I’m going to go out on a limb. I mean it. Don’t think I won’t, ’cause I will. I am going on a real bender; around the bend. I am going to jump off the cliff. One giant step for the blogosphere, one small stumble for me.
Oh my god Doug, get to the point — please! See, I can read your mind… If I can do that, maybe I have a point with this next post? Read on…
You see, the thing is, I have too much time on my hands. And it’s tax season; never a good time to contemplate how your tax dollars are spent. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your political strain is, some of your tax dollars are getting spent someplace that you wish they weren’t, right? And I read the Coast Guard news feed, which during king crab season seems filled with stories of daring rescues up in the Bering Sea. USCG Helos and Cutters and Big Ships and radios and… well, you’ve seen all the drama on Deadliest Catch.
Imagine a different show: Dirtiest Cargo. It’s all about these huge tankers that ply the world’s oceans filled with crude oil, and the crews that run them. This week’s episode is about a huge tanker, the Monolith Oiler, who’s Third Mate tries an uncharted shortcut through Prince William Sound and hits Bligh Reef, splitting her open and dumping a gazillion gallons of Alaska’s finest goo into the bay. Before the first commercial break, we watch as the crew calls the USCG with the bad news. The tension builds as the narrator speculates how long it will take USCG to show up with a fleet of barges, tugs, pumps, oil skimmers, boom boats, eight miles of containment boom, 600 HazMat trained beach-clean-up crew and 100 bird biologists to the scene. Will they get there in time? ….. (insert fried chicken ad here)
After the commercial break, we learn that the Monolith Oiler contacted the USCG as a paperwork formality, and that resources from Alyeska are responding to the scene to. Alyeska is a private company owned by a consortium 5 oil companies:
Alyeska Pipeline spends over $60 million annually to oil spill prevention and response in Prince William Sound, and has dedicated over 300 personnel to this effort, mostly through its Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS). Created in July 1989, SERVS is considered one of the best oil spill prevention and response forces in the world. The SERVS mission is three fold: prevention, preparation, and response. Each laden tanker is escorted through Prince William Sound to the Gulf of Alaska by response vessels capable of assisting a distressed tanker. Oil spill response equipment has been pre-stationed throughout the Sound for rapid response.
“Created in July 1989″…. It’s not a coincidence that date is just three months after the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989. That mess was the impetus for creating SERVS. Alyeska was around before the Exxon Valdez wreck, but their capacity and state of readiness was more on paper than actually on the docks; 10 million gallons of goo got everyone’s attention though, and SERVS was born.
A slight digression here. There is some debate about whether the oil companies continue to shirk their responsibility to maintain a goo-free zone up in Prince William Sound (which is what they agreed to when they were granted permission to build the pipeline). SERVS makes for great press, but just like the oil business, if you dig too deep, you might get a dry well. I don’t want to debate that now. There is no debate, however, about the funding concept. No one thinks that the USCG should spend $60 million annually to mitigate the goo-risk for one small group of very profitable oil companies. Please don’t go to the “goo is harmless so it’s all the tree-huggers fault” argument. Can’t we just agree that 10 million gallons of goo is supposed to stay inside the tanker? End digression.
Are you reading my mind now? There are less than 100 boats fishing for King Crab in Alaska [2009 stats]:
Fish and Game at Dutch Harbor said 93 boats pre-registered for the red king crab fishery, and 62 dropped pots on opening day. The guideline harvest at Bristol Bay is 16 million pounds of red king crab, a drop of almost 22% from 2008. Another 1.2 million pounds of blue king crab can be harvested at St. Matthew Island this year, the first opener there for a decade…. According to the Inter-Cooperative Exchange (ICE), which represents nearly 70% of the king and snow crab caught in the Bering Sea, crabbers approved an advance price of $4.67/lb for red king crab.
Do the math with me…. 16 millions pounds at $4.67/lb = $74.7 million. Divide by 93 boats = just over $800k per boat. That is red crab only. They’ll get another $2.40/lb for blue crab. Figure a gross of $1 million per boat. 93 boats. I guarantee you there are more than 93 tankers going through Prince William Sound every year.
So, what am I proposing? Why don’t the Crab fishermen fund their own rescue agency? How is their business model drastically different from the oil company’s? A few companies taking BIG risks to exploit a resource for profit. Pumping oil or fishing crab; what’s the difference?
But who is underwriting the mitigation of the risk? For the crab fishermen, it’s the taxpayers, in the form of a huge Coast Guard expenditure for SAR in the Bering Sea. How can you argue that those USCG dollars aren’t subsidizing the full costs of running 93 boats?
I know, I’m comparing saving beaches to bodies. But the crab fishermen aren’t taking just ordinary run-of-the-mill risks; they are choosing to go way out on the edge, the fishing equivalent of climbing Mt Everest. If they are going to take those kinds of risk for a profit, then let their rescues be funded out of that profit.
I told you I was going out on a limb.