Below are the Another Perspective columns I've written since October of 2005, first for National Fisherman magazine and for most of the past year for the Saving Seafood website. Thank you for visiting. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, October 2005)
Going by what’s being presented by the popular media, no one could be faulted for assuming that our fisheries and the system that manages them are going to hell in a handbasket. In recent years the doom and gloom observations and predictions have become much more common, and much more pessimistic than is warranted by the actual conditions of our fisheries or of our fisheries management system. Looking at two recent examples:
Some fairly intense coverage a month back concerned a survey of scientists presently or previously employed by the National Marine Fisheries Service that revealed that, on orders from “higher up,” the science underlying fisheries management decisions was being subverted. The source was a press release by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility announcing the results of a survey by that group and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The survey went to 460 NMFS “scientists,” both current and ex-employees. The dramatic results were reported from “a strong majority (58%), more than half of all respondents (53%), more than one third of respondents working on such issues (37%)” and “nearly one in four (24%) of those conducting such work.” From the release, and from the media coverage it spawned, it appeared as if most of the science, and accordingly, most of the management measures coming from NMFS had been corrupted by politics.
So, as seemingly attested to by most of its in-house scientists, is the federal agency (that we’ve all had problems with from time to time) so mired in politic as to be ineffectual in managing fisheries? Going beyond the press release, I took a closer look at the study. The 460 “scientists” who were surveyed weren’t anywhere near all of the scientists working for NMFS. In fact, according to the Agency leadership, there are about 2,000 scientists currently working there, most at the regional science centers and the Office of Science and Technology in DC. Neither the scientists at the Science and Technology Office nor the regional centers received the surveys. So who was actually surveyed is apparently an open question.
But let’s assume that all 2,000 NMFS scientists had been surveyed and that there is a pool of another 1000 who worked there but left. Perhaps a sixth of the available scientists received the questionnaire. This wasn’t revealed in the press release. What was revealed was that 27% of the recipients returned it. So a maximum of 124 scientists out of a possible 3000, or 4%, responded. “More than half of all respondents” is a maximum of 2%. “Nearly one in four” is 1%. And “a strong majority” is 3%. Some smoking gun, particularly when you consider how many of the respondents might have simply been disgruntled employees lashing out at “the boss.”
Then this past week we read (once again), that fishing pressure was endangering the “big fish” in the world’s oceans. Based on an article published in Science (Global Patterns of Predator Diversity in the Open Oceans), the Associated Press reported “scientists say the variety of tuna, marlin, swordfish and other big ocean predators has declined up to 50 percent over the past half-century due to overfishing.” There was a spate of print and broadcast coverage of the Science report, all that we saw accepting the information in the press release and written in the same vein.
Now you don’t have to be a fisheries scientist, or a biology student or anyone who has spent any time at all around a fishing dock to know that the variety of tuna, marlin and swordfish hasn’t declined at all. As a matter of fact, we have the same variety today that we had fifty or a hundred or five hundred years ago. In spite of the quote above, we haven’t ever lost a species of fish to overfishing. But the AP reporter would seem to want his readers to believe otherwise, wouldn’t he?
So, you might ask, what’s the connection between these two studies? The two lead authors of the “big fish” study, Boris Worm and Ransom Myers, are both recipients of research funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Union of Concerned Scientists has gotten at least $2 million from Pew. And it’s awfully hard to see this research, or much of the rest of it that has lead to similar alarmist headlines in the last decade, as anything but part of a larger agenda.
The Pew Charitable Trusts set up a national commission that was supposed to recommend how we could “fix” our oceans, and one of the major recommendations was to junk the way we are currently managing our fisheries. And then we read – in the headlines, of course – that NMFS has become politicized and the scientists are no longer in charge. Fortuitous reinforcement of the Pew Commission recommendation, isn’t it? And ever since the Pew Trusts bankrolled the “Give swordfish a break” campaign, it’s been obvious that their crosshairs have been on the pelagic longline fleet (in spite of the amazing strides in real conservation that the domestic longline fleet has made). As a matter of fact, in "Swordfish technique depletes the swordfish population" in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997, Josh Reichert, Director of the Pew Trust's Environment Program, wrote "The root problem is not only the size of the quota, the length of the season, or the number of vessels involved. It is how the fish are caught. Use of longlines must be barred." So, it appears, Drs. Worm and Myers are marching to the same old beat.
So I’m going to make a suggestion. Whenever you see a doom and gloom headline about fishing, don’t just assume that it’s another bit of research carried out by an independent researcher. Do some rudimentary research (for an easy how-to, Google “Myers Worm Pew” or “Union of Concerned Scientists Pew”) and see what connections you come up with. We’re living in a world of advocacy science, and in such a world knowing who’s signing the checks is critical.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, November 2005)
PBS recently aired “Gutted,” documenting the agony of a Scottish fishing family being forced to deliver their boat to a scrap yard in Denmark.
It started out as an unvarnished look at a tragic upheaval in the life of the West family. But, unfortunately, PBS trivialized this tragedy with their own editorial comments and an “afterword” by Pew Oceans Commission chairman Leon Panetta that turned it into just another anti-fishing rant.
By his words, Mr. Panetta seemed anything but an expert on commercial fishing. This is hard to fathom, considering the time he’s invested in chairing the $5.5 million dollar commission, but he displayed a seeming lack of knowledge of or familiarity with fishing – either elsewhere or in his California backyard. Among his more noteworthy blunders:
Addressing advances in fishing, Mr. Panetta stated “they have these huge nets that can basically go down and scrape the bottom of the ocean.” Then, on the nets’ size, he said “oh, they're huge…. they can go as far as eight miles in some instances.” Can anyone with any real knowledge of net fisheries - whether trawls, gillnets or purse seines – explain what kind of gear he was referring to?
Getting it partially right in Alaska with “fishermen and the scientists and the community and the state have said, ‘This is a vital economic resource for our state. We depend on it,’’’ he got it seriously wrong with the subsequent “as a result, they're taking steps to try to restore their key fisheries.” Since passage of the Magnuson Act, none of Alaska’s important finfish fisheries have been overfished. All of Alaska’s groundfish species, 40% of our domestic landings, are fished at sustainable levels, as are salmon. No one is “trying” anything and these fisheries aren’t in need of any restoration.
Reminiscing about his grandfather’s employment in the Monterey sardine industry, and referencing John Steibeck’s Cannery Row, he said “and suddenly, in the late '40s, the sardines were fished out, they were gone.” While they were gone in the late ‘40s, they went because of natural conditions that have caused their populations to fluctuate widely and regularly for millennia. Fishing pressure hastened the fishery’s demise, but certainly didn’t cause it.
“There's a problem with regards to what are called the snappers and groundfish, particularly off of the Florida coastline, the Carolinas.” Snappers and groundfish, snappers and groupers, Southeast or New England, what’s the difference? To a layman, particularly to one who is uninvolved or uninterested in domestic fisheries, probably none.
“The shrimp fisherman in the gulf themselves are concerned about whether or not they're going to be able to maintain their livelihood.” They’re not concerned about catching enough shrimp. They’re concerned about declining prices, skyrocketing expenses, government mandated inefficiencies and, right now, recovering from Katrina.
And of course, he squeezed in “ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans -- by the large fish I mean tuna, marlin, swordfish, sharks -- are gone,” treating it as a foregone conclusion, not as a controversial theory based on severely limited research and nowhere near acceptance by the scientific community.
Mr. Panetta isn’t just another “talking head.” As the chairman of a commission that seems to have been designed and (privately) funded to overturn how our oceans and fisheries are managed, his role in determining our industry’s future could be huge.
But that doesn’t automatically make him an expert in fisheries.
So why was he allowed to turn a documentary personifying the real-life tragedy of an entire community into yet another verse of the Pew “Chicken Little” refrain? Why didn’t PBS find someone to speak authoritatively about “huge nets,” who knows the difference between grouper and cod, who could differentiate between a collapse caused by fishing and one that was inevitable because of natural processes?
Pew’s given somewhere around $10 million to public broadcasting. That’s a big hunk of change, particularly for a network that is incessantly cajoling $50 and $100 pledges from listeners and/or viewers. Could that kind of money invested in that kind of atmosphere buy that level of exposure – and the credibility that goes with it – on PBS?
I’m afraid the actions, and the facts behind them, speak louder than any words. Rather than a balanced presentation, the viewers got yet another version of Pew’s doom and gloom message. And we all got to subsidize it.
p.s. –PBS will soon air "Last Journey for the Leatherback?" with an introduction by Sylvia Earle, another member of the Pew anti-fishing claque. The press release is rife with absurdly overblown “statistics” about longlining and high seas gill netting, but when you’re out to destroy an industry, who needs accuracy?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, December 2005)
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that in 2002 the world production of pork was 95 million tons, poultry was 72 million tons, beef was 60 million tons and goat was 11 million tons.
You don’t have to be an agricultural expert to know that neither a corn field nor a heavily grazed pasture bears much resemblance to virgin grassland or forest. If you’ve driven across North America, you know that you can go for miles without seeing much more than wheat, corn or soybean fields. And if you’ve flown cross country and spent any time looking out the window, for much of the flight the most noticeable feature had to be a seemingly endless progression of cultivated fields.
Of course, this agricultural development isn’t limited to North America. According to the FAO, about a fourth of the world’s land area is devoted to either growing livestock feed or for grazing. Humankind’s insatiable appetite for calories has drastically altered the terrestrial ecosystems of all but one of our continents.
No one is insisting that we should be producing all of this livestock, using all of this land, without any impact on the environment.
The production of fish and seafood surpasses that of any other animal protein. In 2002 it was just over 100 million metric tons (a level that it’s hovered around for years).
Yet, while accepting a world that has been radically altered by agriculture, some so-called environmentalists insist that in the act of producing a greater tonnage of protein than cattle ranchers or poultry farmers do, commercial fishermen should be prevented from having any effect on the ocean environment. They actually preach that, for whatever reasons happen to be in vogue at the moment, the oceans should remain pristine and free from fishing’s impacts.
According to them, fishing gear and techniques that have any impact on the ocean ecosystem are unacceptable. Going back almost a decade, they were bolstering their arguments by comparing the size of nets to Boeing 747 airliners. Then they segued into gear “bulldozing” or “clear cutting” areas of ocean bottom the size of continental land masses. Most recently, it has been the destruction of “luxurious forests” of deep water corals, supposed critical areas that few if any in the environmental community had paid any attention to up until the time when fishing gear was implicated in their supposed destruction.
It’s perfectly obvious that we aren’t going to have any agricultural production without impacting the terrestrial environment; in fact, it’s memorialized in America the Beautiful, with fruited plains and amber waves. No agricultural impacts equal no agriculture.
So, should we be expected to fish – at least at any meaningful level of production – while having no impacts on the ocean environment? Any rational analysis would suggest we shouldn’t, but since when have the anti-fishing forces been interested in rationality?
The very act of harvesting fish causes change. While a stock can be fished sustainably with 20% or 30% or more of the biomass being removed every year, that removal will have an impact.
Then there are the impacts of fishing gear. Dragging a net or a dredge across it is definitely going to alter the bottom, and anything that alters the bottom is anathema to these “environmentalists.” Or is it? When creating artificial reefs, natural bottom is covered with thousands of tons of surplus weaponry, decommissioned ships, construction rubble and obsolete subway cars. When was the last time one of the conspicuously anti-commercial fishing organizations demanded that the natural bottom be protected from burial by megatons of societal refuse? (I have to acknowledge here Clean Ocean Action’s valiant attempts to keep the waters in the New York Bight from being used as a convenient junk yard.) It seems like some alterations are ok.
It should go without saying, but the bottom impacts fishing gear as much as the gear impacts the bottom. More “wear and tear” on the bottom means more wear and tear on the gear, and that means higher operating costs. Gear researchers and fishermen have been working on nets and dredges that fish “lighter” for years, but today’s $3 a gallon fuel makes improvements in this area imperative.
Unless fishing effort shifts back to primitive and inefficient technologies, harvesting the fish and shellfish that are found on or near the bottom is going to have an impact on that bottom. We can, and we are, working constantly to reduce that impact, but we’re not going to get away from it without regressing to hand harvesting methods in use centuries ago. With the world’s population at seven billion and rising, this isn’t going to happen. Isn’t it time we started working towards a public policy that accepts this while still protecting the areas that need to be protected?
by NNils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, January 2006)
A good friend of mine is a New Jersey gillnetter. An acknowledged highliner, he’s served and continues to serve on several state and regional advisory committees, has always participated in the management process, and has never received a NOVA or been convicted of violating any federal or state fisheries regulations. He’s the kind of fisherman the managers should try to accommodate in every way possible, because he and fishermen like him are the future of the commercial fisheries and the bureaucracy that has grown up around them.
Like every prudent fisherman, he tries to maintain every permit he can. One requires that he have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. This is so that the enforcement people will know he isn’t fishing in an area seven states away where the use of gillnets or longline gear is seasonally prohibited. The assumption is, as with all commercial fishermen, that he is de facto likely to violate the closed area/season regulations; and the burden is on him to prove he isn’t.
It’s impossible to know his VMS unit is operating correctly without an on-board computer. He doesn’t have one and his unit evidently stopped transmitting. How did he find this out? Not by a phone call from NMFS, or a casual note or email asking that he get the unit checked and repaired (remember that the closed season/area that his boat’s being monitored for is several months and hundreds of miles away). Rather, he received a registered letter that in part read “please be aware the vessel should not return to sea with gillnet, or pelagic/bottom longline gear on board the vessel without first correcting the unit’s reporting problem.” Complying would have cost him perhaps a week’s worth of fishing, but it’s apparent that the feeling in NMFS is that’s a negligible price to pay to be able to prove to The Man that you aren’t breaking any laws or ignoring any regulations.
The justification for this “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy is that harvesting public resources is a privilege, not a right, and that you should be willing to accede to any conditions that “the system” deems appropriate, no matter how onerous they are, for this privilege.
This got me thinking, and one of the things it got me thinking about was all of those bureaucrats paid from the U.S. Treasury. The Treasury would seem to meet the criteria of a “public resource,” wouldn’t it? And, accepting that people are only people, we can assume that bureaucrats are likely to lie, cheat and steal at about the same rate as fishermen.
Hence, wouldn’t it be reasonable, in order to protect us taxpayers who try to keep the Treasury filled, to make it the responsibility of bureaucrats to prove that they are performing their bureaucratic functions where, when and how they are supposed to? While I never kept any kind of tally, it sure seems that more bureaucrats every year are caught with their hands in various illicit cookie jars that are fishermen caught fishing outside the regs. And the potential cost to the public of bureaucratic shenanigans is certainly greater than the cost of any imaginable illegal fishing.
So why isn’t the wearing, or perhaps implantation if that is a practical alternative, of Bureaucrat Monitoring Systems (BMSs), required as a condition of public employment? Perhaps as ankle bracelets a la Martha Stewart, and to be worn 24/7, 364 days a year. Every government job has requirements: hours worked, number and duration of coffee and lunch breaks, number of sick and personal days, etc. With required BMSs, we would know whether a bureaucrat on “sick time” was at home, at the doctors, in a hospital or on the golf course. We would know when a bureaucrat had exceeded the permissible time in the employee lounge or out of the building for lunch. With vital signs monitoring, we would know whether a stationary bureaucrat was at the desk working, nodding off or taking a nap. A bureaucrat would be hard pressed to pass off three days spent on a beach in Bermuda as a family emergency. Were a bureaucrat anywhere but home at 3:00 am on a weeknight, there’s a good chance he or she was engaged in some illegal or immoral activity, with all but guaranteed negative effects on job performance.
And, of course, if a bureaucrat’s BMS was on the fritz, he or she would be required to remain in the office or at the work station until it was operational again. If not, how would we taxpayers know that we were getting our money’s worth?
Now all we need is a federal bureaucracy in which to implement an experimental BMS. Any suggestions?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, February 2006)
But of all those things – anthropogenic and natural – that influence our fisheries, how many are we actually managing?
Think of a fishery, then think of everything that impacts it. If you can’t come up with a half a dozen factors, you aren’t really trying. Obviously, fishing is going to be on your list. And maybe water temperature and “traditional” industrial pollutants will be there to. If you’ve really given it some thought, perhaps you’ve also included food availability and predation. But what about spawning success, larval survival, inter-species competition, “upstream” habitat loss or degradation, catch and release mortality, seismic profiling, decadal - or longer - natural cycles, or residues of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (household pollution) in the water?
Any one of these might play an important role in the health of particular fish and shellfish stocks. But how many can we, and more importantly, how many do we control?
Since the Magnuson Act became law, and in some instances since well before then, we’ve gotten pretty effective at controlling commercial fishing. Commercial fishermen are told when they can fish, where they can fish, what gear they can use, how big their vessels can be, who they can fish with and how many of what size of fish they can catch. But, in spite of this gruelingly stringent level of control, some fisheries refuse to respond the way they are supposed to.
What’s the problem? Depending on whether you’re an anti-commercial fishing recreational fisherman or an anti-commercial fishing environmentalist, it’s either that commercial fishermen are cheating or that the management system has been co-opted and conflicted by commercial fishing interests – or some combination of the two. Hence we have demands for even more drastic restrictions on fishing, for around-the-clock, around-the-calendar surveillance of fishermen, for removal of commercial fishermen from the decision making process, for large areas of the ocean to be declared off limits to commercial fishing, and for the human aspects of the commercial fisheries to be given even less consideration in the management process.
But these all assume that commercial fishing is the root cause of our non-responsive fisheries.
For at least a decade we’ve been living with the fall-out of a large segment of the environmentalist community’s fixation on fishing as the source of most of our fisheries- and ocean-related problems. Millions of foundation dollars are spent each year on research “proving” that it’s all about fishing, and on subsequently peddling that research to a largely uninformed public (ten years ago could anyone have imagined that “leading scientists” would be holding press conferences to announce publication of the latest “fishing is evil” article?). Aside from the obvious and painful impacts on commercial fishermen, dependent businesses and coastal communities, this myopia is effectively drawing attention away from other, and equally or more significant, human activities.
Speculating on why multi-billion dollar foundations are so heavily invested in this misdirection is a great way to while away a winter’s afternoon, but what accounts for the managers’ fixation on fishing as the factor that drives the whole system? In a nutshell, it’s got to be bureaucratic necessity.
Fisheries management today is a multi-million dollar endeavor, burning up a lot of tax dollars, employing a lot of people and exercising a lot of power. But that power is restricted to controlling fishing activities, and considering that the management establishment has proven largely ineffectual in dealing with recreational fishing, that leaves commercial fishing as the thing that it can most effectively control. So, suppose that commercial fishing might be having no – or relatively little – impact on a fish stock. Suppose that a fishery’s condition is totally or mostly dependent on non-fishing factors. Is the fisheries management bureaucracy likely to consider the impacts of a human activity or a natural phenomena that it has no influence over?
Ideally, yes. In actuality, bureaucracies don’t work like that (and let me emphasize here that bureaucracies can and do take on a life of their own, moving in directions that have little to do with the individual actions of the bureaucrats that make them up). A “successful” bureaucracy might not be willing to recognize it is incapable of doing what it is charged with doing or that something it can control isn’t worth controlling. So fishing gets most of the attention while other factors are ignored, and fishing is being managed while not much else is.
The downside of this is obvious. So is a reasonable, and easily implemented, solution. Mandate the inclusion in every management plan of an estimate of the relative importance of all those factors having a significant impact on that particular fishery. This would allow our fisheries management resources to be applied where they would be most effective, conserved where they would otherwise be squandered, and would serve as an all too necessary reminder that it’s not just fishing that’s affecting the fish.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, March 2006)
According to one of the main characters in his latest bestseller, State of Fear, “Modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them….they are convinced that the environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft, it's an extraordinary delusion-a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all live in fear.” Unfortunately, while the words, the character and the book are pure fiction, the sentiments are real.
Crichton makes it abundantly clear, both in State of Fear and in his afterword, that agenda-driven science, particularly when it’s confused with or substituted for real (meaning objective) science, is a threat to all of us. This won’t come as a revelation to anyone associated with commercial fishing; professional fear merchants have been making doom and gloom predictions about the future of our fisheries for years. We’ve been suffering the consequences
What’s agenda-driven science? Yet again, in dealing with fisheries the folks at the Pew Charitable Trusts have provided several excellent examples.
The recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission, and their subsequent high profile selling, have had a significant impact on public perceptions of our industry. The foundation that the Pew Commission built on was a series of reports addressing the “state of the science” in various subject areas. Because of the growing emphasis on ecosystem management, I looked at one, Ecological Effects of Fishing in Marine Ecosystems of the United States, in fair detail a while back (the resultant article is available at http://www.fishingnj.org/netusa23.htm). Among other things, I found that two of the three authors who contracted with the Pew Oceans Commission to prepare the report were recipients of Pew Fellowships, that of the 179 references cited in the report, well over a third had one or more authors directly connected to “first generation” Pew funding, and that of those references that were written since 1995, almost half were connected to Pew by funding.
In the past several decades how many thousands of marine and related researchers have published how many tens of thousands of papers on subject matter dealing with or relevant to the ecological effects of fishing? How many of them were beneficiaries of Pew funding? How well represented in the report was the work of those who weren’t? If we reasonably assume that Pew-sponsored research has a bias, is there any way we can suppose that this report was an objective representation of the state of the science dealing with fishing impacts?
All the folks in Washington who will be deciding how to amend the Magnuson Act will have been exposed to the conclusions of a “Blue Ribbon” commission chaired by former Congressman Leon Panetta. Those conclusions were largely justified by research funded by the same Pew Charitable Trusts that paid $5.5 million to establish and operate the Commission. What are the odds that Congress has been left with the impression that the underlying research was representative and objective.
Pew SeaWeb has a website. On it is an “Ocean Citations” section containing “Selected Science Publications on Ocean Issues” (note the emphasis on science). In contains 483 citations for publications dealing with fishing impacts, 96 with coastal development and 43 with oil pollution. I’d venture that having ten times as many articles listed dealing with fishing impacts than for oil pollution and five times as many as those dealing with coastal development is going to have an effect on anyone who looks at those pages. What message is he or she going to draw from that regarding what’s “endangering” the oceans?
I did a Google search on some of SeaWeb’s categories of ocean issues. Of the three attributable to commercial fishing, “overfishing” yielded 1,900,000 hits, “trawling impacts” yielded 357,000 hits and “bycatch” yielded 523,000 hits. That’s less than 3 million in total. “Coastal development” yielded 34,600,000 hits, and “oil pollution” yielded 22,900,000 hits, each an order of magnitude greater than the total for fishing impacts. If we assume that the internet has become a reasonably accurate measure of interest in and writings on various subjects, and that a Google search is a somewhat accurate sampling of all of the web content available, then the ocean citations listed on the SeaWeb website seem to be pretty far from an objective cross section of relevant literature. But is anyone who visits the website going to figure that out?
It might be a bit difficult to define agenda-driven science, but it’s sure easy to recognize it when it smacks you in the face, isn’t it.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, April 2006)
While digging into the spiny dogfish situation in the Northeast (see The Dogfish Follies at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/dogfishfollies.html), I was intrigued by the fact that it took 2.4 million metric tons of prey - including hake, cod, pollock, haddock, porgies and flatfish - to support the standing crop of 400,000 tons of horn dogs. Naturally, this brought up the subject of predation by other protected species.
Finding population estimates of these species is fairly easy (they are available in the Protected Resources section of the NMFS website), but determining how much of what they eat isn’t. Fortunately, I stumbled across an article, Food Webs in the Ocean: Who Eats Whom and How Much? (by Andrew Trites of the Marine Mammal Research Unit, the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia) that shed quite a bit of light on the subject. Dr. Trites wrote “consumption of marine organisms, expressed as a percentage of an individual’s body weight per day, ranges from about 4–15% for zooplankton, to 1–4% for cephalopods, 1–2% for fish, 3–5% for marine mammals and 15–20% for sea birds.”
So I took a look at the possible impacts of other protected species on East coast fisheries. Starting with Flipper and his friends, I found that in our neck of the western North Atlantic there were 30,000 bottlenose dolphin, 31,000 common dolphin, 61,000 striped dolphin, 36,000 spotted dolphin and perhaps 30,000 white sided dolphin, (these are 1998 figures, the most recent available, though “anecdotal” observations indicate that they have been increasing since then). So in 1998, we can conservatively estimate at least 180,000 of these efficient predators were eating fish in our waters, that many of these fish were species that fishermen – both recreational and commercial –seek, and that many others were species that these species eat. Assuming an average weight of 150 pounds per porpoise or dolphin, they are collectively consuming a million pounds of fish a day, or 180 thousand metric tons a year. Additionally, the 14,000 pilot whales, if we assume an average weight of 3,000 pounds each, are eating another 300 thousand tons a year.
What about seals? The 100,000 harbor seals in Maine’s water, with an average weight of 200 pounds, are consuming 130,000 metric tons of fish and invertebrates a year. I couldn’t find any estimates of other seal populations, but there are definitely more of them out there.
It looks like a handful of “protected” species that are increasing in numbers each year are annually consuming some 3 million metric tons of commercially and recreationally important species, or the species that they eat, off the U.S. East coast. In 2004 the commercial landings of all species of finfish and shellfish from the Atlantic coastal states were 750 thousand metric tons.
The situation can’t be much different on the West coast or in Alaska’s waters (and we’ve all read of the impact of harp seals on the Canadian cod stocks).
According to current management philosophy, this doesn’t make a difference. Take a look at the New England groundfish fishery. After years of cutbacks, the fleet is facing the latest; a proposed reduction to 22 Days At Sea (55% below last year’s allocated days). The first allocated groundfish DAS were on the order of 200 per year ten or so years ago. They’ve been ratcheted steadily downwards ever since. Not too surprisingly, landings have followed suit. In 2004, the total landings of the major groundfish species - cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder - were under 25,000 metric tons. Post-Magnuson highs were 50,000 metric tons for cod, 25,000 for haddock and 33,000 for yellowtail flounder. But after two decades of increasingly restrictive management and corresponding declining harvests, the stocks still aren’t where “they should be.”
Accordingly, the managers and anti-fishing activists insist that even more, and more debilitating, cutbacks in fishing are all that will help. But since Magnuson (and the Marine Mammal Protection Act), these other predators have been increasing with no limits while dining on those same stocks.
If only 1% of the prey consumed by protected species is cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder, then they are eating a lot more than we are catching. Their populations continue to increase and, in spite of all the “fisheries management” inflicted on fishermen, some of the groundfish stocks continue to decline. Are we on the verge of “managing” our commercial and recreational fishermen right off the water while having no impact on the stocks fishing is supposedly jeopardizing? It’s time we realized it’s not all about fishing. With so much emphasis on ecosystem management, we should be addressing all the factors impacting particular fisheries, not just the one – fishing – that’s expedient to manage.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, May 2006)
There’s a new movement in the anti-fishing world. Most simply, it’s “to hell with the science; we know what we know.” This was articulated in a press release from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council about Daniel Pauly, part of the Pew Trust’s “blame it all on overfishing” claque of well-funded researchers.
Pumping up Pew’s doom-and-gloom perspective, Pauly said in the release, “the world has passed ‘peak fish’ and fishermen’s nets will be hauling in ever-diminishing loads unless there’s political action to stem the global tide of overfishing… The crisis in the world’s fisheries is less about scientific proof than about attitude and political will. And the world’s fish need a dynamic, high-profile political champion like a Bono or Mandela to give finned creatures the public profile of cute and furry ones.”
I guess neither Ted Danson nor Leon Panetta could fill those shoes.
It’s kind of intriguing when an internationally recognized scientist suggests we don’t need scientific proof about the fishing-induced ruination of the world’s oceans; what we really need is a media superstar, isn’t it?
We’re seeing the same thing, on a less grandiose scale, in the Chesapeake Bay in the most recent wave of assaults on the menhaden reduction fishery. This assault has focused on the “localized depletion” of this important little fish.
If you’re unaware of menhaden matters, the reduction fishery is one that various recreational fishing groups and “environmentalists” have been targeting for generations. This stems, in large part, from the fact that big boats and big nets are employed, and they’re employed in waters that the sports and the enviros like to consider their own. In the March/April issue of Mother Jones, Rutgers professor (of English and American studies) H. Bruce Franklin devoted the first two paragraphs of an article about the supposed plight of the pogy to comparing Omega Protein’s Malcolm Glazer to “evil tycoon C. Montgomery Burns” of “Simpsons” cartoon fame. And, of course, he lets us know that Mr. Glazer is a “billionaire tycoon.”
I guess if you can’t find a superstar, creating an arch villain is a reasonable alternative. (I’ve always known fish killed by recreational fishermen weren’t as dead as fish killed by commercial fishermen. To that knowledge, I can now add — thanks to Franklin — that fish killed by a billionaire tycoon are even deader.)
Getting back to the alleged localized depletion and its alleged role in devastating Chesapeake Bay, where’s the science supporting it? According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, it’s not there yet, and I’ll give you odds that it never will be.
But consider that the Chesapeake watershed has been the victim of tremendous development over the last 50 years. All those people, all those cars, all those malls, all that impervious cover, all those pharmaceuticals (once all those people are done with them), lawns, farms, outboard motors. All of those necessary appurtenances to life in the late 20th/early 21st century have been steadily increasing for decades, as has their cumulative impact on the Chesapeake.
Who gets blamed? Blamed, I might add, by the folks driving those cars, fertilizing those lawns, owning those outboards and popping those pills? A billionaire tycoon, of course, and a fleet of boats run by commercial fishermen with the temerity to want to fish the bay they’ve fished for decades and that more and more people are living next to, flushing into and driving around.
Virginia menhaden landings for the last 20 years have been trending steeply downward. They’re declining similarly to landings in most other commercial fisheries. And what other anthropogenic factors that negatively impact fisheries — in the Chesapeake watershed or virtually anywhere else — have declined correspondingly? Industrial wastes coming out of pipes, and sewage that’s received primary treatment are about it. With everything else, it’s onward and upward, but that’s OK, ’cause if we’ve got tycoons and working fishermen to blame, we don’t have to blame ourselves.
Menhaden are the only domestic source of omega 3 fish oil, a dietary supplement that has been proven to fix much of what ails most of us (though in my book, getting omega 3 from consuming fish, not a supplement, is the best way to do it). But why should that stand in the way of restrictive actions supported by a compelling lack of knowledge and a bit of Pauly’s attitude?
He’s got it right. Who needs science? Bring on the superstars, keep on flushing and save the bay.
(I have to acknowledge the inspiration that the folks on Fishfolk provided for this column.)
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, June 2006)
Those organizations that are devoted to convincing anyone who will listen that all of our oceans’ ills should be blamed on commercial fishing are hard at work in Washington, trying to remove the last vestiges of flexibility from our fisheries management system, With war chests bulging with foundation dollars, as I write this they are hard at work on Capitol Hill. They’re there selling the idea that what little latitude still remaining in the fisheries management process should be removed, that those people who have an actual, on-the-water grasp of what fishing is all about be barred from the decision making process, and that fisheries management should be done by filling-in-the-blanks and driven by statistics and rigid time frames.
To anyone not well acquainted with the vagaries of nature, oceanography, sun spots and the host of other variables that can affect fish stocks, this probably seems like a reasonable idea. If we know how many fish should be in the ocean and how many aren’t there because fishermen are killing them, then all we have to do is adjust the latter to control the former. And we can set a realistic time frame in which to build the stocks back to where they should be. All we need to do this is a few scientists, a few statisticians, a few bureaucrats, a bunch of observers to ensure that the fishermen aren’t cheating, and a bunch of foundation money to spend on PR and lobbying and litigation. There’s no need for fishermen in the system because inherent conflicts of interest dictate that they are incapable of making reasoned decisions.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And if we knew how many fish of each species there were in the ocean, if we knew and could control (or if not control, then at least predict the effects of) all of the factors significantly impacting on those fish, and if we could understand all of the interactions in our ocean ecosystems, it might even work.
