Clem Tillion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Boom or bust in Adak? Politics will decide

Adak is 1,200 miles west of Anchorage in the Aleutian Islands in the center of some of Alaska’s last “derby style” fisheries. Now, a great political struggle between some large Seattle-based corporate fishing companies and this Aleut community will determine whether Adak and it’s value-added approach to seafood development survives or if these valuable Alaska fisheries resources are simply added to the portfolios of the consolidated fishing companies. These large fishing companies already have exclusive Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fishing privileges with an aggregate value in excess of $2 billion. In contrast, if Adak and Alaska lose this struggle, the community is not likely to survive. Almost everyone agrees there is an emergency. Without a regulatory or legislative fix by January the local shore-based fleet will start departing the region; markets, jobs and investments will be lost and the collapse of Adak will begin. But a few well-financed companies are working to defeat the fix at every turn. A brief history For at least 8,000 years Aleuts relied on Adak for trapping, hunting and fishing, establishing both permanent and later seasonal settlements. This all changed when the U.S. entered World War II when it built both Army and Navy facilities on Adak and terminating any further use by the Aleuts. At its Cold War peak, Adak was home to more than 6,000 military personnel and their families. In 1997 the military ended its presence on Adak and in 2004 some portions of the island were transferred back to the Aleut Corp. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council rationalized most of the great Bering Sea fisheries (halibut, sablefish, pollock, crab and several species of groundfish), which created world-class sustainable fisheries and gave rise to a consolidated, globally competitive fishing industry. Because this all happened before portions of Adak were handed back to the Aleut Corp., the community missed out on these programs. Starting on 2008, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the State of Alaska began developing programs to protect Adak, Atka and the western Aleutian Islands region from the excess capital and fishing power of the newly-created fishing companies. In 2016 the council approved, and the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented, a new regulation known as Amendment 113. This regulation ensures that communities in the western Aleutian Islands region have some access to Pacific cod as an economic foundation, by designating that a small portion of the Aleutian Islands cod resource be delivered to any shore-based processor operating in the western Aleutian Islands region during a specified period of time. This is similar to other programs designed to protect other Alaska coastal communities throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s. Amendment 113 had an immediate, positive impact: attracting a new processor and millions of dollars of investment to Adak, stabilizing the local economy and the school. In response, the Seattle-based companies and their associations (United Catcher Boats, Groundfish Forum, Katie Ann and B&N Fisheries) filed a lawsuit against Amendment 113 in Washington, D.C., District Court; far from Alaska, where their chance of getting a judge with little or no understanding of Alaska fish policy was nearly a sure thing. Today By late 2017, the new Adak processor, Golden Harvest Alaska Seafoods, had stabilized the local economy and the school, had invested millions of dollars in processing infrastructure and housing, and developed new Alaska seafood products (fresh and live crab, fresh Pacific cod and halibut fillets; custom package portions for Costco, Whole Foods and other major West Coast retailers). The development of these markets and products is due in part to the former military airport runway, which allows the local processor to ship fresh and live product using high volume cargo planes and create hundreds of new jobs in Alaska and Washington state. Then, this March, the D.C. District Court ruled against Amendment 113. In its opinion, “… the Service (NMFS) did not exceed its statutory authority … (but) the Service failed to demonstrate that the amendment satisfied the requisite standards for such regulatory measures…” The immediate effect was to vacate Amendment 113 and put Adak and the entire western Aleutian Islands region at risk. The long-term effect is to endanger the North Pacific council’s ability to provide protection to Alaska communities, including programs already in place to ensure other Alaska communities have reasonable access to fish in their region. Seeing the far reaching damage to council authority and the State of Alaska’s efforts to ensure its coastal communities had reasonable access to fish, one of the four original plaintiffs (B&N Fisheries) immediately dropped from the lawsuit and expressed its support for a regulatory or legislative fix to Amendment 113. The State of Alaska quickly issued a letter expressing the need for “…enactment of federal legislation…” and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council issued a letter to the Department of Justice requesting a court appeal, finding that “…deliveries of Pacific cod to the AI (Aleutian Islands) shoreside processors is vital to the economic health of AI communities.” As recently as Aug. 1, the Alaska congressional delegation, led by Sen. Dan Sullivan, was working to reimplement Amendment 113 through the federal legislation. This legislation — which is precisely what the state requested — was blocked by at least one of the remaining plaintiffs thorough a Washington state senator. Given the political discord in Washington, D.C., it will be increasingly difficult to accomplish the fix through legislation. The Aleut Corp., the City of Adak and a number of other entities (including B&N Fisheries) have also filed an Emergency Rule petition with the Secretary of Commerce to ensure the 2020 season for Adak, which starts in January. However, the remaining plaintiffs have worked to defeat this approach as well. In response to the court opinion, the council itself is expected to start working on a new regulatory package in October, but that process will take at least three years — perhaps too long for Golden Harvest Alaska Seafoods and its local fleet to survive. Almost everyone agrees there is an emergency. The North Pacific council — with members from Alaska, Washington state and Oregon — spent more than 10 years developing Amendment 113. But a few well-capitalized companies are now working hard to defeat the Alaska community protections that it provides. Without strong political pushback, Adak in particular and the western Aleutian Islands face an economic collapse in the middle of some of Alaska’s most abundant fishing grounds. ^ Clem Tillion is a retired commercial fisherman, a former Alaska state legislator and past chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

