On This Week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: St. Patrick Oozes Oil and Memories, Catch Share Conundrum Continues
Saint Patrick Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska
Efforts continue to contain pollution from a sunken scallop boat off Kodiak Island has cost more than $3 million in less than a month. As CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck reports, the wreckage of the Saint Patrick lies testament to one of Alaska’s deadliest fishing disasters decades ago and remains an environmental hazard today.
The Saint Patrick has rested at the bottom of Women’s Bay for more than 30 years, a wreck nearly forgotten until August 3, when an alert passerby noticed an oily sheen on the water’s surface.
Since then the state’s Spill Prevention and Response Division has been coordinating with divers and deployed booms. Responders say around 10,000 gallons of water mixed with petroleum have been removed.
gamble1 :16 we’re making really good progress on removing fuels and as oily water from the vessel so that we can make sure that it doesn’t continue sheening.
Jade Gamble has been leading the state’s on-scene response.
And we intend to, to get this vessel as clean as possible so that we don’t have to come back years down the road when another purple vessel or excuse me with, we don’t want to come back.
Records are spotty on how the derelict Saint Patrick ended up on the seafloor. Officials only know it went down some time in 1989 after being moored nearby for several years.
gamble2 :07 i’m not even for sure the date that it actually sunk. I’ve not seen an official date on when it sunk.
But the story goes back several years earlier. And for many in the Kodiak’s commercial fishing community, the vessel’s pollution has dragged up memories of one of Alaska’s most devastating fishing disasters that claimed nine lives in 1981
harrington1 :09 it was kind of a reminder of the disaster that happened, essentially. You know, because I was fishing scallops at the same time when it sank,
Bill Harrington is a retired commercial fisherman in Kodiak.
harrington2 :20 it was a mismanaged boat to begin with. You know that it was over 200 tons are supposed to have a licensed master mate and engineer. And then I know when it sank, the captain took the trip off and put this guy in charge that didn’t have a license.
Kodiak maritime attorney Jerry Markham represented one of the two survivors and several families of victims. He says just before the tragedy, the Coast Guard had let the 138-foot ship off with a verbal warning because the crew didn’t have the licenses to operate a vessel of its tonnage. But the owners ordered the Saint Patrick to fish for scallops anyway in late November.
markham1 :15 And the mate went out in very serious storm and got side to the seas and the boat rolled so far over that it took water into (the scuppers that the scuppers) the air intakes flooded the engine, and that’s what caused the crew to panic.
The batteries had become waterlogged and someone in the crew became convinced they could explode. Which was unfounded. But that was the fear.
markham2 :15 They hired these kids out of Homer a couple of them were under 20 as I recall, and they were for shuckers that’s all their job was was to shuck scallops and they didn’t know anything about maritime
They were 13 miles offshore, when the order was given to abandon ship for a life raft. But it blew out of reach. Three of the crew members didn’t have survival suits, which in the frigid waters, gave them only minutes to live.
markham3 :12 The boys in survival suits of course, they lasted you know, 10 hours and watched each one of them slowly die until the last two got cast on different parts of the shore because they were separated.
Only two of the 11 crew survived after washing ashore on nearby Marmot Island. The disabled Saint Patrick rolled in the rough seas but never foundered.
markham4 :07 it’s just it’s such a tragedy because of the nature of the accident if the boys that only stayed with the boat,
It was salvaged a few days later and towed back to Womens Bay where it remains today in 60 feet of water. Jerry Markham spent the next decade in litigation against the four principal owners of the Saint Patrick’s holding company.
markham5 :10 the court found the corporation was a shell and and what we call piercing the corporate veil and held them all responsible for the accident.
It went to federal appeals — twice — before the court awarded a final payout of nearly $8 million to the two survivors and the estate of nine crew members lost in 1981.
That wasn’t until the late 1980s. And during all that time the abandoned Saint Patrick sat in Womens Bay.
markham6 :09 I wasn’t really concerned with the vessel we were just looking at the situation from collecting something for the people.
Apparently nobody was. And the 200-odd ton ship rusted on its moorings while legal battles were fought onshore in federal court.
markham7 :10 The salver, don’t know if he ever got anything out of it. But for this boat that nobody wanted to touch because it was, quote a ghost ship.
Bill Harrington, who fished all through the 1980s, remembers the empty Saint Patrick as a fixture on Womens Bay. It was visible from the road until one day in 1989, it wasn’t.
harrington3 :07 You know, any boat isn’t going to stay afloat if no one’s taking care of it. And no one was taking care of that one either. So that’s probably why it sank.
Kodiak’s harbor officials say there are no records explaining exactly when or why the ship went down. Harbormaster Mike Sarnowski says he’s been calling around.
sarnowski1 :11 And nobody really has any information asking around a couple other folks. So it’s a difficult story to find, but we’ll keep on keep on trying to see if we can figure out if somebody somebody here knows what actually caused the sinking in 1989 and Women’s Bay.
Meanwhile, first responders are moving into their second month trying to contain any pollution from the sunken ship. The Coast Guard has tapped into federal cleanup funds with about $3 million in public money spent so far.
Efforts to track down those who could be held liable have been fruitless, says Jade Gamble the on-scene coordinator.
gamble3 :12 Many of the businesses that owned involved with this vessel in the 80s are now out of business. And so there’s not been a responsible party identified as of yet.
It’s a familiar type of story. Abandoned vessels are a challenge across Alaska with state lawmakers in recent years mandating titles to track ownership and using those fees to establish a fund to deal with derelict ships that are a hazard to navigation and the environment.
Jerry Markham, the maritime lawyer, says he thought the Saint Patrick was a tragedy from another era. But yet he’s still answering questions about it.
markham8 :12 it’s crazy that they’re still having these problems with it. But modern times have changed. Like I said, they’re much more concerned about the pollution these days.