Unfortunately, about the only thing we know is what the commercial harvest is, and that’s about all that we can easily control. We don’t have a clue about what the recreational anglers are catching, we don’t know how many of them there are and we sure can’t regulate what they catch. We inflict the residues of our modern existence on our inshore and near shore waters in increasing amounts every year as we continue to trade productive wetlands for commercial and residential development. As far as knowing how many fish there are out there, did you ever wonder why the fisheries folks are the only scientists who hardly ever accompany their published “numbers” with an indication of how precise they actually are? And it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve even begun to recognize the importance of natural “cycles” on fish stocks.
What would the logical outcome of this almost overwhelming lack of knowledge be if, as desired by the ENGOs (that’s Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations for those of you not in the know), it were the sole basis of fisheries management decisions? If we removed any subjective judgment from the process? Let’s consider a hypothetical fish species: an estuarine spawner just starting on the downward leg of a 50-year population cycle. For the past 10 years it’s been at high levels of abundance (though not as high as it should be because we’ve done such a good job of building around, playing on and flushing into those estuaries). But, as its population cycles downwards, that would automatically trigger regulations reducing fishing effort. How about if the reduction in fishing effort doesn’t compensate for the natural population decline and falling recruitment due to habitat degradation? It gets reduced again next year, and the following year, and the year after that…. And with a mandatory 10 year rebuilding period, with no flexibility in the system, and with no one in the system who can see through the statistics, what’s going to be left of the fishery?
If the displaced fishermen are lucky, they and their boats can move into another fishery. If not, hey – anything that reduces capacity is a good thing, isn’t it? And there’s always a ready market for the property commercial docks sit on. So what if it’s more condos and tee shirt shops? So what if, once gone, waterfront fishing infrastructure is never coming back.
And if anyone in the management establishment, realizing that it isn’t fishing that’s driving the fishery, tries to interfere, there are those buckets of foundation dollars waiting to pay for the ENGO lawyers to go to court again to “save the commercial fishers.” Someone’s gotta be able to afford to live in those new condos.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, July 2006)
Ever hear of “fleet rationalization?” It’s what managers use to justify getting rid of fishing capacity. If you’ve bought the argument that we don’t have enough fish because of too much fishing, it makes sense. And it makes sense as well that government folks do the rationalization, ‘cause they’re objective, they’re for the fish. Oh, and I probably don’t need to add that it’s only the commercial and for-hire fishing sectors that are getting rationalized.
At the same time this “rationalization” is going on, we’re being besieged via the airwaves and the internet with ads promoting even more recreational fishing and boating. Fair enough, you say. These are paid for by the recreational fishing and boating industries to sell more of their products. Like auto manufacturers still pushing horsepower, that’s what they’re supposed to do, with little or no regard for the resources that they depend upon. That same kind of economic self-interest is what’s being used to justify attempts to force commercial fishermen out of the management process, isn’t it? Whether it’s petroleum or fish, profit comes in and conservation goes out the window.
Would you believe that the government is supporting such public relations efforts as the Take Me Fishing program? Bureaucrats who, in the name of conservation, are working assiduously to destroy large parts of our commercial fishing industry, our fishing communities and consumers’ rights to fresh, locally produced seafood couldn’t be working to increase the number of folks who fish and boat for recreation, could they? That would be like a government-sponsored ad campaign promoting driving farther and faster in bigger cars.
Well, if you do a little bureaucratic veil piercing, you find that the Take Me Fishing program was created by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, which is funded by the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund with Wallop-Breaux (W-B) bucks. The Wallop-Breaux Act imposes a tax on the sale of recreational fishing and boating gear and fuel (see http://training.fws.gov/library/Pubs9/sportsfish.pdf). The fund, administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is also used to build launching ramps and pump-out stations, improve angling access, buy research, etc. Most of the money is passed down to state fisheries agencies, making up a sizeable part of each state’s fisheries budget.
So on one hand we have managers (federal and state bureaucrats) diligently at work destroying… oops, sorry, rationalizing the commercial fishing industry, and on the other we have the same managers (federal and state bureaucrats) enticing more and more people to boat and fish, catch and release, enrich our estuaries with hydrocarbons, tear up the eel grass beds, run over the manatees and engage in other recreational activities. “Conservation” is being forced on the commercial fishing industry by the heavy hand of government, while the other hand is pushing for more outboard motor sales, more recreational fishing trips, more rods, reels, lines and lures, more and more of everything connected to angling and yachting.
A bit irrational? Not really. The more people zipping around on jetskis, dragging expensive lures through the water and fighting “gamefish” to exhaustion, the more they spend and the bigger the Wallop-Breaux cash cow becomes. That means bigger budgets for federal and state agencies that depend on W-B funding. Bigger budgets mean the guys and gals in charge have more employees and more turf and pull down bigger bucks. It’s only irrational if you’re really interested in saving the fish, and what’s that have to do with successful empire building?
So, as we’re looking forward to a summer of gas prices way above three bucks a gallon, our bureaucrats have to do something to keep those boats in use, ‘cause they’re getting thirteen and a half cents for every gallon of gas they burn (or exhaust into your favorite estuary). What better way to invest their Wallop-Breaux bucks than in a public relations campaign to keep those props a’ spinning?
And just to show you that this isn’t a two-way street, there’s also the Saltonstall-Kennedy program, which imposes a duty on fish products imported into the U.S. Originally the program was intended to fund projects to aid the commercial fishing industry. Not any more. Those dollars not kept by the USDA, which collects the revenues, go to NMFS and are used to balance that agency’s budget. If we assume an inverse relationship between how much fish we produce and how much we import, what are the chances of NMFS or NOAA being institutionally objective?
So if management or allocation decisions seem irrational at first glance, put yourself in the shoes of the bureaucrats that are making them. From where they’re coming from, they might be right on target.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, August 2006)
Nelson Beideman, known to just about everyone as Hammer, died on May 25. He died at home while puttering around the house with his wife Terri. I’m pretty sure that’s the way he would have wanted it, and that makes it a little easier, but not much.
It seems that I knew Hammer for as long as I’ve been involved in fishing. He was getting his feet dry after years on the water, and I was getting my feet wet after years as a researcher and bureaucrat.
This was in the late eighties when some influential people had decided to put the East coast pelagic longline fleet out of business. They weren’t successful, and though they’ve continued in their efforts, domestic longline caught swordfish and tuna are still available.
Hammer and his wife and partner Terri were the primary roadblock to the antis back then, and they continued to be for most of the last two decades. Despite the ill wishes of a lot of powerful people with money and political influence, the longliners are still fishing, the swordfish stocks they target are rebuilt, and the pelagic longline fishery on the East coast has become a model for cooperative fisheries research. This was almost entirely due to the efforts of Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and Hammer, who served since its inception as its brain, its heart, its soul and its conscience.
But this column isn’t going to be a memorial to him. That’s being done elsewhere. It’s going to be a lesson to all of us on getting involved in the fisheries management process, and in doing it right, because that’s what Hammer did, and he did it better than just about anyone else.
The best way I can describe his approach to fisheries management is with a couple of examples. Back in the days before email, whenever I’d see a long “tongue” of paper hanging out of the machine and coiled up in a pile on the floor, I’d know it was from Blue Water. If you were on the list, you could look forward to regularly getting a twenty, thirty or forty page fax on highly migratory species management. These missives were put together by Hammer (and Terri) in exhaustive detail. Whether it was dealing with domestic or international aspects of the fishery, about biology or the politics behind the biology, about catching swordfish and tuna or not catching turtles and marlin, he covered it. And he knew it cold. And he expected everyone in Blue Water to know it as well. He was thorough to a fault.
And then, two years ago I went to New Orleans with him for a series of meetings with Blue Water’s Gulf contingent. Everyone knows that New Orleans is home of some of the best restaurants in the world. Everyone also knows that hotel food is usually pretty dismal. It certainly was at the hotel we stayed in, which was where the meetings were held. In those two days, we didn’t leave the hotel once. Not for food, not for jazz, not for anything. We were there to brief Blue Water members, to do Blue Water business, and that’s what we did. We did it from when we arrived to when we left. I can safely say that most of the rest of us aren’t anywhere near that diligent.
He fully appreciated that the Devil was in the details, and I doubt he ever left his members in the lurch because one of those details got past him. If there were a meeting coming up – in the U.S. or abroad – where the HMS fishery was on the agenda, he would be there if he could. If he couldn’t, he’d make every effort to have someone there in his place. And he’d make sure his replacement was thoroughly briefed beforehand.
When it came to HMS matters, to say he was persistent would be a vast understatement. He went through proposed regulations until he understood them completely. Then he explained them to Blue Water’s board. Then he hammered a consensus out of them, and considering the varying personalities and business interests that he was dealing with, that could seem almost miraculous. But when he took his marching orders, he knew he had a majority of the Board behind him.
He also recognized that, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t do it all. So he brought together an effective team of consultants and lawyers, who did what he wasn’t able to. They were, and are, among the best in the business, because he knew that’s what it took to get the job done.
And, last but certainly not least, he excelled at building strategic alliances. Whether it was with researchers or environmentalists or recreational fishing representatives, if he saw that cooperation was the way to proceed, that’s what he did. Much of his work at ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas – the guys that manage our Atlantic HMS fisheries) is a testament to that, but his leadership in reducing interactions with sea turtles was his crowning achievement, resulting in an international outreach program which is benefiting commercial hook fishermen – and sea turtles – everywhere.
Hammer figured out how to build, operate and fund a truly effective commercial fishing trade organization. We can all learn a lot from how he did it, and I hope you all do. I know I did.
And he was a good friend. I’m going to miss him.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, September 2006)
Fishing communities are in trouble. While tempting to blame this entirely on ineffectual management, that’s only part of the story. In fishery after fishery the screws are constantly being tightened by the managers. Fisheries have been subject to an unrelenting series of cutbacks; cutbacks often instituted for reasons unrelated to the level of commercial harvesting in those fisheries. Of course this is felt by the fishermen, who find it increasingly difficult to cope. It’s also felt by docks, processors and other shore-side businesses. They can be reeling from double- or triple- or quadruple “whammies” of multiple cutbacks in multiple fisheries that they depend on.
This is old hat to anyone who regularly reads National Fisherman, and to a large extent the resourcefulness of people in the commercial fishing industry has allowed them to tighten their belts and more or less cope.
Unfortunately, because other factors are now in play, coping’s becoming increasingly difficult.
Rising fuel prices, and attendant trickle-down impacts on the costs of other goods and services, are having major bottom line impacts. This can mean fishing closer to port, diminished landings and, in fisheries where it’s possible, consolidation. The result is less revenue not only for the boats and docks, but also for businesses that provide vessel support services.
Coastal development pressures are having a significant impact as well. Docks and other fishing-related businesses that require a waterfront location are being priced out of the market. And those that remain can find themselves surrounded by upscale development bringing new neighbors unwilling to accept the round-the-clock activities that a fishing operation depends on. Then when a marine railway, for example, closes down, it’s a longer trip with perhaps a longer wait to get hauled out.
There are the proliferating numbers of scheduled or unscheduled closures. A direct route to the fishing grounds is not always possible. Hours and miles can be added to every trip, with a corresponding increase in fuel consumption (and perhaps a decrease in the value of the catch.) The pending whale avoidance speed limits will, at least for larger vessels, add to this burden.
Insurance costs, particularly in hurricane-prone areas, are approaching, and in cases have gone beyond, being affordable.
And we can’t forget the increasing cost of regulatory compliance. Vessel monitoring systems aren’t free, and come with service charges. In Uncooperative Spirits in last month’s NF, Wesley Loy reported that the proposed regulations for the Alaskan H&G fishery could require an additional capital investment of up to $300,00 per boat and an additional observer on board, adding $82,000 in annual operating expenses.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? But, given some slack in the areas where slack is available, it doesn’t have to be. Can we look for any relief from high fuel prices or from the effects of those prices on the goods and services we require? Unfortunately, that’s not likely. Can we survive the impacts of rapidly escalating coastal property values? Zoning can help, and in some cases it already has. Insurance? Everyone’s in the same boat there.
Where is slack available? How about in fishing regulations? While nobody is opposed to rebuilt stocks, no one that places any value at all on maintaining traditional fishing communities can think that having those stocks rebuilt according to some arbitrary schedule is worth the loss of a fishing port.
In the long term, does the rebuilding time matter? Not a bit, but a shorter rebuilding period might mean the critical level of fishing necessary to prevent the transformation of a fishing port into another condominimized tourist magnet can’t be maintained. It’s impossible to believe that anyone valuing the contributions of fishing to the character of our coastlines and the health of the public would be unwilling to extend rebuilding for a few years to avoid the irreversible loss of a unique and valuable community.
But what of the so-called conservationists, those foundation-funded activists who profess to anyone willing to listen that they are doing what they’re doing for the long term good of the fishermen and the public? That any flexibility in the management process will only make things worse? And what of the managers and the politicians who listen to them? Perhaps they really don’t realize that a MacMansion on the water is forever, and that the dock it replaced isn’t ever coming back. But it’s about time that they did.
I’ve seen too many fishing communities disappear, and I don’t know of any fishery that’s actually been fished into oblivion.
by NNils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, October 2006)
Since 1996, our fisheries have been on a collision course with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA). The impossibility of meeting the ten year “rebuilding” schedule is in the public eye now because of what it’s on the verge of doing to the summer flounder (fluke) fishery in the mid-Atlantic and southern New England, but it will be confronting us in fishery after fishery in the next several years.
Why is compliance impossible? Consider all those factors that influence the size of a fish stock. First off, we’ve got everything that affects recruitment. This includes the number of spawning fish, viability of the spawn, water quality, water temperatures, currents, cannibalism and predation. Then, once “recruited” into the population, the fish are subject to cannibalism, predation, parasites, diseases, water quality, and fishing. And the managers can only control fishing.
So we have an ocean that’s home to burgeoning populations of various marine mammals, all very effective at eating species that are important to recreational and commercial fishermen (for an idea of how accomplished they are, take a look at “It’s not just fishing” from the April 2006 issue of National Fisherman). We’ve got the impacts of ongoing coastal development on water quality, and on the critters that live in that water. We’ve got water temperatures that – global warming or not – are pretty far from the normal. We’ve got –at least in the mid-Atlantic – a bumper crop of spiny dogfish eating anything that they can catch and swallow. And we’ve got fishing.
The Sustainable Fisheries Act makes no provisions for controlling, or even for allowing for, anything but fishing. Regardless of any other factors, the burden for returning a population of fish to some arbitrary “healthy” level falls on the shoulders of commercial and recreational fishermen.
As the summer flounder situation makes abundantly clear, no matter how much you cut back on fishing, this isn’t necessarily going to happen. That’s because there’s so much going on that can impact on the size of a stock that nobody’s bothering to (or even can) control, and the Act doesn’t permit the managers to allow for any of it.
With summer flounder, management restrictions seem to have hit the point of diminishing returns. Fishing has been continuously cut back and the stock has responded accordingly, doubling in size over the last several years. But it hasn’t responded enough to meet the rebuilding requirements, which are evidently to reach a stock size last seen in the 1930s. Even if fishing were halted completely, it’s questionable if this target could be reached.
Why? Maybe the rebuilding target was too high. Or maybe there’s other stuff going on that is outweighing the impacts of the long series cutbacks on fishing. Whatever the case, according to NMFS personnel the TAC will have to be reduced by almost 80% for the next fishing year. In spite of a stock that has been increasing steadily,. Constrained by the SFA, they can’t do anything else (fortunately, the Mid-Atlantic Council could, and did. At their meeting on August 2, Council members voted for a TAC reduction of less than 20%).
We’ve got fishermen who did what they were supposed to; toed the line, participated in the system, fished “sustainably” and followed the rules. And the fish responded accordingly. What’s their reward? Apparently, if NMFS has it’s SFA mandated way, an almost complete shutdown of the fishery and the financial devastation of the people and businesses depending on it. And similar scenarios are surely in the pipeline for other “recovering” fisheries.
How did we get into this mess? Quite simply, by a handful of foundation-funded NGOs – and, I’m afraid, some complicit fishermen – convincing Congress that inflexibility was the Holy Grail of fisheries management because it would remove any trace of judgment from the management process. The fishermen should be, according to these self-proclaimed “protectors of the fish,” locked into rebuilding schedules with no wiggle room, regardless of whether they’re responsible for the condition of the fish or of the effectiveness – or effects – of forcing their compliance.
So where does the continuing increase in marine mammal stocks leave us? How about ongoing wetland loss, climate change, regime shifts, more frequent red tides or offshore energy development? Right behind the eight ball, folks, ‘cause we’re the only ones who have to pay the piper. And we’re going to remain in this untenable position until the managers can start using the judgment that the members of the Mid-Atlantic Council have demonstrated that a majority of them possess.
by NNils Stolpe
I am skeptical of efforts by “conservationist” organizations to help the fish or the “fishers.” There are folks who feel this skepticism is misplaced, that those well-meaning “conservationists” are on the side of the angels and their collective utterances should be accepted without question and immediately made the basis of national and international policy.
Occasionally situations arise that clearly justify my skepticism.
In 1998, researcher and Pew Fellow Ransom Myers co-authored a paper in the journal Science claiming that, without government protection, the barndoor skate was facing extinction. News of this ecological disaster was trumpeted far and wide, generating a request to list the species as endangered, pouring more fuel on the anti-trawling fire, providing more justification for marine protected areas, and on and on. The pending extinction was featured in “doom and gloom” publications by the Pew Oceans Commission, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the American Fisheries Society, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Reference Librarian, and seemingly any other group with space to fill, an ax to grind or a thirst for foundation dollars.
Since then the MPAs haven’t been created, the trawling controls haven’t been put in place and the other measures that would have been mandatory had barndoor skates been declared endangered haven’t been instituted. Have the barndoor skates continued Dr. Myers’ rush to extinction?
Not hardly. In “Super Sized Catches,” NMFS’ Northeast Science Center reported on the most recent Spring Bottom Trawl Survey “the second leg brought in two record catches. The first, at station 212, had 147 barndoor skates that weighed in at 1,304 pounds…. This is triple the number of the next largest catch of barndoors… It is five and a half times the third largest catch…. (it) had almost three times the total number of individuals caught between 1975 and 1990!”
Dr. Myers was just a wee bit off in his Chicken Little predictions. What are the odds that he or anyone at Pew, the Marine Fish Conservation Network or the American Fisheries Society has attempted to set things right?
Then there was a Portland Press Herald Maine Voices column, “Congress can still keep fishery alive,” by Associated Fisheries of Maine’s Maggie Raymond on July 18. Ms. Raymond started out “as Congress prepares to revise the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act it must strike an important balance between the conservation of fish and the preservation of fishing communities.” She continued with an argument supporting legislation sponsored by Congressmen Pombo of California and Frank of Massachusetts, then wrote that the groundfish fishery “stands on the precipice of destruction because so much of our necessary infrastructure is simply unable to keep an economic foothold while being slammed with repeated and overly restrictive regulations.” She finished “less than half the total allowable catch for groundfish set by fisheries scientists was actually landed by New England fishermen. Strict regulations prevented a full harvest. The value of what could have been landed but instead was left in the ocean was nearly $50 million.”
Of course, the antis were (and are) totally opposed to the Pombo/Frank legislation or anything allowing any flexibility in the management process or any leeway to fishing communities. Accordingly, on July 30 Roger Fleming at the Conservation Law Foundation responded. He didn’t specifically rebut anything Ms. Raymond had written. Instead, he wrote that in her column “Maggie Raymond portrays New England's groundfish populations as thriving.” He followed with “Ms. Raymond's failure to disclose her own special interest - one of the fishery's largest trawl vessels - may help explain her mishandling of the facts. It may also explain her advocacy for ‘eliminating government red tape’ and ‘providing flexibility’ to regulators.” He also went through the obligatory groundfish doom-and-gloom litany yet again.
I’ve read Maggie’s column several times. She didn’t portray groundfish as “thriving,” or anything close. I couldn’t find any facts that she had mishandled. The size of the boat she owns is about as relevant to anything she wrote as Mr. Fleming’s hat size. And not just big boat guys to want to eliminate red tape or believe that the lack of management flexibility is destroying fishing communities. If the CLF had supportable arguments, why didn’t Mr. Fleming state them rather than accusing Maggie of misrepresentation and trying to paint her with a pejorative “big boat” brush? I couldn’t think of a more effective strategy to make her seem unreasonable and to turn small boat fishermen against her. Is that what it takes for the CLF to sell it’s vision?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, December 2006)
Is it time to wave an olive branch?
This column is called “A Different Perspective” because I consider fisheries issues with a disregard for the conventional wisdom. This month, however, I’m writing from what is a different perspective for me as well.
It’s obvious that I haven’t been a fan of politically active recreational fishing groups – and my reasons for this are also obvious. However, it’s time that all of us who have made fishing, either commercial or recreational, part of our lives realize that what we have in common – our and our children’s freedom to fish – is being threatened by a common enemy, and that we’re only going to maintain anything approaching that freedom if we come together with a common goal. And that goal is to put fishermen, both recreational and commercial, back into the driver’s seat in fisheries management.
Can you imagine anything more ridiculous than having national fisheries policy dictated by mega-foundations working through false-front environmental and conservation organizations established and maintained by multi-million dollar grants and pretending to be “grass roots?” Or than politicians and the media buying into the fallacy that most fishermen have no thought for tomorrow and are only interested in maximizing their catch, whether for income or for enjoyment, today? Or a management agency that is so paralyzed by the fear of foundation-funded litigation that it will allow fishery after fishery to be destroyed in the name of “conservation?” Or can you imagine fishermen – the guys and gals who always fought in and often initiated, battles for clean water and protected habitat – considering “conservationists” the enemy?
Well, that’s where we’re at, folks. And it isn’t going to get better until we make it better.
Fishermen will butt heads with other fishermen over allocation. Always have and always will. Small boat commercial guys won’t agree with big boat commercial guys, nor draggers with dredge boats, longliners with seiners, catch and release anglers with those who take ‘em home and eat ‘em, pin hookers with those who don’t sell their catch, and recreational fishermen with commercial fishermen. But we’re all fishermen, and we’re more than capable of keeping the sustainable management of our fisheries within the family and without the interference of foundation-funded “Astroturf” organizations trying mightily to pass as grass roots.
Which brings up a conveniently coincidental op-ed piece in the October 4th Asbury Park Press. The writer, chairman of the Ocean County (NJ) Sierra Club, obviously realizes the growing breach between his (and Pew’s – the Sierra Club has received at least 800,000 Pew dollars) brand of so-called conservation and that practiced by New Jersey’s fishermen, who are working together to put some needed flexibility back into Magnuson. This situation was galvanized by the imminent crisis in the summer flounder (fluke) fishery covered here two months ago. He wrote “I live on an estuary of Barnegat Bay, where I love to fish. But I am proud to be an environmentalist. No doubt flounder is the most popular recreational fish on the Jersey Shore. I know it's mine.” We sure do need more “proud environmentalists” living on estuaries, don’t we? And though I have no reason to doubt his claim that he’s a recreational fisherman, he’s probably the only serious salt water angler in New Jersey who doesn’t refer to summer flounder as fluke. But we’re now supposed to accept him as a fishing environmentalist rather than a representative of a foundation-funded anti-fishing Astro-turf NGO. (He also refers to commercial trawlers and dredgers as “an environmental obscenity.” I’d trade a few more responsibly fishing trawlers and dredgers for a few less people – Sierra Club members or not - living on estuaries any day, as would anyone with a rudimentary grasp of estuarine ecology.)
But his words compellingly illustrate how opposed the anti-fishing groups are to having us fishermen working together, because they’ve gotten control of the management process by playing one group against another for years (though those several hundred million Big-Oil bucks play a roll as well).
Recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and all of the consumers who enjoy locally produced seafood are the real “grass roots,” not front people for agenda-driven multi-billion dollar foundations. We are the ones with the true commitment to sustainable harvesting, because we demand that our children and their children and their children’s children have fishing as a part of their life, and that’s how we have to sell ourselves.
Working together will take coordination, cooperation and a lot of forbearance by everyone who fishes, but do we have a choice?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, January 2007)
You’ve probably read about the former observer who admitted to falsifying reports for 59 trips he had supposedly made. According to NOAA, following a plea deal he “was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay restitution of $29,541” The restitution was reportedly the salary he was paid for the trips. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of embezzling / having received public money that he was not authorized to retain as salary, failing “to conduct fishery sampling trips aboard federally permitted fishing vessels while still accepting his salary” in 2001 and 2002.
According to an article in the Atlantic City Press, the ex-observer attempted to make his trip reports look authentic “by marring them with coffee stains and blood.”
So what? You might ask. He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and got his wrist slapped. It happens all the time, and few of us are surprised to learn that government employees are as capable of breaking the law as anyone else.
Contrast that to the case of the operator of a Woods Hole commercial fishing boat who was issued “an $82,500 civil penalty and 136-day permit sanction after he allegedly ignored instructions to fish with a NOAA Fisheries Service Observer aboard during an upcoming trip.” He was selected to carry an observer, but was told that his boat did not meet “safety requirements needed to carry an observer, and the vessel was prohibited from fishing until the requirements were met.” He went fishing anyway, and NOAA Special Agents boarded his vessel when it returned to port. The boarding also resulted in a catch seizure with a total value of more than $2,675.”
Both of these cases were reported, with that air of smug self-congratulation, in NOAA Office of Enforcement news releases.
There are few people who are as important to particular fisheries as federal observers. What they report has a direct bearing on the future of the fishery, or its lack of a future. While it won’t be news to most of you reading this, if too many “interactions” with the wrong kinds of critters are reported by these observers, the subject fishery can be severely restricted or shut down (and, of course, Oceana’s lawyers will be there with an open checkbook to ensure that the maximum amount of fishermen’s blood is spilled in the bargain).
By the same token, the fisheries management system mandates that there are few fishermen’s responsibilities as important as complying with the requirements of the observer program.
This is where the unsettling part comes in.
The NOAA bureaucrats in all probability justified the harsh treatment accorded the fisherman because he dared to interfere with the observer program. Otherwise, all he did was go fishing (and he evidently had a legal catch, if not he would have been hit with another huge fine). They couldn’t let a fisherman flaunt their system, so they socked him with a big fine and permit sanction.
But what about the ex-observer? Wasn’t what he did at least as damaging to “the system?” Yet all he had to do, according to NOAA, was pay back the salary that he had received but hadn’t earned. How much faith should any of us put in an observer system where the observers aren’t 100% reliable. After this episode there are some monkfish gillnetters in the Mid-Atlantic who are severely skeptical of federal observers and all of their observations. Shouldn’t they be? Shouldn’t we all?
I don’t know all the details in either case. They were pursued in different jurisdictions and there might have been extenuating circumstances in either or both. But regardless, think of NOAA’s message. Another fisherman gets dragged through the coals because he’s guilty of nothing more than threatening the smooth running of the bureaucracy, while a fellow bureaucrat, one who it appears did much more to threaten the actual functioning of the bureaucracy, gets off with what seems to be a slap on the wrist (restitution doesn’t really equate to punishment).
This isn’t about an ex-observer and a fisherman. It’s about the NOAA/NMFS relationship with fishermen. Or about where that relationship is heading. The agency’s attitude is becoming increasingly adversarial; that it’s there to protect the fish – and the turtles and the dolphin and the manatees and the whales - from the fishermen. Where does that leave us when it comes to having advocates, or even friends, in the administration in Washington, and don’t you think you should be doing something about it?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, February 2007)
The most recent rationale being used by the antis to explain their shocking lack of concern over the impacts of their depredations on fishermen and the fishing communities they support is that they’re focused on the “long-term.” While unfortunate, their justification goes, the short-term pain being felt in fishery after fishery is only temporary. Somewhere down the line we’ll once again have vibrant fisheries pursued by happy fishermen who will all be grateful to those ENGOs (and, of course, the foundations that sponsor them) that put their lives and their fisheries back on track. Nice story, isn’t it? Happy endings tomorrow justify inflicting pain today.
We’re all familiar with the pain these “selfless” benefactors have brought to port after port and fishery after fishery. Closed packing houses, abandoned vessels and deteriorating docks aren’t the rarities that they were a few years ago, with increasing expenses, declining catches and stable (at best) prices working together to force fishermen into bankruptcy. Acre after acre of prime waterfront property is market bound, and you can bet your bottom dollar that once it’s sold it’s not going to be developed into anything that will support the “revitalized” fisheries.
So what if you have to drive through a state or two to get to your boat? Or run a couple of hundred miles to have her hauled? Or wait for a day and a half to pack out? The fish will be back, and they’ll be back a couple of years sooner than they would have been if we had a little more flexibility in the management process. Cheer up, folks, ‘cause those good times are just around the corner, and as we’ve seen so clearly in Florida and North Carolina, there’s always a market for waterfront condos.
But who’s going to run those boats and catch those fish?
Suppose that you’re the owner/operator of a small dragger or headboat in the Mid-Atlantic, and the most recent round of fluke cutbacks was the death knell of the business you’ve spent your whole working life building up. Or, you can substitute gillnetter, New England and groundfish; or Pacific Northwest and rockfish. You get the drift.
Do you cash out a few CDs, climb into your mobile home and truck on down to Miami or Baja and hang out until the rebuilding targets are met? That doesn’t seem all that likely because you’ve spent the last twenty years pumping all of your extra bucks into the boat (and for the last ten those extra bucks have been fewer and farther between), and at this point your boat has a fair market value somewhere between nada and bupkis. Instead, I guess you check out the help wanted ads in the New York Times or at Monster.com and see who’s looking to hire commercial fishermen.
And what about the markets?
Seafood buyers are funny. They want what the want when they want it. Until a decade or so ago, back before so many species of fish and shellfish became international commodities, they sometimes couldn’t get it. But that’s no longer the case. If they can’t buy ocean-fresh local fish, they can find something similar, and probably cheaper, produced overseas. It might not taste as good, and it won’t have that “fresh caught” cachet, but it’ll be there when they need it, and how many consumers are sophisticated enough to know the difference anyway?
So they convince their customers that they have an equivalent or better product at an equivalent or better price and get them to give it a try. Sounds like another market lost to domestic seafood, and what are the chances that the domestic harvesters will get it back in those future days of plenty?
Or what about all of those anglers who give up their weekly or monthly or annual party boat trips because they aren’t interested in catch and release. They’re going to find something else to do. When the fish “come back,” will they, or will they stick with their new pastimes? And what will they have to come back to?
Short term pain for long term gain? Not likely. In fact, it sounds like short term pain for oblivion. When the fluke, which are already here in record numbers, or the cod or haddock or rockfish “come back,” who’s going to be there to catch them, what are they going to catch them from, and what are they going to do with them after they’re caught? Perhaps some of those well-intentioned ENGOs have the answers. I sure don’t.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, March 2007)
In a letter to the editor of the New Bedford Standard Times on January 3, Gib Brogan, Campaign Projects Manager for Oceana, wrote that the paper was at fault for identifying “Oceana and other nongovernmental organizations as being the only opposition to weak rebuilding provisions proposed by Rep. Barney Frank as part of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act.” He continued “a wide range of groups opposed Rep. Frank's proposal to weaken rules intended to rebuild our nation's fisheries.”
But when he expanded on this, his list of groups was awfully short. As a matter of fact, it went no farther than “the Marine Fish Conservation Network. a coalition that includes commercial fishermen and fishing groups in its membership.”
Now the Marine Fish Conservation Network (MFCN) is an organization that I’m somewhat familiar with, having devoted some significant time researching and several hundred words writing about it in a recent FishNet (see http://www.fishnet-usa.com/reauthor_one.html).
From the tone of Mr. Brogan’s letter, the uninformed reader would think that the MFCN might be a large and diverse group of “concerned” fishing- and ocean-related organizations, all with a common interest and all disconnected from Oceana. Large? Perhaps. Diverse? Not likely, at least if one is a believer in Deep Throat’s “follow the money” philosophy. And disconnected from Oceana? Consider the following and draw your own conclusion.
