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News and Events

Information Infrastructure for 21st Century Fisheries: An Investment Strategy to End Overfishing and Build America’s Fisheries

Report of the Marine Fish Conservation Network

Introduction: An Investment Strategy to End Overfishing and Rebuild America’s Fisheries

As a consequence of chronic overfishing, a number of depleted U.S. fisheries are under-performing biologically and economically, yielding only a fraction of their potential if overfishing were ended and those stocks were rebuilt to healthy levels.  In 2003, NMFS estimated that recent average yield in U.S. fisheries was only about 60% of the long-term potential if all stocks were rebuilt, a loss valued at $1.4 billion annually in foregone dockside fishing revenues – not accounting for the lost economic value that could have been added at the wholesale and retail sectors, worth billions more to the U.S. economy. All told, Americans have forgone as much as $3 billion annually in potential revenue, jobs and other economic activity because stocks are not producing what they could if overfishing ended and stocks rebounded.

Read the full report here.

Contact
Ken Stump, Policy Director
Marine Fish conservation Network
202-543-5509 x203 (work)
202-390-9520 (mobile)
kstump@conservefish.org

A Fisherman’s Perspective: Catch Shares

by Ben Platt

Following is text from an email to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that Ben Platt, a Fort Bragg, CA fisherman, wrote in response to EDF’s promotion of catch shares:

EDF’s campaign to implement catch shares in our nation’s fisheries is not only misguided, but it is a serious threat to the livelihoods of the majority of American fishermen. Fishermen beware: you are gazing directly into the friendly eyes of a lion in sheep’s clothing!

This is one of those panacea, cure-all fixes for fisheries management which NGO’s love to promote because they are easy sells to the legions of non-fishing folks who are easily convinced that something needs to be saved because EDF tells them so and they don’t have enough other information to know any better. Fortunately for fishermen, we have already witnessed the disastrous results to fishing communities when this system of management has been imposed and we will not let it happen to us.

First and foremost, we must recognize that, in practice, ITQ does nothing to protect the resource. This is a tool for redistributing wealth. I will explain that distinction as follows:

ITQ is always intended to reduce fleet size. This is accomplished through qualifying criteria which only rewards one type of fisherman, while marginalizing or excluding all others. Commercial fishermen have always come in all shapes and sizes. One man’s approach does not work for another: while one may find it beneficial to concentrate on a couple of fisheries every year, others drop in and out depending on market considerations, maintenance projects, etc. Some successful fishing operations fish for a little of many different species every year. Some may fish enough to pay their bills, and some may be driven to greater success. Some who may be striving for success have to start at the bottom and work their way up.

So here is the problem with “catch shares”:

a. Qualifying criteria are set so anyone with pre-determined poundage of minimum landings of a species will qualify, but only those in the higher brackets of landings are rewarded enough quota to make enough money to continue successfully in the fishery.

Those under a certain poundage of historical landings are rewarded quota, but not enough to  make it worthwhile, especially with increased permit fees, payments for mandatory observers, monitoring devices, etc. And those with minimal landing history don’t qualify for any quota and are forever removed from the fishery. Most of those in the middle category now are forced to sell their shares to those who already own enough quota; or, if it is allowed, outside investors begin to speculate in the fishery.

In short, ITQ’s only benefit one class of fishermen.

b. ITQ creates a caste system in fisheries management:

As a fishery is “rationalized,” there are fewer participants but roughly the same amount of overall poundage of fish to catch every year. Previously rationalized fisheries show that quota owners are able to increase the per-pound value of fish in the marketplace. In other words, they can have more control over marketing and price. Now the price of quota in the ITQ market begins to increase. This benefits quota holders, but makes it progressively difficult for anyone with minimal quota shares to build up enough shares to make it viable to become a viable participant in the fishery. And those trying to start a career in fishing can’t afford the price of admission unless they are already wealthy! This is a truly un-American dream where even Horatio Alger would fail.

What happens to fisheries which are subject to consolidation? A few families or a few corporations have the whole pie. They get rich. Everyone else goes away or has to work for the big operators. No matter if their own families have spent generations as owner/operators, it is now a brave new world of efficiency and progress. The only way for newcomers with new energy and fresh ideas to enter into this livelihood after “rationalization” is if they inherit quota from family or already rich. The proof of these assertions can be found in the very real experiences of fishermen in New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Alaska and now, Florida.

