Federal Rules Can Hinder Replacement of Old Boats

By Levi Pulkkinen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer – March 24, 2008

Federal rules designed to make Alaska fisheries safer and more efficient are preventing the replacement of aging boats such as the 35-year-old Alaska Ranger, industry leaders said a day after the Ranger’s sinking.

Since new rules were enacted in 2004, companies harvesting cod, halibut and other species off the Alaska coast have been stopped from replacing boats in their aging fleets, said Lori Swanson of the Groundfish Forum, a Seattle-based industry group representing processors in the fishery.

Until recently, any captain licensed to fish could land as much fish as he could catch until the year’s allotment was exhausted. New rules set a quota for each licensed ship, removing the incentive for fishermen to race toward the catch.

But a quirk in the rules meant that quotas are now assigned to each ship and can’t be transferred, Swanson said. Quotas held by ships that fall out of service can be moved to already licensed boats within the fishery, but not to newly built boats.

And that, she said, is a problem when the newest boats in the fishery are at least two decades old. Some were built in the 1960s, and many for other uses.

“Right now, there just isn’t any way to replace a vessel,” Swanson said.

Alaska pollock fishermen have faced a similar problem since new rules for that fishery were passed in 1998, said Jim Gilmore, spokesman for the At-Sea Processors Association, a trade association.

“In a fishery operated on a rational basis, there’s no reason for those limitations,” Gilmore said. “Nobody is trying to build bigger vessels to win a race for fish — we’ve dealt with that.”

Gilmore’s organization has been pushing for a change in the rules.

Swanson said her organization has spoken with members of Congress about a change, but no legislation was OK’d this year.