State Starts 10-Year Review of Community Development Quota Groups

The community development quota groups, or CDQ groups, were created in 1992 to bring impoverished Western Alaska communities into the lucrative Bering Sea fisheries. Today, the six nonprofit corporations split roughly ten percent of various fish quotas and collectively own more than $700 million in assets.

The state’s review is supposed to increase accountability. For the CDQ groups, it’s familiar territory. The state is asking them to evaluate their own financial performance, and the jobs and educational opportunities they’ve provided to their member villages. They’ll have to determine whether they’ve met goals they outlined in their own, individual community development plans.

Larry Cotter is the executive director of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA. He says most groups have been reviewing themselves in these categories for years. The difference is that now, a part of each group’s share of the Bering Sea fisheries quotas is at stake. But Cotter says he’s not too concerned.

“Every group has done well,” Cotter says. “Now, we’re not to be measured against each other. We’re to be measured against ourselves. I think the likelihood of any reallocation is not very significant. It may happen, but I don’t expect it to happen.

When Congress amended the Magnuson Stevens Act in 2006, they created the 10-year review. They wanted it to have teeth. The idea was to punish CDQs that weren’t bringing wealth back to their member communities. They would lose part of their quota, and it would be distributed to the other groups.

But it’s not clear if the state will have enough information to determine whether a CDQ group is underperforming.

That’s because this “decennial review” can only include four years of data. This review period didn’t start until 2006, when the review was written into law. Instead of a full decade, the state can only examine the groups’ performance from 2006 to 2010.

APICDA’s Cotter says he thinks that will limit the state’s ability to draw any useful conclusions about the groups’ work.

“I don’t think you can start in 2006,” says Cotter. “I think you really need to take a look at the year 2000 and how we’ve really done in the past decade.”

The department of commerce is the state agency in charge of the review. They’ve also been struggling with its limitations.

Deputy commissioner Curtis Thayer says most of the state’s energy has gone into writing a rulebook that defines the state’s role in the CDQ review process. Congress left it to the state to figure out how to conduct the review and judge the CDQ groups.

Carving out rules and deadlines has left the state with very little time to consider how the review will influence the quota.

“The state is confining our process to determine if the CDQ entity has maintained or improved its overall performance with respect to the criteria,” says Thayer. “The state will not make any adjustments to the allocations that the CDQ group has.”

The review panel will consist of one representative each from the departments of commerce, labor, and fish and game. If they agree that a CDQ group is underperforming, they alone can’t change the quota. They would have to ask the National Marine Fisheries Service to step in. If NMFS agrees with the panel, they could remove up to 10 percent of that group’s quota allocation.

But that’s not what the state is focusing on. Instead, Thayer says the state is working as fast as they can so the panel can finish their review by the end of the calendar year and publish their findings. That’s where the public could stand to benefit most from the review process this year:

“We’re going to have more information available at one time,” Thayer says. “The CDQ groups have gathered this information, but now, now this information is being requested by the state.  It’s going to be very public. They’ll see this review. Once it’s gathered and produced and put back out to the general public, I think there’s going to be a lot of benefit and a lot of information there that hasn’t been consolidated.”

Still, it’s not clear whether increased scrutiny alone can change the way the CDQ groups operate. Cotter, from APICDA, says the CDQ groups aren’t sure what insights the state can provide that they haven’t already gathered from their own reviews.

“I think a lot of us have wondered about that,” Cotter says. “But it’s mandated by law, and here it comes.”

Congress could weigh in on the requirement for a review next year, when the entire Magnuson Stevens Act is up for reauthorization.

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