Story last updated at 2:58 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 2002

Chignik co-op upheld by Alaska court's ruling
Sepp Jannotta

The alaska court system once again upheld the Chignik salmon fishing cooperative. A Juneau judge ruled Monday in favor of the Alaska Board of Fisheries in a lawsuit aiming to strike down the cooperative on the Alaska Peninsula. The co-op took its first tentative steps this season at Chignik, aiming to cut costs by letting a handful of the seine boats do the lion's share of the work for the co-op's 77 members. Despite a below-average salmon return to Chignik Lagoon, every co-op member earned at least $20,000, regardless of whether they fished. The lawsuit was brought by a pair of fishermen who elected to stay out of the co-op and continue fishing in the traditional competitive manner. "It's a great feeling," said Jamie Ross of the legal victory. Ross, a Homer fisherman, was part of the drive to create the co-op. "We were all a little nervous, but (our) lawyers weren't too worried about it," he added. Ross said the co-op and its lawyers were ready should the case be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. "Now we're almost feeling that we hope they will take it to the Supreme Court, we're so sure of our case." Ross said that competitive fishermen Dean Anderson and Michael Grunert sued on the grounds that the Board's allocation rules regarding the co-op were a violation of the Alaska Constitution's mandate to allow for equal access to the state's resources. And, while the Board of Fish went to pains to allocate an equal share to the competitive fishermen, Anderson and Grunert contended that the competitive fishermen were on the high end of per-boat catch numbers and should therefore be getting more of the harvest, according to Ross. Grunert and company also complained that they were not given enough fishing time. According to The Associated Press, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins ruled that the creation of the co-op is not a violation of the Constitution because each Chignik permit holder has the same chance to either join the co-op or remain independent, an opportunity that renews each season. She also ruled that the board had the authority to pass the co-op regulation in January. "That's exciting, good news," board member John White of Bethel told The Associated Press. If the judge had ruled against the board, it would have "stifled our room to move" to help the commercial salmon industry, he said. "I'm excited that hopefully some innovative thinking to move us as a salmon industry out of this morass is going to find a little clear sailing," he said. Ross said the court's ruling is not only a vindication of his vision for the future of salmon fishing in Chignik, it offers hope for all of Alaska's struggling salmon fishermen. "It didn't go perfectly," Ross said of the co-op's first season. "But we learned that a commercial fishery can produce a perfect quality fish that can compete with farmed fish."

FISH PROCESSING JOBS TOPPED the Kenai Peninsula Borough employment rolls in 2001, according to data collected by the Alaska Department of Labor and published in this month's issue of its publication, Alaska Economic Trends. There were 1,985 seafood processing workers in the borough, excluding those working surimi and fish roe jobs, making slime-liners the single largest occupational group in the borough. That figure may be slightly overblown because some of those workers may have held more than one processing job, the department said. Seafood workers' wages contributed some $6.1 million to the economy last year. By comparison, retail salespersons, the next largest group, with 1,346 jobs, generated $9.7 million in wages on the year, while food preparers and servers in fast-food restaurants, delicatessens and the like came in third as a group with 1,225 workers, who made another $2.9 million. Waiters and waitresses -- an entirely separate category -- filled some 1,026 jobs and made $3.6 million in 2001. Teachers, instructors and substitutes made up another 962 jobs in the borough, most employed in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District or other public educational facilities. The category also includes some private-sector educational jobs. While those categories comprised the five top occupations in 2001 in terms of numbers of workers, they were by no means near the top when it came to total wages. For instance, according to Melody Douglas, chief financial officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, in terms of wages, the district's 681 certified teachers earned a combined $33 million in 2001. Further, as a single employer, the district has the most workers. Douglas said the district generates about 1,800 W-2 tax forms a year. That figure includes all full- and part-time employees. Some 648 roustabouts working in area oil fields earned better than $13.3 million in 2001. Operational engineers and other construction equipment operators -- of which there were about 509 -- earned $9.4 million that year; 413 welders, cutters, solderers and brazers together made $8.6 million; and 404 maintenance and repair workers made $9.4 million. The statistics cited in Alaska Economic Trends are part of the state's Occupational Database. Compiling of that kind of data began in the boom years of the 1970s during construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline, according to an article by Lorraine Cordova and fellow labor economist Nels Tomlinson. In those years, many people came from Outside and took many high-wage jobs, even though there were many unemployed Alaskans, the article said. Later, as other construction projects were funded with oil money, the Alaska Legislature asked the department to enforce resident hire and begin collecting data in support of that effort, the article said. "The goal was to increase resident hire, reduce unemployment, identify industries and occupations with large numbers of nonresident workers, and find resident workers that have skills required for publicly funded projects," the authors said. Today, the database includes employment information for every worker covered by state unemployment insurance. Some 18,000 employers make reports quarterly. The database provides answers to a variety of labor market questions, the article said. The department's Research and Analysis Section uses the database -- along with other databases including the Department of Revenue's Permanent Fund Dividend Division -- to create several reports for the Alaska Legislature on such things as resident hiring and the effectiveness of statewide training programs.

BRITISH COLUMBIA AQUACULTURE reformists say a run of pink salmon off the northern coast of Vancouver Island were wiped out this year by an outbreak of sea lice originating at the province's fish farms. The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform last week threatened to take legal action against the governments of Canada and British Colombia to stop open-sea fish farms. The alliance said its research indicated more than 3 million pinks have not returned this fall to seven streams. Dozens of open-sea fish farms raising Atlantic salmon are in the area. "We've got 1 percent left," said the Alliance's Alexandra Morton. The federal Fisheries Department spokesman, Don Noakes, said however that he had serious doubts about the claims. Samples the department took had fewer sea lice, he said, and the runs may just be late arriving in the rivers. In addition, the B.C. government has never found a correlation between fish farms and sea lice, said the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Ministry.

Peninsula Clarion reporter Hal Spence contributed to this report.