By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The possibility of the U.S. government buying back commercial fishing licenses from an ailing groundfish industry is getting local support.
After hearing a presentation by local fisherman Richard Young, the Board of Harbor Commissioners this week voted unanimously to send letters of support for pending Senate and House bills.
Its an issue where the time has come because this industry is dying, Young said yesterday as he stood between his two docked fishing vessels, the City of Eureka and the Willola. This buyback is good for the people bought out, its good for the people who remain, and its good for the nation.
Young said if passed, Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2376 would enable the government to buy back roughly 50 percent of the licenses that are currently active along the countrys Pacific coastline. Half of the money would come in the form of a grant the other half would be in the form of a loan. The total dollar amount would total $50 million.
But some questions about the legislation were raised yesterday by commercial fishermen at the harbor boat basin.
If the government spent half the money they blow in half a day, they could buy out the whole west coast fishery, said fisherman Joe Wallace. So, why should we put up any money to buy them out? I dont make enough as it is.
Young said with increased quotas for the remaining licensed boats, the profits would far outweigh the amount paid back on the loan.
The hard facts are, in this day and age, were not going to get something for nothing, Young said. That means we have to pay for part of the costs. But when licenses are removed from the fishery, that improves the profits of those who remain. It seems fair to me that those who benefit from this should help out.
One question Board President Bonnie Williams raised was if the buyback would increase the number of derelict boats docked in the harbor. Young said since only licenses and not boats would be bought, this could happen. But owners had the option of converting their boats into recreational boats, diversifying their catch or dismantling the vessels.
Don Sauter, who alternates between crewman and captain in the fleet, was more concerned about the fate of of those who work the boats but have no licenses themselves.
What happens to the crewmen? Sauter asked. If a guy sells his boat, were out of a job. Were expendable. And without us, you cant make money. The owners cant do it all themselves.
Thats not entirely true, Young countered. The amount of jobs in the fishery depends on the total quota. We would be getting more fish from a smaller fleet than less fish with a larger fleet.
There are also opportunities out there for people in depressed industries to be retrained. Its about a living wage in a reasonable fishery. Thats what its all about, Young said.
Both the House and Senate have been receptive, if not enthusiastic, about the companion bills, according to Young. He encouraged people interested in the proposals to contact the Harbor District office at 101 Citizens Dock Road for more information.