Relief Report #66: June 26, 1998

Alaska’s congressional delegation has formed an unholy alliance with Greenpeace to support a bill that would sanction a regulatory taking. The bill, the American Fisheries Act (S. 1221), would raise the American ownership requirement for all fishing vessels operating in the North Pacific from 51% to 75%. This requirement would effectively ban most “factory fishing trawlers” — larger vessels used to both catch and process fish — including 50% of the Seattle-based American Seafoods Company’s fleet. Former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh has stated that he believes such an effort to regulate these trawlers out of existence would constitute a taking of property rights. The bill would also throw 1,500 Americans in the state of Washington out of work.

Greenpeace and members of the Alaska congressional delegation argue that the bill is needed because factory trawlers contribute to overfishing in the North Pacific. At a June 4 hearing on Capitol Hill, for example, House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) defended the bill arguing that the environmental benefits of the bill outweigh any economic costs. “Are we worried about jobs or are we worried about species?” asked Young.

But according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), S. 1221 would not provide the kind of environmental benefits its advocate claim and could place the environment at greater risk. The NMFS noted: “Information is not available to suggest that S. 1221 will result in significant positive conservation impacts… However… the progressive redistribution of fishing effort associated with the phaseout of large, offshore, mid-water trawl vessels, to predominantly smaller inshore vessels that may rely more on bottom trawl gear, could make observer coverage more difficult and would increase concern with bycatch (unintentional capture of nonmarketable ocean species).

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