OPINION: Alaska’s CDQ fishery program is too important to be misunderstood

Fish politics run deep with Alaskans, and many of us have strong opinions about fisheries management issues. However, the Aug. 4 commentary appearing in this newspaper from Mike Heimbuch, a sitting member of the Board of Fish (BOF), was simply misinformed. We write to not only set the record straight, but also to make sure his conclusions about fish user groups not prejudge the opinions of the ADN’s readers or other Board of Fish members.

Particularly striking were his mischaracterizations about the Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program, a program whose constituents often come before the BOF and who deserve a fair and impartial forum to advocate for the interests of the 65 Western Alaska CDQ communities. First, they are not Alaska Native corporations. They are Alaska nonprofit economic development corporations whose purpose is to provide economic opportunity, jobs, scholarships and training to its 30,000 Western Alaska residents.

The CDQ program has been in existence since 1992 and is arguably the most successful joint state-federal program in Alaska’s history. The six CDQ groups are estimated to be responsible for approximately 20% of their region’s total employment, with more than $40 million in annual wages to their residents, and more than 1,600 students per year are awarded scholarships. The CDQ groups support millions of dollars in infrastructure grants and funding in Western Alaska to support essential needs like fuel purchases. They are not widely known because they focus their resources and efforts where they matter most, in remote communities like Stebbins, Kwinhagak, Levelock, Atka, St. Paul and Nunam Iqua.

Our work could not be done without revenue generated from our federal fisheries investments. The CDQ program is mandated by federal law to invest in the Alaskan Bering Sea fisheries and to bring the benefits of multispecies groundfish and crab, which includes the pollock fishery, back to Alaska. The American Fisheries Act of 1998 allocated 90% of the Bering Sea pollock resource to historical participants, almost all from out of state, and only 10% to the CDQ program. As the program has matured, CDQ groups are successfully fulfilling their investment mandate, which results in bringing back a significant level of fisheries resources to the state to fund their work in the impoverished communities of Western Alaska.

Secondly, the CDQ program has had a significant impact on the actions of the trawl fleet to reduce their Bering Sea salmon and halibut bycatch. There would be no hard cap, the way there is now on Bering Sea chinook bycatch, without the efforts BBEDC. BBEDC’s efforts to implement a Chinook salmon hard cap in 2010 was opposed by many and demonstrated that it was not sold out to anyone but the residents of their villages along the Bering Sea. Yukon Delta’s leadership has been active since 2005 in efforts to rebuild the chum and Chinook on the Yukon River. It annually spends large sums supporting NOAA and Department of Fish and Game salmon research efforts that benefit the entire river system.

The issues facing our fisheries resources are increasingly challenging and divisive in our public discourse right now. Successfully navigating these complicated issues is going to take fisheries leaders who are committed to listening to the best available science, seeking to understand the perspectives of all stakeholders, and working on collaborative solutions. It is also going to take leadership from all industry sectors, including the CDQ Program, to identify and achieve balanced and well supported outcomes.

Robin Samuelsen is chairman of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and Ragnar Alstrom is executive director of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association; BBEDC and YDFDA are two of the six Western Alaska Community Development Quota organizations.

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