A Crab in Every Coffer

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I am shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that concerns have been raised that an obscure earmark Alaska Rep. Don Young (R) inserted into a fishery regulation bill was designed to benefit three of his campaign contributors. Three fishing companies, Yardarm Knot, Blue Dutch, and Trident Seafoods may turn a handy profit off the earmark that gives them new crabbing rights in the Bering Sea.

All three companies have contributed thousands to Young, and Yardarm Knot and it's CEO Al Chaffee in particular also enjoy a number of connections to Sen. Ted Stevens and his son, Ben Stevens:


In the past two years, Yardarm Knot has paid a total of $100,000 to two law firms for lobbying: Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, in which former Stevens staffer Brad Gilman is a partner, and Blank Rome, which counts former Young chief of staff C.J. Zane and former Young aide Duncan Smith as principals.

Ben Stevens, in financial disclosures required of legislators, said Chaffee's companies paid him $121,800 total from 2002 through last year for consulting and business services.

Chaffee was among four men, including Young's son-in-law, Art Nelson, and former Stevens fisheries aide Trevor McCabe, who together bought 60 acres on mostly undeveloped Point MacKenzie across Knik Arm from Anchorage.

Young earmarked $229 million in a 2004 highway bill for a commuter bridge across the arm, which could make Point MacKenzie land more valuable. Critics nationally lambasted the project as a "bridge to nowhere."

More on the Knit Arm controversy can be found here. What exactly do these three companies get for their loyalty to Young? Current regulations regarding crabbing in the Bering Sea allot "shares" of the catch to fisheries. The earmark Young inserted into the latest bill on fishery regulation, as the article in the Anchorage Daily News explains, gives exclusive rights to these three companies to convert their shares from a catch-only crab operation to a catch and process operation, which stands to make them a buck or two:


Such a consolidated operation could save the three crab producers sizable costs. For instance, they don't need to run separate boats to catch crab and haul them to port for processing in a packing house.

Crab rights also can be sold or leased, and the combo catch and processing quota created under Section 122 likely would be worth up to 25 percent more than straight catch quota, said Jeff Osborn of Dock Street Brokers in Seattle.

The federal analysis says the three companies each can switch up to 1 million pounds of crab annually to the new kind of shares. It does not estimate the financial benefits the companies could realize.

Craig Holman of Public Citizen is quoted on the suspicious nature of this earmark in the article: "earmarks or last-minute 'riders' on major bills -- items such as Section 122 -- are 'usually done to benefit special interests or campaign contributors.'"

This is only the latest in a long line of inquiries into the favors Young and Stevens may have been doing for their campaign contributors on Capitol Hill.