The excellent documentary film, “One More Dead Fish”, is a heartbreaking document of “rationalization” at work. And one needs look no further than the recent archives of National Fisherman magazine to get the fisherman’s side of the story in the American fisheries which have fallen to this system of management.

c. In many fisheries, this approach is simply imposing a solution where there is no problem:
Most fisheries in the U.S. today already have overall catch limits and monthly or bi-monthly quotas; those that do not need them and never will. Here are few examples:

The Dungeness crab fishery on the West Coast is a successful fishery with a diverse fleet and a historically healthy biomass. There may be an argument in this fishery for trap limits for environmental or marketing considerations, but the “three S’s” management approach (sex, size, season) has worked without fail in this fishery to date. This is a case where “each according to his need, each according to his ability” rules the fleet, and it works.

Dungeness populations seem to ebb and flow on a ten-year cycle. When the cycle is down, there is less participation. Nobody wants to burn fuel, bait and risk losing gear if they aren’t catching. And the guy with a small boat, 100 traps and no crew can pull his gear right next to a much bigger boat which has three crew on deck and 500 traps. The little guy might be selling crabs out of his truck for more $ per pound and be as happy about it as the big high-liner with his mountain of crabs in the hold who will get a lower price but make good money due to his volume. Both will go home happy to their family tonight. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The salmon troll fishery is another example of catch shares being a bad idea: essentially this fishery is already limited every year by projected escapement to the rivers and the amount of fishing time this allows on the ocean in each area for the troll fleet. The results are carefully checked and the computer harvest models are adjusted every year based on exhaustive collection of landing data, stream surveys, hatchery reports, etc. There are also constraints possible every year based on concerns over specific runs from certain rivers, as there is this season based on the Sacramento Fall Chinook. This is a closely watched and tightly regulated fishery.

Ocean harvest is not a problem in this fishery; the conditions of our rivers and hatcheries are. Salmon need cool, clean, quickly moving water to survive and flourish. They aren’t getting it and that is why there are problems in this fishery. Capping harvest doesn’t help!

Historical data proves there is no need to cap the potential harvest of each boat in this fishery. During years of huge harvests, there has always been more than enough escapement. This is a hook and line fishery. Only the fish that wants to bites the hook. The rest go up the river and spawn.

These fish are constantly moving; unlike certain species of rock cod, you cannot keep returning to the same rock until all the fish are fooled into taking the bait. And if you cap harvest, how is the motivated fisherman ever to get ahead of his bills if he no longer has the chance to really make hay when the sun is shining? There are good years and bad years for lots of reasons, including but not limited to abundance, weather, breakdowns of machinery, health, etc. Fishermen know this and are able to keep their chins up during the hard times because they know “better times are coming.” And sometimes, they do come. If you lock a man into his “catch share,” you rob him of this potential.

In conclusion, my message to those behind the EDF campaign to “rationalize” our fisheries is this: you need to look closely at the exact nature of each fishery before trying to “better” it. And really, this approach is quite similar to the Bush Doctrine in that you propose to come in and kill a bunch of us in order to save us. This policy is almost as arrogant as Manifest Destiny. Look, today’s fishing families are educated on the issues affecting our fisheries. Instead of the outside-in approach, come sit with us at the table and learn about these fisheries in detail before attempting to impose draconian measures designed to protect us from ourselves. The current EDF approach only leads to mistrust and animosity on our part and possibly, more enemies to your cause. (See Bush Doctrine). Unless there are unstated motives to this cause, I doubt you are campaigning for more enemies.

Sincerely,
Ben and Heidi Platt
f/v “Kay Bee”
Ft. Bragg, CA

A Fisherman’s Perspective: Collapse of the Salmon Fishery

Following is the text of the speech fisherman Ben Platt gave in 2008 at a fundraising and outreach event for the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and local salmon fishing fleet, at the Botanical Gardens in Mendocino, CA:

My name is Ben Platt and I am a second generation commercial fisherman from Fort Bragg. I want to thank everyone for coming to the Botanical Garden to enjoy the subdudes and help support our salmon fleet and the Botanical Garden.

As many of you may already know, 2008 is the first year in the history of the West Coast salmon fishery that the ocean season has been completely closed to all sport and commercial fishing. This action was taken due to the collapse of the fall Chinook run in the Sacramento River. The biologists predict a very small run this year and think the season will probably have to be closed in 2009, as well. For the first time since immigrant Italian fishermen sold salmon in San Francisco in the 1850s, boats are tied to the docks and hoists are silent. An important way of life on this coast is being threatened, and that is why I am here speaking to you today.