COMMENTARY: PFD should be enshrined in Constitution for all Alaskans

My roots in Alaska go deep. I’ve had incredible opportunities here. At 93, my greatest hope is that my children and future Alaskans continue thriving here in a land of opportunity. When I arrived in Alaska after WWII I was glad to be alive. I had served over two years with a naval construction battalion on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Malaria and other jungle diseases wracked by body. I was a wreck in some ways. But Alaska provided. Alaska healed me. I met the love of my life here and raised a family in Halibut Cove. Alaska provided abundant fish and spectacular land and seascapes that made me whole. The people of Alaska were hard working, thrifty, and committed to building a better future for everyone – my kind of people. We worked following the war to build a bright and inclusive future. Statehood was the goal. Control of our destiny was the value we cherished. We achieved statehood by working together, across party lines, over geographical boundaries and in spite of personal beliefs. It had to be done and it was. The great promise of statehood ensured Alaskans would obtain the land grants and control of our inshore fisheries we needed to thrive. We selected wisely, including the incomparable lands along the Sagavanirktok River near Prudhoe Bay that yielded a stupendous amount of oil revenue. When the oil revenue started rolling into our state coffers, Alaska’s great promise appeared to have been fulfilled. But the initial bonanza of oil revenues was spent like a sailor hitting port after a long voyage. Some of us worried about spending every cent of our non-renewable oil revenue without saving for the future. Visionary legislators like Oral Freeman and Hugh Malone led the call to save a slice of our oil revenue. They were assisted by my pool playing buddy, Governor Jay Hammond, who grew up poor in upstate New York and knew the value of savings. Working together with Alaskans from across the state, we established the Permanent Fund. We only saved only 25% of the oil revenues. The rest was available and spent by the politicians. Some of it even benefited the people. Jay Hammond convinced me and many other Alaskans the only way to fully protect our Permanent Fund was to make sure each and every Alaskan had a stake in the fund. Hammond believed as long as every Alaskan obtained an uncapped dividend each year, the voters would protect the Permanent forever. Which brings me to the point I want every Alaskan to consider. The Permanent Fund, now at $65 billion, has benefited all Alaskans for decades. The current law requiring the Permanent Fund Corporation to inflation proof the fund and then pay the PFD according to a legal formula, has been a boon for every Alaskan and the private sector. Alaskans are treated equally according to this distribution law. Whether you live in Bethel or Ketchikan, Anchorage or Fairbanks, the dividend is your legal right. And why not? The dividend came from our Permanent Fund savings account – a fund established in our Constitution using the oil wealth owned in common by all Alaskans. Politicians and special interests have tried to hijack your dividend since it was established. For the first time in history they’ve succeeded. In the last three years our politicians failed to address revenue shortfalls in a responsible way. Instead, they stole thousands of dollars from you by shorting your dividend so they can spend your money on projects and activities they believe are more important than your interests. As a group, our elected officials are addicted to spending. They’ve spent down most of the state’s savings account. Now they are ignoring the law and grabbing your PFD. Eventually they’ll go after the Permanent Fund if we let them. All of us who helped establish the Permanent Fund did so to pass along a little of the oil wealth to future generations. The PFD isn’t a welfare program or a rainy-day account for government. The PFD was established so every Alaskan would share equally in the Permanent Fund earnings and to provide a firewall between the grasping hands of politicians and special interests trying to rip off our communal savings. I came back from the war in the Pacific sure in the knowledge that Alaska was a great place to live and full of opportunity. The sea and the land provided. Life was good because we all worked hard, built a better future, and saved a portion of the bounty we inherited. Letting the politicians raid our savings and cut Alaskans’ PFD is political robbery. Anything short of full constitutional protection of the PFD is unjust and robs every Alaskan of their equal share of our savings. We must defend our Permanent Fund. To do that, the original PFD law must be protected in our Alaska Constitution. Clem Tillion is a former nine-term legislator and retired commercial fisherman residing in Halibut Cove near Homer. He is the president of the Permanent Fund Defenders ( and helped design the Permanent Fund with Gov. Jay Hammond and others.
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