The ghost ship that claimed nine souls still casts a shadow of sorts over the waters of Womens Bay. Hundreds of feet of boom encircle the area to keep the oily waste from reaching the shoreline. But this wrecked scallop boat that inexplicably sank more than 30 years ago still isn’t completely at rest. SOC
“Intergenerational Inequities” Terry Haines
During its next meeting the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council will put the last bows and ribbons on another Catch Share Program, one that will privatize access to all of the trawl caught cod in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. Once implemented, a handful of companies and individuals will own the exclusive rights to drag for codfish across an immense area of the globe.
Catch Share Programs are not without controversy. If you visit the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s website, under the Publications tab, in the category “Scientific Papers” you will find at the very top a paper written by MARYSIA SZYMKOWIAK, SARAH MARRINAN, and STEPHEN KASPERSKI entitled “The Pacific Halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis, and Sablefish, Anoplopoma fimbria, Individual Fishing Quota Program: A Twenty-year Retrospective , which was published in the Marine Fisheries Review in 2020.
In its introduction, the paper states: “Catch shares are a management tool that have been applied across the world to address overcapitalization in fisheries. However, there is growing concern that these programs can have adverse and disproportionate impacts on some participants due to the resultant consolidation and loss of access opportunities from high entry costs.” It goes on to say: “Initial distributions, consolidation, and individual fishing quota (IFQ) leasing (of annual pounds), among other factors, may also lead to inter-generational inequities in access and opportunities within and across communities.”
That all sounds very scientific, but what does it mean?
Well, overcapitalization just means that prior to the halibut and sablefish catch share programs there were so many boats fishing so successfully that some seasons lasted only days, with boats fishing ridiculous amounts of gear at a frenzied pace, and dumping the fish onto the market all at once, increasing the cost of production and decreasing quality and the price paid to fishermen. Handing out access rights in the form of Quota Shares to select fishermen slowed the fishery down, improving quality, serving the market better, and tipping the balance of market power in favor of harvesters. Most people would admit that Catch Share programs do a good job of addressing overcapitalization.
But what about “inter-generational inequities in access and opportunities within and across communities?” That doesn’t sound too good.
Well, “intergenerational inequities” refers to the difference between the fishermen initially allocated Quota Share and the entry level fisherman who must purchase the rights.
QUOTE “ Unless otherwise addressed, inequities in the generational distribution of
catch share benefits may be inherent to this type of management regime.
When an IFQ system gives rise to resource rents and QS are freely allocated to initial recipients with no mechanism for collecting some of this rent by resource managers, most of the resource rent may be captured by the first generation of quota shareholders when they exit and sell their shares and that value is paid by the incoming shareholders. Furthermore, the acquisition of QS is fundamentally different for initial recipients and new entrant QS holders. Initial recipients may utilize their initially allocated QS as collateral for loans or subsidize the purchase of additional QS through revenues generated from harvest of IFQ derived from initially allocated QS; opportunities that do not exist for new entrants. Initial recipients may utilize their initially allocated QS as collateral for loans or subsidize the purchase of additional QS through revenues generated from harvest of IFQ derived from initially allocated QS; opportunities that do not exist for new entrants.” CLOSEQUOTE
So when we assign initial recipients of Catch Shares their quota shares we create a new class of fisherman. While the entry level, or second generation, fisherman must purchase his rights to access the fishery, the initial recipient can use his allocation as collateral for loans, and to generate revenue to purchase more access rights. The entry level fisherman finds himself doubly disadvantaged in that he must pay for access, and those fees cut into his bottom line, and his ability to purchase the rights for himself. To again quote the study: “Coupled with decreasing crew employment opportunities in the IFQ fisheries due to consolidation and increases in lease rates, high QS prices have made entry into the IFQ fisheries prohibitive for many individuals.”
Indeed, most of those entry level fishermen start out as deckhands. And the designers of the halibut and sablefish catch share programs were concerned about negative effects for deckhands. The problem is that statistically deckhands don’t exist. The QUOTE “lack of any data on crew members in the IFQ fisheries precluded a systematic examination of IFQ impacts on crew employment in terms of number of jobs, duration/seasonality, earnings, upward mobility, etc.” Along with the need to better identify the objectives of the program, this need for data on the people affected by it was singled out as a glaring deficiency, one that should be addressed in future programs.
If only there was a way to better track crew. If only we had the foresight, years ago, to implement a program that would simply and efficiently gather data on fishermen working in Alaska.
Actually…we did. Twelve years ago, in 2009, Governor Palin approved funding for the Department of Fish and Game to begin an overhaul of state’s system for collecting labor data on Alaska’s seafood harvesters based on an updated crew license.
Here’s how the research firm Northern Economics described their participation: “Sometimes, … we are blessed with the joy of watching an obviously beneficial and feasible project move from proposal to analysis to action.” They go on to say: “Accurate data on participation is important for both the communities crew members call home and for the crew members themselves. Without accurate data fishing communities find it difficult to prove to policy makers, granting agencies, or lawmakers that their communities are integrally tied to fisheries.”
Partnering with the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, Fish and Game made significant progress until a United Fishermen of Alaska representative abruptly announced during a planning meeting that they had lobbied then Governor Parnell to quash the project, saying their leadership objected on the grounds that the information gathered might be private. Federal law already requires complete transparency from fish harvesting businesses, but without the Governor’s support the Seafood Harvesting Labor Data (SHLD) project died instantly, never to be revived.
The Catch Share Programs enacted since the halibut and sablefish IFQ programs have no “boots on deck” provisions that would encourage active participation by those who own access. Catch Share programs continue to be touted as the new wave in fisheries management. No plan seems to be on the table to address “intergenerational inequities”