Salmon are a unique, beautiful fish who are born in the river, migrate to the sea and return to the river to reproduce. They are resilient fish, but even the mighty salmon can only take so much abuse. In recent years, conditions in the San Francisco/Bay Delta have worsened. Increasing diversions of water for agriculture and urban development, pesticide run-off, irrigation pumps which suck in baby salmon, and the loss of riparian habitat are some of the problems plaguing this river system.

What is amazing is that, just a few years ago, fishermen were having incredible ocean harvests. The Sacramento River was producing huge runs of Chinook, with the help of strong hatcheries and a new program which trucked many of the juvenile fish from their hatcheries directly to the bay, avoiding problem spots in the delta. Once they were brought to the edge of the bay, net pens were being employed to help acclimate the smolts before they were towed to deeper water and released. This program greatly increased survival rates of the out-migrating fish and helped produce record runs. Up until 2006, an average of over 500,000 and as many as 1 million adult salmon were returning to spawn in the Sacramento River every year. In 2003, when the fisheries council allowed three and a half months of commercial fishing north of Point Arena, $11.7 million in salmon income was generated by boats fishing out of our own Noyo Harbor. A few short years later and we find ourselves literally “up the creek without a paddle.”

Why is it important to support us in our effort to restore the salmon fishery? Well, you might say that the salmon in our rivers are like the canary in the gold mine; that is, if salmon can’t survive, then you have something seriously wrong with your river. A recent study of salmon released upstream from Coleman Hatchery showed that only four fish out of 200 survived to reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Time to get out of the gold mine. Or, in this case, to fix the river!

What would happen if there was a referendum on your ballot in November asking if you would like to have clean rivers and robust salmon runs for generations to come? I would bet that most Californians would vote an enthusiastic “hell yes!” Well, the problem is that nobody is asking you what your opinion is; they are just stealing as much of your water as they can and polluting what is left of it. And they are doing it without your permission.

I think commercial fishermen often get a bad rap, and it deeply bothers me because I know that we don’t deserve it. Why? I believe that we are a valuable part of our coastal communities. I think that we embody the true spirit of the American dream, to be free and independent while contributing to the whole. Our dream just happens to take place out there on the ocean. All West Coast fisheries are tightly regulated and conducted in a sustainable, environmentally sound manner. We are family-operated businesses who care about our communities and care deeply about restoring salmon resources.

So why should commercial fishing matter to you? Well, this ocean and these rivers are resources that are held in trust for the public. Fishermen provide you with access to this resource. The ocean’s bounty is fresh, wild seafood, and it is something that most Americans would never have access to if we weren’t here to harvest it for you. Without us, all seafood would be imported, mainly from corporate fish farms complete with pesticides, harmful levels of antibiotics and serious lack of flavor.

As bleak as the salmon picture may look right now, the solutions are fairly simple. Salmon are a sustainable resource. Salmon don’t demand a whole lot, but they do need cool, clean, quickly-moving water to survive their journey to and from the sea. United we have a powerful voice. If we just demand that these conditions be restored to our three major salmon-producing rivers, the Columbia, Klamath and Sacramento rivers, and hold our regulators accountable to the water quality laws which are already in place, we can have healthy rivers and salmon runs for generations to come.

And, even though there will not be a referendum on these issues on your ballot, if you are a voter in this district, you will have the chance to cast a vote for salmon in November. Congressman Mike Thompson has been a tireless and pro-active leader in the fight to save our salmon fishery and protect our rivers and he is up for re-election this year. He also authored legislation which provided disaster assistance to our fleet in 2006 when problems on the Klamath River caused severe restrictions in our fishery and again this year when the season was completely closed. If it were not for Mr. Thompson and the other members of Congress from California who pushed for this package, many of us would not be able to survive these closures. Please help us re-elect Mike Thompson to Congress.

Noyo Women for Fisheries, Salmon Trollers Marketing Association and many other local fisheries organizations are here with educational displays, as well as Lori and Jeff French from Half Moon Bay with their Faces of California Fishing and Mike Hudson from the Bay Area’s Small Boat Association and Salmon Aid. If you are interested in learning more, any of us would be pleased to talk with you. And I would also like to thank the Botanical Garden for reaching out to the fishing community and including us in this benefit.

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