Last fall the MFCN, along with the National Environmental Trust, ran an ad in the Washington Times stating that Congressman Frank’s version of a retooled Magnuson Act “contains loopholes that will increase overfishing.” At that point the National Environmental Trust, the MFCN (link) and Oceana (link) had shared over $60 million doled out by Pew.
And what about those “commercial fisherman and fishing groups” in the MFCN membership? The MFCN website listed perhaps a dozen groups that can be readily identified as commercial fishing-oriented. From the FishNet cited above, “at least half have what appear to be substantial ties with Pew. Pat White, past Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, and Pietro Parravano, President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA - link) were both members of the Pew Oceans Commission (link). The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (link) has been funded by Pew. The Institute For Fisheries Research (IFR) is a spin-off of the PCFFA. Salmon For All is a member of both the PCFFA and Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition (link), which has received upwards of $9.5 million from Pew. David Hallowell of the Humboldt Fishermen's Marketing Association is listed as a Board member of the IFR.”
Of course, nothing’s wrong with any of these folks or organizations getting funding or seeking alliances or working with whatever or whoever they wish, and I’m definitely not implying that there is. But I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suspect that there might be some connections there that go a bit farther than an interest in the oceans and the fish in ‘em.
Of the remaining 170 or so members of the MFCN, over a dozen have received more than a quarter of a million dollars each from Pew. Some of them have received much, much more. Over $20 million for Earth Justice Legal Defense (link), $8 million for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (link), $4 million for Seaweb (which has also received over $12 million from Packard and $600 thousand from Walton - link), almost $5 million for Audubon (link), but you’re all familiar with the drill by now.
And, of course, there are a whole bunch of organizations representing competing users of the oceans’ resources; primarily recreational fishing and diving groups.
The range of the groups Mr. Brogan writes about seems to be much more narrow than he would apparently have his readers believe. The big guys are all dipping into the same barrel of cash, as are many of the smaller ones. The commercial fishing groups can be tied to the folks that keep that barrel filled, and many of the rest see that the MFCN agenda, which is opposed by most fishermen, might accordingly have some pay-offs down the road for them.
Wide range of groups, Mr. Brogan? You’re going to have to try a lot harder than that.
NEWS FLASH - The internet has been peppered with reports concerning the interactions between selenium and mercury in the body. Selenium, found in high levels in fish, apparently negates effects of mercury (see http://newsletter.vitalchoice.com/e_article000709707.cfm?x=b11,0,w). This is “breaking news” at this point, but keep your eyes peeled for more on the subject. It’s critical to the future of our industry – and our customers.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, April 2007)
Back-to-back sinkings and the tragic loss of six New England fishermen in one week has once again focused the public’s attention on fishing vessel safety and the issue of licensing commercial fishermen as vessel operators.
All of the arguments and counter-arguments are once again being dusted off and trotted out. Management-imposed fishing regulations were responsible. Commercial fishing vessel operations have become too complicated to allow unlicensed people to be in charge. Reduced income has forced owners to scrimp on routine maintenance. In the last week I’ve read exhortations for more training, more education, more inspection, more regulation, more responsibility, more of just about anything dealing with vessel safety. Most of us have heard it all before, but does that mean we should disregard it?
The fact is that commercial fishing always has been and always will be one of the most dangerous occupations. Nobody who has watched Deadliest Catch, the highly rated TV series on the Alaskan crab fisheries, is likely to dispute that. But how dangerous is it, and most importantly, has it become more or less safe in recent years?
While it’s going to be difficult to do so in the wake of the of recent tragedies, we’ve got to look at these two questions objectively if we’re contemplating initiating or supporting any changes in how fishing vessels are operated or in how management measures can be modified to enhance safety at sea.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of confounding factors involved. Some of them would intuitively argue for increasingly safe fishing vessels, some for increasingly risky fishing, but major changes in how we operate our vessels or how we manage our fisheries are far too important to rely on intuition.
In many fisheries the average vessel age is increasing from year to year. Is there a significant relationship between vessel age and incidence of accidents? How about the age and/or experience of the captains and crew? Every year there seem to be fewer youngsters coming into the fisheries – at least those fisheries I’m familiar with. Does this impact on vessel safety?
Then there’s operator licensing. Many countries require that their commercial fishermen be licensed. Are vessels with licensed captains safer than similar (in terms of age, size, gear used, waters fished and technology employed) vessels operated by unlicensed captains?
Safety equipment? EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacons) are getting smaller, cheaper, more sophisticated and more useable every year. Ditto for satellite phones. Cell phones are ubiquitous today, and most of our inshore waters are within range of the major cell networks. GPS units are readily available, with basic hand-held models costing under $100; so providing precise information on a vessel’s location is easier and more accurate than ever. Vessel Tracking System transmitters are becoming mandatory in more fisheries every year, and can be fitted with “panic buttons” which instantly alert whoever is monitoring the system in case of an emergency.
What about how the fishery is managed? We believe that derby-style fishing, where the vessels must catch their “share” as quickly as possible, is inherently less safe than when each permitted vessel is guaranteed a certain poundage each year. But back in 1999 three surf clam vessels, all participants in one of the first and oldest ITQ fisheries, sank in a two-week period. Ten fishermen were lost. Has any other fishery, regardless of how it is managed, undergone such a loss in such a short time in a series of unrelated incidents? (This series of sinkings also marked the last time that there was a significant move to require operator licensing.)
Fishing has always entailed a certain amount of risk, risk it’s hard for the land-bound to imagine. While we’re never going to change that, we might be able to reduce it. However, we have to know how we’re doing relative to the past in our domestic fisheries and relative to the present in similar fisheries in other countries. We need to know if licensing makes a difference, if experience is a valid substitute for formal training and licensing, if our fishermen are getting as much as they can get from the safety technology available, if management mandates force fishermen to work under adverse conditions against their better judgment, if the age/experience of the captain and crew matters, and dozens of other things. Let’s look very carefully before we start leaping. We owe it to the memories of the crews of the Lady of Grace, the Lady Luck and every other fisherman who’s been lost at sea to get it right.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, May 2007)
Swordfish are severely overfished. Ninety percent of the “big” fish in the oceans are gone. We’ll run out of fish by the year 2048. Barndoor skates are on the verge of extinction. Marine protected areas are the only way to save the oceans.
We’re much too familiar with these kinds of headlines. They’re based on information that is, I presume, presented to the press as mainstream, objective science, and are invariably reported as such, usually attributed to “prominent” or “leading” or “respected” scientists.
But are these doom and gloom pronouncements really a reflection of what a preponderance of ocean researchers believe, based on a compelling body of rigorous research?
Not hardly. Rather, they represent a severely jaundiced view of the state of the world’s fisheries based on various statistical manipulations of the same inadequate data that the fisheries managers have been hamstrung by since fisheries management became a profession.
When you read headlines claiming that we’re running out of fish – big fish or barndoor skates or sharks or all of ‘em - because of too much fishing, it’s easy to assume that the researchers making these claims are basing them on real world observations. You picture them out there dragging their nets in an increasingly fruitless quest for whatever species or species complexes they are researching. You think that, like the archetypical scientist who depends upon “the scientific method” and is a slave to objectivity, fisheries scientists and their “science” are beyond any external influences. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Their predictions of imminent doom always seem to be based upon rehashing of statistics generated by others; either landings or survey data, both of which are notoriously imprecise. Thus, when Dalhousie University researchers Ransom Myers and Boris Worm, with a little help from Our Favorite Charitable Trust (hereafter to be known as OFCT), decided to demonstrate that almost all of the marlin and tuna and swordfish had become casualties of rapacious fishermen, they didn’t do it by going out and counting marlin and tuna and swordfish, they did it by “analyzing” landings of marlin and tuna and swordfish by commercial longliners.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist – or even a fisheries scientist, for that matter – to know that there isn’t necessarily a constant relationship between reported landings and the abundance of the fish being landed. Commercial fishermen aren’t in business to provide scientists with data. They’re in business to maximize profits, and they’re going to fish where and when and how they can do that. That means that any conclusions based on landings are subject to a significant amount of spin.
And when it comes to survey data, I can’t help but think of “trawlgate” a few years back, when one of NMFS’ oldest and most trusted trawl surveys was shown to be less reliable than we all had assumed.
What this means is that, given enough of the right kind of data, and enough facility in manipulating it, you can “demonstrate” virtually anything. Convenient for the agenda-driven scientists that are grabbing all of today’s headlines, isn’t it? And on the subject of agenda-driven scientists, a little appreciated fact is that the American Fisheries Society, the organization representing just about all the fisheries scientists in our neck of the woods, not only accepts, but encourages advocacy (which is defined as “arguing for a cause, often on behalf of others” in an AFS Policy Statement) in its membership. So much for scientific objectivity.
Couple that with seemingly unlimited access to the broadcast and print media and with all of the credibility that money can buy, and data interpretation that is way out there on the fringes can be – and has been – made to appear as main-stream science.
Whenever you’re confronted with “research” dealing with fisheries, particularly if it’s of the Chicken Little variety, ask a few questions. Is it based on counting fish or on spinning someone else’s data? Has it included all of the relevant data? Are there logical assumptions behind it? Is it in support of a particular, and perhaps controversial, agenda? Most importantly, who’s paying for it?
And finally, there’s a question we should all be asking those well-intentioned folks who are so busy saving the world’s oceans from fishermen. In view of the glaring gaps in our knowledge of the actual status of our fisheries, why are they spending so much money on reworking the same old and inadequate data and so little on increasing what we actually know?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, June 2007)
Overfishing sharks has wiped out the bay scallops! That’s the conclusion reached by a number of researchers and widely reported in the popular media last month. In a paper published in Science magazine (Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean, 03/30/’07), Ransom Myers from Dalhousie University and four other researchers wrote that, because large sharks have been “functionally” wiped out by overfishing, rays and other species that are among sharks’ natural fare have proliferated at the expense of the bay scallops that the rays love to munch on. As “proof,” they offer the paucity of sharks, the abundance rays (and their fellow scallop munchers – which they label “elasmobranch mesopredators”), and the decline in bay scallop landings.
It seems pretty convincing; convincing enough to get past the supposedly rigorous peer review process in place at Science and other prestigious scientific journals. But is it really?
If everything else affecting bay scallops has remained constant, then the demise of the fishery might be the result of an ominous sounding “trophic cascade” caused once again by those dastardly commercial fishermen. Obviously, that’s not the case.
But before I get into that, lets consider the biology of bay scallops. Their primary range is from Cape Cod south and through the Gulf of Mexico. They are short-lived and spend their entire life cycle in estuaries. They spawn in the warm weather months, and they undergo a two-week planktonic stage before settling on and attaching to various types of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Obviously, the little critters are highly dependent on both estuarine water quality and the availability of adequate – in terms of both quality and quantity – SAV.
How can we best describe what’s been happening with the estuaries that these scallops, and the other shellfish that the article implies have all fallen victim to the demise of the large sharks, are dependent upon? Can you say “development?” That’s right, folks. A whole bunch of us have moved to the coasts in the last several decades. Since 1980 the population density has increased by 22%, 70% and 55% respectively in the coastal counties of the Northeast, Southeast and Gulf states. That’s a lot of additional flushing, a lot of additional non-point source pollution, a lot of additional silt, a lot less wetlands and a lot less SAV in those estuaries that bay scallops call home.
In addition, since 1980 the number of recreational boats in use in the U.S. has increased from twelve million to eighteen million. That’s a pretty big increase, and that increase was inflicted proportionally on our estuaries. Think about the impact of all that propeller-generated turbulence on those fragile scallop larvae bobbing around in the water column (coincidentally, they do all of their bobbing during the summer months when recreational boating is at its peak). Picture a big, fast blender lying on its side. And how about the impact on the SAV? If you spend any time on the water you’ve probably seen those bald areas caused by boaters blasting across eel grass or turtle grass flats, and even when they’re not digging up the bottom, propellers are really good at increasing turbidity and obliterating SAV.
Predictably, Dr. Myers and crew discount any impacts on the bay scallop stocks other than shark fishing. Just as predictably, Science, which seems of late to be in the business of reporting on any anti-fishing research that comes down the pike, published his and his colleagues’ research. And, needless to say, the reporters and producers responsible for the culture of crisis permeating our print and broadcast media did their customary Chicken Little bit as well.
There’s a type of reasoning termed “after the fact.” In Latin, it’s described by “post hoc, ergo propter hoc," translated as "after this, therefore because of this." Having plodded through the article several times, it seems to me that Myers’ et al’s conclusion was based almost entirely on the idea that correlation equals causation – and the only other support it had was from a limited study of bay scallop predation in North Carolina.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, July 2007)
Last fall I wrote in this column “recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and all of the consumers who enjoy locally produced seafood are the real ‘grass roots,’ not front people for agenda-driven multi-billion dollar foundations. We are the ones with the true commitment to sustainable harvesting, because we demand that our children and their children and their children’s children have fishing as a part of their life, and that’s how we have to sell ourselves. Working together will take coordination, cooperation and a lot of forbearance by everyone who fishes, but do we have a choice?” Reflecting this, and to the consternation of the antis, recreational and commercial fishing groups collaborated on relaxing unnecessarily rigid rebuilding standards during Magnuson reauthorization. We’ve been looking at other areas of cooperation since then.
The column, the collaboration and the promise of further cooperation must have been effective, because it appears as if research by Pew-funded Oceana, one of the premier anti-fishing groups, is to be used to get recreational and commercial fishermen back at each other’s throats.
I was sent (anonymously, which was neat in a cloak and dagger kind of way) materials from what I’d give a 99% certainty to will be the next anti-fishing media spectacular, this one comparing commercial bycatch with recreational catch. If handled as previous hatchet jobs have been, nothing will incite anti-commercial feelings among recreational fishermen more than this trumpeting of skewed data demonstrating that in fishery after fishery we’re throwing away more than the recreational anglers are catching. That should take care of any developing cooperative tendencies, shouldn’t it?
Using worst-case data, the information I received paints yet another dismal picture of commercial fishing, typical of the “science” supported directly or indirectly by Our Favorite Charitable Trust (OFCT). Most of the data is from a study by a private consulting group, the Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG), bought and paid for by Oceana. I probably don’t need to add that Oceana got $9 million from OFCT this year.
Authored by OFCT supported researcher Ransom Myers, ex NMFS official and present MRAG vice president Andrew Rosenberg, and MRAG staffer Julie Harrington, the report focuses largely on bycatch data from the shrimp fisheries before Bycatch Reduction Devices and massive fleet reductions forced by low-cost imports, regulatory discards which are themselves a by-product of the management process, and unnaturally high populations of protected species such as spiny dogfish. It’s pejoratively titled “Wasted Resources,” a dead-on indication of its objectivity.
Recreational information is almost entirely from the discredited Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistical Survey.
The only significant commercial fishing information source other than the Oceana MRAG study was from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan. Just about all of the bycatch in the HMS fisheries is due to regulations. The fishermen are forced to heave dead tuna or sharks or billfish over the side. This obscene waste could be stopped by injecting a little rationality into what’s one of our most highly politicized fisheries, allowing the fishermen to donate the bycatch to real charitable groups really interested in doing good. Every time this has been proposed, the so-called “marine conservationists” have objected strenuously and effectively.
If they hadn’t, what would Oceana campaign against?
I’ll bet dollars to donuts that no thought’s been given to including any discussion of the strides that have been made in bycatch reduction, though mentioning it here might serve as a gentle reminder to those well-funded folks on the “charitable” side of the fence. Fishermen don’t like bycatch. It doesn’t generate income, it puts extra wear and tear on the gear, it takes time and energy to deal with and it kills critters needlessly. From a number of viewpoints, it’s anathema to responsible fishermen. But will any of this be in what is eventually splashed all over the NY Times, the Washington Post or any of the other publications willing to print any anti-fishing propaganda that comes their way? As radio’s Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding used to say, “don’t hang by your thumbs.”
Recreational fishermen and their representatives – at least those who work for organizations not compromised by all of those anti-fishing foundation dollars –see the writing on the wall. Our collective future lies in maintaining the viability of both recreational and commercial fishing, something that the foundation-funded “conservationists” have demonstrated zero interest in.
If our rudimentary attempts at cooperation can elicit this kind of response, we’re heading in the right direction. Once we involve the real consumers, we’re home free.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, August 2007)
Hercules - or Heracles to you Greek scholars out there – had twelve labors to perform. The sixth was to clean out the stables of King Augeus, and to do it in a single day. The maintenance of those stables, home to a huge herd of cattle, had been sadly neglected by the King for years and, needless to say, they were sorely in need of cleaning. Using a combination of brain and brawn and two conveniently located rivers, Hercules cleaned the stables, won a tenth of the cattle in a side bet with the King, and went on to complete six more labors and live sort of happily ever after.
It’s not much of a stretch to compare the challenges faced by Hercules with those that the commercial fishing industry is facing. And like Hercules, one of our most important challenges involves significant amounts of bovine manure, though he had to deal with the actual stuff while ours is of a much more symbolic nature.
Ours, which comes to light in technical journals, in trade publications, on television and in the press, is in the form of overblown, inaccurate, sensationalized and one-sided misrepresentations of what’s going on in the oceans, presenting commercial fishermen as uncaring vandals and commercial fishing as the scourge of the seas.
So what do we do about it? We could sit back and take it. That’s a strategy we’re pretty good at, but up ‘til now it hasn’t proven too successful. We could take a page from King Augeus’ book, and wait for a modern day Hercules to do the job, but we’re going to have a long wait, ‘cause there aren’t a lot of superheroes out there any more.
Or we could do it ourselves.
Heresy, you’re probably thinking right now. It’s my job to feed the public, not to keep the public thinking straight. Well, wake up and smell those stables.
If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. And if it doesn’t, in the not too distant future we’re going to have an industry that’s not very much like today’s.
What can you do? That’s easy. Whenever you read or see or hear something that’s wrong, something that can, and particularly something that appears as if it’s been designed to, damage the commercial fishing industry, get to the people responsible for airing or printing it and let them know.
You don’t have to be eloquent, sound scientific or spout a bunch of statistics. All you have to be is convincing, and who can be more convincing about fishing issues than someone who’s invested his life in the future of the commercial fishing industry. You’re out there on the water, or you’re talking with the folks who are, day after day. You communicate with other fishermen or other dealers or other suppliers, and you know what’s really going on.
Emphasize that what you know is based on first hand observations informed by years – or generations – of on-the-water experience, not on computer generated models based on third- or fourth- or fifth-hand data and manipulated by “scientists” who will accumulate less boat time in a career than you will in a season.
But don’t leave it at that, because that’s only half the job. Contact your elected officials or, probably more likely and just as effective, their staffers and set the record straight. Then get to your favorite bureaucrats, relate the specifics (where/when the article was published or the segment was aired) and ask them to “officially” respond to the inaccuracies. Then contact your Sea Grant guy or gal, the professors that you’ve had dealings with, your buddies, your customers, your suppliers and anyone else you can think of and get them involved as well.
The print and broadcast media today thrives on controversy, but that can work to our advantage. A researcher in Halifax or an activist in Washington is going to get coverage, because the deep pockets that support them are also supporting extensive media outreach programs. If a well-spoken and informed local businesswoman or man, one with roots in the community, can provide that spark of controversy, she or he stands a good chance of being contacted the next time a fishing issue comes up. To a large extent, it’s about cultivating relationships with the media. The other side is good at it and has been for years. We haven’t even started.
Hercules was adept at handling cattle droppings. Our only choice is to become equally adept.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, September 2007)
Do you have a hobby that involves growing or building stuff, or do you know anybody that does? If so, you know that it can get really expensive. Amateur gardeners pay way above market price to grow their own tomatoes and eggplants and squash. Amateur mechanics put hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into rebuilding a 50 year old car that cost a couple of thousand dollars when new. Amateur cabinetmakers invest thousands and thousands of dollars in workshops to build bookshelves and armoires and dry sinks. And amateur fishermen can spend hundreds of dollars for every pound of fish they catch.
Someone that lives in Princeton whose salary is a quarter of a million dollars a year, with a garden that takes up 5% of a lot worth a million dollars and a John Deere garden tractor that cost $5,000 could probably make a convincing argument that, counting labor and land and capital, his tomatoes cost $500 a pound. Anybody who’s familiar with classic car auctions knows that a well-restored muscle car from the sixties can easily sell for twenty or thirty or more times what it cost when new. With hardwoods costing ten or twenty dollars a board foot and hobby-sized planers and table saws ranging upwards of a thousand bucks, furniture that you could buy for a couple of hundred dollars would, including your time, cost much more to build.
Could you imagine an elected official, one at any level, therefore arguing that the agriculture industry or the automobile industry or the furniture industry should be shut down? That amateurs spent so much more to produce goods, and that their expenditures per pound or per vehicle or per end table were therefore so much more valuable to the economy, that they should be the sole producers of those goods?
Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? Evidently not in our Congress.
For what seems like the dozenth time, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, this year along with Maine’s Congressman Tom Allen, has introduced legislation to make striped bass a gamefish coast-wide. Their “justification” for doing this is that their recreational fishing constituents spend much more money to catch striped bass than commercial fishermen get for the same fish at the dock. According to them, it’s a waste of the resource to allow the non-fishing members of the public to ever enjoy this delicious fish unless they are given one by the sportsman or woman that they’re lucky enough to have as a friend.
What do these legislators, whose non-angling constituents outnumber anglers by perhaps a hundred to one, want them to give up? In 1634, William Wood wrote in New England’s Prospects “The Basse is one of the best fishes in the Countrey, and though men are soone wearied with other fish, yet are they never with Basse. It is a delicate, fine, fat, fast fish...pleasant to the pallat, and wholesome to the stomach” (from the classic The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery by McClane & deZanger). And nobody with even semi-educated taste buds has disagreed in the intervening 373 years.
The proponents of this legislation try to support it with two bogus arguments. The first is that the recreational striped bass fishery is increasingly “catch and release” and more conservation-oriented. Au contraire, recreational “catch and release” striped bass mortality is now greater than the total commercial harvest. The second is that the consumers will still have access to aquacultured striped bass. Fact is that no one is growing real saltwater striped bass for the market. Instead, they are culturing a striped bass/white perch hybrid in fresh water. It’s not the same. McClane and deZanger recognize this, writing “landlocked populations of striped bass ... (are) inferior to a prime fish taken from saltwater.”
So, according to Congressmen Pallone and Allen, a handful of fishing hobbyists deserve exclusive access to the entire crop of one of the finest seafood products that’s available from our coastal waters, offering 300+ million non-fishing consumers an aquacultured “substitute” that doesn’t even come close, because those anglers spend so much more to catch the striped bass they catch. This is while those same anglers, using the latest in “catch and release” methodology, are killing and wasting more striped bass than the non-fishing consumers are allowed to consume.
If these two Congressmen get away with punishing commercial fishermen, and the consumers they work for, for fishing as efficiently and environmentally responsibly as they can, look out Broyhill, Ford and Con-Agra, ‘cause you might be next.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, October 2007)
Last month I attended four days of a stock assessment meeting at the NMFS’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. I was doing this for the Monkfish Defense Fund (the MDF), an industry group I’ve been affiliated with since its beginnings almost a decade ago. Asked about it later, I described the four days I was there as the longest two weeks I’d ever slogged thru. In other words, it wasn’t all that enjoyable. But it was informative. In fact, it was tremendously informative (and for those science types reading this, you can stop cringing, because I mean that in a good sense).
I’m not an assessment scientist, not even close. I was never big on statistics, even back in college. Needless to say, much of what went on at Woods Hole was at least a wee bit beyond me. This could be why I found the experience somewhat painful in a long and drawn-out way. Think “four day root canal.”
But was it worth being there? You betcha!
First off, the monkfish fishery has been characterized as “data poor,” indicating, I guess, that extraordinary mathematical/statistical efforts were needed to upgrade the assessment (for an overview of the fishery and its management from my perspective, see “Is this any way to run a business” at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/run_a_business.html). The assessment panel members, both NMFS and “independent” scientists, were there to consider all of the information available on the fishery, to assess its current condition and to make recommendations relative to its future management. They all appeared to be taking the job very seriously and were intent on doing it as well as possible.
If there was a piece of relevant data available on the monkfish stocks or the monkfish fishery, it was considered. Much of the meeting was devoted to fine tuning a computer model that was developed specifically for the monkfish fishery.
The MDF had a scientist there as well, someone who understands all of the technical mumbo jumbo that is so far beyond me. Both his input and mine were sought and considered by the panel. There are subtle, and not so subtle, nuances involved in utilizing data that might not be evident to scientists, no matter how expert they are, from outside the fishery. Because of this, our participation was critical.
On the downside, the panel throughout the meeting was subject to what seemed to me to be inordinate attempts by several members of the Science Center staff to influence the outcome of the deliberations. It felt like they were attempting to “protect” the existing management program – and NMFS’ role in its creation and implementation. Interestingly enough, to support some of their arguments they used information that would have undoubtedly been labeled as “anecdotal” and disregarded had it come from fishermen.
What’s the final impact on the monkfish fishery going to be? At this point, we don’t know. But we do know that an inadequate method of estimating critical stock parameters was addressed and, we assume, will be improved upon.
What’s the take-home message for the industry? When it comes to stock assessments of fisheries you are in, be there. Be there in person, if you’re able. Or have someone there for you. But make sure that he or she knows the fishery, and knows how it interacts with other fisheries, because what might appear to be changes related to the health of the stocks could be due to a totally unrelated factor (the decline in monkfish bycatch in the sea scallop fishery was one that came up in Woods Hole).
But if you aren’t an assessment scientist, or if you doubt that you will understand everything that will be going on at the assessment, also have someone there who does. To as large an extent as possible, the involved industry reps should be there as a part of the process, but getting to that point won’t be easy.
This is going to be expensive, but do you have any choice? Do you want to be saddled with an overly restrictive management regime because a decline in landings that was due to a fall in the strength of the yen was interpreted as a stock decline because no one was there to point out what was really going on? NMFS could help by making a fisherman – or someone else recognized by the industry as being well informed about the particular fishery – an official part of each panel. And pay his or her expenses, as well.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, November 2007)
Two of the most unfortunate words associated with fisheries management are “anecdotal” and “best available.” The first is used far too often to discount on-the-water observations by fishermen and the second to justify important fishery management decisions based on sometimes inadequate information.
Together, they have arguably cost fishermen and the businesses that depend on them millions of dollars and countless opportunities for recreation – and the antis, of course, use them to bolster their arguments for precautionary management and the harshly restrictive regulations that demands.
Fortunately, a mechanism is available with the potential to obviate much of this: cooperative research.
While NOAA is now the proud possessor of new, state-of-the-art research vessels, these boats were designed, and will be crewed, to do many scientific jobs, perhaps the fisheries research equivalent of a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman tool. When it comes to working on specific fisheries, their observations will differ significantly from those generated by a boat, crew and captain with years, decades or sometimes generations of hands-on experience in how, where and when to fish in that fishery. They don’t have a net designed to sample several dozen species, they don’t rig it or fish it to sample them all, and if it’s the right boat and crew, they operate as a fine-tuned machine to catch one or several species. Tools, if you will, designed for a particular job.
While some people will argue that a carefully designed sampling program, sophisticated statistical manipulations and the right computer model are all that are needed, this doesn’t quite ring true, particularly when dealing with fish that are or aren’t available based on a schedule determined by Mother Nature, not by a team of researchers and administrators with limited or no sea time. They researchers are sampling stations. The fishermen are catching fish.
The researchers are hesitant to use the fishermen’s data, and from a rigorous scientific perspective that might be understandable. But, if we can get the researchers out on the real fishing boats, crewed by working fishermen and captained by a high liner, then we have the best of all possible worlds – particularly if the data that’s generated can be combined with that from the survey fleet. Cooperative research lets us do that.
Take the monkfish fishery as an example (only because I’m familiar with the fishery and several cooperative monkfish surveys; other fisheries also have dynamic research programs designed and operated jointly by government and academia and industry). The NMFS Autumn Trawl Survey used to be the “foundation” of the monkfish management program. In 2001 a total of 620 pounds of monkfish were caught on the 339 stations sampled. In the cooperative monkfish survey done the same year, the two commercial boats used caught over 18 tons of monkfish on just over 300 stations. This doesn’t invalidate the results of the “official” survey, but it sure puts things in a different perspective. And that perspective played a part in the newest monkfish assessment, which found that the stocks weren’t overfished and overfishing wasn’t taking place in either of the two management areas.
Will this result in higher landings? Perhaps, but it will definitely result in a fishery that’s managed better. And that’s what we’re aiming for.
Cooperative research is under-funded in the NMFS budget, and the cost of chartering commercial boats and staffing them with researchers and their equipment is high. So I’m urging you to devote some serious effort to lobbying both NMFS and your representatives in Washington to pump up the cooperative research budget.
From the industry side, participating in the organization and administration of these programs chews up a lot of hours, but it’s your fishery and you should be involved. It’s more than worth it, because it makes the “best available” information much better, and it turns “anecdotal observations” into useable data. It’s the best mechanism available to show what’s really going on in the fisheries.
On an unrelated note, I’d like to devote a few words to recognizing one of the best friends we have in the Southeast. L.J. Wallace, also a faithful reader and promoter of National Fisherman, has me on his Charlestown, S.C. talk show, Waters Edge, on Saturday mornings following the publication of this magazine. Devoted to recreational boating, L.J. also uses the show to promote the commercial fishing industry, and he’s great at it. The broadcasts are archived on The Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net website (http://www.cruisersnet.net and click on “Waters Edge Radio” on the left). Give it a listen. You’ll be glad you did.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, December 2007)
My last two columns dealt with research for a simple reason; the more we know about fish and fishing, the better we can be at harvesting while maintaining the productivity of our inshore and offshore waters. Simple, isn’t it? If we spend more on research we know more, and if we know more we fish better.
Unfortunately funding available for research, at least funding from the government and from the fishing industry, is limited, and getting more limited every year. Government funding keeps dropping because agency budgets aren’t growing and mandated programs like those protecting endangered species or threatened habitat are becoming more expensive. And I don’t have to tell anyone reading this what’s happening with industry revenues.
But, you might think, what of all those organizations with really deep pockets whose leaders are more than willing, at the drop of a hat, to profess how they are on the side of short-sighted fishermen who are going to reap their well-deserved rewards when all of our fisheries become “sustainable?” You know they are spending tens of millions of dollars each year on lawyers, on lobbying and public relations, on “research” to show how bad fishing is for all those ocean critters. How much are they spending to improve the science that will actually support more effective fisheries management or the actual day-to-day (rather than illusory, pie-in-the-sky future) lives of the fishermen they are supposedly there to help?
Your guess is as good as mine, and if you’re even semi-informed about such matters I’d suspect it would range from close to zip to right around nada.
Of course, it’s impossible to consider ENGO (that’s Environmental Non-government Organization) participation in research without considering Our Favorite Charitable Trust (OFCT to the heretofore uninitiated).
OFCT gives tens of millions of dollars a year to organizations to ostensibly make the oceans better for fish to swim in and fishermen to fish in. As an example of this largesse, of the ten organizations listed as members of The Herring Alliance – that’s the group that’s out to save the Gulf of Maine (or the North Atlantic, the world, or the universe; I sometimes get who’s being saved from what by those OFCT dollars confused) from the depredations of the big boat bad guys - on its website, eight are funded by OFCT. Seven of them have received over $120 million from OFCT and one of them, The Pew Trusts, is, if you were wondering, OFCT. Even counting inflation, that’s an awful lot of dollars. How much of that has been spent by the recipient organizations on research to improve assessments or reduce bycatch or increase efficiency, in fact on anything of a positive – for the fishermen or for the fisheries managers – nature? If anybody from any of those ENGOs or OFCT is willing to share that information, I – and a bunch of readers – would love to know. We already have a pretty good idea of how much is spent on demonizing and marginalizing the fishermen because we’re struggling to live with the results.
