FISHERMEN OFFERED CHANCE TO BAIL OUT
May 04, 2001 11:00 pm

Brookings-Harbor commercial fishermen who want out of the business have received a proposal on how the government may help, and they seem to be biting.

The Fishermens Marketing Association, responding to the need to cut the number of groundfish fishing boats in the water by half, have developed a bill that calls for the government to buy back fishing boat rights and permits from groundfish fishermen.

Groundfish are bottom fish species that include sole, sharks and various types of rockfish.

The plans goal is to reduce the bottom-fish fleet by 40 to 65 percent, according to Peter Leipzig of the Fishermens Marketing Association.

Our goal is just wider than what the Pacific Council said should occur, Leipzig said.

The Pacific Councils projected goal is a 50 percent reduction.

During a meeting in the Port of Brookings Harbor on Wednesday, attended by 25 people, Leipzig said that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has agreed to carry the bill in congress.

Leipzig predicts the bill could work its way through Congress this summer and the president could sign it in a few months, with buy-backs beginning next year.

A questionnaire sent out by the Fishermens Marketing Association received overwhelming feedback from commercial fishermen.

Of the 70 percent of fishermen who returned the survey, a total of 60 percent of groundfish fishermen indicated they would sell out.

Of those fishermen, 70 percent of the trawlers fishermen who drag nets behind their boats to catch fish that live near the ocean floor want out of the fishing industry. Approximately 50 percent of fishermen who catch groundfish with hooks and lines want to sell their boats and permits.

Leipzig said the reduction will benefit the people who want to get out of the industry by helping them leave with something.

At the same time, he said it would help the remaining fishermen because there will be less boats on the water competing for the same number of fish.

All things considered, everyone who remains in the industry could gain 27 percent, Leipzig said.

The plan that the Fishermens Marketing Association proposes is a $50-million project in which the federal government would put up $25 million, while the industry supplies the other $25 million in the form of a loan, for which Leipzig said he will be lobbying for no interest to be paid.

Leipzig said there is no reason why the government should make money on this deal, since it wants to see the fishing fleet reduced as well.

This is the least cost approach if they supply the money, Leipzig said.

It is currently proposed that the repayment of this loan be taken over by the remaining participants in the fisheries, including those that dont have groundfish permits such as Dungeness crab, Pink shrimp and Salmon permits, since capacity reduction will be occurring in each of these fisheries and the remaining participants will benefit from the program.

According to Leipzig, the benefit each fishery will gain is much more than the amount that they will have to pay out.

Fees would be taken out, under the current proposal, based on the amount of fish dropped off at the processing plant from the boat.

There will be certain percentages of the gross intake of fish that will be paid out for the various fisheries.

The fish processing plants will be required to pay the percentages to the state at which the drop off occurred. The individual states give the money to the National Marine Fisheries Service which in turn repays the federal government.

By law, the most the federal government can take is five percent of all the fisheries in repayment.

The loan will be unsecured and there will be no restrictions to its repayment. It will be industry wide and will not come down on the heads of individuals.

In running with this industry-wide philosophy, there will be no individual cap on repayment of the loan.

They become so cumbersome to implement, Leipzig said.

Under the plan, fishermen who want out would submit a bid based on the value of their vessels, production and permits, and should take into consideration the cost of scrapping their boats.

The lowest bids will be considered by a points system, set up by Leipzig, that divides the boats gross fishing revenue between 1998 and 2000 by the owners selling price.

Leipzig said the lower numbers resulting from this formula will be considered first, but the benefit to the fishery by removing the boat from the fleet will also be considered.

Once a bid is submitted, there is no going back.

People would submit bids. Those bids would be binding, Leipzig said.

Fishermen must also take into consideration what they will want to do with their boats after the sale.

The government would not take the boat back with the purchase.

It would simply list the vessel with the U.S. Coast Guard as not allowed for commercial fishing.

What fishermen do with their boats after the buy-back is up to them.

As potential options, Leipzig listed donating them to a universities or the Sea Scouts program. They could also be converted into boats for personal use, or all of the equipment could be sold so they can be scrapped.

The only catch is that the boat is never used as a commercial fishing vessel again.

Whatever the owner does, there have to be uses for the boat besides leaving them in the harbor to rot away and sink.

Just because youve sold doesnt absolve you of this requirement, Leipzig said.

The original plan was to just go after groundfish permits, but that left concern that fishermen would sell their groundfish permits and continue using state permits and enter other fisheries.

The plan was revised to blanket everything if a fisherman takes part including all groundfish and state permits as well as the use of the boat.

We hope to avoid that by taking the state permits and the boat back, said Harbor View Enterprises President Ralph Brown, who is a key player of this project.

Both Leipzig and Brown feel the plan is the best way to go for all parties involved.

I dont want to wait 20 years, Brown said.

Lets go on to fixing it so that the people who stay in the industry can look forward to something and those who want to get out can leave with something.