Coastal Villages study renews fight over CDQ quota allocations
A new study reaffirms that large and long-standing inequities still exist in a federal program aimed at improving the economic situation in Western Alaska.
Coastal Villages Region Fund commissioned the report conducted by the Seattle-based research firm Community Attributes Inc., which concludes the fisheries allocations in the Community Development Quota Program prevent the groups representing the poorest regions in Western Alaska from fully achieving their mission.
Coastal Villages is the CDQ group for 20 villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which is one of the most economically depressed regions not only of Alaska, but the country as well.
The Western Alaska CDQ Economic Needs Report notes that Coastal Villages serves 35 percent of the population meant to benefit from the program, yet has access to just 24 percent of the pollock, about 18 percent of the crab and 17 percent of the Pacific cod quota dedicated to the CDQ Program.
Those fisheries quotas are allocated amongst the six CDQ groups that cover residents within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast in an area starting north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula south and west through Bristol Bay and out the Aleutian chain.
Overall, the CDQ Program is allocated 10 percent of federal groundfish fisheries quota as a means to keep more of the economic benefits from the fisheries in the region. The program was established in 1992 and is part of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act fisheries management law.
Comparatively, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, covering communities on the western Alaska Peninsula and the island chain, and the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, dedicated to St. Paul Island, represent just 2 percent and 1 percent of the total CDQ population but get 14 percent and 5 percent of the program’s pollock quota, respectively, according to the report.
It states further that Coastal Villages represents 41 percent of the total CDQ population that lives on incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty line while APICDA and CBFSA again are in the 1 to 2 percent range of the metric.
“From this report we’re seeing that the most economically disadvantaged people in the region are receiving less benefit from the program than others,” Coastal Villages Outreach Manager Michelle Humphrey said in an interview.
The goal of the study, which reinforces a message Coastal Villages has long been sending, was to again illustrate the economic disparities between the CDQ sub-regions and motivate officials to restructure the allocations amongst the groups, according to Humphrey.
CDQ allocations were last addressed by Congress in the 2006 Coast Guard authorization bill, which generally kept the allocations in place but also directed the State of Alaska to conduct performance reviews of the groups and recommend quota reductions if they aren’t meeting their mission.
The last reviews published in January 2013 concluded that Coastal Villages, APICDA and CBSFA all met the goals of economic improvement in their regions to varying degrees and thus no changes to quota allocations were recommended.
However, Humphrey said the study also highlights the fact that the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association also receive allocations that are disproportionately small relative to the economic need in their regions, but the disparity is not quite as great as it is for Coastal Villages.
She said the allocations have never been based on a formula that takes into account population or economic need.
Exactly how the quota distribution was originally determined is unclear, but Coastal Villages insists “they were created in a very political atmosphere,” Humphrey said.
Coastal Villages acknowledges changing the allocations is a challenging process as it requires an act of Congress, but notes similar assistance programs are often driven by needs-based calculations.
“I think at this point we’d be interested in seeing what the best practice for (this) type of program is. There’s lots of formulas that are currently in place for housing funds and other federal programs,” Humphrey said further. “So I hope that we can start the discussion about what that formula would look like but I don’t think we have a formula at this time.”
Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have generally shied away from the issue, insisting the CDQ groups need to agree on the matter before they can act.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman Karina Petersen wrote in an email that Murkowski has encouraged the group’s leaders to discuss the issue.
“If a reallocation effort is to move forward, it should be consensus-based and flow out of a constructive dialogue between all six groups,” Petersen wrote.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Don Young, who authored the 2006 Coast Guard bill through his leadership position on the House Transportation Committee at the time, did not answer emailed questions in time for this story.
In the past, Young has been emphatic that the allocations will not change without the CDQ leaders reaching agreement on what the changes should be.
APICDA CEO Larry Cotter did not respond to requests for an interview on the topic and — exemplifying its sensitive nature — neither did Norton Sound officials, despite the report’s conclusions that the Nome-area group is on the short end of the stick.
And while the performance of the CDQ groups has generally been positive, they have drawn criticism over executives’ pay and investment decisions in some instances.
In 2009 Coastal Villages opened a $35 million fish processing plant in the village of Platinum that was meant to employ 125 people and make the group the third-largest employer in the region.
Coastal Villages said at the time the plant would likely operate at a deficit for the first five years. It has been closed since 2016 and Humphrey said the group does not foresee itself working in local fisheries in the near future. Instead, Coastal Villages is focused on programs that bring broader benefits to all of its region’s residents, she said.
Yukon Delta Executive Director Ragnar Alstrom testified in August 2017 before the Senate subcommittee covering oceans and fisheries and chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan that the program has enabled the region’s communities to directly participate in the commercial fishing industry and now provides more than 5,500 jobs and $60 million in wages and other forms of income.
Yukon Delta is the largest private employer in its region, accounting for 615 direct jobs in 2016 and investments of $10.2 million into the region over the year, according to Alstrom.
He said that overall the program has worked well and needs stability, but the Western Alaska Community Development Association established in 2006 to act as a collective body for the CDQ groups to interact with Congress “has ceased to function in any meaningful way.”
At the same time, Alstrom said Yukon Delta is encouraged that all six groups want to make the association functional again.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].