Of course, the more we know about the fish stocks, and about the effects of fishing on them, the less we can be forced to rely on the precautionary principal, and where would all of those “crucify the fishermen” programs be without that? Or how about marine mammal assessments that are less than a decade old? Or any of dozens of other issues where, because of lack of knowledge, fishermen are paying the price? How many jobs, how many programs, how much bad PR and how much deflection of the public’s attention (eighteen years later “Exxon Valdez” is still synonymous with catastrophic oil spills, five years later “Prestige” doesn’t ring anyone’s bells, at least on this side of the Atlantic) is based on “we don’t know, so it’s better to be safe than sorry?”
This isn’t to say that the odd bright spot doesn’t exist. World Wildlife Fund’s Smart Gear competition is one. From a fishing industry perspective it’s the only positive program by an ENGO that I’m aware of, and WWF isn’t supporting the gear research, it’s only recognizing it. But, looking at the Smart Gear website, it’s obvious the competition was designed working with real industry groups, and it could easily serve as a model for other ENGOs with a serious commitment to positively contributing to the fish and the fishermen. Will it fly in Philadelphia? Not likely, ‘cause it shows that fishermen are good guys, a concept OFCT seems seriously averse to.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, January 2008)
In the last couple of months we’ve seen two attempts to force major management actions with absolutely no justification in science onto commercial fishermen, one from the White House and one from Congress. In the first, President Bush made striped bass and channel bass “gamefish” on the East and Gulf coasts. In the second, New Jersey Congressman Saxton and Maryland Congressman Gilchrist are attempting to close the East coast menhaden reduction fishery down.
One would think, given the importance of each of the three gentlemen, that these important fisheries must be facing impending disaster at the hands of commercial fishermen that the existing management system wasn’t capable of handling. Otherwise, why would the President and two senior Congressmen expend the energy necessary to research and write the bass proclamation or the menhaden legislation and why would they demonstrate a complete lack of confidence in the established government entities charged with managing these fisheries?
But au contraire, folks, that’s not necessarily so. The striped bass biomass is as high as it’s ever been, channel bass are recovering from the blackened redfish craze quite nicely, and menhaden as of the last assessment (September, 2006) are neither being overfished nor is overfishing on them occurring. Further, about 90% of channel bass landings are recreational, and recreational C&R mortality of striped bass exceeds commercial landings, so if either of these species actually needed extraordinary protection, they would have to be protected from recreational fishermen, not commercial.
Additionally, the vast majority of landings of all three species are from states’ waters. Great as the powers of the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress are, neither is likely to intrude upon the prerogative of coastal states to manage fisheries in their waters.
So why are our elected officials “protecting” three species that they have no jurisdiction over, need no protection anyway, and are at no risk from commercial harvesters? I’d like to think that it’s because they’re acting on grossly inadequate information, and that they are under the impression that commercial harvesting is posing an immediate threat to the stocks. That being the case, they are each sorely in need of some tuning up at the staff level.
Of course, the harvesting of these three fish has been the subject of public controversy for decades. It seems like there have been movements afoot to make striped bass and channel bass “gamefish” for as long as I’ve been involved in fisheries, and menhaden harvesting has been an issue as well, primarily because striped bass eat them. So the President’s and the Congressmen’s actions would, it would seem, gain the favor of the recreational fishermen.
But should they? Looked at realistically, recreational fishing is an activity that’s practiced by fewer and fewer people each year. While it’s hard to get a handle on the actual statistics, it’s safe to say that less than a tenth of the people in the U.S. are serious recreational anglers. Just as recreational fishermen outnumber commercial fishermen, the non-fishing public outnumbers recreational fishermen. Some of those non-fishermen, in fact a fairly large number of them, are seriously interested in animal rights. Anyone who doubts this has to look no further than the changes that the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries have been forced to make over the last decade.
And they have begun to target sportsmen – hunters and fishermen – in a serious way. As an example, in New Jersey legislation has been introduced that would be the first step in turning New Jersey’s appointed Fish and Game Council from a body with the goal of protecting the citizen’s abilities to hunt and fish into one with the goal of protecting the critters that they used to hunt and fish. And this isn’t a movement limited to New Jersey.
How are they doing this? Political pressure, plain and simple, and they’re using arguments that are easy to sell to that non-hunting, non-fishing public. Fortunately, while eschewing hunting and fishing, those people haven’t given up eating fish; in fact they’re eating more per capita every year. We’re ahead of the curve on this one.
So I would think that the astute politician, if intent on protecting the fishing rights of his or her constituents, would do everything possible to “marry” commercial and recreational fishing, and to institutionalize them as sustainable pursuits through strengthening the management system we have. This isn’t going to happen by short-circuiting that system and weakening it as President Bush, Congressman Saxton and Congressman Gilchrist have just done. Go figure.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, February 2008)
One of the most troubling problems with the Magnuson Act as it’s been distorted in the last two reauthorizations is the designed-in inflexibility. This inflexibility, which has been forced by the campaigning of foundation-funded activists, is there to prevent the management system from acting, or reacting, too subjectively, relying on “science” rather than on the informed judgment of the managers.
At first glance that seems a reasonable approach. Science is objective, and supposedly isn’t influenced by extraneous factors. Do what the science says, and the fish – and the fishermen – are going to come out ahead.
But that’s not necessarily so, particularly for fisheries. It certainly is for simple systems, those that the scientists fully understand that are only influenced by identifiable and measurable variables. Scientists can predict, for example, at what temperature distilled water will boil at a particular pressure. It’s a simple system with identifiable and measurable variables.
But, alas, a fishery isn’t a simple system, and certainly not one in which we can identify and measure all of the variables. In fact, we can’t even measure most of those variables we’ve identified, perhaps not accurately, as major. We can estimate the stock size, the landings, a few of the sources of mortality and the recruitment. We don’t have a clue about the intra- or inter-specific interactions, the impacts of other natural or anthropogenic variables, the carrying capacity or much of anything else. As a matter of fact, for many species we don’t even have a solid handle on the complete life cycle.
Given all of the unknowns, how can we possibly predict – or, written another way, model – what is going to happen in a fishery with any degree of accuracy? Quite simply, we can’t.
Fully realizing this, in their wisdom the Members of Congress back in the ‘70s allowed for a significant amount of informed judgment to be applied to the management system. They knew that the scientists didn’t have all of the answers (and I’d be willing to bet that back then they knew that the scientists wouldn’t have them all at any point in the foreseeable future, either). Accordingly, they didn’t make fisheries management the exclusive turf of the scientists, but legislated participation by governmental representatives and members of the public as well.
Unfortunately, since then Congress’ intentions have been subverted by the antis. According to them, fisheries management shouldn’t be accomplished by the judicious application of the “best available” science reinforced with the informed judgment of people with hands-on experience. They want management based on “sophisticated” computer models (the sophistication only necessary because the data that fuels the models is so meager), limited survey results, and the recommendations of generally narrow-focused scientists with on-the-water experience limited, at best, to survey cruises and no real grasp of what the ocean is really like. And, of course, none of them are spending any of their easily earned foundation bucks on generating better data. That would interfere with their campaign to turn fisheries management into the entirely political process that they hypocritically claim they are vehemently against.
(The antis are sure in favor of flexibility when it comes to what they consider political interference. If it’s a handful of fishing businesses being kept alive by elected officials, it’s bad and it’s political. If it’s 300,000 “comments” generated by mouse clicks on propaganda laden anti-fishing websites to put them out of business, it isn’t.)
But to their credit, Congressmen Walter Jones (NC), Barney Frank (MA) and most recently Timothy Bishop (NY) are sponsoring the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2007 (H.R. 4087). While not addressing all of the ills of fisheries management today, it’s a great start. It returns informed judgment to a system that isn’t making it on science alone, alleviating what has become counter-productive rigidity. Get your Representatives to sign on. It’s critical to your future.
On a sort of related note, Rhode Island fisherman Phil Ruhle was one of NOAA’s five Environmental Heroes in 2003. Agency head Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher said of the recipients “your dedicated efforts and outstanding accomplishments greatly benefit the environment and make our nation a better place for all Americans.” This year Phil was a winner of World Wildlife Fund’s International Smart Gear competition. He’s as good an argument as we have for cloning particular fishermen. So why, I have to ask, wasn’t he reappointed to the New England Council? And why have other, equally qualified fishermen and effective Council members been removed “before their time.”
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, March 2008)
John Tierney’s New Year’s Day column in the New York Times, “In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm,” dealt with global warming and the impact that the pronouncements of a relative handful on scientists and the highly focused media attention they have generated have had on the public’s perceptions of what’s going on with the world’s climate.
I’m not about to enter into any debate on global warming or climate change or the role that our activities are or aren’t having with what is or isn’t happening there. I have more than enough to do keeping up with fisheries. However, Mr. Tierney’s examination of the roots of the media’s global warming “frenzy,” an availability (or informational) cascade, should be required background reading for anyone with an interest in fisheries policy formation.
He wrote that “activists, journalists and scientists” have initiated and are propagating a global warming “availability cascade.” In the words of Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein, who first used the term in the 1999 paper Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation in the Stanford Law Review, “an availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse.” They continue “availability entrepreneurs--activists who manipulate the content of public discourse-strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas.”
Ring any bells? In spite of an overwhelming amount of information to the contrary, the public perception is increasingly that our fisheries are collectively on their way to hell in a hand basket, and they’re on that journey because of commercial fishing. Stocks are increasing, effort is declining and gear is becoming more selective, yet the anti-fishing efforts of the anti-fishing activists haven’t abated a bit.
And why is that? Because the anti-fishing community’s very own availability entrepreneurs, are masters at manipulating the content of public discourse. And, of course, because they have really deep pockets as well.
One of the most interesting facets of the concurrent anti-fishing and global warming campaigns is that they both seem to a very large extent to be orchestrated by the same organization, Our Favorite Charitable Trust. The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Sun Oil heirs and etc. that direct them, have kicked many tens of millions of dollars into global warming and anti-fishing campaigns. And it almost goes without saying that Fenton Communications, the public relations giant that cut it’s eye teeth on the Alar apple scare, an availability cascade that’s still one of the holy grails of availability entrepreneurs, represents many of the entities that are playing a central role in both (your assignment for this month is to go to the Fenton website and dig into how such campaigns are brought about).
But these cascades aren’t limited to national or international “causes” funded by multi-billion dollar foundations. Fish-wise, such affronts to equitable and effective resource management as the Florida net ban, the creation of “gamefish” by legislative fiat, the banning of menhaden harvesting in various states’ waters and other similar actions are all the results of successful cascades, with no basis in fact but as responses to “political” pressure.
And the effectiveness of such cascades, and their potential to do harm, is exacerbated by the internet, where any statement, no matter how malignantly wrong, may be taken as fact by the uninformed, as long as it’s consistent with their self-serving agendas. This can generate an overwhelming amount of pressure on elected officials who are unaware of the truth, or on those who are aware of it are but so much more interested in the next election than in doing the right thing.
How can availability cascades that are based on wrong information, be countered? As Kurin and Sunstein wrote in 1999, “insofar as people appreciate the mechanisms discussed here, they will know that public opinion can be both misinformed and deceptive. As Alexis de Tocqueville recognized, the notion that the majority is not necessarily right collides with one of the building blocks of modem democracy: the principle of majority rule. To ascribe moral authority to numbers is to instruct individuals that if they are outnumbered they are likely to be wrong and deserving of criticism. It is also to signal to the majority that it has a moral right to intimidate dissenters. As compared with people socialized to believe in the virtues of majority rule, those who understand the mechanics and consequences of availability cascades will be more resistant to their informational and reputational signals.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, April 2008)
Sectors are coming to New England groundfish management. How do I know? I attended a two-day workshop in Narragansett last month, and according to what I heard there, it’s all over but the shouting. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the New England groundfish fishery, or at least major parts of it, are going to be managed via sectors.
First off, if you’re expecting to find out if I think sector-based management is either good or bad, you might as well stop reading now, ‘cause you’re not going to read that here. (Maybe move on to the column by that other guy with the beard. He thinks right tonsorially, so he undoubtedly thinks right on other stuff as well.)
Like ITQs or whatever we’re calling them this year, trip limits, days at sea or any of the other management gimcracks and geegaws, sectors are tools. They aren’t the be all and end all of fisheries management, nor are they a guaranteed death knell for one or another group of fishermen. They are, or should be, a management option to be adopted after careful consideration by the industry members – on board and on shore – whose businesses will be impacted by them.
But I get the idea that that’s not the case with sector based management, at least with New England groundfish. I get the idea that a lot of folks wouldn’t be considering this form of management except for the fact they’re mostly convinced that it’s going to happen regardless of how they, or most industry members, feel about it, and they want to be ready when it does.
I probably don’t need to tell you that isn’t exactly my kind of management. According to Merriam-Webster, a stampede is “a wild headlong rush or flight of frightened animals.” Replace animals with fishermen and you’ll maybe appreciate where I’m coming from. A lot of folks in the groundfish fishery are frightened about what the next iteration of Days At Sea management is going to do to them, and – based on what’s gone on before – they should be. The next groundfish shoe is going to fall next year, and it’s going to fall heavily. But you’ve heard of frying pans and fires, right?
Getting back to the workshop in Narragansett. There appeared to be more bureaucrats, academics and “conservationists” than actual industry people registered. For us perennial skeptics that wasn’t a real auspicious start.
If I were a fisheries manager, particularly one with years of groundfish management under my belt, I’d be at the front of the sector bandwagon. And if I was an academic or some other brand of researcher, the millions of dollars of grant funds that are and will continue to be available to “study” sectors would be a good incentive to jump aboard.
But if I were a groundfish fisherman, I’d think twice (or thrice, or more) about what I was buying into and what it was costing me. It seems like I’d be getting less boats in the fishery and some freedom in how, where and when I fished, at the cost of a lot more shared responsibility and shared liability, and with much of the administrative burden shifted from the government to me. And with no indication that the somewhat less than adequate science and the distorted management philosophy that’s afflicting so many of our fisheries are going to change. Same old TACs, just divvied up differently. Is it worth it? If you catch or sell groundfish, you should be able to decide for yourself.
The “environmentalist” contingent in Narragansett was all aflutter over the idea of a conservation sector. Having to bid for sector shares against the shills for multi-billion dollar “charitable” trusts is a truly frightening thought, but considering the political climate in Silver Springs, it just might sell. I doubt there are many of us who would want to co-own a fishery with OFCT.
Not at all surprisingly, an Environmental Defense cheerleader for “catch shares” and Limited Access Privilege Programs gave a presentation at the workshop to boost the Sector campaign, and the ENGOs place in it.
There are some particular situations in particular fisheries where sectors might work, and might work well, and they might be viewed as a magic bullet by a lot of people and organizations that have interests not completely in line with commercial fishermen’s. But a panacea they’re surely not, and I really hope that no one in the industry is looking at them as if they are.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, May 2008)
Ever get the idea that the commercial fishing industry isn’t doing as well politically as it could be doing? I sure do. And while it might be a function of my overly pessimistic nature, I doubt it – and I doubt that anyone reading this will see it that way either.
Folks, we’re getting beat. We’re getting beat in Congress and we’re getting beat in the White House. About the only place where we’re not getting beat is in the Courts, but that’s only because the laws haven’t been written or amended to that extent yet.
Why? One of the reasons is that we haven’t learned one of the lessons that are second nature to every effective lobbying group. That is, don’t air your dirty laundry in public.
Auto manufacturers are pretty good at competing with each other. I imagine that the competition to sell cars can get pretty cutthroat at times, but when it comes to national politics, they speak with one coordinated voice. Agricultural commodity groups are often going after the same markets, but when it comes to national policies, they all take the same tack. And it’s a safe bet that the anti-fishing envirorgs that are competing for the same prospective members and large but limited pot of foundation money have ongoing disagreements. But when it comes to attacking the commercial fishing industry, they’re all part of one big, happy family.
What about us? Let’s take two recent examples.
First we have the high profile conflict between the lobster pot fishermen and the draggers in Maine. I’m not taking sides here, but please consider the message that this ongoing issue has left the politicians – and the public – with. I’d bet that regular people don’t differentiate between pot fishermen, gillnet fishermen and otter trawl fishermen. To most folks a fisherman is a fisherman is a fisherman. And their take-home message from all of the media attention has to be “those commercial fishermen don’t even like, and they can’t even get along with, each other.” I’ll bet dollars to donuts that any bad feelings the public was left with will be directed as much at commercial fishermen in general as it will be at one group or another. Let’s also consider the politicians. They’re right in the middle of two strongly disagreeing factions of the same industry. Is that any way to garner political support for commercial fishing?
Then there’s the still simmering mid-water trawling issue. Again, the assumption is that the general public can differentiate between mid-water trawling and any other kind of commercial harvesting, or in fact even cares that any differences exist. You think?
At the end of the day, it’s most likely that people are going to be left with bad tastes in their mouths “because of trawling.” After six months, how many of them are going to differentiate between mid-water and bottom trawling? After another six months, between trawling and tub trawling? Or purse seining? Specifics will be forgotten but the anti-commercial fishing taste is going to stick with them, because so many people are working hard to make sure that it does.
Unfortunately, this issue has another significant downside. Implicit in some of the arguments is the charge that the management and enforcement systems are seriously flawed (actually, the charges have been explicit on occasion). If anyone thinks that this is anything but ammunition for the antis in their drive to make fishermen totally superfluous in the fisheries management system except in an “advisory” capacity, think again.
I’m sure that most of the fishermen immersed in these issues, or in any others that involve gear bashing of some form or other, would assure us that they are solidly behind a unified commercial fishing industry with a coherent and coordinated national strategy, but “this is something that is so obviously wrong that it needs to be fixed any way that we can fix it.” Remember singing as a kid “I’m rubber, you’re glue, your insults bounce of me and stick to you?” None of us are rubber, none of us are glue, and any insults stick to all of us.
Sit down with the fishermen on the other side and come to an accommodation. Not adequate science? Do what you have to do to make it adequate, but go after it together and abide by the results. For the future of the industry and for your future in it, keep it in the family. We all pay if you don’t.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, June 2008)
Texas is off-base on menhaden – Jumping on the “they’re big boats so they don’t belong here” bandwagon, some of the folks doing what I’ll call, for want of a better term, fisheries management in Texas are considering closing state waters to menhaden fishing. Like other knee-jerk assaults on this historic fishery, they’re using bycatch and the species’ ecological role as justification. Under contract to Omega Protein, John Everett of Ocean Associates in Arlington, VA reviewed the “science” underlying the proposed ban (and by implication similar measures elsewhere.) Guess what? As every credible researcher has determined for most of the last century, the menhaden purse seine fishery is among the cleanest, and menhaden, being omnivorous rather that vegetarian as the antis would have us believe, can have severe negative impacts of other estuarine species. In Dr. Everett’s words, “if Texas restricts its menhaden harvest, the result will quite likely be decreased shrimp and gamefish populations.”
Who’s the goose and who’s the gander? - From its website, Stripers Forever has “only one purpose, which is to enhance public fishing for striped bass by making the striped bass a gamefish and ending commercial exploitation of this vital recreational species.” Brad Burns is listed as the president. In a column titled “Shad runs are part of our coastal heritage” about a New York State move to ban recreational shad fishing in the Hudson, author Dick Pinney quotes Mr. Burns “essentially, the DEC (New York Department of Environmental Conservation) is privatizing the Hudson River shad resource by forcing sport fishermen who want a shad for a meal to buy that fish from a member of a select group of commercial fishermen who have been given the exclusive right to harvest a public resource... the lack of social fairness in its proposed regulation — is appalling.” How can it be “appalling” to give commercial fishermen – and the consumers they serve – the rights to one species but laudable to give recreational fishermen exclusive rights to another?
Do they like anyone who fishes? - in “Greenpeace eyes Alaska pollock in red-list campaign” in the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Laine Welch writes “Greenpeace is launching an assault against U.S. seafood retailers, and Alaska pollock tops the list of fish the environmental group wants removed from the marketplace.” As she points out, this fishery is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and is generally agreed to be among the best managed anywhere. She continues “Greenpeace demands that 23 seafood species be removed from U.S. retail shelves, including farmed salmon and shrimp.” Do you ever wonder what these people really want? In her article Ms. Welch notes that the National Fisheries Institute estimates that “if Greenpeace is successful, it will halt sales of nearly 47 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S.” It almost seems as if Greenpeace has sworn a vendetta against humanity, and plans on carrying it out by subverting everyone’s diet.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium people, like Greenpeace, have determined they can carry out their fisheries agenda by going directly to the consumers. One of their vehicles for doing this is the “Seafood Watch” program, aimed at alerting consumers to “problems” with potential purchases. They had cautioned consumers to avoid scallops from the Mid-Atlantic because “the population in the region“ is currently being overfished,” and monkfish because its “high demand has encouraged heavy fishing and populations have become overfished off the U.S. Atlantic coast.”
It took me about two minutes to confirm that neither domestic monkfish nor sea scallops were classified as overfished. Sea scallops haven’t been “overfished” since 2001, overfishing hasn’t happened since 2006, and with the stock being managed as a unit throughout its range, there's no way that the status of a particular area can be considered on its own. The status of monkfish was changed as the result of a new assessment last summer.
I and several other people notified Seafood Watch of this. I just received word that the classification of Mid-Atlantic scallops will be changed from “Avoid” to “Good Alternative” within two weeks (I’m writing this on April 11.) I haven’t had any word yet about monkfish.
The Seafood Watch staff’s willingness to listen was laudable and I compliment them for it. But, considering that they have been distributing pocket guides with the inaccurate classifications, and that other classifications are bound to change, such changes should be highlighted on their website, in their newsletter, etc. as they are made.)
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, July 2008)
We’re all familiar with rants about the lack of balance on the Regional Fishery Management Councils, with the negative effects on our fisheries of undue influence and rampant “conflicts of interest,” which are always attributed to the commercial fishing industry. Brought forth by disgruntled people or organizations, they are always a prelude to proposals for either restacking the Councils or for reducing their influence in the federal fisheries management process. These proposals invariably increase the reliance on science and scientists, regardless of how questionable the science might be or how compromised the objectivity of the scientists.
I’ve been digging through the N.M.F.S. annual reports to Congress on Council membership for 1990 to 2007, trying to determine how skewed – or not – it actually is.
Accepting the words of the trustworthy and right-thinking “conservationists” as I always strive to do, I was expecting to see complete and utter domination of every Council by commercial fishermen or their representatives. Going back to 1990, of the 110 to 114 total voting Council members, from 27% (‘01) to 33% (‘97 and ‘98) were classified by NMFS as “commercial” and from 18% (‘95 and ’96) to 25% (’03, ’05 to ’07) as “recreational.”
Looking at particular Councils, in 1991 the commercial representatives outnumbered the recreational reps on the New England, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, Caribbean and North Pacific Councils and were outnumbered by the recreational reps on the Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic and Pacific Councils. In 2007, the latest year for which a report was available, the commercial reps outnumbered the recreational reps on the New England, North Pacific and Caribbean Councils, were outnumbered by the recreational reps on the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Western Pacific Councils and were tied on the Mid-Atlantic Council.
Government and “other” voting members made up from 44% (’03) to 51% (’95 and ’96) of the total. They were at 47% in 2007.
Commercial domination? Not hardly, and the proportion of commercial representation is falling from year to year, from 32% in 1990 to 28% in 2006. Who’s really in control? By the numbers, it’s the government reps, who made up from 37% (’90 to ’97) to 38% (’98 to ’07) of the total.
These reports bring up several interesting and, I’d argue, critical points regarding who’s managing our fisheries, how balanced and representative the process really is, and where the imbalances actually lie.
First we have the domination of fisheries management by the government people. And, bearing in mind that it takes new Council appointees a term or so – three years out of nine – to become effective, the state and federal members, who are on the Councils just about in perpetuity, have even more relative power. All things being equal, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the Wallop-Breaux program, taxing recreational fishing expenditures and giving the revenues to state fisheries agencies, injects a level of bias into the process that’s hard to ignore. Having more fish to catch means that more money is spent catching them, and the easiest way for the sports to catch more fish is to increase the recreational allocation. That’s a real conflict.
Then the largest user group by an overwhelming margin, seafood consumers, is virtually absent from the fisheries management process. We have somewhere approaching 300 million people in the U.S. who enjoy seafood. Who’s looking out for them, working to ensure they have access to their share of high-quality, domestically-produced fish and shellfish? Commercial fishing representatives are, but not directly. Certainly not recreational fishing representatives, many of whom think that aquacultured product should be all that the non-fishing public is entitled to, and definitely not the “conservationists” whose actions, if not their words, demonstrate that they don’t want anyone catching much of anything at all. What of the food service people, the restaurateurs, the consumer groups?
And finally, where are the people who want to preserve our coastal communities and our maritime heritage. Do you have any idea how many fishing businesses, docks or ports have disappeared over the last two decades because of fisheries management decisions? I doubt that anyone in Silver Springs is counting, but living in Florida, I’m an eye-witness at ground zero. The “conservationists” have compellingly demonstrated that their interests stop at the shoreline and don’t extend to working stiffs with real jobs, but there are an awful lot of folks out there who realize the value of an honest-to-goodness working waterfront. Why aren’t they in the process?
More balance in the Councils? For sure, but not the way the antis are misrepresenting it.
by NNils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, August 2008)
First off, I was made aware that people reading my last column could have been left with the impression that I felt state officials were unduly influenced by Wallop-Breaux considerations in their roles as management council members. Since the late 70s I have known, and respected, many state directors and their designees. They have been conscientious to a fault and I didn’t mean to question this. I should have explained that it isn’t them I am concerned about, it’s the system. As evidenced by the federal/states supported “get out there and fish” programs, Wallop-Breaux funding creates an insidious institutional bias.
Moving on, I had the occasion to sit through part of a regional council meeting a few weeks back and was really pleased to hear a motion made that would allow participants in a fishery to land two trip limits in a single day while, of course, being charged for two days at sea to keep everything “conservation neutral.” This was an effort to make fishing a little – or perhaps a lot – more energy efficient, a reflection of the price of diesel fuel, at the time hovering around $4 a gallon.
Surprise doesn’t quite cover my reaction when I heard the NMFS officials in attendance shoot the idea down. They didn’t take a “that’s an interesting concept, let’s see how we can get it to work” attitude. They dismissed it out of hand, indicating that it was administratively impossible.
Being intrigued with the idea, as well as the official reaction by the federal agency in charge, I decided to find out what the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the other agency in charge of domestic food production, was doing to help its clients cope. After a half an hour of phone frustration I finally got to a very pleasant lady in the Department’s Press Office who, after a puzzled silence, told me that the USDA was doing nothing. More surprise!
By this time it was $4.50 a gallon diesel and the USDA wasn’t even considering how to help the farmers deal with it. I wasn’t focused on subsidies or anything like that, simply ways to let farmers farm more efficiently, yet there was nothing.
C’mon, folks. We’re all in this fuel mess together. Running to and from the fishing grounds represents a major use of diesel fuel. In many fisheries it undoubtedly represents the greatest use of fuel. How about bending the regulations to allow fishermen to maximize their landings per gallon of fuel burned?
If a fisherman can catch and land twice as many fish in a trip, and if he can still be held to the same level of annual landings, why shouldn’t we let him? It’s not going to have any negative impact on the resource, in fact it might well cut down on regulatory discards, and it would help significantly in keeping more boats in business and more fishermen working. Isn’t that a very large part of what fisheries management is – or should be – all about?
What about other regulatory adjustments to allow greater fishing efficiency. In commercial fishing, “efficiency” has been transformed into a four-letter word by the antis, but particularly when it comes to maximizing pounds landed per gallon burned, is it really?
If the “conservation neutrality” can be maintained, why shouldn’t fishermen be allowed to fish more gear, to land more fish on each trip, to transfer catch at sea or to do anything else to get around the inefficiencies that our managers have been using to control fishing for decades? The regulations could be modified to allow this, and they could be effectively enforced. All it would take would be a decision by the powers-that-be in Silver Springs to do it, and then the necessary administrative follow-up to get it done. If the mechanisms don’t exist to streamline what have become extremely onerous administrative requirements during an emergency of this proportion, then let’s go to Congress and get them created.
Fishing regulations aren’t, or shouldn’t be, carved in stone. If, in spite of growing growling to the contrary, NMFS is really interested in helping the fishermen rather than getting rid of as many of them as possible, if the so-called “conservationists” are as committed to a viable, sustainable commercial fishing industry as they claim to be, and if Congress is truly supportive, we can make fishing as fuel efficient as possible at no cost to the resource and at great savings to the fishermen. It’s time, or past time, that we do just that.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, September 2008)
Richard Gaines writes for the Gloucester Daily Times. He covers fishing. Writing for the home town paper of one of the country’s oldest commercial fishing ports, and appearing to be one of the more conscientious journalists around, it’s pretty obvious that he takes his job seriously.
Thus, when he wrote a three part series on the shucking and jiving that’s going on with the administration of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (starting on June 25 and available on the paper’s website), he did a good job of it. In reporting on the sanctuary’s history, he went back about as far as he could go, writing of its formation “it was so long ago that commercial fishermen and environmentalists were actual arm-in-arm allies in favor of the creation of the sanctuary.” Not too many of us remember those days, and I bet that of those that do, most probably wish they didn’t.
He detailed the ins and outs and the convoluted bureaucratic machinations that have much of the New England fishing industry concerned about continued access to Stellwagen’s rich and readily accessible waters, waters that have sustainably supported New England fishing communities for generations.
And, Saints be praised, he also spared a few words for what Our Favorite Charitable Trust (OFCT) has done and is doing in fisheries, detailing the role of two of its “activist-scientists” in beating the anti-trawling drums, and then recognizing that “Pew is associated with public information campaigns against fishing and fish consumption.” Of course their over-the-top pronouncements on the effects of trawling on bottom habitat will continue to play a conspicuous role in the Stellwagen dialogue.
A week after Mr. Gaines’ series ran, and following an editorial supporting it, one of the “activist-scientists” mentioned in the series responded with a letter to the editor. In it, Elliot Norse, President of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI), wrote “if Gloucester's community newspaper wants your fisheries to end and marine ecosystems to collapse further, then just say what Mr. Gaines' story did.” He also questioned whether the paper was condoning “threatening someone (in this instance, his own self) with murder” and asked if making such threats is acceptable behavior in Gloucester.
These might be among the more bizarre comments by a self-described honored scientist, but they do a great job of putting Dr. Norse’s trawling/clear cutting comparisons and doom-and-gloom ocean ecosystem pronouncements in their proper context. Fisherman Dave Goethel compellingly responded to them in a letter to the Gloucester Times on July 8. Dave’s wife Ellen, who serves on the federal Marine Protected Areas Advisory Committee with Dr. Norse, was identified by Dr. Norse as relaying the supposed threats on his life that he made such an issue of. She recalled that the reference to murder was made laughingly, that she obviously didn’t convey any actual threat, and that their conversation continued cordially after that.
Dr. Norse’s letter brought up another important issue. After questioning the morality of the people of Gloucester, he claimed that he had not “received large grant funding from the Pew Institute.” From a hair-splitting perspective Dr. Norse was right. Mr. Gaines had claimed that “the Pew Institute” was the funding source. The Pew Charitable Trusts website shows that Dr. Norse’s MCBI received two Pew grants; $110,000 in March of 2000 and $350,000 in September of 2001. Not the Pew Institute, but it was surely Pew money. His Pew Fellowship, if it was what his fellow Fellows received, was $150,000. He referred to this as “modest.” It must be nice to travel in circles where $150,000 is considered modest and funding of almost half a million bucks isn’t “large.”
In another letter to the Gloucester Times, the other “activist-scientist,” Dr. Norse’s colleague and Pew Fellow Les Watling also discounted his $150,000 Pew Fellowship grant, indicating that the real money supporting him comes from us taxpayers via NOAA (though, to his credit, his letter was minus any alleged murder threats or slaps at Gloucesterites).
Imagine how much money there must be in assaulting commercial fishing, if you can have the attitude that $150,000 is just barely worth a mention?
