

In Alaska, we finance our management and enforcement vessels through a raw fish tax on all species landed. If I could be in that position of writing law again, I would recommend a percentage of all fish landed under a limited entry fishery on the same basis as oil drilling permits as a way to show the general public that those who have the right to harvest a public resource pay a fair rent.

Not that it need be as high a share as oil pays for. Unlike oil, fish can be forever, i.e. a renewable resource, and many an Alaskan salmon fisherman has found that, if management is good and fish stocks increase, so does the value of his permit.

When the United States Congress passed the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act extending United States' jurisdiction, it had major impacts not only on other nations but on those US States landward of the 197-mile wide fishery zone.

The Congress made eight regional councils. Some will work better than others but, as I have stressed, conformity is not vital. The North Pacific Council, of which I am Chairman, is made up of eleven voting members and includes the Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska (an employee of the US Department of Commerce), the Commissioner of Fish and Game (Alaska) and, because so many fishermen from the States of Washington and Oregon fish in Alaskan waters, the commissioners of the fisheries of those two States. The appointments are made by the Secretary of Commerce, taken from a list of six names from the Governor of Washington, from which two appointments are chosen, and a list of fifteen names submitted by the Governor of Alaska, from which five appointments are chosen. The members serve staggered terms. In the case of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, all but one of the non-government appointments were made from advisors or commissioners to the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission, an international treaty organization of Canada, Japan and the US for the management of the high seas fisheries of concern to these nations.

Those who serve on the Council were not only familiar with the foreign fishery but had formed a great deal of mutual respect for the fisherman of those countries operating distant-water fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

The unlimited fishing had depleted many of the major stocks such as herring and Pacific Ocean perch, and the pollock had dropped in size from 16 fish to make a 20-pound block to 36 fish.

Upon passage of the Act extending jurisdiction and forming the Council, our first job was to bring the production of the North Pacific back to a reasonable level. Cuts were drastic for some species, enforcement strict and court penalties high. Alaskans consider fish and game violations of great importance and State and Federal judges act accordingly. A domestic violation for illegal fishing can result in fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus jail time and, in some cases, the confiscation of the vessel. While the actual operation of the management councils is clumsy, somewhat bumbling, and often impeded by lack of communication and understanding especially where time frames are concerned with Washington D.C., the fishery resource is recovering.

It is our job to see to it that the United States fishery grows and prospers to the exclusion of other nations that now fish this area. The law is very clear that those resources surplus to the biological needs and the ability of the US industry to process must be made available to other nations as decided by the United States Department of State.

The North Pacific Council works closely with the State Department, with a representative from State at our monthly meetings, not hard to understand when all the fisheries allocations made to other nations within the fishery conservation zone of the United States, 96 percent are made off the coast of Alaska.

Japan, by far the largest fleet, harvests over 160,000 tonnes that Japanese processors buy directly from US fishermen. This tonnage is impressive when compared to Atlantic landings but, when one figures the amount of fish required to feed the massive populations of marine mammals, it can be seen that marine mammals harvest 2.5 pounds of fish for every one pound taken by the fishermen of all nations. Now, while the fishery stocks of the North Pacific are in excellent biological condition, there is little or no surplus fish; and new entry into the fishery, be it US domestic or foreign, will require realignment of allocations. As the increased effort by US industry squeezes foreign allocations, some nations have invested in onshore processing facilities.

Japan now owns 50 percent of the onshore processing plants in Alaska, with sizeable investments in others. Seventy percent of all fishery products caught by US fishermen in Alaska are bound for Japan (80 percent of our timber resource is also bound for Japan).

Alaska looks more to the Orient for the market of resources than to the United States, whose own contiguous waters under good management should produce all her fishery needs.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council looks with favour on all nations wishing allocations under the Fishery Conservation and Management Act, so long as they also engage in some joint venture activity such as buying raw fish directly over the side from US flag vessels.

The Soviet Union buys 50,000 tons of groundfish a year from US flag fishing vessels and, for this reason, there is strong sentiment in the North Pacific Council favouring a direct allocation to the Soviet Union.

Now, to look ahead, the American fisherman in the North Pacific does not even want to consider any future beyond the displacement of foreign fleets operating off Alaska. The large vessels that form organizations that go by names like “The Coalition for Open Ocean Fisheries”, while being the match of any fisherman in the world, have all the winsome benevolence of a band of Vikings bound for the coast of Normandy some ten centuries ago. For the Eskimo and Aleut fisherman off the Alaska coast, they are a terrifying operation, so the North Pacific Council must regulate from the domestic as well as the foreign standpoint. Those species such as halibut, herring and crab have reached what we consider maximum production. The herring, except for 2,000 tons taken incidental to other species, is harvested within State waters by the use of seine or gill-net and, while limited entry is used, it alone does not solve the problem. Last year's open season in Prince William Sound lasted only four hours and still went over what the regional management biologist had set for the area quota. The problem is still the fact that, without some form of limited entry plus area licensing, any rational management system would go from difficult to down-right impossible. While our Alaska system of limited entry works for salmon and herring because the run comes in over a very short period of time, for species such as halibut that are available every month of the year, a system that encourages a harvest in a very short period of time (our halibut season in the North Pacific was 5½ days in one area and 13 days in another) is detrimental to both the stocks and to the consumer, as pointed out earlier with regard to crab.

Toward this end, the North Pacific Management Council is moving; holding public hearings this winter on a moratorium plus a study on a share system similar to that recommended by Dr. Peter Pearse of Canada. That system uses a permit and a quota based on a percent of the total catch attached to the vessel.

If one wishes to use this route I would lean toward allowing all fishermen with proven landings in the past four years to pick their best year, put the total together, and divide by the total weight available for the next year. This way fishermen get X percent of future year's landings. If stocks go up, his fixed percentage amounts to a greater weight; if stocks go down, a lower weight. He can fish at any time of the year, thus being able to watch the market or mesh in with another fishery; make it saleable and taxable like any other property right. If you want an owner-operated fishery, require the owner to be aboard when fishing and delivering. If you do not care, just let anyone own and lease but in the end you will find that the product will come ashore as market demand is at its best.

Smaller vessels with lower operating costs will take a larger percent of the catch and vessels fishing other, lower-priced fish, will buy quota shares and the high-priced fish will become an incidental part of the catch or, as some say, the cream of the milk.

Now, in closing, I wish to again make a point. No system of limited entry is perfect. Some will work well on one species, other systems on another species. Some will work best as part of other regulatory systems like area licensing, time and gear controls; and should be just a tool to get where you want your fishery to be twenty years from now.

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