Fishermen’s association changes name to reflect Bristol Bay focus

May 17, 2016

As fishermen prepare for the coming season, one newly-christened organization is looking to pay more attention to the their bottom line.

Credit Carl Johnson

The Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Association recently re-named itself the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association, and is now looking to boost it's efforts with more members and a focus on their bottom line.

Naknek fisherman Everett Thompson has been a member for several years, and joined the nine-member board last fall.

“It’s a competitive business and if we stick together we could do great things," he said. "With building up our membership we can do even more.”

The organization is hoping that by doing more it can have a stronger impact on prices. Despite early season indicators that the market is looking up at least a little, Thompson said the group is still concerned.

The association, which was created in 1966, has a long history of involvement of price issues.

“Back in the day, we used to fight for pennies and grub stake and things like that. … Now, we could be a lobbying effort," he said. "We’ve done a lot of work with protecting our resource from oil and gas development and pebble mine.”

Thompson said the group worked on price issues until 1982, and wants to help encourage price negotiations still. An online petition didn’t get enough signatures to prompt the state to weigh in on prices, but Thompson said if BBFA had more members, they might have more luck. 

“We want to represent as many fishermen as we can for the betterment of all the fishermen in the bay,” Thompson said.

Right now, the group has about 200 members. Thompson said the organization differs from the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, the group funded by a self-imposed tax on the drift fleet, in that it has more freedom for lobbying and political involvement.

“BBRSDA cannot lobby for efforts,” he said. “But we can. We can be political as much as we want, to our capacity. We are a unique organization, association, and we can do great things.”

As part of that effort, the organization has also reduced the cost for set-netters to join, to reflect their often slimmer margins.

Thompson said if set-netters make up 20 percent of the organization, they’ll also be entitled to a representative seat on the board.

The name change is also meant to better reflect the organization’s purpose.

“In the beginning, it had other boats that were not from Bristol Bay,” he said. “But in more recent years, it’s solely Bristol Bay.”