Fisheries ending? Murder threats? Modest funding? Ecosystem collapse? Sound science? You be the judge.
by NNils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, October 2008)
It was just barely two years ago when we lost “Hammer” Beidemann. Some of us in the commercial fishing industry lost a really good friend. All of us in the commercial fishing industry lost one of our most effective advocates.
And on July 23 it happened again. Phil Ruhle, ex-New England Council member, NOAA Conservation Hero, high-liner, gear developer, industry spokesman, “Smart Gear” Grand Prize winner and one of the nicest guys any of us are likely to meet, went down with his boat, Seabreeze, 45 miles off Cape May while coming in to offload 50 tons of squid.
It’s difficult to get my head around the idea that Phil’s not going to be there any more. All of us who were fortunate enough to have known him will know what that means personally. But all of us who are commercial fishermen or who are involved in supporting commercial fishing should know what that means to the industry.
Phil was an industry leader, but not because of any position he held. He was an industry leader because of who he was, what he did and of how he did it.
Not too long after the Magnuson Act, and the bureaucracy it mandated, became the overriding factor in fisheries, it became apparent that to be successful, fishermen were going to have to make attending meetings a part of their job. As daunting as that was, as time- and money-consuming, as frustrating and off-putting, Phil believed it and he lived it. But while doing so he remained a fishermen’s fisherman. With his son Phil Jr. he ran Seabreeze and they caught fish. And he also found – or perhaps made is the better word - the time and the energy to develop gear that, in the overhyped vocabulary in overuse today, was actually eco-friendly.
He was a supporter of and a participant in cooperative research. He was one of the primary industry folks involved in the so-called “Trawlgate” controversy a few years back, recognizing the importance of improperly calibrated sampling gear on the all-important stock assessments and working with NMFS personnel to improve their trawl surveys. He was named a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Environmental Hero, an award honoring NOAA volunteers for their "tireless efforts to preserve and protect our nation's environment" for this involvement.
He was part of the team that designed the Eliminator Trawl. He and the other members subsequently won the World Wildlife Fund Smart Gear International Competition “to reward and inspire innovative ideas to reduce fisheries bycatch,” coming out ahead of over 70 other contenders from 22 countries. Team member and University of Rhode Island Sea Grant staffer David Beutel said “the collaborative design and development of the Eliminator trawl is a great example of industry and scientists working together with managers to develop innovative solutions to reduce or eliminate bycatch.” This was Phil’s approach, not just to bycatch reduction, but to management issues in general.
He didn’t get involved in management because he was appointed to the New England Council. He was there before he was appointed and he was there after he wasn’t reappointed. He took fisheries management seriously. He did his homework and could follow the management-speak “gobbledygook” about as well as anyone. The management system, its built-in frustrations, compromises, conflicts and downright inanities, sometimes got to him, but when it did he just about always seemed to maintain his sense of humor and, even more importantly, his sense of irony. He saw the system and the process for what it was, warts and all, but recognized that it was what we were saddled with and what we had to deal with. And he was among the best at dealing with it.
But apparently Phil did have his limits. In a profile of him written two days after Seabreeze was lost, Peter Lord of the Providence Journal wrote that NMFS’ failure to allow the timely use of the “Eliminator” trawl was the last straw for Phil and that his work with the agency was over.
Phil’s sacrifices to make the management system work, and to insure the future of the commercial fishing industry that depends on it, have earned him a tribute from all of us, those who knew him personally and those who didn’t. The best tribute that I can think of would be to adopt his approach; working within the system as much as possible but not accepting its shortcomings, and being willing to draw a line and not willing to step over it.
by Nils Stolpe
Nils E. Stolpe
(Originally printed in Fishing News International, October 2008)
In the U.S., commercial fishing was once considered a valued profession by virtually everyone. In recent years that has changed, or perhaps “is being changed” is more accurate. A massive, heavily funded and well orchestrated campaign has eroded the image of commercial fishermen. Over a decade of relentless media assaults, anti-fishing propaganda in the truest sense is resulting in the increasing marginalization of fishermen in fisheries management and ocean governance.
For the record, from a resource perspective things aren’t bad here. Like always, some stocks are up and some are down. The New England groundfish fishery, the supposed “poster child” for mismanagement, has stocks at both high and low levels, with total biomass well above the problematic levels of the late 80s and early 90s and exhibiting a pronounced upward recent trend (see http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/publications/crd/crd0815/wp2-1.pdf ). Major Alaskan fisheries, among the largest in the world, and the East coast sea scallop fishery, the most valuable in the U.S., are in fine shape, as are many others. Aggregate landings in the U.S. in 1950 and 2004 were virtually identical, at 1.218 million tons and 1.186 million tons respectively. In spite of this, much of the U.S. public has been convinced that there’s a fishing spawned crisis in our oceans.
Remember the Exxon Valdez?
In 1989 she split open after hitting a reef, dumping 40 million liters of crude oil into pristine Prince William Sound in Alaska. The environmental damage was immense. So was the public outrage it generated. The oil industry became the focus of an unprecedented amount of public and political scrutiny, and Exxon became the target in law suits seeking billions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. As we will see below, this disaster went far in convincing the public that an inadequately regulated “Big Oil” industry was the greatest threat our oceans were facing.
Leaping ahead, in 1995 the multi-billion dollar Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the largest not-for-profits in the U.S., invested over $4 million in the startup of SeaWeb. The Pew Trusts were established and controlled by the children of Sun Oil founder Joseph Pew and his wife Mary. From the SeaWeb website “at the time, no single, credible organization existed that presented the ocean crisis to media and others in an interrelated, consistent and systematic way.”
What was the ocean crisis that the Pew people had recognized and SeaWeb was created to address? One of the first undertakings of the new organization, a poll grandiloquently named “The SeaWeb/Mellman Group Landmark Poll on US Public Attitudes Towards the Oceans,” was commissioned to shed some light on this question.
Not surprisingly (remember that oil-soaked wildlife and destroyed shorelines from the Exxon Valdez disaster and the subsequent clean-up had been seared into the public consciousness a few years earlier), oil was seen as the biggest threat to the oceans. As reported in the Mellman Group's introduction and notes on the poll, “Americans believe the ocean's problems stem from many sources, but oil companies are seen as a prime culprit. The publicity around oil spills in the ocean has undoubtedly led to the perception that these accidents account for the majority of the ocean's pollution. In fact, 81% of Americans believe that oil spills are a very serious problem.” The report goes on “chronic oil dumping in the ocean most clearly communicates that the oceans are in trouble, and makes people very angry. People see the fact that 3.25 million tons of oil enters the world's oceans each year as a strong indicator that the oceans are in trouble (71% ‘great deal of trouble’). This statement also makes a plurality (40%) feel very angry.” In spite of a string of high profile environmental tragedies that their industry was accountable for going back to the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, this must have been really bitter medicine for the “Big Oil” people to swallow. The writing was on the wall. Big Oil was in for a rough time.
Since the completion of the SeaWeb/Mellman poll just over a decade ago, the public’s perception of the existence and causes of an ocean crisis has been shifted away from oil and towards commercial fishing. Much of this shift can be attributed to the efforts and expenditures of the Pew Trusts, to the ENGOs and academic institutions that they support with tens of millions of dollars each year and to their ability to manipulate the news media.
Thanks to the successful demonization of commercial fishermen, Big Oil appears to be off the hook. In fact, to contend with the recent run-up in energy prices, the U.S. is in the process of dismantling a long standing ban on offshore drilling.
The Pew Trusts
They aren’t the average charitable foundation, having been taken far beyond the traditional role of grant giving. In “Charity Is New Force in Environmental Fight” in the NY Times (06/28/01), Douglas Jehl wrote “a $4.8 billion foundation called the Pew Charitable Trusts has quietly become not only the largest grant maker to environmental causes, but also one that controls much more than the purse strings. Unlike many philanthropies that give to conservationist groups, Pew has been anything but hands-off, serving as the behind-the-scenes architect of highly visible recent campaigns….” Pew has moved beyond the role of facilitation to developing and advocating specific positions, a vast departure from business as usual in the foundation world. In the wrap up of his article, Mr. Jehl quotes Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Trusts, on Pew’s effect on the national debate on global warming, "let's wait and see what the outcome is, let's see who has been able to win the hearts and minds of the public." She could have just as easily been speaking about fishing.
SeaWeb was only the start. Since its creation, Pew has been a major funder of “marine conservation” programs of anti-fishing ENGOs – almost $5 million to Environmental Defense, $3 million to Natural Resources Defense Council, $3 million for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, $4 million for Audubon, etc. Pew has also invested heavily in two organizations that it created; $34 million for Oceana and $40 million for the National Environmental Trust, both of which have been in the forefront of the anti-fishing crusade.
What’s wrong with funding fisheries research? That depends – primarily on the kind of research being funded. If it’s to learn more about fish or the environment they live in, it’s fine. We don’t know enough about any species for really effective management, and with generally meager government research budgets it will be a long time before we do. How about gear research? Anything that allows fishermen to fish more cleanly or, in these days of skyrocketing energy costs, more efficiently is going to be good for the fishing industry and good for the fish.
That’s not what Pew buys. I’ve never seen reports of Pew-funded population, gear or habitat research that involves scientists out there on the water. Pew “research” involves sifting existing – and undoubtedly inadequate – data to “prove” that fishing practices, management regimes, just about anything to do with commercial fishing, is leading to the destruction of the oceans. Calling it agenda driven research seems a pretty good fit, and, as Ms. Rimel’s comments demonstrate, it’s not just the research that’s agenda driven.
This was conveniently illustrated in a letter to the Telegraph on September 16 referencing an article about comedian Ted Danson’s concern with spiny dogfish. Juliana Stein, Pew/Oceana’s communications manager, wrote “overfishing is the most severe threat facing our oceans, and if governments don't properly manage fisheries -- including shark fisheries -- using science-based measures, many fish populations could end up beyond the point of return.” Not climate change, not massive oil spills, not unbridled offshore energy development and not the continuing and growing outwash of a world population approaching 7 billion that is increasingly dependent on noxious household chemicals and pharmaceuticals that end up in our estuaries and oceans; according to Pew/Oceana, it’s all about those rapacious fishermen, and the Pew/Oceana/SeaWeb PR machine reinforces this whenever possible. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Pew won’t kick any of its billions of Big Oil bucks into actually going out and counting, weighing or measuring sharks.
But Pew’s severely distorted view of what’s going on in the oceans isn’t restricted to letters to editors, press releases and other trivial-seeming yet cumulatively damaging communications by salaried flacks. It goes far beyond that.
A few years back Pew spent $5.5 million on The Pew Oceans Commission. Led by a former Congressman who had served as Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff, it was supposed to present an objective evaluation of who’s doing what to the oceans and how to fix it. From its website, it is “conducting the first review of polices and laws needed to sustain and restore living marine resources in over 30 years. The Commission includes leaders from the worlds of science, fishing, conservation, business, and politics.”
In the “follow the money” tradition established by Woodward and Bernstein in Watergate days, I did some digging into the relationships between Pew and the various commission members (discussed in greater detail in “The Pew Commission – a basis for national ocean policy?” at http://www.fishingnj.org/netusa23.htm).
“The Pew Ocean Commission includes the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; the president of the Center for Marine Conservation (now the Ocean Conservancy); a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (which has provided grants to the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Marine Conservation, the American Oceans Campaign, and Audubon – each of which has contributed significantly to making life miserable and earning a living increasingly difficult and often impossible for large numbers of working fishermen); a trustee of the Packard Foundation (which has also provided grants to the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Marine Conservation, the American Oceans Campaign and Audubon as well as Environmental Defense - ditto - and SeaWeb – ditto again); the past president of the American Sportfishing Association (which is a member, along with most of the NGOs listed above, of the Pew-funded Fish Conservation Network); the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; a Pew Fellow; and two commercial fishermen, one of whom is the president of a trade association that has been funded by Packard and the other was a trustee of a trade association whose formation was supported by and with other ties to Pew.”
(Were we talking matrimonial rather than funding relationships, that much incest would likely have brought about the hemophilia-driven expiration of the Commission long before that $5.5 million was spent.)
I then did a simple analysis of the references that were used to support the conclusions of the Commission’s report “Ecological Effects of Fishing in Marine Ecosystems of the United States.” Two of the three authors of the report were Pew Marne Conservation scholars, well more than a third of the 179 references the report cited had at least one author who was financially connected to Pew, as did almost half of the cited references published since 1995 (it was then that Pew became actively involved in convincing the public that commercial fishing, not Big Oil, was ruining the world’s oceans). This isn’t scholarly research, it’s a deck of cards stacked to support a particular player. Yet it’s designed to inform national policy makers on what ocean governance should be. And there’s no reason to think that this campaign isn’t going international, particularly considering Oceana is also in business in South America and Europe. Who’s next?
The proof is in the pudding –
A Google search on “Exxon Valdez oil spill” will return 287,000 hits. The Exxon Valdez went on the rocks back when the internet was a tool for computer geeks and academics. A search on “Prestige oil spill” returns only 56,900 hits. The Prestige broke up in 2002, when the internet was a regular part of hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, and spilled twice as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. Damages and clean-up costs were roughly equivalent. A Google search on “overfishing” returns 933,000 hits.
by NNils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, November 2008)
The graph below shows what’s been going on with New England groundfish landings since 1980. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? What would be even more impressive would be a representation of the failed businesses, human suffering and destroyed careers brought about by that 83% decline. Or all the public dollars it’s taken to manage it.
It’s hard to suggest that New England groundfish management has been anything but a dismal failure, and where does the responsibility for that lie? How about on the desk of the Secretary of Commerce? We’ve all heard the “blame it on industry influence, political pressure, conflicts of interest” arguments, in fact blaming it on everything but the Bossa Nova. But the Department of Commerce, adhering to the game plan provided by Congress, interprets the legislation, supplies and/or coordinates the research, provides the administrative support, and approves, imposes and enforces the management measures that have gotten us to where we are.
That’s why it’s impossible for me to understand the Secretary’s insistence – as expressed at a special meeting of the New England Council addressing the latest bad news about the collective groundfish stocks – on staying the course for a couple more years. The landings have been going down almost 3% a year for almost 30 years. Does anyone have any reason to suppose that two more years won’t mean another 6% decline? How many boats and how many groundfish fishermen, not to mention the people and businesses depending on them, will be left?
Groundfish landings are at 17% of their 1980 levels. What about the groundfish stocks? Are they down? Some stocks are higher than they were back then, some are lower, and some are at about the same level. Charts on pages 2-861 and 2-862 of the “Ecosystem Considerations” section of the GARM III report (available via the Northeast Fisheries Science Center website) show that in the spring and autumn trawl surveys, the stratified average weights per tow of “all GARM stocks” have in recent years been very close to what they were in the 1980s.
So, with as many fish out there today as there were in 1980, or for the sake of argument, even with 50% as many, where’s the justification for landings reduced by 80%? Or by another 6% over the next two years?
Folks, what we have is a seriously broken system that we should have committed to fixing years ago. And fixing it is going to require much more than figuring out yet another way to divvy up an ever-diminishing catch, because the catch has already been diminished far more than it should have been.
For a start, what about questioning some of the basic premises of Magnuson management. Can we ever have every fishery out there at the Optimum Yield level simultaneously? From the “Ecosystems Considerations” referenced above, the answer to that is theoretically yes, but perhaps not. The big question, however, is that, considering the implications of managing for the weakest species, why should we?
How many dollars worth of flounder, cod and pollock do the dogfish that are now infesting our waters from Cape Hatteras to The Hague Line cost us – and we still don’t have enough of them? How can we severely restrict fishing on historically large populations of haddock and redfish to protect small numbers of less robust species? How can we force fishermen to continue to struggle for an increasingly meager catch in a handful of fisheries when there are other fisheries “right next door” they can be successful in? How can we manage a dozen different species sharing the same water, eating the same food (or each other) and vulnerable to the same gear as if each is in its own isolated universe?
And most importantly, how much longer are we going to pretend that fishing mortality is the only thing that matters?
New England groundfish – or the way that we have been attempting to manage them for a generation - have put us in a box that we have to start thinking outside of, and just coming up with another way to allocate the same amount of fish doesn’t seem to me like it’ll do the job. At this point powerful people in Congress are focused on groundfish, and they should know as well as anyone that it’s time for some significant changes.
Assume we’re on the Titanic. Painting the grand salon, designing a new menu and rearranging the furniture isn’t going to keep us out of the ice. Setting a new course will.
by Nils Stolpe
(A highly edited version was published in Fishing News International in the November 2008 issue)
The Pew Charitable Trusts established The Pew Oceans Commission back in 2000. It was chaired by Leon Panetta, former Congressman and Chief of Staff in President Clinton’s Administration. On it’s website we are told “in the first thorough review of ocean policy in 34 years, the Pew Oceans Commission released a host of recommendations in 2003 to guide the way in which the federal government will successfully manage America’s marine environment.” The recommendations focused on fishing. (Note this Commission had no connections with government agencies or any other “official” groups, and its data gathering, deliberations and recommendations were subject to neither external controls nor outside review. Some people got together and spent a bunch of Pew Trusts money for some reports and recommendations that they then spent another bunch of Pew Trusts money promoting to any audience that had been prepared by the expenditure of yet another bunch of Pew Trusts money.)
The release of the Pew Commission’s report and recommendations was accompanied by a media barrage. As part of it, Mr. Panetta was interviewed by National Public Radio’s Bob Edwards on Christmas Day, 2002. National Public Radio (NPR) describes itself as “an internationally acclaimed producer and distributor of noncommercial news, talk, and entertainment programming.” Mr. Edwards was host of NPR’s flagship news program, Morning Edition, one of the most listened-to radio broadcasts in the country. Mr. Edwards, who has since left NPR and is now on satellite radio, remains a well-respected broadcast journalist and skilled interviewer.
During the interview, after a long description of the problems in ocean governance in the U.S. by Mr. Panetta, Mr. Edwards interjected “you're also dealing with oil spills, with global warming.”
In responding, Mr. Panetta mentioned overfishing, aquaculture, cruise ship pollution and invasive species. Mr. Edwards, displaying what I’d have to consider shockingly less than incisive reportorial skills – particularly considering the connections between the Pew Trusts and Big Oil – attempted no follow-up whatsoever, leaving the oil spills issue dead on the floor.
How, you might ask, was that possible? How could an established interviewer, particularly one who at the time rivaled #1 ranked radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh in popularity, be so completely diverted from what was a legitimate and perhaps critically important line of inquiry?
Only Mr. Edwards can answer that, but an examination of the Pew Trust’s relationship with National Public Radio and public broadcasting in general might provide some insight.
NPR doesn’t have paying advertisers. Its acceptance as an effective and unbiased source of news and analysis is based on this. Such “objectivity” comes with a price. NPR and its member stations are dependent (decreasingly) on government handouts and (increasingly) contributions to stay in business. In fact, a line familiar to listeners is that it’s supported “by listeners like you.” This results in regularly scheduled on-air fund raising, generally one- or two-week ordeals during which the reporters, commentators, hosts, etc. devote hours of air time to begging for pledges hovering at around a hundred dollars a piece, and offering CDs, coffee mugs umbrellas and other trinkets in return. While I can’t write for the people on the other side of the microphone, as a listener I find the process aggravating in the extreme.
NPR also has corporate-level sponsors, among which are the Pew Trusts. These aren’t listeners like me, or like anyone else I know. Pew has donated on the order of $5 million to National Public Radio itself, or its various local stations. I’d guess that the folks associated with public radio would much rather get a single check – or however “charitable” donations are distributed – for several hundreds of thousands of dollars from Pew than have to spend two weeks on the air pleading for a couple of thousand checks of a hundred dollars each.
And Pew’s support of public broadcasting doesn’t stop there. Take the Pew funding of the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) Newshour with Jim Lehrer, one of the most important and arguably influential news shows on television. Pew has given the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association, the Washington, DC area PBS television station which produces Newshour, and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, at least $7 million over the last decade.
If the world of public broadcasting works the same way that all of the worlds that I’m familiar with do, I’d imagine that keeping the folks at Pew happy is pretty high on the to-do list of everyone connected with PBS and NPR, (diminishing) support by government and by viewers and listeners like me notwithstanding. And not at all surprisingly, whenever the latest Pew-supported “doom and gloom in the oceans because of commercial fishing” study is released by members of the Pew anti-fishing team, PBS and NPR are both Johnny on the spot, slavishly reporting it to their influential listeners and viewers.
Hitting close to home with those of you in the EU, in 2005 PBS aired “Gutted,” a documentary about the tragedy of a multi-generational Scottish fishing family being forced to deliver their boat to a scrap yard in Denmark. Powerful in its own right, the film – and the ordeal that the West family was going through – was turned into yet another anti-fishing rant, both by radical PBS editing and by an “afterword” delivered by Mr. Panetta
In Preservation Takes Priority, and the Fisherman Struggles” Virginia Heffernan wrote (also in the New York Times on August 23, 2005) “the main insult of this American version is that the narration often contradicts the spirit of the original Scottish interviews. Tern Television, which provided all the images, does not seem to have intended to tell more than one side of the story of the Scottish Fleet's travails. And those travails are not ‘depleted cod stocks’ - as the European Union would have them, suggesting that the interests of environmentalists and fishermen are one and the same - so much as new regulations that demand not only that people stop fishing, but also that they destroy their beautiful boats. In its unadulterated form, ‘Gutted’ appears to have been the story of fathers and sons who love to fish suddenly confronted with decrees issued by wonks in Brussels….What was not meant to be a plot here was the toll taken on the seabed by the nets of the cod trawlers. No images of this damage appear; no talking head comes to warn about it; no fisherman seems to give it a moment's thought. But the PBS-version voice-over, noting the damage done by cod nets, says, ‘A 2004 report warned that Britain and its neighbors could soon be surrounded by a lifeless sea. (A connection between this alarming report and the use of cod nets is never made.)”
PBS adulterated (in Ms. Heffermen’s fitting phraseology) the original version of the film to conform to Pew’s “it’s mostly the fault of the fishermen” perspective.
And afterwards, Mr. Panetta, in a startling display of his lack of knowledge about commercial fishing, particularly considering his tenure as Chairman of the Pew Oceans Commission and his claim that his grandfather was a commercial fisherman, continued the attack. He cited supposed fishing-induced problems that were due in larger part to other factors. He addressed technological advances in fishing, stating “they have these huge nets that can basically go down and scrape the bottom of the ocean…. oh, they're huge…. they can go as far as eight miles in some instances.” And he also squeezed in a reference to the highly controversial – though Pew supported – “research” claiming that 90% of the world’s big fish were gone due to fishing.
There’s an old expression about getting what you pay for. When it comes to Pew and public broadcasting, that appears to be right on target.
What else is Pew paying for relating to the print and broadcast media?
Columbia University in New York City, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are among the top journalism/communications schools in the U.S. Pew has given Columbia over $35 million, with over $20 million of that for various journalism projects. One of these, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, received over $15 million from Pew while it was located at Columbia. Since 2006 it has been located at the Washington, DC based Pew Research Center and has received an additional $8 million from Pew. Pew has given Johns Hopkins University over $20 million, with about $7.5 million of that for journalism grants including $3.9 million for an International Journalism project and $2.9 million for International Journalism fellowships. Pew has given the University of Pennsylvania over $40 million, with over $12 million for print, broadcast and internet communications and over $5 million to the influential Annenberg School for Communications.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, at well over $20 million one of Pew’s most expensive forays into the world of communications, is described on its website as “a research organization that specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press. It is non partisan, non ideological and non political.”
Pew has also funded the Pew Center for Civic Journalism at the Tides Center in San Francisco with over $8 million. From its website, it “helps print and broadcast news organizations experiment with ways to reconnect to their communities and engage their citizens in dialogue and problem solving.” The Center for Civic Journalism spun off the Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland, which has received over $40 million in Pew grants. It “helps news organizations and citizens use new information ideas and innovative computer technologies to develop new ways for people to engage in critical public policy issues.”
Not only is Pew deeply financially entrenched in the crème de la crème of the U.S. universities where journalists receive their training and in the day-to-day operations and financing of the news media (including the internet), it also evaluates its performance.
And then there are the Pew connections with individual journalists.
Each year the Pew Fellows in Marine Conservation meet at apparently exclusive digs in various exotic locales. In 2002 the meeting was at the Plaza Resort in Bonaire. Cornelia Dean, then the Science Editor at the New York Times, was there, participating in the “Communicating for Results” session and listed as a “Presenter/trainer.” She was back at the 2004 meeting at the Ocean Reef Club in the Florida Keys. There she participated in the “optional” barside discussion, “Oceans in the Balance: Is Science or Politics Tipping the Scales?”
Ms. Dean seems to be a direct conduit between Pew-supported researchers and the Times’ 2 million or so subscribers, among whom are just about all of the shakers and thumpers on the domestic political scene. But on occasion her “reporting’ seems to go a bit beyond objectivity. One can’t help but question whether this is due to the relationships that were formed barside in Key Largo and as a “trainer” of the Pew cadre in Bonaire.
Did this all come together due to happenstance? Douglas Jehl wrote in the New York Times (Charity is New Force in Environmental Fight, 06/28/01), “from a suite of offices in a high-rise here, a $4.8 billion foundation called the Pew Charitable Trusts has quietly become not only the largest grant maker to environmental causes, but also one that controls much more than the purse strings. Unlike many philanthropies that give to conservationist groups, Pew has been anything but hands-off, serving as the behind-the-scenes architect of highly visible recent campaigns to preserve national forests and combat global warming.”
In a profile of Pew Trusts Board member and Executive Director Rebecca Rimel published in the Sunday (Philadelphia) Inquirer Magazine, Steve Goldstein wrote “Pew, now beginning its 50th year, develops its own causes, creating and funding dozens of programs and independent organizations to carry out a vision -- Rimel's vision-- of social reengineering. The Rimel regime is not interested in merely supporting agencies and programs that maintain the status quo, but in championing high-profile, activist enterprises where the Pew impact can be felt --and seen.”
“Reforming” fisheries, and not just U.S. fisheries, is now one of Pews’/Ms. Rimels “activist enterprises.”
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, December 2008)
Among the more useful services from NMFS are the online landings data bases (http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/commercial/index.html). With a fast internet connection and a little bit of skill with spreadsheets, it’s easy to determine what fishermen caught, where and when.
Now, and this might be a surprise to some of you, I’ve been a wee bit skeptical of the “fisheries crisis” claims being made ad nauseum by various anti-fishing groups. They’re easy to make, based on the “research” of a handful of advocates who are being sold to the public as objective scientists, but they never seem to be seriously substantiated. So, armed with a 10 megabytes/second connection and Microsoft Excel 2003, I set out to do a little substantiating, or not, of these crisis claims.
I started out with East Coast landings, but minus menhaden because their landings are determined by international commodity markets and politics, not resource availability. For the 57 year period starting in 1950, landings averaged 535,000 tons per year. They plummeted to just over 400,000 tons in the late 60s and early 70s, undoubtedly because of the foreign catcher/processor fleets fishing right off our beaches, recovered rapidly after the passage of Magnuson in 1975, and have bounced around the average since then.. Starting in 1996 they have been tending downwards, and 2007 shows the lowest landings since Magnuson became law, 424,000 tons.
Is this a reflection of a resource crisis? While the antis would have us believe so, it’s much more likely that it’s an artifact of how we’re now being forced to manage our fisheries, with precaution piled on precaution, with all stocks supposedly capable of being at high levels simultaneously, and with inflexible “rebuilding” requirements regardless of Ma Nature’s inability to conform to them.
The difference in landings between the post-Magnuson high in 1980 and the 2007 low is 160,000 tons. This seems like a big pile of fish, and indeed it is. But just how big?
Off the Northeast there’s about a half a million metric tons of spiny dogfish, a quarter of a million tons of Acadian redfish and a third of a million tons of haddock swimming around. That’s well over a million tons of catchable and marketable fish. In 2007, 3,400 tons of spiny dogfish, 800 tons of redfish and 3,600 tons of haddock were landed. Over a million tons of biomass yielding less than 8,000 tons of landings, and most of those million tons within reach of boats from New England that are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Can we convert those fish swimming around out there into landings that would reverse the decline that provides the antis with so much of the ammunition they use against commercial fishermen? In spite of the jobs that would mean, the businesses saved and the misery avoided, we can’t. There aren’t enough large female dogfish, in spite of the fact that there are so many dogs that they’re interfering with virtually every other fishery (and, according to a recent paper, eating about a third of the young cod and a third of the young fluke and, according to NMFS, 68 million tons of herring every year as well). It’s just about impossible to fish for redfish and haddock because of gear and bycatch controls. And none of the restrictions on fishing for these three species can be eased because all of the discretion in the management system has been removed by the expensive and effective lobbying of the antis - who are all willing at any opportunity to expound on how they’re only interested in saving the short-sighted fishermen from their own selfish selves.
So a hundred thousand tons or so of fish worth maybe $50 million are going uncaught. But if they were caught, where would the evidence of a “fisheries crisis” be? A hundred thousand tons would get the Atlantic landings right up to the 57 year average, and that would sure cut into the old doom and gloom by the professional hand wringers, wouldn’t it?
Thirty or forty years ago, when they saw the stocks they were fishing on declining, guys would go fish for something else. But they’d keep on fishing. That’s the way it went for generation after generation, with the government there to help them – after all, it used to be called the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Today they can’t. Inflexible management, unfeeling “conservationists,” billion dollar foundations and a bureaucracy increasingly remote from fishing communities have left us with what is hard to describe as anything but a mismanagement system.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, January 2009)
On January 20th we’re going to have a new Administration in Washington. While knocking on every piece of wood I can reach, it’s hard for me to imagine that it will be worse for the fishing industry than the previous two have been.
Particularly considering all of the talk about President Elect Obama’s people hitting the ground running, being in operation ASAP, I can’t stress how important it will be to all of us to have our collective foot in the DC door just as quickly. That raises the question of how best to do that.
Too often in the past, the commercial fishing industry has been at internal odds with itself, and at odds with other fish/seafood “user groups” as well. In large part that is why we, our recreational fishing colleagues, and the other businesses depending on domestic fish and shellfish are in the sorry shape they’re in. While all we’ve had to offer to the politicians are conflicting demands on every issue, the antis have come together and been able to successfully push their “fishing is bad” fiction.
We’ve been struggling with the results for over a decade.
We’re sorely in need of a national agenda, but not just an agenda of commercial harvesters. While commercial fishermen have born the brunt of the anti’s foundation-funded campaign until recently, anyone who catches, processes, transports, buys, sells or in any other way benefits from catching domestic fish or shellfish is now paying a price. And more of them are realizing that every day.
How do we put together such an agenda? Fortunately, we have some tools to help us do that, at least from the commercial harvesting segment. Already in existence and operation are organizations that could – and should - represent just about everyone in the U.S. fish and seafood industry.
In no particular order, we have the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), Commercial Fishermen of America (CFA) and the Seafood Coalition (SFC). The CFA, representing individual fishermen, has made its mark in pushing for health coverage and disaster relief for domestic harvesters. NFI successfully represents the “corporate” side of the seafood industry from the ocean to the table. The SFC, made up of the leaders of harvester and processor associations, is an ad hoc group that has had a significant role in Magnuson reauthorization. Together they cover most of the waterfront, and quite a bit beyond.
There are other, fishery-specific organizations that could also contribute significantly to this effort. (While it probably goes without saying, any involved organizations or individuals must be free of any foundation funding “taint.”)
So what’s missing? Obviously, a national consensus on what, from the fishing perspective, the myriad of businesses that depend on our fisheries need to thrive. The antis have a consensus, though it’s little more than “green” extortion based on mass-marketed fringe science. It’s gotten them to where they are – with a virtual stranglehold on U.S. fishermen and every business that depends on what they harvest.
