Corporate Welfare

Fishy Business

A bad case of crabs.

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Fishing for Alaska Bering Sea crab is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. But a good haul can net each crewman $50,000 to $60,000, so wily fishermen are still eager to find ways around regulations that limit crab seasons to prevent overfishing. A more sensible approach is to divvy up the catch with tradable fishing rights, which promote conservation by tying it to the crabbers' self-interest.

In January Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) added such a measure to an appropriations bill. So far, so good. But his plan also compels the crabbers to sell nine-tenths of their catch to processors designated by the government. That's not just an egregious form of corporate welfare; it undermines the whole point of the reform. Forcing fishermen to sell at whatever price the processors set means little or no profit for the crabbers, and therefore little or no asset value in the fishery, and therefore no incentive for conservation.

Why would Stevens include such a measure? Here's one possible incentive: Ben Stevens—Ted's son and an Alaska state senator—was paid over $80,000 during the last two years as a consultant for the processors' trade association. Undeterred, Stevens Sr. tells The Washington Post: "This state's so small, there's hardly anything my son could do that wouldn't be affected by what I do….I didn't do this for Ben. I did this for the crab in-dustry."