Sunday, March 13, 2011

What does it mean to work as a crewman?

State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, has introduced House Bill 181 aimed at collecting a better set of statistics on people working as commercial fishing vessel crewmen.

This is something that's knocked around for quite a while now.

The belief is we don't know enough about crewmen beyond their very sizable raw numbers, as reflected in sales of commercial fishing licenses.

Crewmen tend to be a transient and disorganized workforce, and thus potentially at risk when major changes in fishery management come about.

The prime example is "crab rationalization," the 2005 conversion of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fisheries to catch shares.

Because the shares could be leased or sold, the overbuilt fleet underwent a drastic consolidation, eliminating hundreds of crewing jobs practically overnight.

But what exactly is a crew job?

"At present, data to describe the workforce of 20,000 crew members who work in Alaska's fisheries is almost non-existent," Austerman says in this sponsor statement for HB 181. "We cannot determine whether an individual crewmember fished 5 days or 250 in a given year; whether he or she fished in a single salmon fishery or in seven fisheries across five regions of the state; on a single boat or on 10; or whether he or she fished a single year as an adventure, or is a 25-year veteran of the industry."

The bill would generate a lot more information by requiring the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to collect information on crewmen.

The department would give crewmen a "crew activity form" to fill in such particulars as name and address, the name and homeport of each fishing vessel on which the crewman worked, the total number of days he or she was obligated to a boat, and each fishery in which the crewman participated.

Under the bill, the department would annually, before March 1, collect as many activity forms as possible to compile statistics. The names of crewmen and vessels would be kept confidential.

The data would help state and federal decision makers avoid "deleterious impacts" on a large labor force when implementing new regulations, Austerman says.

Looking at the bill, its weaknesses are pretty obvious. Filling out the forms would be voluntary, and would require diligence and honesty.

Still, any new information could be useful. And HB 181, if it becomes law, would sunset in 2016, giving legislators a chance to review its effectiveness after five years.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday before the House Special Committee on Fisheries.


Anonymous said...

This is garbage of they want to use the information to somehow allocate crewmember quota shares in any future rationailzed fisheries.

It's a good idea, but the couple of folks from Kodiak that have been pushing this concept still don't seem to have their shit together. How many years have they been pushing it?

Anonymous said...

They've been pushing this shit since Halibut Sablefish. Problem is, crewmembers generally are all out for themselves without enough skin in the game to justify the costs of banding together and gaining clout. This said as a long time crewmember myself.

No crewmember wants to pay the kind of dues it takes to support an educated, articulate spokesman to take up their plight. The free rider effect is huge. The transaction costs of collections on this population segment appear insurmountable. Its a lot cheaper to cry in your beer at Solly's Office, or Tony's, or whatever the latest navigational hazard in Kodiak is called.

I remember Skippers for Equitable Allocations leading the charge for crew in halibut sablefish, and getting skewered in favor of CDQ. For crab, the skippers narrowed their focus and threw the deckhands under the bus - which proved more manageable and ultimately effective. I recall Deep Sea Fisherman's Union making a pitch for crab deckhands, but that fizzled, as I suspect they couldn't get enough dues paying members to sustain their involvement. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that.

Oh well, as a deckhand, you don't have the capital cost tying you to the operation. You can always go back to pounding nails, flipping burgers, or some other job. Labor is fungible. Better information doesn't change that.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of crewmembers since for some reason I can't comment in the Brig section, but I can here......

Seeing all the crew men getting tickets for not having crew licenses started me wondering. Are these guys foolish enough to actually go fishing without a license, or has ADF&G started writing tickets to guys who are on the boat doing gear work before season starts and they haven't picked up a license yet, but will before the boat gets under way? Is this just a new way to collect money for the State of Alaska? It's the way they worded it that got me wondering. They used the term "acting as a crewman". What constitutes that? Does moving the boat from one dock to another and helping tie up count? Does sleeping on the boat count? I can see some guys flying in to some fishing communities too late in the day to pick up a license and both helping move the boat and sleeping on it, maybe even helping with gear work or cooking dinner for the crew.

I hope this isn't what is going on, but I can't believe there are this many crewmen that are actually going fishing without a license.

And Mr Loy, what's up with the commenting in the brig? why is it different?

Anonymous said...

It would be much more efficient to have the companies and boat owners report this information. But who wants efficiencies, it is the government!

Anonymous said...

Al Austerman, Mr. Big Secret himself!
"Governmental decisions that affect individuals’ livelihood should not take place in a vacuum. Future meetings of the “Fish Cabinet” should be documented in some form, whether it be by a secretary taking notes or a Board secretary taking minutes."

kriegmont said...

i've been crew on a gillnet boat in juneau for 5 years...i help out a buddy in july when it picks up, and when it slows down i'm done. i do it for fun, although the money and homepack is nice. my point being, i could never justify paying union dues year round for a "job" i hold maybe 3-5 weeks a year. lobbying is year-round, and my guess is that most crew aren't year round.

Anonymous said...

Ofr course back when there existed the Alaska Fishermens Union, crewmembers were also union members.

Now we have the great PAC, Producing Actual Corruption, from a Political Action Committee, spending the membership dues, lobbing Alan Austerman and Associates in crime.

UFA I Vote Scab!