How do we achieve a national seafood harvesting consensus? Conceptually it’s easy. Industry leaders would get together and hammer one out; one that’s easy-to-understand and based on common sense and noncontroversial principles. Practically, it’s not going to be that simple. It’s going to require some people to stifle some animosity, it’s going to require people in some fisheries that are doing ok to adopt a longer term outlook based on the fact that next year isn’t next week, and it’s going to require everyone to realize that we’re all in it together, and act accordingly.
If we can do that, we should be able to enlist the support of associated groups. Who in the restaurant industry wouldn’t support the fishermen’s ability to continue providing fresh, domestic seafood. Or in the supermarket trade? How about truckers, or box or gear manufacturers? Or local Chambers of Commerce. Or anyone who benefits when fish are caught, no matter by who.
I don’t know how much is possible or how far we can go, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that OFCT funded members of the anti-fishing claque are already knocking on doors and pushing their distortions. If we let them continue without attempting to present the real picture of what’s going on in our waters, it will be hard to argue we don’t deserve what we get down the line.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I’m one of the founding members of the SFC and in the past have worked on initiatives funded by both it and NFI).
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, February 2009)
The American Prospect describes itself as “an authoritative magazine of liberal ideas...” With a website that attracts a million visitors daily, and a paid circulation of 37,000 it’s anything but inconsequential.
Accordingly, I approached the article in it on November 24th “Saving the Fishbanks” by journalist Colin Woodard (he also writes for The Christian Science Monitor) with trepidation. This was justified, not just because it was more of the same old same old, but because Mr. Woodard did such a curiously lopsided job of reporting on the underlying – or not – science and the involved scientists.
He reported on the work of, and quoted, Boris Worm, Callum Roberts, Dan Pauly and Elliot Norse, four premier ocean crepe hangers funded by OFCT. While that is troubling, even more troubling is that he reported their work, which I don’t consider as anything but advocacy science, as accepted fact. For example, he wrote of fisheries managers being concerned with the decline of the large sharks on the eastern seaboard but missing “the knock-on effects (of the decline), which included the decimation of North Carolina bay scallops, Chesapeake oysters, and other shellfish.” I addressed this in a previous column, identifying it as the latest “fishing is the root of all oceanic evil speculation” based on nothing more substantive than shark and selected shellfish populations declining simultaneously (see http://www.fishnet-usa.com/natfish_sharks_rays.htm). He also covered “fishing down the food chain,” a supposed phenomena for which there is no supporting evidence in the U.S. fisheries (see http://www.fishnet-usa.com/then_now.html), the totally unsubstantiated and generally scoffed at prediction that “the world’s commercial wild-caught seafood species will have collapsed by 2048,” and that “ninety percent of the world’s large predatory fish have been harvested since 1950,” an idea that found virtually no acceptance in that segment of the scientific community that hasn’t been swayed out of any semblance of objectivity by big-buck foundation funding.
On the slightly bright side, the anti-fishing science that Mr. Woodard reported on was “news” from several years or more back; nothing new and nothing particularly newsworthy from the sound bite perspective that controls news today. Perhaps once you’ve predicted that the oceans will be empty of useful fish in forty years, there’s not much more to say. Even brighter, he also gave a lot of space to NMFS Chief Scientist Steve Murawski and Portland Fish Exchange general manager Bert Jongerden, both making it clear that our fisheries were improving, and to Maine fisherman Ted Ames and his controversial ideas for increased local control of fisheries. To his credit, Mr. Woodard didn’t focus entirely on bad news, but then how could he?
U.S. fishermen are getting better at conservation, and Mr. Woodard did mention that the OFCT scientists grudgingly recognized that.
In fact, as far as the world’s fisheries are concerned, US fishermen are demonstrably among the best. Debunked predictions of oceanic catastrophes can’t be laid at their feet. Therefore, why this slavish devotion by supposedly objective writers writing for a predominantly U.S. audience – or by U.S. envirorgs whose membership and influence don’t extend beyond our borders – to supposed excesses that our fishing industry is either beyond or is moving away from at head-spinning (and far too often, budget-busting) speed? Is it just “do-good” idealism or a somewhat darker pragmatism?
Getting back to Mr. Woodard, consider his book, Ocean’s End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “drawing on his travels across six continents and 100,000 miles, Woodard skillfully supports his argument that pollution, harmful fishing practices, ignorance and global warming are destroying the world's oceans.” Obviously there’s an audience for material like this, but it’s a U.S. audience understandably focused on U.S. problems. So how can writers like Mr. Woodard, or organizations like Oceana, reach that audience? Sadly, it seems, by some kind of guilt by association that seeks to hold U.S. fishermen responsible for the supposed sins of their fathers or their overseas colleagues.
Suppose Mr. Woodard wrote that most US fisheries are in good shape and getting better (inarguably they are), and that the problems are in the rest of the world? As having a populace that the news media have convinced live in increasingly crime-ridden neighborhoods (they don’t) demonstrates, local crises are the ones that sell. And what are the odds that anyone in Oceana’s world is going to write a check or support legislation to “save” fish in the waters off Somalia or in the Antarctic. Accurate or not, what the US public takes to heart must be a lot closer to home than that.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective, National Fisherman, March 2009)
The latest in the Chicken Little litany of the supposed problems with our oceans is a report by an Environmental Defense “working group” titled Oceans Of Abundance. The group, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of the Interior/former Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbitt and former U.S. Congressman James C. Greenwood, is made up of public luminaries a la Greenwood and Babbitt, and members of the scientific community that has developed – perhaps metastasized is a better word – around the ocean crisis they created.
Not surprisingly, considering the study was done by Environmental Defense (link), the conclusion was that the world’s oceans could be saved from commercial fishermen by the widespread adoption of what are now called “catch shares.” Also called individual fishing quotas, sectors or limited access privilege programs, you probably have a fairly good idea of what they are; a granting of fishing privileges to a limited number of participants.
As I’ve written previously, I have nothing against fisheries management based on individual quotas (or whatever they’re called). They are – or should be – one of the tools available to managers if they are acceptable to the participants in a particular fishery and if they will make management of that fishery more effective.
I do have problems with the way the concept is being sold here, and the connections of the people who and the organizations that are doing the selling.
Starting at the top, co-chair Greenwood is on the board of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (link), an anti-fishing organization that has financial and personnel ties to The Pew Trusts going back for most of the last decade. Co-chair Babbitt is Chairman of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (link), which is solidly allied with Pew on ocean issues. Member and former NJ governor Christine Todd Whitman chaired the Pew Oceans Commission (link), member A.G. Christophe was Executive Director of the Commission and member Jane Lubchenco (link) was a Commission member (and is slated to be the next head of NOAA). Member Ellen Pikitch (link) is Director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and a Pew Fellow (link), as are members Les Kaufman and Bob Steneck. Members John Ogden and Terry Garcia are respectively nominator and advisor to the Pew Fellows program. Member N.J. Nichols is Chairman of the Pew-funded Environmental Defense Fund (link). Member Wendy Paulson is the wife of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, past president of the Nature Conservancy’s board. The Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group have embarked on a $12 million program to “save” wild Australia. Ms. Paulson is a member of the Conservancy’s President’s Conservation Council. Member Andrew Rosenberg (link) past NMFS Northeast Regional Administrator, was a Pew grantee.
Members Christopher Costello and Steve Gaines were two of the three authors of a paper in Science in 2008 concluding rights-based management might save the world’s fisheries. It was based on an analysis of 11,135 commercial fisheries worldwide, 121 - or 1.1% - of which used this form of management. There was no consideration given to the idea that the fisheries that were managed with catch shares might have been - and most probably were - selected because conditions in them made them particularly amenable to this form of management.
The Environmental Defense website describes the panel as “an independent, bipartisan working group of 23 current and former federal and state elected officials, cabinet officers, scientists and administrators.” With at least 13 members connected to the Pew Trusts (including all but four of the scientists), with another two professionally wed to catch shares as a solution to ocean problems, and with previous Pew Trusts initiatives that weren’t what they were presented as (see The Oil Slick at the end of the Fishnet “A New Management Paradigm” here), that “independent” is a little hard to swallow.
Get the feeling that we’re dealing with a stacked deck here?I don’t know how many fisheries scientists there are in the U.S.; certainly in the tens of thousands. I do know there are many who haven’t bought into the crisis mongering, and haven’t for a perfectly good reason. The oceans, at least those whose management can be influenced by Pew, aren’t facing a fishing-induced crisis. Our fish stocks are generally in good shape. Those that aren’t that can be improved by controlling fishing are improving. The primary crisis our fishermen are facing – other than the ongoing pollution of our marine ecosystems – is that they aren’t allowed to catch the available fish. And why not? In largest part, because of the efforts of the Pew claque.
We don’t need any management measures forced on us by ocean activists. We need better science and better management, including rights based management where it fits. We have the scientists and managers to provide it. We need a management milieu that will let them.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on July 1, 2009)
Ask law enforcement officers whether they thought that the people who were issued summons were guilty, regardless of whether the summons resulted in a penalty of any sort or not. What are the odds that the majority of responses would be that the recipients of the summons were guilty, regardless of the outcome? Common sense and human nature argue that it would be pretty high – that’s why we have judges, courts, trials, hearings and such.
Our system of justice is predicated on the assumption that people are innocent until proven guilty. Evidently Jon Sutinen’s (University of Rhode Island) and Dennis King’s (University of Maryland) isn’t.
In the report on their research on the New England Groundfish Fishery that they published in the journal Marine Policy in April of this year (Rational noncompliance and the liquidation of Northeast groundfish resources), Professors Sutinen and King demonstrated that the academic world they inhabit isn’t constrained by such silliness.
Examining 1,689 “probable violations” in a NMFS database, they state “33% of (the) violations reported by law enforcement resulted in one or more types of penalties.” Particularly considering the cloud of overzealous prosecution that has been hanging over the fisheries enforcement bureaucracy in the Northeast for the past year or so, to most of us it would seem reasonable to believe that those fishermen who were not penalized were in all likelihood innocent.
Not according to Sutinen and King. They write in a footnote “interviews with NOAA enforcement staff and others familiar with this database indicate that in many cases enforcement officers have probable cause to inspect for a violation and, if after inspecting they decide to report a violation, it probably is a violation even though it may not be prosecuted or have a resolution that results in a penalty.” This leads to “based on this criterion, 1,614 of the 1,689 incidents (95.6%) reported during this period probably are actual violations and, for purposes of this analysis, will be treated as actual violations.”
In Sutinen’s and King’s analysis you’re damned if you’re convicted and you’re damned if you’re not. Judge Roy Bean would have approved whole-heartedly.
And of course there’s more. They use the assumption that only a third of the fishermen who cheat are cited for fishing violations in making the determination that “by fishing illegally a midsize trawler in the NEGF fishery is estimated to increase expected earnings per trip by $5,500.” With the $1,116 cost of the average penalty assessed, they conclude that “when compared with the illegal gain, the economic incentive not to comply is $4,334 per trip.” They continue “normative factors, such as moral obligation and peer and community pressure often induce fishers to be law-abiding despite potential illegal gains,” but in the case of the New England groundfish fishermen those “normative factors” are weak because, in essence, the fishery is in such a mess and the fishermen hold management responsible for the mess it’s in. Hence, more fishermen in New England cheat.
Andrew Cohen, Special Agent-in-Charge for the National Marine Fisheries Service's Office of Law Enforcement, was quoted in a recent article in the Boston Globe (B. MacQuarrie, Seafood auction gets ban of 10 days, 06/20/09) as estimating “that 98 percent of the US fishing fleet from the Canadian border to the Carolinas adheres to the law.” He should know. Its not news to anyone reading this that many of the thousands of fishermen that Agent Cohen is referring to aren’t satisfied with how their fisheries are being managed, a lot of them realize that they could do quite a bit better economically if they “cheated” on the rules, and their chances of getting caught don’t differ significantly from their colleagues’ in the groundfish fishery. Yet we’re to assume from Sutinen’s and King’s paper that the New England groundfish fishermen are somehow different.
So what’s the impact of this “condemned by probable cause” view of commercial fishermen? Naturally, the up-front conclusion is that the fishery management system has broken down and needs radical surgery before it can work again. Another conclusion is that an awful lot of fishermen, particularly in New England, are bad actors who look at breaking the law simply in terms of the probability that they'll get caught and what it will cost them if they do. They’re not the victims of a management system that has been distorted beyond reasonableness by megabucks of foundation-funded interference, they’re coldly calculating “criminals” that deserve anything that the conservationist community does to them.
Being published in an academic journal would normally relegate this research to the dust bin of history, only being dredged up by other academics every once and while to be used in other such studies. Not this time. The research was supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which as of May of ’09 was being administered by the Pew Environment Group (surprise, surprise!) As with other Pew-connected research critical of fishing and fisheries management, Professors Sutinen and King and their inescapable indictment of commercial fisherman - that given a reasonable return to compensate for the risk involved in cheating, fishermen will do it, and that their doing it in New England is a significant factor in preventing the recovery of groundfish - enjoyed an uncharacteristically wide coverage for such academic esoterica in the media.
Can this be considered anything but another step to marginalize commercial fishermen? The timing is impeccable. The study – and the media attention that was generated for it – saw the light of day only a few weeks before the New England Council was due to make its final determination on taking management of the groundfish fishery in a totally new direction, a direction, I probably don’t have to add, that while virtually untested is supported whole-heartedly by the heavily Pew-connected higher-ups at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s parent agency, and various and sundry ENGOs that are hell-bent on “fixing” our fisheries regardless of the costs to fishing communities.
Would yet another indictment of how the groundfish fishery is being managed, and of the fishermen who are being managed, help nudge this transformation? Borrowing a line from the movie Fargo, “you’re darn tootin.”
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on July 15, 2009)
Peter Shelley, Vice President of the Conservation Law Foundation in Rockland, Maine, sent a letter to the editor of the Gloucester Daily Times published on the Fourth of July that was critical of the thorough and ongoing commercial fishing coverage the paper has been providing. In it he raised the specter of a conspiracy regarding fisheries management and a pending upheaval in the way New England groundfish will be managed.
He ended his letter with the question “isn't it time to put the conspiracy theories away?” Of course Mr. Shelley wasn’t claiming that a conspiracy is actually ongoing behind the massive shift in management philosophy in our nation’s oldest fishery, he was suggesting that the Times was supporting (or proposing) the idea that a conspiracy actually existed when it didn't.
Now why would he do that? Obviously, that’s something that’s impossible for me to even speculate about. But I have a pretty good idea of what the effects of his suggestion were on those who read it. To the general public, conspiracy theories are automatically associated with wild-eyed fanatics, black helicopters, grassy knolls and Roswell, New Mexico. Whether he intended to or not, Mr. Shelley was putting reporter Richard Gaines, the editorial staff of the Times and the fishermen up and down our coasts who know that things aren’t right in many of our commercial fisheries in that same category, aluminum foil hats and all.
Need I mention that Mr. Shelley and the Conservation Law Foundation have benefited from the Pew Charitable Trust’s largess since he was awarded a Pew fellowship back in 1996.
According to Merriam-Webster, a conspiracy theory is “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
Now we’ve definitely got an “event or set of circumstances” going on in fisheries management and ocean governance in the U.S., and the New England groundfish fishery is at the epicenter. It’s a fact that a number of people with high level, long term relationships with the multibillion dollar Pew Charitable Trusts, established with Sun Oil megabucks and apparently still under the control of the family of founder Joseph Pew, have been chosen for leadership roles in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is the federal agency that is responsible for just about everything non-military in the world’s oceans that involves the U.S. government and the U.S. people. But this is hardly a secret, and “secret” is the operative word in defining a conspiracy. That cat’s much too far out of the bag – and has been for much too long – for it to be considered anything but common knowledge by anyone who’s interested. As is the fact that Pew has funded to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars much of the current campaign to reform our commercial fisheries and to convince legislators, media and the public that such reform is urgently needed.
Nor is it a secret that those Pew-connected officials at NMFS/NOAA are convinced that the solution to our supposedly overwhelming fisheries problems, beginning with the New England groundfish fishery, lies in privatizing those fisheries, as are their colleagues in the foundation-funded Environmental Non-government Organization (ENGO) world. In fact it is so far from a secret that at a high level investment conference in Los Angeles earlier this year, representatives of one of these ENGOs, the Environmental Defense Fund, were touting fisheries quotas as a good place for the attendees to put their bucks. No secret there; in fact an audio transcript of the seminar session is available on the web (http://www.milkeninstitute.org/events/gcprogram.taf?function=detail&EvID=1599&eventid=GC09).
And, as the ongoing investigation by the Department of Commerce’s own Inspector General’s office into NOAA/NMFS enforcement activities in New England indicates, it isn’t any secret that things might not just be rotten in Denmark. Putting the icing on that cake, NOAA/NMFS was apparently hand feeding information about pending legal actions in Gloucester, Massachusetts to specific members of the media even before notifying the people who were supposed to be on the receiving end of those actions. It’s hard to see that as anything other than an attempt by a government agency to manipulate press coverage, favoring particular reporters and papers over others in an effort to influence what the public sees and when. There is such a taint there that a federal judge has demanded an explanation from NOAA/NMFS.
None of this is secret, In fact, in much of the fishing industry it’s common knowledge. That makes it kind of difficult to credit Mr. Shelley’s claim that the people at the Times, or anyone else, are pushing the idea of a conspiracy.
But all of this is minor compared to the fact that in a recent publication NOAA/NMFS revealed that in 2008 the New England fleet caught just 43,000 metric tons of of groundfish out of a target TAC (total allowable catch) of 172,000 tons (Northeast Preliminary Fisheries Statistics, July, 2009, NMFS/NEFSC, http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/TAC_apr_WEB.pdf). The participants in a fishery which supposedly is and has been in an overfishing crisis, at least according to NOAA/NMFS and the foundation-funded “conservationist” organizations including Mr. Shelley’s Conservation Law Foundation, were allowed to catch only 25% of the fish that were available to be caught. This crisis, supposedly incapable of being addressed via conventional fisheries management tools, is being claimed as justification for a switch to a management regime that will have a cataclysmic impact on New England’s fisheries; a type of management demonstrated to be effective in only a handful of fisheries worldwide. To suggest that “catch shares” have been a proven management method in the real world (as opposed to the computer programs of the theoreticians who are now in control, that’s the one with real fish, real fishermen, real boats and real salt water) and to implement them because of that strains credulity a lot more than the average government action does. Yet here we go. And why? To save the fish and the fishermen from overfishing in a fishery in which only a quarter of the fish that could be are actually being caught.
If fishermen really make a difference to those who are influencing or formulating government fisheries policy, why wasn’t there a crash program at NOAA/NMFS, perhaps utilizing some of those tens of millions of dollars that the people at Pew spend so eagerly on pushing their agenda, to figure out how all of those fishermen with time on their hands and boats at their docks could catch and sell some of that 130,000 metric tons of groundfish that went uncaught and unsold last year? If the harvest of groundfish could be doubled or trebled sustainably, why isn’t doing so getting as much attention from the managers – and from the “conservationists” who have been claiming they are on the side of both the fish and the fishermen – as is reducing the fleet size and totally disrupting the lives of so many people who depend on such an important fishery?
Could it be that Mr. Shelley wasn’t far off base in raising the specter of a conspiracy after all?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on August 3, 2009)
If you’re at all familiar with fishing issues, and if you’re reading this it’s a safe bet that you are, you’re aware of the publication in the current issue of the journal Science of an important article dealing with fisheries management from a global perspective. In the article, Rebuilding Global Fisheries, lead authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and over a dozen coauthors conclude that not all is doom and gloom in the world’s fisheries and that we’re not facing the inevitable decline of all of our fisheries culminating in an ocean filled with jellyfish and similar critters.
There’s been a reasonable amount of media coverage of the article, and I don’t intend to add to or rehash any of it here, so to stay informed I suggest that you examine some of it on your own (starting with Richard Gaines’ work in the Gloucester Times). What to me is much more interesting is the character of some of that coverage, particularly relative to the coverage of other “blockbuster” fisheries research that we’ve been subject to over the past few years.
For anyone familiar with the real-world status of domestic or international fisheries, the article didn’t break any new ground. Most simply stated, some of the world’s fisheries are in good shape, some are improving, some are in trouble, and fisheries management can and does work though it’s not effectively applied everywhere. There aren’t any revelations there unless your understanding of fisheries issues is no more profound than that provided by the anti-fishing, marine conservationist claque with their “the oceans are devastated and it’s all the fishing industry’s fault” mantra.
Also not news, though still edifying to see in print, is the fact that the fisheries off the Northeast US were doing well and getting better (be on the lookout for an upcoming issue of FishNet USA in which I’ll be writing about what’s really happening with the New England groundfish fishery). Management in New England and the Mid-Atlantic is paying off, at least for the fish.
Most of the media coverage of the report made note of this, adopting the general tone that things aren’t as bad as they might be, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
However, a curt press release by Rebecca Goldburg, director of Marine Science at the Pew Environment Group (which along with all of the other Pew-supported organizations has been part of a frighteningly well-financed campaign pushing for a revolution in how we mange our fisheries and our oceans) totally ignored all of the positive content in the report, ending with "two scientists who once held opposing views about the state of ocean fisheries now agree about the significance of global fisheries declines and the solutions needed to reverse these trends. If fishery managers worldwide heed these important scientific findings, then we have an extraordinary opportunity to restore ocean fisheries." No surprises there, why would anyone connected with the Pew machine want to admit that there’s anything positive going on in the oceans? Pew’s been pushing an agenda, and why should that change?
But what about the supposedly objective media?
In her coverage, Cornelia Dean at the New York Times focused almost exclusively on the “human” dimensions, rhapsodizing about scientists from two previously opposing camps finally coming together for the greater good of us all, and of the world’s oceans and fisheries.
While she did report that the authors “wrote that management techniques like closing some areas to fishing, restricting the use of certain fishing gear or allocating shares of the catch to individual fishermen, communities or others could allow depleted fish stocks to rebound,” Ms. Dean failed to mention that the fish stocks in the Northeast have rebounded quite well. This is one of the most positive aspects of the report as well as the one most relevant to New York Times readers, and it happened without the imposition of catch shares. Need I mention that catch shares, in essence a system of privatization of our fisheries, are at the foundation of the fisheries management revolution that the Pew campaign has been fomenting?
Looking back at Ms. Dean’s coverage of the publication by Boris Worm that was the first in the string of events that led to the recent Science article (Study Sees ‘Global Collapse’ of Fish Species, 11/03/2006), she went much farther into the scientific nitty-gritty, among other things quoting Jane Lubchenco, at the time at Oregon State University and now head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as saying the article was “compelling…. It’s a meta analysis and there are challenges in interpreting those, but when you get the same patterns over and over and over, that tells you something.” Somehow Ms. Dean failed to get Dr. Lubchenco’s reaction to Rebuilding Global Fisheries, about as close as one can get to an outright refutation of the study she found so compelling, and one by that study’s principal author. Now there’s an opportunity that I can’t imagine any journalist passing up, but Ms. Dean did.
(As a perhaps relevant aside, Josh Reichert, Director of the Pew Trusts’ Environment Program, fully endorsed Dr. Worm’s earlier work.)
Is Ms. Dean’s coverage of Rebuilding Global Fisheries reporting or is it editorializing? The people at the New York Times didn’t identify Ms. Dean’s piece as “opinion” so it’s probably meant to be the former. However, when looked at in relation to her reporting on Dr. Worm’s prior, though objectively less compelling, work and considering her penchant to educate Pew-supported researchers in how to deal with the media in tropical resorts (see Sea Around US Project Newsletter, November/December, 2002 at http://www.fisheries.ubc.ca/archive/members/dpauly/miscellaneous/2002/bonaire90millionyearsplusfewdaystothink.pdf), is that what the readers of the New York Times, still one of the most important daily newspapers in the country, are actually getting?
Do a web search on “Cornelia Dean Pew” and compare any of the pieces Ms. Dean has written on Pew funded, supported or endorsed initiatives to her almost totally dismissive coverage of the good news content of Rebuilding Global Fisheries. While she did write “but they [the authors] also agreed that fish in well-managed areas, including the United States, were recovering or doing well,” that’s hardly the take home message I came away with.
One of the most important points in Rebuilding Global Fisheries is that managing fisheries as we have been doing it in the United States has been and will continue to be effective. We don’t need a revolution in fisheries management to get to sustainable fisheries because in fishery after fishery we are either there or well on the way and the mega-foundations that are pouring money into “reforming” how we do it would do well to find something really useful to do with their dollars. For whatever reason, that got right by Ms. Dean. Unfortunately, that means that it probably got by the people who read the New York Times.
They deserve more than that, and so do our fishermen and those that depend on them.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on August 15, 2009)
First off, there are few things that I find as rewarding, at least work-wise, as hearing from anyone in the fish and seafood industry that something I’ve written has been right on target. That kind of feedback is invaluable to me, because without it, what do I know?
Running a close second on my reward meter is constructive criticism of what I’ve written. I’m not familiar with every segment of the industry and I don’t converse regularly with people from all over who are involved in fishing. If I step on a toe, if I misstate a fact, if I screw up in any way, shape or form, I’m only going to know if somebody tells me. Once you get past the stage where you’re sitting in a lecture hall taking notes on how one expert or another interprets his or her little corner of the world, that’s in large part what learning is all about.
Unfortunately, but pleasantly, I get far more of the former than the latter, and while the compliments feel a lot better, there’s not a lot I can do with them. If I didn’t already think that what I wrote was accurate, incisive, valuable, useful, illuminating, revolutionary, etc., in all probability I wouldn’t have written it.
However, this is all taking us to a much more important point. Whether you read it here or elsewhere, if you come across something that you know should be considered by the people who shape our fisheries policies, it’s up to you to make sure that they consider it. Don’t count on someone else doing it, because if you do, it might not get done. If you do it and another person does it as well, so much the better. And if a dozen or so do it, that’s better still. When it comes to substantive public participation (and that doesn’t mean signing on to a form letter on a web site), the more the merrier definitely applies.
There’s one thing that you have to keep in mind. No one can present your perspective on fisheries issues to the people representing you in Washington with anywhere near the effectiveness that you can. But that’s only if they know who you are, where you live and what you do. It’s your job to see that they do.
How do you do that? If you know your zip code and have a telephone, it’s really pretty simple.
There are a number of websites that give you free and easy to get information about your two Senators and one Representative. As an example, I’ll use Roll Call at Congress.org (http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt), but there are others. While it and similar websites have a wealth of useful information, for now let’s focus on reaching your Senator X, Senator Y and Representative Z.
Enter your zip code in the window and click on “GO.” You’ll be provided with a list of your state and federal elected officials. Click on their names and you’ll get a lot of relevant information including their local and Washington office phone numbers. Call and ask to speak to the Chief of Staff, who’s listed on the website.
After introducing yourself, tell the COS your background in and local connections to the seafood industry and your general concerns about federal fisheries management. Then say you’ve got some particular concerns and you’d like to talk about them with whoever is responsible for environmental/fisheries issues.
Make sure that the staffer you’re referred to knows that the referral was by the Chief of Staff. After talking about your current issue, say that you’ll be forwarding relevant information on this issue, and that you want to be sure that the Congresswoman, Congressman or Senator is made aware of it. Also mention that you’ll be sending other important information as you come across it in the future.
Get the staffer’s email address, send the article, letter, etc., wait a few days then call back and ask what the Representative or Senator thought of it. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, say you’ll call back in a day or two. And follow through.
Use a similar approach with members of the print or broadcast media. When something gets printed or aired about fishing that’s wrong, let the reporter, the producer, the editor or the station’s or paper’s ombudsman know, and let them know that you’re a local business person whose business is being hurt by their failure to “get it right.” Offer whatever proof you have demonstrating that they’re wrong, or offer to put them in touch with people who will show them the error of their ways.
The more people who do this, the more responsive – and responsible – they’ll get.
None of this is a lot of work, but it will take some effort and might make you uncomfortable, but your future depends on it.
And on another, related note, it’s become the vogue among some of the defenders of the way things are heading to argue that complaints without suggested solutions are without value. Let me be the first on the block to label that argument as utter nonsense. We have thousands of scientists and bureaucrats on the government payroll getting paid well and regularly to manage our fisheries. Their job is to keep you catching or cutting or selling fish or manufacturing boxes or repairing marine electronics or whatever. Your job, as far as fisheries management is concerned, is to keep them apprised of how they’re doing at keeping you catching or cutting or selling. If you have suggestions about how they could do it better, fine, but don’t buy into the idea that unless you can tell them how to do it better, you have no right to criticize what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. Fortunately, that’s not the way our government works.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on September 15, 2009)
The people running the National Marine Fisheries Service are hell bent on “fixing” the New England groundfish fishery regardless of the impact that their “fix” is going to have on the tens of thousands of people who directly or indirectly depend on it. NMFS’ solution, a variation of catch shares called sectors, is going to make the groundfish fishery easier and cheaper to manage, and it’s unquestionably going to put some people in the commercial fishing industry (and if Environmental Defense has its way, some people not in the commercial fishing industry, as well) in a better economic position. At the same time it could also destroy much of the social fabric that holds together New England’s fishing communities while irrevocably altering a way of life that’s become synonymous with the New England character.
But what’s broken? I’ve already pointed out that there are enough groundfish off New England to, if sustainably managed, keep today’s entire groundfish fleet working (see Chronic Underfishing – the Real New England Groundfish Crisis at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm). If the groundfish fishermen hadn’t been hobbled by a Machiavellian morass of fishing restrictions, in 2008 they could have harvested most, if not all, of the 170,000 metric tons of groundfish target TAC (that stands for Total Allowable – read that again: Allowable Catch) rather than the 40,000 tons they did land.
If catching the Total Allowable Catch of groundfish had actually been allowed over the last decade, something that might well be considered heresy on Great Republic Drive in Gloucester, there’s not much in the groundfish fishery that would actually need fixing. If it weren’t for foundation-funded “marine conservationists” strangling the groundfish fishery into submission via ecologically unsupportable and economically devastating regulations, how many tons of catchable and sellable groundfish would have been caught in those years? With each pound of groundfish landed generating five bucks or so of economic activity, every 100,000 metric tons of landings means over a billion dollars pumped into the New England economy. That kind of money would do some serious “fixing.”
And what about spiny dogfish? There are about a million tons of them out there, and they’re having a huge negative impact on other species and other fisheries from Cape Hatteras to up past the Hague Line. How many boats, how many fish cutters, how many truckers and how many of every other kind of tradesman or woman that gets a piece of the fish pie could an extra fifty- or a hundred-thousand tons of dogfish support? And what would a significantly reduced dogfish biomass do for all of those competing stocks, including groundfish (see the note below)?
The groundfish stocks definitely aren’t broken. As the folks at NMFS admit, the fish are there. Going by the target TAC, there are enough catchable groundfish to support a fishery as big as it was in the late 1960s or the early 80s. And if the huge biomass of spiny dogfish could be reasonably reduced, there would be even more, and more fluke, and scup, and sea bass, and striped bass, and on and on and on as well. But the 2009 spiny dogfish TAC is under 6,000 metric tons. That’s not going to make a noticeable dent in the dogfish stock, which will thereby continue to make sizeable – and very noticeable – dents in just about every other stock.
But, with their seemingly obsessive focus on implementing the groundfish sector program, Phase I of Dr. Lubchenco’s “catch share revolution,” and with that huge uncaught TAC staring us in the face, it’s awfully difficult not to suspect that the NMFS leadership has turned a blind eye towards anything that would allow more of the allowable groundfish to be caught. And it seems the same blind eye has been turned towards anything – say, for example, reducing the spiny dogfish biomass - that would increase the allowable groundfish catch. If there’s any rational reasoning behind the former other than reducing the perceived need for revolutionizing groundfish management it’s really hard to understand what it might be. It’s not so difficult to see why no one is doing anything serious to increase the TAC. A hundred and thirty thousand tons of uncaught TAC must be hard enough to explain (or to not explain, which has been the case up until now). Could you imagine being a manager and having to explain – or not – even more?
