Friday, November 13, 2009

Fish for Friday - Mark Begich and Billy Frank

[Progressive Alaska is going to attempt structuring writings about fisheries issues. Hopefully, we'll be publishing articles on Fridays that look at the rapidly changing fisheries environment in Alaska and elsewhere.]

On November 4th, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee held a hearing on the release of The Future of Ocean Governance: Building Our National Ocean Policy, which is the interim report of the White House Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

This was an important hearing that reviewed ongoing efforts to put science back into our country's science policies. Imagine that?

President Obama's mandate to gear coastal and offshore management approaches, practices and regulations more toward sustainability and holistic ideals that include the entire water cycle is laudable. The task force he mandated has raised my concern already, notably during their trip to Alaska last summer.

The November 4th hearing was interesting. The subcommittee upon which Sen. Begich serves has always had an Alaskan representative. Begich takes Ted Stevens' place. Although a dozen senators serve on it, Begich and the subcommittee's chair appeared to be the only members there (how did they achieve a quorum?).

Responding to the interim report were two panels. Of particular interest to me was the second panel. It included Billy Frank, Jr, one of my longtime heroes. Frank, who is currently Chairman and Spokesperson of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, led the fight to restore fisheries rights to Washington State Native Americans. His struggles, which began in the 1960s, led to over 40 arrests, many jailings and humiliations, but resulted in a 1974 court decision which has brought hundreds of millions of dollars away from big fish processors and non-Native fishers, and into the hands of tribal members, especially on Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Back when Frank was fighting to get treaty obligations fulfilled, there were a lot more salmon in Washington than there are now. Since then, egregious over-fishing practices have been blamed on both the non-Native and Native fishers, and a lot has been learned. The fact that Billy Frank, now in his mid-70s is still there, sharing much of what he has absorbed through battles he bagan in his 20s, is a story worth telling. [I helped interview Billy Frank for Seattle's KRAB radio in 1971 or 1972]

Sen. Begich, who was in kindergarten when Billy Fank was first arrested for asserting his rights, raised some important points in the hearing. Begich stayed on the meme he has been developing on all issues save military procurement (as in missile silos in Delta, more F-22s and JSFs, etc.) about controlling costs.

Begich raised concerns about the relationship of costs of implementing what might be the final findings of the oceans task force, and their bureaucratic offsprings. It was a point well taken. The currently proposed structure of a resultant National Ocean Council would be ungainly at best. I'm not sure Sen. Begich and I would agree on why this might be bad, but he's right that the co-chair and steering committee relationships envisioned are simply unworkable. One only needs to look at the dozens of useless NOAA positions already in place in Alaska to imagine how absurd adding more departments and upper level staff oversight sinecures on oceanic policy to the Federal Government in Alaska might be.

Here's a link to the video of the entire hearing.

Here's Sen. Begich's office's Youtube on his part in the hearing:

image - Billy Frank, Jr.


Polarbear said...

A policy group contribution to your effort to structure writings:

Kelso has substantial experience with both ocean management issues and subsistence management issues in Alaska.

Philip Munger said...


I met Dennis a couple of times in the year or so after the EVOS. I'd lost track of him until he resurfaced at the Ocean Conservancy.