Putting it as succinctly as possible, there are four times more catchable groundfish in New England than are being caught, and if it wasn’t for a huge biomass of spiny dogfish that ratio would be higher. Yet the people at NMFS haven’t made any substantive efforts to allow fishermen to harvest more of the uncaught groundfish TAC or significantly more (in terms of predation on or competition with other species) spiny dogfish. And while not doing all of that, they’ve apparently also botched the job of groundfish record keeping, which to the fishermen is undoubtedly the most critical part of the entire catch shares process.
And last but certainly not least, from the September 10 Gloucester Daily Times, “ignoring the wishes of 109,817 Massachusetts online voters, the federal government has rejected Gloucester's Man at the Wheel for engraving on the back of a series of U.S. quarters. Chosen in a landslide over hundreds of other sites in Massachusetts in Internet voting this spring, the Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial and its iconic image of the man at sea was deemed ineligible for the quarter program because it is not federally maintained, according to a Mint spokeswoman” (Feds nix 'Man at the Wheel' for state quarter honor by Patrick Anderson).
In addition to the comedy of errors that management of one of our oldest and most important commercial fisheries has become, in addition to commercial fishermen being frozen out of the Obama Administration’s selection process for the leader of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and in addition to commercial fishermen being frozen out of the selection process for the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, commercial fishermen are now even being denied recognition on the back of a U.S. coin. Kind of makes me wonder what’s coming next, but while I’m wondering I’m strapping on my crash helmet and mapping out my quickest route to the bomb shelter.
Note: According to The Ecosystem Status Report for the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem by the NMFS Ecosystem Assessment Program just published this month, “the direct and indirect effects of species-selective harvesting patterns have also contributed to shifts fish community composition which is now dominated by small pelagic fishes and elasmobranch species (skates and small sharks) of low relative economic value.” Assuming each spiny dogfish consumes 1.5% of its total body weight in prey species daily, every 60 days the total biomass of dogfish off New England will eat an equivalent weight in other species, for a total of 6 million metric tons of spiny dogfish predation a year.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on October 8, 2009)
Remember a couple of years back when satellite photos revealed the “devastation” due to sediment trails kicked up by shrimp trawlers? A staggered line of shrimp boats were shown, each preceding a plume of cloudier water, and Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia researcher and one of the chief crepe hangers of the Pew funded “let’s blame it all on commercial fishing” campaign, was quoted widely as saying "these images of trawler mudtrails confirm that this mode of fishing is terrible. Think of the story about China’s Great Wall being the only human artefacts (sic) visible from space. Now we can add the mudtrails of trawlers.”
The satellite pictures are at a level of resolution that is available to billions of us (for free) on the web’s Google Earth, as it was when Dr. Pauly was waxing catastrophic on trawling. Now I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time messing with Google Earth, and while I’m not an expert in satellite photo interpretation, using it I can clearly distinguish the three skylights on my house, each of which is perhaps two feet wide and four feet long. The Great Wall of China is, I think, somewhat larger. So it appears that we can add to Dr. Pauly’s Great Wall of China and the mudtrails of trawlers perhaps a billion or so other human artifacts (including my skylights) visible from space. But hey, why should anyone, even if he is a respected scientist, be held accountable for everything that he is quoted as saying to make his “doom and gloom” predictions more worrisome?
But back to the shrimpers and their “catastrophic” sediment plumes. They were fishing on the Yangtze River delta. The Yangtze is one of the world’s largest rivers, until the recent construction of a series of dams it transported an average of 472 million tons of sediment to the sea each year. Needless to say, most of this sediment ended up being deposited on the delta. The finer sediment layer (these are the sediments that would be resuspended by trawling) ranges from about 130 feet thick at 60 to 100 foot water depths to 3 to 6 feet in thickness at 300 feet. It’s estimated that this “mud wedge” contains 500 billion tons of sediment.
While I’m certainly not the fisheries scientist that Dr. Pauly is, I’d be willing to bet that the critters in and around the Yangtze delta are pretty much adapted to suspended – or resuspended – sediment in the water. Any bottom dweller that can’t deal with suspended sediments shouldn’t be hanging out on the Yangtze (or Mississippi, Nile, Amazon, Mekong, or you name it) delta, and the way that nature works, they definitely aren’t. In spite of this, Dr. Pauly convinced a bevy of media people that trawling was dooming us to yet another ocean Armageddon. Quintessential sound bite science.
Well, Dr. Pauly and his somewhat less than compelling “science” is back, this time in the pages of that widely regarded scientific semimonthly journal, The New Republic.
In an article provocatively entitled Aquacalypse Now - with no acknowledgement of Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando or Martin Sheen, but we all get it, don’t we? – Dr. Pauly once again tries to convince us, or at least those of us that read The New Republic, that the biological integrity of the world’s oceans is being destroyed. His ogre du jour; that the oceans are being stripped of their big and visually appealing (no kidding, he actually wrote “boats began to catch fish that were smaller and uglier”) critters by what he’s termed the “fishing-industrial complex,” whose operations he relates to Bernie Madoff as well as a “giant Ponzi scheme.” Sort of like the military-industrial complex that the talking heads of the Sixties were assiduously trying to make us all believe was well on the way to ruining the free world. In spite of the best efforts of what at the time was only a fledgling crisis industry to convince us otherwise, we did survive it. Now it appears we’re being threatened by its aquatic sibling, the fishing-industrial complex, but with more greed, corruption and rampant illegalities thrown in. The parallels are kind of staggering and, according to the best thinkers in the fisheries science/marine ecology world in a recent paper in Science magazine (Worm, Hilborn et al, Rebuilding Global Fisheries, 07/31/2009), we’ll more than likely survive this latest product of the crisis mongers as well.
Dr. Pauly continues that this all began “in the 1950s, as their (the fishing industrial complex, I presume) operations became increasingly industrialized--with onboard refrigeration, acoustic fish-finders, and, later, GPS.” That makes a nice story for all of the Luddites who read The New Republic, but from what I remember about Kipling’s Captains Courageous, the cod fishermen on the Grand Banks a century ago did really well with salt, with an intimate knowledge of their fishery, with a compass and dead reckoning, and with not even an inkling of a fishing-industrial complex. And let’s not forget the Atlantic halibut, a still unrecovered casualty of the prefishing-industrial complex.
Interestingly, Dr. Pauly has the fishing-industrial complex developing at about the same time as the military-industrial complex. Perhaps the sun spot activity was at a peak in the 1950s?
He also resurrects yet again the specter of oceans filled with jellyfish and writes prophetically about “the end of fish,” even going so far in a strained and labored effort as to blame the oceanic dead zones – including our very own in the Gulf of Mexico – on trawling for shrimp, rather than on nutrient-laden agricultural runoff, their indisputable and long recognized cause.
Most of this could be overlooked as artistic license, particularly if Dr. Pauly was an artist, but he’s not. He’s a scientist and I have to assume he’s writing as a scientist.
But he seems to be moving pretty far from objective science and into the role of polemicist when he writes “one study, published in the prestigious journal Science, forecast that, by 2048, all commercial fish stocks will have ‘collapsed.’” Boris Worm, the lead author, has since recanted his position on this universal collapse in such a high profile manner in Rebuilding Global Fisheries cited above that even Dr. Pauly up there in the wilds of British Columbia should have been aware of it. I can only assume that he missed it because he failed to renew his subscription to Science.
Most disturbing from the US fisherman’s perspective, Aquacalypse Now is underneath all of the doom and gloom hyperbole nothing more than another argument for catch shares, the form of fisheries management that has been adopted as the Holy Grail by NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, that has been touted by the Pew-supported “conservationists” as the only salvation of the world’s fisheries, that seems to be well along a path to self-destruction in the New England groundfish fishery, and that has been repudiated as unworkable by the fisheries managers in the European Union (whose lack of success based on catch share management speaks for itself). Not at all surprisingly, Dr. Pauly, the programs he is involved in at the University of British Columbia and the University itself have received on the order of 10 million Pew fisheries/oceans dollars.
He takes the catch shares argument a step farther, suggesting that fishing rights be auctioned by government to the highest bidder (while doing this, he also manages a slam aimed at “most fisheries economists,” but that’s for another column). This definitely rang a bell for me, thinking back to one of the initial meetings on sector management in New England when the “marine conservationists” were rhapsodizing about what they were calling conservation sectors. How’d you like to co-own a fishery with the people at Pew? And he doesn’t miss getting in a plug or several for ocean zoning, another Pew priority that came to NOAA/NMFS with Dr. Lubchenco and is yet another way to wrest control of the oceans from the fishermen, and to wrest their future away from them as well.
On the other hand, the title Aquacalypse Now is particularly apt for this, Dr. Pauly’s most recent venture into it’s-the-fishermen’s-fault ocean alarmism. What he writes is identical in feel to the phantasmagorical world of Colonel Kurtz in the movie (minus the fog/mist/smoke, the tiger and the pyrotechnics, of course). But, not wanting to be outdone by anyone in the field of new word coinage, I’d like to offer my own humble effort - Acrockalypse Now.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on October 21, 2009)
If you’re a commercial, recreational or party/charter boat fisherman and if you’ve put any time in on the water from North Carolina to the Gulf of Maine in the last several years, there’s a high probability that your fishing has been directly impacted by the huge stock of spiny dogfish infesting out near-shore waters. There’s an even higher probability that it’s been indirectly impacted. Increasingly, these indiscriminate and voracious predators are stealing bait, plugging nets, fouling gear, invading chum slicks and forcing other fish – and the fishermen who are pursuing them – from areas where they have been fished for years.
How significant are these impacts? While that’s much more than a million dollar question with much more than a million dollar answer, at this point we don’t know, because up until now nobody has been looking. But they have been, and are continuing to be, significant enough to spur the formation of Fishermen Organized for Responsible Dogfish Management (FORDM), an ad hoc association of fishermen from both sides of the recreational/commercial divide. They have been and are continuing to be significant enough so that 500 people, either as individuals or representing the widest imaginable spectrum of recreational, commercial and party/charter fishing organizations and businesses, signed on to a letter to newly appointed NOAA Chief Lubchenco for her help in dealing with the issue (available at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/FORDM_Letter.pdf). – For the record, I had a hand in the formation of FORDM and am continuing to work on the spiny dogfish issue – or plague, if you’d rather. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Dr. Lubchenco’s response was to pass the issue down to Jim Balsiger, acting head of NMFS (available at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/BalsigerDogReply.pdf), whose response seemed at best somewhat less than helpful and at worst an out-of-hand dismissal.
Needless to say, fishermen and fishing-dependent business owners up and down the East coast are extremely aware of, are concerned about, and have gotten organized to deal with what they clearly see is the threat of the overabundance of spiny dogfish.
Not surprisingly, some reporters have become interested in the spiny dogfish situation. Last week Associated Press reporter Jay Lindsay wrote an article on what he rightly recognized and termed the dogfish dilemma (see http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091013/ap_on_re_us/us_dogfish_dilemma).
He did a good job of putting together a balanced piece – or as balanced as it should be, considering that he had just been on a bottom longlining trip for cod off Chatham, Massachusetts and had first-hand knowledge of what the overabundance of dogfish really means to fishermen trying to squeeze a living out of our coastal waters. He wrote “on a recent trip off Chatham, dogfish were hanging from almost all 300 hooks fisherman Jamie Eldredge spooled into the ocean 20 minutes earlier. One hook held an unfortunate blue fish, stripped to its spine by the swarming dogs, as they're called. Other hooks had only blue fish heads and gutted whips, the nickname for male dogfish.” Jay Lindsay was witness to yet another fishing trip gone to the dogs.
However, I found one part of his article particularly troubling. Mr. Lindsay wrote “federal regulators say though fishermen see dogfish everywhere, ‘they're not seeing the whole picture,’ said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman.” When I read that, a number of terms came to mind. Among the nicest were “condescending” and “ill-informed.”
Fishermen see dogfish everywhere because dogfish are everywhere, not just off Chatham or Cape May or Barnegat Light or Cape Hatteras. Not just at the ten fathom line, or the twenty, or all the way out to the edge. They are seeing them because they are there, and they haven’t seen them in that profusion in the past. And Jamie Eldredge isn’t the exception, he’s the rule. A day ruined by spiny dogfish - damaged gear, lost bait, fouled hooks, wasted effort and ruined product - is becoming much too familiar up and down our coastline. How much more of the picture is there for the fishermen to see?
While putting forth the idea that today’s fishermen are uninformed and isolated and can’t see beyond their own self-interested horizons might make the job of defending NMFS position’s and actions easier, that’s no longer – if it ever was – the case. As a matter of fact, with all of the fishing websites available, with the instantaneous ability to communicate via email and cell phone, and with the proliferation of various and sundry meetings, hearings, workshops, etc. that it’s almost mandatory that they attend, fishermen today are unquestionably seeing a larger picture than they ever have before. And spiny dogfish are making up an increasingly significant and bleak part of that picture.
There’s a sampling of spiny dogfish quotes that FORDM collected at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/DogfishQuotes.htm. Anyone who read them might be disinclined to insist that fishermen aren’t considering the whole picture when it comes to spiny dogfish. Anyone who had paid any attention to the FORDM letter to Dr. Lubchenco linked above might be similarly disinclined.
But perhaps not. The fact that no one at the policy level NMFS was interested enough to dig into the issue at all or did dig into it and then blew off the fishermen’s concerns as more meaningless “anecdotal information” is symptomatic of why relationships between NOAA/NMFS and many of the commercial, recreational and party/charter fishermen that it’s supposed to be there for are so strained. On the other hand, NMFS scientist Paul Rago has enough of a grasp of the dogfish situation to have said to Mr. Lindsay “it's always a concern to me that if we're off on some assumption, we've missed something, you know, it has immediate outcomes. It's fine for us to say ‘Whoops.’ But for the guy that's at the end of that thing, it's not acceptable.” To contend with the vagaries of fish populations in the open oceans you need the kind of open mindedness that Dr. Rago demonstrates here. Anyone who deals with knowledgeable fishermen, and who is committed to dealing with them fairly and effectively, will listen to them and give credence to what they are saying (particularly if they are saying it virtually unanimously over 2000 miles of coastline).
That’s obviously not the case with far too many people in the upper echelons at NOAA/NMFS. Particularly considering that they are public employees now, I sincerely hope that they don’t realize to what an extent they are marginalizing both commercial and recreational fishermen in the management process. Sadly, considering that’s a large part of the strategy that the ENGOs have used so successfully to wrest political control of fisheries management from commercial and recreational fishermen, and considering the myriad ties that now exist between those ENGOs and the people in charge at NOAA/NMFS, there does seem a reasonable chance that they do and that this marginalization is part and parcel of the Obama Administration’s fisheries/oceans policy. Consider, for example, how closely Ms. Lubchenco consulted with fishermen of any stripe before deciding that “catch shares” were going to be the new basis for US fisheries management. After all, why should this newest crop of bureaucrats, fresh from the privileged world of the lavishly foundation-funded ENGOs, want a bunch of working fishermen interfering with their plans for the fish and for the oceans?
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on November 3, 2009)
My last column was critical of the propensity of NOAA/NMFS and the “conservation community” to marginalize commercial fishermen in the fishery management process. Subsequently NOAA Chief Jane Lubchenco provided what could be interpreted as an example of that sort of marginalization.
On October 30, in what is usually NMFS Acting Assistant Administrator Jim Balsiger’s column in the Gloucester Daily Times, she wrote about the many contributions that federal employees at the NMFS Northeast Regional Office (NERO) in Gloucester make to the Cape Ann area’s economy and culture.
These contributions include NMFS employees’ involvement with local schools, volunteering “for countless community programs and civic organizations,” donating “5,000 pounds of top quality lobster, crab, shrimp and other fish from its routine inspections each year to The Open Door, a Gloucester food pantry that serves the hungry,” providing meeting space in NMFS to “local businesses” and supporting various local/regional science education initiatives.
Towards the end of her list, she wrote, “with our new building, we are able to invite numerous school and community groups to see the work we do.”
Does NOAA leadership believe that school and community groups in Gloucester need a tour of a new $25 million government building to see the work that they are doing?
Gloucester, one of our oldest and most important fishing ports, is in the process of losing most of its commercial fishing fleet and many of the businesses that depend on that fleet. The local folks don’t need a tour of what they sometimes call the “Castle on the Hill” to see that. They just need to take a walk or a ride down to the waterfront.
While donating 5,000 pounds of top quality seafood to needy people is a good thing to do, the gift comes from the people whose policies have forced fishermen to throw hundreds of tons of equally high quality seafood over the side every year. All of this has occurred because no one has been able to come up with an acceptable – to the so-called conservationists – way to avoid wasteful by-catch.
All of the rest is what good people in towns and cities all over the country do where they live and work. Some of it is laudable, some of it is necessary, all of it helps the community, but none of it is unique to NOAA/NMFS employees. If the people at NOAA/NMFS were able to figure out how to let Gloucester’s fishermen catch their proportionate share of the uncaught annual TAC (see Chronic Underfishing – the Real New England Groundfish Crisis at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm ), say 30,000 metric tons or so, the tens of millions of dollars that would enter the local economy would have a far more dramatic effect than twice as many federal employees could.
But these are only minor quibbles. My major quibble is that this column appeared on the same day that hundreds of fisherman from Maryland to Maine converged in the NMFS parking lot to peacefully demonstrate against the impact that "the work" that Dr. Lubchenco and her staff are doing is having on their communities and on their lives.
These fishermen have valid grievances. Some of them are shared by their fellow fishermen who are working, or trying to work, under the NOAA/NMFS regime on both coasts, in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean and the US Trust Territories. It’s not just Gloucester, it’s not just New England, and it’s not just the East Coast.
They and their colleagues who work in the recreational fisheries are being strangled by an increasingly repressive management regime. It doesn’t need to be repressive -- unless you believe that it’s appropriate to inflict severe economic suffering on working people during a recession to get a population of fish to an arbitrary level of abundance in ten years rather than twelve or thirteen.
Is there a difference as long as the stocks are improving? How many jobs is it worth, how many lives should be disrupted, to get to an arbitrary population level a day or a week or a month sooner?
Dr. Lubchenco had an opportunity to use the space normally given to Dr. Balsiger to address these serious issues.
But the official comment from NOAA that day focused on such banalities as hanging works by local artists in the new office building the taxpayers just bought for them.
Correction: When I wrote my last column I believed that Associated Press reporter Jay Lindsay had accompanied fisherman Jamie Eldridge on a trip targeting cod that was ruined by the profusion of spiny dogfish. Since then I learned that Captain Eldridge had been targeting dogfish on the trip. So here is an application of Forest Gump’s “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” this particular trip wasn’t ruined by dogfish, but their numbers have made the tub trawl fishery for cod off Cape Cod unworkable, and the damage they’re inflicting on other recreational and commercial fisheries still continues.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on November 23, 2009)
I just came by some information on an organization called the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD). In the words of its Executive Director, Michael Fischer (in an interview on this past January 27th buried in the Convention on Biological Diversity website at http://www.cbd.int/doc/fin/submission/fin-cgbd-en.pdf), “the CGBD was founded in 1987 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and several U.S. private foundations. We are currently a unique association, small by design, of 55 funders engaged in environmental grantmaking.” He added “they (USAID) provided seed funding to establish the association, and they continue to provide membership support… About half a dozen of their staff members regularly attend our meetings.” Among the CGBD’s 55 funders are the Pew, Rockefeller, Munson, Surdna and Packard foundations. It’s hardly news to most readers here, but for the uninitiated, these foundations have collectively pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-fishing campaigns of various types in the United States.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, the federal agency that started it, is a participating member of the CGBD and is providing administrative support to it. According to its website, it is involved in supporting “long-term and equitable economic growth and advances U.S. foreign policy objectives.” It does this by “supporting economic growth, agriculture and trade; global health; and democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance.” In essence, it provides foreign aid to other countries while receiving overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. Apparently a strong part of its Environment program is preserving and protecting biological diversity and the CGBD is one of the tools it uses to do this.
Part of the CGBD is the Marine Conservation Group, with the mission of saving “the global oceans and the biodiversity contained therein by strengthening marine conservation grantmaking and providing a vehicle for information sharing, dialogue, strategy development and collaboration among funders” (http://stage.cgbd.org/visitors/aboutcgbd/workinggroups/marineconservation/).
We’re fine up until this point. If the USAID, a federal bureaucracy paid for with our tax dollars, has decided that U.S.foreign policy goals and objectives can be supported by spending taxpayer bucks abroad on biological diversity, who am I to argue against it? If one of the ways it spends those bucks is through establishing, supporting and participating in the CGBD, ditto.
However, as in so many other dealings between our appointed officials in Washington, the increasingly influential multi-billion dollar NGO sub-government and the huge foundations that support it, there’s a snake in that woodpile.
On the CGBD website among the objectives listed (link above) is one to “ensure funder coordination and collaboration on long-term strategies to implement the recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission and the National Oceans Commission.” The Pew Charitable Trusts website states “the Pew Oceans Commission released a host of recommendations in 2003 to guide the way in which the federal government will successfully manage America’s marine environment.” The “National Oceans Commission” (actually the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy) addressed reforms it felt were needed for governance of waters over which the U.S. has jurisdiction, oceans (out to the 200 mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone), coasts and the great lakes.
There’s something distinctly unsettling about the fact that the CGBD, an organization that USAID (with no apparent domestic authority or mission) established and is still participating in and supporting, has as an objective the implementation of the recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission and the National Oceans Commission. These recommendations deal only with policies and issues in U.S. waters. Why this USAID connection? Unsettling as well is the fact that USAID is partnering with several of the foundations which have demonstrated a frightening ability and willingness to influence national fisheries policies to the detriment of the domestic commercial fishermen and commercial fishing industry.
But most unsettling is the question of how far U.S. foreign policy might be advanced through the trading away of a significant portion of our own fishing industry’s ability to supply our domestic seafood markets. Funding by several of the foundations partnering with USAID for over 20 years through the CGBD is in large part responsible for the fact that the U.S. is now importing in the neighborhood of 80% the seafood that we consume. In 2008 our fishery product imports were a record $14.2 billion. Needless to say, minus the regulatory morass that these USAID “partner” foundations has created, domestic commercial fishermen would be supplying far more than their current 20% of the domestic market (I’ll refer you again to my FishNet on chronic underfishing, http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm, which describes a situation which is far from limited to New England and the New England groundfish flee).
Is it paranoid to even remotely consider that our domestic fisheries policies might be linked to the U.S. State Department’s foreign assistance programs? Just consider that fifteen or twenty years ago the suggestion that federal fisheries management – and ocean governance – would largely be in the hands of minions of the same foundations in the CGBD, and that the commercial fishing industry was being effectively dealt out of the fisheries management process would have been considered equally paranoid. And consider as well how many foreign policy concessions could be “bought” with $14 billion in U.S. market opportunities today and who knows how much in the future. As an added bonus, this would be advancing the anti-fishing agendas of a passel of increasingly influential ENGOs. Far fetched? Of course, but we’re living in some mighty strange and trying times, and our government’s increasingly and overly stringent “management” of our fisheries and the concomitant destruction of the people, businesses and communities that depend on them demonstrably aren’t a requirement for fully recovered stocks.
In his interview, Mr. Fischer acknowledged that “we call ourselves a back-office think-tank and collaboration hub for leading environmental funders. Emphasis on the ‘back office;’ hence our opaque name.” I can see why.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on December 8, 2009)
A reduction in sea scallop landings of thirty percent. A total closure of the Gulf of Mexico recreational amberjack fishery. A reduction in spiny dogfish landings of twenty-five percent. A total seasonal closure of the recreational sea bass fishery in the Northeast. A total closure of the red snapper fishery in federal waters from Florida to North Carolina. Recreational summer flounder restrictions that have decimated the for-hire fleet. Massive West coast rockfish closures based on less than adequate science. A looming lobster bait crisis stemming from a massive though biologically unnecessary reduction in herring landings. One hundred and thirty thousand tons of uncaught groundfish TAC. A labyrinth of MPAs off California established wherever catchable fish are found. And the list could go on, and on, and on….
These are either proposed, recently instituted or ongoing management initiatives, initiatives being imposed on fishermen who are looking at fisheries that are healthier today than they have been in decades. In total they are going to cost commercial and recreational fishermen, the businesses that depend on them and fishing communities in every coastal state billions of dollars. The pending sea scallop cutback alone is estimated by industry experts to come with a quarter of a billion dollar price tag and the cost of the red snapper closure will undoubtedly be in the tens of millions. All of those uncaught Northeast groundfish, if caught, would have pumped a billion dollars into the fishing communities in New England.
Those fishermen have been laboring – and suffering – under severe management restrictions for those decades with the understanding that the sacrifices they would make today would be more than justified by the rewards they would reap in the future. Well, judging by the status of the stocks the future is finally here but judging by the foregoing list of management actions the rewards definitely aren’t.
Are you starting to detect a subtle trend here, or perhaps one that’s not so subtle?
The Magnuson Act, when passed by Congress in 1976, broke new ground when it established that managing our nation’s fisheries was to be accomplished jointly by scientists, resource managers and resource users – fishermen. It was intended as a tool to enable U.S. fishermen to more effectively utilize those fisheries, something that it was effective, in instances too effective, at doing.
Needless to say, there were teething pains. It’s hard to imagine a new management system that would work from the beginning, and this one didn’t. In the beginning there was a “catch ‘em all” attitude that was probably due more to the Cold War than to fisheries management concerns. And starting in 1981, an ill-advised “economic recovery” program by the Reagan administration brought far too much fishing capacity to the domestic fleet than was necessary and shortly afterwards, in 1984, the World Court awarded much of the New England fleet’s fishing grounds to Canada. Obviously, in the first decade or so of Magnuson management some fisheries suffered, but external factors were much more responsible than anything intrinsic to the fishing industry or to the management process itself.
But, using these early stumbling blocks as the reason, over the intervening three decades fishermen have been gradually dealt out of the Magnuson process, the scientists have been put in charge, and as the list of closures and restrictions up above painfully demonstrates, the Act has been turned into a weapon that is now being used against fishermen and fishing communities.
How has this been accomplished? Through a well orchestrated campaign based on what has come to be known in the world of propaganda as The Big Lie – a lie so outrageous and repeated so often that the people will eventually accept it as the truth.
In this case The Big Lie is that fishermen are inherently incapable of sustainably managing the fisheries they participate in. The sole basis of this theory is The Tragedy of the Commons, an article published in the journal Science by an ecologist, Garrett Hardin, in 1968. Hardin’s article describes the dilemma of hypothetical herders sharing a hypothetical plot of land in medieval Europe. It’s been used and is still being used as proof positive that fishermen are incapable of rationally harvesting fish that “belong to everybody.” Hardin is reputed to have said later that his article might better have been titled “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons,” which has no bearing at all to today’s over-regulated fisheries. This obvious fact is understandably ignored by the foundation-funded anti-fishing activists in their so far successful campaign to marginalize fishermen in the management process. (Note that this year’s Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom, convincingly – at least to the Nobel selection committee - argues that Hardin’s “tragedy,” though applicable in limited situations, suffers from over-application.)
So with the fishermen on the way out, or at least the independent fishermen who don’t kowtow to Silver Spring or the anti-fishing claque, who’s taking up the slack in the fisheries management process? That would be the scientists that work for NMFS and those on each regional management council’s Science and Statistics Committee. At this point they’re in charge, and their statistics and their computer models, no matter how imprecise, based on their samples, no matter how meager, and their budgets, no matter how inadequate, are what’s determining what we can and can’t (emphasis on the latter, of course) catch. And don’t forget that extra 20 or 30 or 40% “off the top” that is used to make up for the uncertainty of their science.
Those imprecise statistics, meager samples and inadequate budgets are exactly why Congress decided over 30 years ago that fishermen and resource managers should have a major say in fisheries management. The experience and observations of the fisherman and the concern of the managers for the resource users as well as the resource were put there to balance the narrow input of the scientists.
But, thanks to the last two Magnuson reauthorizations, and to what it’s impossible for me to see as anything other than the “let’s get rid of as many fishermen as we can” vibrations emanating from NOAA/NMFS headquarters, that’s no longer the case. The science, no matter how limited, rules and the experience, judgment and concern for the human impacts have become completely irrelevant.
This wasn’t the intention of the Magnuson Act’s authors, it wasn’t the intent of the Congress that passed it, and if they understood how purposefully fallacious this particular Big Lie is and the full extent of the damage it has unnecessarily caused and continues to cause in every fishing community in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine any of our elected officials allowing it to continue. But as we are all too well aware, continue it does.
So what do we do to fix this mess? First off, the members of every aggrieved recreational or commercial fishery, and name more than one or two in the lower 48 that aren’t, have to realize that the most serious of their problems begin and end with the purposely mutated monster that Magnuson has become. Then, as members of that fishery, they have to make the demand that Magnuson be returned to its former state, once again with the balance for the inadequate science provided by the judgment of fishermen (nominated and approved by their peers, not forced on the system by the palace guard in Silver Spring) and resource managers. And finally they – but at this point it’s we – have to set aside our differences and come together, along with all of the associated businesses and organizations and individuals that have a stake in viable fisheries, in the effective lobbying power that we should be, and start to get the job done.
This is a process that’s already started, both in Congress and with a number of fishing organizations. But it’s not going to succeed without your support and your participation. You can start off by demanding that your reps in Washington join Congressman Barney Frank’s East Coast congressional caucus, which he plans on starting within two weeks to organize “an uphill battle against environmental forces to create a more equal balance between the reconstruction of fish stocks and community interests” (see also: "Frank eyes federal 'caucus' to revise fishing law") . And there are other, industry-focused efforts in the works as well. Do everything you can to get them and keep them going. I’ll keep you posted to the extent that I can, but remember that ultimately it’s up to you.
In keeping with the season, they’re your chestnuts and you’re the only one that’s going to get them out of the fire that we’ve allowed to burn for way too long.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on December 20, 2009)
It’s been a long time coming, but it appears as if a critical number of fishermen have finally reached the conclusion that the way things are heading, there’s not going to be an acceptable fishing future for any of us, that it’s time for some long overdue changes, and that the place to effect those changes is in Congress.
It’s really difficult to identify all of the major factors responsible for this, but among them I’d list the excessive and in-your-face obvious influence on the Obama Administration’s NOAA/NMFS by foundations with a long track record of actions inimical to fishermen, the looming crisis (of management, not of fish) in the New England groundfish fishery, the sorry state of the economy for us mere mortals who haven’t benefitted and won’t benefit from any bail-out $billions, massive fishery closures or cutbacks without adequate science behind them, an ongoing investigation of what appears to be institutionalized strong-arm tactics in the federal fisheries enforcement branch, and most importantly, the unnecessary and incessant erosion of our ability to fish – either recreationally or to earn a living – by a management system that is focused solely on the fish and that we as fishermen are now effectively isolated from.
And I can’t forget the role that a long list of coastal legislators – most have already been mentioned here - in Washington and elected and appointed officials in Massachusetts have played in demonstrating that the ongoing overzealous, verging on punitive, management of fishermen is becoming far more of a threat to fishing communities than declining stocks ever were.
One of the most edifying byproducts of the management morass that the majority of U.S. fishermen are mired in is the growing cooperation between people in the commercial, recreational and party/charter industries, the businesses that depend on them and the communities that they support. Are we one big happy family? No, and we probably never will be, but every day more of us are realizing that there’s a common enemy that we’ve allowed to take control of the management process while we’ve been almost totally focused on throwing rocks at each other.
What’s the payoff of this nascent spirit of cooperation? On Capitol Hill, in no particular order of importance:
* New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone and twenty-four co-sponsors reintroduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding America’s Fisheries Act. New York’s Charles Schumer introduced corresponding legislation in the Senate.
* Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank announced a caucus of East Coast legislators to discuss the modifying the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Congressman Frank said “the effort was justified because of the unrequired harm being done to the fishing communities along the Atlantic coast by regulators who misinterpret the legal principle imbedded in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to balance ecological with economic and sociological interests.”
* Fourteen House Members and twelve Senators sent letters to the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior objecting to the CITES listing of spiny dogfish.
* Thirteen House members and five Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce expressing “extreme disappointment” in the New England Council’s decision to severely cut back sea scallop landings.
* The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act (S. 2856), relieving the management of trans-boundary groundfish stocks in U.S. waters from the irrationality of what the Magnuson management regime has become. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.
* Florida Congressman John Mica and 16 cosponsors introduced legislation to prevent the Secretary of Commerce from closing the red snapper fishery without further analysis.
There is a core group of federal legislators from Texas to Maine who now realize that things are far from well in fisheries management, and that the problems don’t lie with the fishermen but rather with what the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been turned into by foundation funded activists and how it is being interpreted by NOAA/NMFS.
It’s up to all of us to capitalize on that.
Inspired in part by the successful fishermen’s demonstration at NOAA/NMFS Northeast Regional Office that was organized by Amanda Odlin, a fisherman’s wife and business partner in Scarborough, Maine, a number of fishermen’s groups from both sides of the recreational/commercial fence are organizing a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol on February 24. With fishermen of every stripe participating, the message to Congress will be straightforward; put the original flexibility back in the Magnuson Act that will allow the needs of the fish to be balanced with the needs of the fishermen.
And make no mistake; this is a result of grass roots activism at its most pure. No massive corporations, no “charitable” trusts, no foundation funded ENGOs are behind it, just commercial and recreational fishermen, the businesses that they support and the trade organizations that support them.
But what’s the other side up to?
They’re sure not about to enter into a public discourse, seek acceptable compromises with the aggrieved fishermen or find some middle ground that will let fishermen fish and let fishing-supported businesses remain viable while stocks continue to rebuild. That’s not what their billions are for. Instead those organizations that have made life so miserable for so many fishing dependent people for so long are going to respond as they have since they became involved in “saving the oceans from fishermen.” They’re going to throw even more money at what they perceive as a growing problem; the increasing awareness in Washington that fisheries can be and should be rebuilt in a manner that is consistent with maintaining viable fishing communities.
Accordingly, we learn from the Careers@Pew website, since December 1 the folks at the Pew Charitable Trusts have been looking for a “Manager, Federal Fisheries Policy Reform Campaign.” Among the responsibilities for this position:
* The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance. This project manager will be responsible for determining the nature and amount of this support
* Oversee and manage campaign staff and environmental, commercial fishing and recreational fishing NGO consultants. The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance.
* Working with PCT (Pew Charitable Trusts) and PEG (Pew Environment Group) public affairs staff on messaging and media strategy, the project manager will help ensure that communications and outreach are used to advance the campaign’s overall goals.
* The project manager will be responsible, in consultation with the project director, for identifying and contracting with scientists, legal experts, economists, polling firms, communications and other technical specialists as necessary to provide information, prepare reports, brochures or other documents as required to advance the campaign goals (from http://jobs-pct.icims.com/jobs/1971/job).
What greater example do we need of the difference between real grass roots and astroturf? Need a fisherman, a scientist or an environmentalist to help you spin? Write a check. Buy one or two or a dozen. Want to manipulate the media? The Pew PR machine – backed by Pew’s tens of millions of dollars of media grants – will lend a hand. With billions of Big Oil/high tech dollars to draw from, a couple of decades of expensive successes under their collective belt and access that few enjoy to what I’d guess are excessively sympathetic ears at the highest levels of NOAA/NMFS, why would we expect them to do otherwise? And they have a bunch of people in Congress from inland states who have proven more than susceptible to their well oiled anti-fishing spin machine in the past. That’s why we’re in the position that we’re in today, with a mutated Magnuson-Stevens Act that gives scant consideration to the people and businesses involved in fishing and every consideration possible to the fish – which time after time have been shown to be far more resilient (how many fish stocks are “recovered” or on their way to recovery? How many fishing businesses that have gone bankrupt have come back?)
As applied to fisheries management, without Congressional intervention government “of the people, by the people, for the people” might well perish, to be replaced with checkbook activism. We’re most of the way there already.
When the Magnuson Act was written over 30 years ago, the intent wasn’t to have fisheries managed from the Board Rooms of multi-billion dollar foundations but from the docks, the marinas and the beaches where fishermen – let’s not call them fishers – were plying their trade or pursuing their sport. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it can be again, but not without your serious support and participation, no matter what your fishery.
Have a great holiday and I hope to see you in Washington.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on January 18, 2010)
The successful politicians in New Jersey, in Massachusetts and in Virginia get it, and those in every other state – if they want to remain in politics - better get it as well. In the U.S. we’re starting to lose patience with having public policies forced down our throats by elitists who are convinced that they know best. Government by condescension is on its way out, and none too soon.
But, on the morning after the drubbing that was handed the Massachusetts candidate who was most identified with a “we know what’s best for you in spite of what you believe” attitude, the Boston Globe still doesn’t get it.
In an editorial this morning the Globe bemoaned the fact that the New England Fishery Management Council will reconsider its decision to reduce next year’s sea scallop harvest by almost a quarter; an action that would cost the coastal economies of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and every other coastal state from North Carolina to Maine hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.
The editorial finished up with the words “while the industry is all too willing to risk permanent harm to scallop stocks - and its own livelihood - the council must be steadfast in protecting the region’s marine resources.” That fits perfectly with the condescending attitude towards fishermen espoused by the elitists who run the multi-billion dollar foundations behind so much of the current – and unnecessary – suffering in the commercial fishing industry; the attitude that they’re there to protect us from ourselves.
But it’s dead wrong.
Members of the sea scallop fishery have been leaders in campaigning for the sustainable management of their fishery. The idea that those fishermen, with lifetimes invested on the water, with boats worth several millions of dollars each, and with respectable incomes from those boats, would jeopardize it all for a “get rich quick and to hell with tomorrow” assault on the resource is absurd. Fisheries scientists with international reputations (and without funding from those crusading foundations) have attested and will attest to that.
A newspaper with editorial offices only an hour’s drive from New Bedford, the busiest scallop port in the country, is condemning the reconsideration of a decision that would rip a huge amount of money from the Massachusetts economy next year. That decision would precipitate economic hardship at a time when Americans are still in the grips of a devastating economic downturn. It’s going to cost Globe readers jobs and money they can ill afford. Finding fault with that reconsideration is even more absurd, no matter what advice is being given to the Globe by foundation flacks whose careers depend on selling the notion that their only interest is saving fish and fishermen.
As I wrote a few weeks back, the times, they are a-changin’ and yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts demonstrated that it’s not just in how we’re relating to fisheries management that’s changing; it’s the whole social, cultural and economic sphere. The people don’t want elitist control frosted with feel good rhetoric, they want – and they’re going to get - a say in what’s going on.
Perhaps the editorial writers at the Boston Globe will figure that out, but they’re going to have to venture outside Route 128 to do it. If they do, their first foray should be to New Bedford to meet with some real conservationists who have a real stake in the fisheries management process.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on January 27, 2010)
I can only imagine how much satisfaction hundreds of fishermen and folks from fishing businesses are deriving from the recently released first installment of the US Department of Commerce Inspector General’s report on the scandalously inadequate, unbalanced and inequitable job that NOAA/NMFS has been doing in enforcing fishing regulations, particularly in the Northeast. I can likewise only imagine the frustration that they must feel, knowing that their lives, their reputations, their finances and their future prospects were severely damaged – and in some tragic instances, destroyed – by what appears to be nothing less than an out-of-control bureaucracy. I sincerely hope that those people pursue whatever avenues of institutional and personal redress are available to them and wish them the best of luck in that pursuit. (The full report is available on the Saving Seafood website at http://www.savingseafood.org/images/documents/enforcement/noaa%20oig_1_21_10.pdf, as is summary at http://www.savingseafood.org/enforcement/brief-summary-of-the-inspector-generals-report-on-noaa-fisheries-law-enforc-2.html).
The follow-up report, looking at specific cases that have been investigated by the Inspector General’s office, is on the way. That could be even more satisfying.
To nobody’s surprise, NOAA head Jane Lubchenco’s response to this report consisted of assuring us that NOAA/NMFS would be revising regulations, creating a policy manual, improving communications and convening a national “summit” on agency enforcement policies.
Shouldn’t we expect a bit more than that?
The “summit” sounds like it could be just another white-washing junket for those members of fishing organizations, ENGO staffers and academic researchers on the foundation-funding gravy train that are so interested in saving us from ourselves. I wonder if the NOAA/NMFS leadership is planning on holding it at the Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire. Once again that would keep the working people away in droves.
And I don’t find it all that comforting to know that in these days when just about everyone is suffering from a surfeit of communications - to such an extent that the NY Times deemed it front-page worthy - someone is in charge of NOAA/NMFS who actually thinks that more communications could be the answer to anything. In issue after issue that fishermen are facing we’ve had much too much communication and much too little substantive action.
What it all boils down to is that for you folks at the NOAA/NMFS Offices of Law Enforcement and General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation, brace yourselves. You’re about to get your knuckles rapped really, really hard.
That isn’t anywhere near an adequate response for an agency that has purposely kept proud, honest and hardworking members of one of our oldest industries in a state of undeserved terror for most of a generation.
If there was ever a reason for Congressional oversight, this is it, and everyone who is demanding it – and that list is growing every day – is definitely heading in the right direction. But they’re not yet where they need to be.
It shouldn’t be oversight limited to the Inspector General’s report and the NOAA/NMFS Offices of Law Enforcement and General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation. That’s not the disease that’s infecting NOAA/NMFS. That’s only one of the symptoms.
I’ve already heard and read that this enforcement fiasco can’t be laid at Ms. Lubchenco’s feet, or at the feet of the foundation/ENGO people she brought to Washington with her, that most of the enforcement mess-ups occurred before they were in Washington and running NOAA.
But let’s give that idea a bit more consideration.
First off, as we all know far too well, an ever intensifying anti-fishing malaise has afflicted NOAA/NMFS for at least a decade. What’s its source? To a very large extent, it’s come from a very successful and very expensive campaign bankrolled by very large foundations to convince as many people as possible with an interest in the world’s oceans that fishing is one of the greatest scourges to ever afflict them. Through the skillful – did I mention expensive? – manipulation of science and scientists, and through the selective – did I mention expensive? – manipulation of the print and broadcast media, a large proportion of those people, and the officials who represent them, have bought into this fantasy.
Unfortunately, when the people and their legislators in Washington go in a particular direction, whether that direction is right or wrong, most federal agencies aren’t too far behind. Thus, it’s fairly easy to suggest that the NOAA/NMFS Office of Law Enforcement’s “treat ‘em like criminals” attitude towards fishermen and fishing businesses is an understandable outgrowth of the institutional attitude of the parent agency. No one in the front office, no matter how many complaints fishermen registered and no matter how surreal their persecution became, was concerned enough to do anything about it, so the whole mess just continued to spiral out of control.
That might be passed off as bureaucrats simply being bureaucrats. We could assume that it was only ineptitude that caused the people in charge to pay no attention to all of those official press releases going out with, we assume, their or their underling’s approval that were announcing with pride the most recent apprehension and prosecution of fishermen. We could as easily assume that Ms. Lubchenco’s ho-hum response to the partially completed Inspector General’s investigation, an administrative reshuffling and a feel-good “summit,” was just more of the same.
But is it? In case after case, fishermen were investigated and treated as criminals by an Office of Law Enforcement staff trained and paid as criminal investigators when virtually all of the supposed offenses, the Inspector General’s report puts it at 98%, were non-criminal in nature. And even now this trend is apparently continuing in NOAA, with the newly appointed NOAA Chief Counsel’s most notable accomplishment as an Assistant Attorney General being development of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s environmental crimes program.
Is it a stretch to suppose that much of this was due to the demonization of fishermen by the media?
How this took place, what was - and is - behind it, and how else it has affected and is affecting NOAA/NMFS in carrying out its mission regarding fishermen and fishing is every bit as deserving of oversight investigation by Congress as the dysfunction endemic in the NOAA/NMFS Offices of Law Enforcement and General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation. In general that wouldn’t be the case, but the leadership at NOAA in the Obama Administration, the close ties of those leaders to the foundation/ENGO world that has so successfully persecuted so many people connected with harvesting fish for fun or profit, takes this beyond the realm of the “general.”
For all of the fishermen who were wrongfully criminalized, for their families, for the businesses they support, for the communities they are a part of, for all of the rest of us in or associated with fishing and for the future of fishing in the United States, we deserve answers to some crucial questions. How involved were the people now in the upper management levels of NOAA/NMFS in this process? To what extent, if any, were they responsible for establishing the institutional mindset at NOAA/NMFS from the outside that allowed the abuses reported by the Inspector General to flourish? And, of course, how much of that involvement, if any, has been carried over into the current management and philosophy of NOAA/NMFS?
As Ms. Lubchenco’s unilateral shifting of the entire management focus of NOAA/NMFS to the implementation of catch shares virtually overnight illustrates so clearly, she is in a position to tremendously influence the lives and futures of millions of fishermen, the economic well-being of tens of thousands of fishing dependent businesses and a huge segment of our coastal economy. If that isn’t justification for intense Congressional scrutiny, it’s hard to imagine what is.
by Nils Stolpe
(From Another Perspective on the Saving Seafood website – http://www.savingseafood.org – on February 13, 2010)
First off, a disclaimer of sorts. I am not an opponent of catch shares, limited access privilege programs, individual transferable quotas, sectors, or any other management tool. However, I am seriously opposed to any form of management being forced on a fishery and the people in it and I am just as opposed to it being misrepresented to gain industry, public or political support for its imposition. To suggest that the people in charge at NOAA/NMFS aren’t using their position in the Obama Administration to force catch shares on US fishermen would be tantamount to suggesting that black is white, night is day and foul is fair. And to claim that the New England groundfish fishermen have enthusiastically accepted catch shares, as the catch shares bully boys and girls have become so adept at doing, couldn’t pass the straight face test with anyone who was actually following what’s been going on in that fishery. So, with that taken care of…
It seems as if Dr. Jane Lubchenco, as the newly appointed head of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, didn’t even stop off at her new digs in DC to check on the freshly printed stationery before travelling to Boston and announcing that her agency was going to solve the ills of our fisheries by instituting a national policy “encouraging” the use of catch shares as the management technique of choice. Boston, of course, is ground zero for ineffectual fisheries management revolving around the Northeast groundfish complex (to discover what ineffectual is really all about, read Chronic Underfishing at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm).
This was hardly surprising. Dr. Lubchenco had been on the Board of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an ENGO that has been among the leaders in enthusiastically inflicting damage on fishermen, fishing-related businesses and fishing communities since doing so had become the rage among a handful of foundation funded “conservation” organizations. The people at EDF had been working towards the institutionalization of catch shares, and on establishing the financial infrastructure to capitalize on it, for years.
What has been surprising is the cynical manipulation of our federal fisheries governance system that has been ongoing for a decade or so that it reveals; a manipulation that seems to have reached its apex since the new regime took over at NOAA/NMFS.
This manipulation is most evident in the recently released NOAA/NMFS budget for Fiscal Year 2011 (available at http://www.corporateservices.noaa.gov/~nbo/11bluebook_highlights.html). Along with asking for $36.6 million in new money for the Catch Shares campaign, it transfers $11.4 million out of Fisheries Research and $6 million – about half of last year’s request - out of Cooperative Research into it as well.
At first glance this seems only a simple matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul – shifting funding from one program area to another. But the fallout is going to be much more significant that that.
It all begins with the fact that in recent years what is known as the “precautionary principle” has been zealously applied to fisheries management. Most simply, what this means is that the less is known about the status of a stock of fish, the more stringently fishing effort must be managed on that stock. Simplifying a bit, if a stock size is estimated with a 10% margin of error, it can be managed safely as if it’s at 90% of the estimate. If it is estimated with a 40% margin, it must be managed at 60% of the estimate. Hence, the worse the data on a fishery is, the more the fishermen have to pay – in terms of foregone harvest – for its inaccuracy.
Needless to say, recreational and commercial fishermen realize this and are constantly striving for better science and better data, which can only be had through better research, i.e. larger research budgets. This is because at this point they know that the more that is known about fisheries, the better off they, and the fish, will be.
Considering the full spectrum of fisheries science, the gold standard – at least from a fisherman’s perspective – is co-operative research. In cooperative research projects, a team of scientists goes to sea on a commercial fishing boat crewed by a commercial fishing crew using commercial fishing gear and measures, weighs, counts, and etc. the fish that are caught. I doubt anyone will be surprised to read that such sampling by professional fishermen just about always yields better results (as in more of the target species caught) than that done on research vessels by research crews. And more fish caught means more accurate estimates because while it’s impossible to catch fish if they aren’t there, it’s fairly easy to not catch them if they are.
(I wrote about cooperative research in 2007 in Improving the best available science. It’s available on this page by searching with your browser's "find" for the term "best available science.")
I don’t know of any fishery supported with a cooperative research program in which the harvest was reduced because of the data it provided. Cooperative research has been a win-win proposition for the fishermen, for the scientists and for the managers.
In fact, cooperative research had been so popular with fishermen and with NOAA/NMFS that last year’s budget requested “a net increase of $1,247,000 for a total of $11,455,000 for Cooperative Research to expand and fully implement a nationwide, regionally based cooperative research and management program as directed by the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act.”
While not so popular, at least with fishermen, and perhaps not so accurate, the research carried out by NOAA/NMFS through its recently upgraded fleet of research vessels is just as critical to the fishermen and to the fish. Keeping in mind the mandates of the precautionary approach to fisheries management, the more we know about the status of the fish stocks, the closer we can approach their ideal harvest levels. You would think that would be in everyone’s interest, even the folks in the ENGOs and those at NOAA/NMFS.
So why the big cuts in the Research and Cooperative Research budgets?
Consider the fact that Dr. Lubchenco was wed to the almost completely untried concept of catch shares* through EDF before taking over as head of NOAA/NMFS and has continued in that union since she came to NOAA/NMFS. As I’ve written before, the plan to force catch shares on US fisheries will have revolutionary impacts on those fisheries, on the people in them and on the people, businesses and communities that depend on them. And, for many of those people, businesses and communities, those impacts will be devastating (as she put it a little more nicely though perhaps not quite as exactly, the shift to catch shares would result in “fewer jobs, but better jobs.”) Obviously such a revolutionary change and such economic hardship couldn’t be forced on millions of fishermen and the people and businesses that depended on them if everything was ok in their fisheries. There’d be no reason to, at least none that was acceptable to the public, to Congress or to President Obama’s administration with its recently declared focus on jobs.
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that better fisheries research means better fisheries data, nor that better fisheries data almost invariably means better catches for the fishermen. Taking two major Northeast fisheries, monkfish and sea scallops, as examples, a decade or so ago both were facing major cutbacks because the best available science indicated that the stocks weren’t doing well. In both fisheries, at the urging of the fishermen, who generally seem to have a good understanding of the status of the fish stocks they are fishing on, successful cooperative research programs were established that showed that the stocks weren’t in as bad shape as had been believed. The drastic cut-backs that were planned were avoided and the fisheries, the fishermen in them and the businesses that depend on them have thrived. Without that cooperative research, there would be two additional fisheries appearing to need the salvation offered by the imposition of catch shares.
How many other fisheries could be brought back from the supposed brink of disaster, a brink enthusiastically manufactured by the ENGOs, by better science? That’s impossible to tell, but as I wrote above, more and better sampling is never going to indicate fewer fish than are actually there, but less and worse sampling definitely will. Couple that with the precautionary principle and you have a recipe for a real disaster – and that’s what NOAA and the ENGOs are going to need to sell their Catch Shares revolution.
That certainly puts the NOAA/NMFS leadership’s decision to cut the research budgets so severely, otherwise an action that is really difficult to understand coming from a supposedly science-based agency, in a different light. Could it be as simple as “better research equals better data equals better fishing, and that’s going to make it a lot harder to sell an imminent crisis, so we at NOAA/NMFS don’t want anything to do with that?”
And we can’t forget the carrot that this fiscal shuffle holds out to the regional Fisheries Management Councils. They’re all in line to get big bucks for jumping on the Catch Shares choo choo as well. Can you imagine a bureaucrat or a bureaucracy that wouldn’t enthusiastically accept a budget increase, particularly considering the current state of the economy? They’re committed, not by force but by bureaucratic expediency.
Adding the icing to this particular cake, all of the pronouncements about the Catch Shares Nirvana that we’re about to enter make it sound like all is known that needs to be known about catch shares, that all of the answers are in hand. It’s just a matter of applying all of that knowledge gleaned from all of those other fisheries* (actually only 1.1% of all of the world’s fisheries, and those undoubtedly pre-selected for success), and we’re in business – at least a few of us - better than we’ve ever been before.
But the 2011 Budget Request justifying the $50+ million for the Catch Shares program states “the funding also increases NMFS’ analytical capacity to evaluate and report performance of catch share monitoring programs with respect to economic performance, fleet behavior, annual catch limits, and bycatch reduction.” Someone at NOAA/NMFS (or EDF?) knows that catch shares are going to make it better for some of us, but doesn’t know any of those troubling specifics like which of “us” or how much better.
It’s not a matter of robbing Peter, it’s more like taking his watch and wallet, beating him severely and leaving him bleeding in the gutter on his way home after his last day on the job. And then of determining who Paul is going to be.
*I wrote in March 2009 of the EDF working group that put together the Oceans of Abundance report (link), a supposed justification for the universal imposition of catch shares, “members (of the working group) Christopher Costello and Steve Gaines were two of the three authors of a paper in Science in 2008 concluding rights-based management might save the world’s fisheries based on an analysis of 11,135 commercial fisheries worldwide, 121 - or 1.1% - of which used this form of management.” Dr. Lubchenco was also a member of the working group.
by Nils Stolpe
Last year's BP oil spill resulted in one and a half to two and a half million gallons of petroleum products being released into the Gulf of Mexico every day for three months. It was the largest accidental oil spill that has ever been inflicted on any ocean anywhere. It resulted in floating oil slicks and subsurface oil plumes that were hundreds of miles in extent. Exacerbating a horrendous situation, with the blessing of the Feds the people at BP sprayed and injected millions of gallons of chemical dispersants, chemicals the use of which has been outlawed abroad because of their toxic environmental effects, into the gulf waters that they had already done such a thorough job of contaminating to “break up” the oil in some totally misguided effort based on “out of sight, out of mind.”
Needless to say, none of this was particularly good for the flora or fauna of the Gulf. This fact was brought home by the 600 or so dead turtles that were collected from the areas affected by the spill and by the dispersants used to “control” it.
However, according to Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA, in a statement in the Miami Herald on December 30, in her estimation it wasn't BP and the biggest accidental oil spill that the world has ever seen or the wanton use, with her approval, of toxic chemical dispersants that was responsible for the dead turtles. It was fishermen.
Now anyone who has followed Ms. Lubchenco's career, either before or since taking control at NOAA, wouldn't be surprised to discover that she would be willing to hold fishermen responsible for anything bad that's happened since the day that primitive humankind discovered that fish were good to eat. But her attempt to pin the blame for the dead sea turtles on fishermen is stretching the bounds of credulity farther than she's ever stretched them before (and that's up to and including the prediction that our oceans would be populated with nothing but jellyfish at some point in the future because of fishing.)
Her statement about the turtle deaths and fishing was "while nearly all the rescued sea turtles were visibly oiled, to our surprise, most of the dead stranded sea turtles had no observable oil on their bodies and were in good health prior to their death. Necropsies (autopsies on animals) on more than half of 600 carcasses point to the possibility that a majority may have drowned in fishing gear. The evidence is that natural causes of death were ruled out, and that shrimp and fish - not a natural part of turtle diets - were found in their digestive tracts."
First off, what does “the possibility that a majority may have” actually mean? Those seven words have clearly earned a place near the top of the list of the world's greatest bureaucratic non-communications.
This is followed by “the evidence is that natural causes of death were ruled out.” I guess so. Dumping a quarter of a billion gallons of petroleum products and chemical dispersants on top of any critters' neighborhood would probably rule out all of the natural causes of death.
Then we get to the part where the dead turtles had ingested shrimp and fish - not a natural part of turtle diets according to Ms. Lubchenco, but not according to numerous web sites (search on “sea turtle diet”), which label them as “opportunistic” feeders. meaning they'll eat whatever they can get. Are we to assume that the fishermen force fed the turtles before they done 'em in? That the turtles choked on those shrimp and fish that they were forced to eat? Or that as the turtles were drowning in the fishermen's nets, they were busy gorging themselves on the shrimp and fish that were in there with them?
Or how about that the turtles were feeding on fish and shrimp because everything else that they could eat had either died or skedaddled because of what BP had done, with the federal government’s approval, to their particular part of the Gulf of Mexico? Or that the turtles were forced out of their normal haunts and away from their normal food by all that oil and Corexit and had to try to feed on what was available? Nah... it couldn't be any of that, could it?
So we have thousands of Gulf fishermen who, because of BP’s actions and the government’s lack of effective oversight, lost their markets and at least half a year's worth of fishing and were actually getting some well-deserved public sympathy. Ms. Lubchenco appears unwilling to put up with that, so with the careful use of words that no one will be able to hold her accountable for she seems to be doing what she can to stop that sympathy in its tracks.
And, as an added benefit, she'll probably be able to get rid of even more fishing boats, and fishermen, in the bargain.
As is becoming increasingly evident, it’s well past the time when the powers that be in the Department of Commerce, in the Obama Administration and in Congress should give serious consideration to the real-world implications of having someone with such a profound bias against fishermen and fishing as Ms. Lubchenco so obviously does at the helm of the NOAA. After decades of demonstrating that they are world leaders in the conservation of species after species, our fishermen deserve more from Washington than a target painted on their collective backs.
Happy New Year from our friends at NOAA!
by Nils Stolpe
If you participate in, are associated with or dependent upon any kind of fishing and you think that things are moving in the right direction, you’re either not in the United States, you’re a fisheries manager, you work for an anti-fishing ENGO, or you’re not looking much beyond your own self-interest. It’s as simple as that.
Fishing in the United States has evolved over generations, supported by centuries-old traditions and close-knit fishing communities. All of this evolution, all of these traditions and our unique and irreplaceable communities are being threatened by a federal fisheries management regime that is based on nothing more than reducing the number of fishermen and the number of fish that they are catching, reducing the areas in which they can fish, and reducing the administrative burden on the government in the most expeditious way possible. This isn’t a policy that has been endorsed by Congress, this isn’t a policy that reflects the will of the people and it certainly isn’t a policy that is supported by a significant proportion of the fishing industry. It is nothing more than the culmination of a carefully orchestrated decades-long campaign by a highly influential group of anti-fishing ENGOs and the multi-billion dollar foundations that support them that has infiltrated its way into the highest offices of the federal oceans bureaucracy.
All of this in spite of the fact that our domestic fisheries are in better shape today than they have been in decades (Steve Murawski, who retired from his position as the chief scientist for NOAA Fisheries last week, said unequivocally that as of this year overfishing in U.S. fisheries is over – see http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2011/01/overfishing_has_ended_top_us_s.html).
Why do we have more fish today than we’ve had in several generations? Certainly not because of anything that any so-called environmentalist has done using foundation funding and carrying out agendas which have little to do with fish or fishing. The only reason we have more fish is because you and your fellow fishermen have taken sustainability seriously and have made the necessary sacrifices. Now that we’re over the hump, do you want to have a say in decisions that directly affect your business, your family, your community and your future? Do you want to have a say in how our nation’s extensive marine resources are sustainably managed? Are you tired of agenda-driven top-down decisions made by people who at best care not a whit for and at worst are openly antagonistic towards fishermen and fishing?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then try one more. Have you done anything substantive about it?
The chances are pretty good that you haven’t. And if you don’t, the chances are pretty good that the same people and the same organizations backed by the same big money interests will continue to be in charge, will continue to call the shots, and will continue to successfully push their anti-fishing agenda.
But what, I hope you’re asking, can I do against multi-billion dollar foundations using their tremendous power to institute policies that protect the fish and ignore the fishermen, against the ENGOs with annual budgets of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars that those foundations support, against the scientists they’ve bought and the bureaucrats they’ve put in place?
You’ve got a voice. Learn how to use it, and use it effectively. Here’s your chance to get involved, and to get involved in an issue that should be critical to every commercial, recreational and party/charter fisherman that values fishing sustainably however and whenever he or she wishes (and this isn’t a plug for unregulated fishing – thankfully we outgrew that decades ago).
Massachusetts Congressman Barney Franks is on the record with “we will introduce amendments to the Magnuson Act so that we can continue rebuilding fish stocks without causing undue economic harm.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with this issue, most – but surely not all - of the problems facing fishermen today revolve around the Magnuson Act requirement that all fish stocks be “rebuilt” to maximum and often unrealistic levels within a specific time period (generally 10 years). Regardless of how steadily a stock of fish is growing, if it doesn’t reach a certain level by a certain date, the managers will severely cut back or even eliminate fishing on it until it is “recovered.” This is regardless of the economic damage that will be visited on the people, the businesses and the communities that depend on that fishery. Businesses can be and have been driven into bankruptcy, homes and boats can be and have been lost, futures can be and have been eroded and entire communities can be and are in the process of being destroyed because instead of reaching some arbitrary level of abundance this year, a population of fish is on schedule to reach it next year or the year after.
Why? Because the anti-fishing activists who are now dictating federal fishing policy have used their foundation-supplied $millions to convince our elected leaders in Washington that it’s actually good for the fishermen and others who depend on fishing, but that they are too blinded by the necessity to make a living to realize that themselves.
Obviously, such a Magnuson amendment as the one Congressman Frank is offering would be of tremendous benefit for every fisherman and for every business that depends on fishing. Obviously it would be of no harm to the fish stocks – aside from their reaching that arbitrary “rebuilt” level a year or two later (a requirement would be that they had to maintain their rebuilding trajectory). Just as obviously, the anti-fishing activists would loose one of their most effective weapons in their campaign against fishing, so we can expect some fierce and obscenely well-funded resistance.
That means the Congressman Franks is going to need some significant support from other coastal legislators, and you are among the folks who can provide him with that support.
If you don’t know already, find out who represents you in Washington (the easy to use House and Senate Member locator websites are at https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm), call their district or DC offices and find out who on their staff works on environmental or fisheries issues. Talk to them, let them know where you live and vote, what your connection to fishing is, and then explain how important it is to you and to other constituents to amend the Magnuson Act to allow some flexibility in the rebuilding schedules. Do that three times; once for your Representative in the House and once for each of your Senators. And then get as many of your friends, neighbors, relatives and business connections to do the same thing.
This year is going to be a great one for talking to the officials you and your neighbors elect about maintaining jobs. Don’t pass up the chance, and remember that the so-called conservationists can only talk about speculative jobs that some people might have at some point in the future while you’ll be talking about actual income generating jobs employing actual flesh and blood voters right now. You’ll have far more credibility than the foundation flacks hiding behind pumped-up membership rosters and virtually meaningless “click here to save the fish” website responses.
That’s the way legislation is supposed to happen and the election in November showed that that’s the way it can happen. It has the interest of every elected official in Washington, at least every one who wants to be reelected. But it’s only going to happen that way if you make it. You can communicate directly and effectively with your Washington reps on a real world basis. The only way the anti-fishing activists can is through what ifs and speculation. That doesn’t generate productive jobs, that doesn’t generate real income and that doesn’t sustain real communities.
But don’t let it end there.
Right now there are more writers putting out well researched articles about what the antis are doing to fishing and to fishermen than there has ever been, and each year an increasing number of scientists with impeccable credentials are publishing articles that put the lie to what the anti-fishing forces are presenting as gospel. Keep your eyes open for any that seem particularly important to you. There area number of free “clipping services” for fishermen. Saving Seafood keeps people who subscribe to its alerts and visit its website up-to-date on fisheries issues, particularly in the Northeast (http://savingseafood.com). On the West Coast, Pacific Fishing provides a similar service through its website and emailed Fish Wrap News (http://www.pacificfishing.com/). And there are many other sources, including newsletters from fishing associations, fishing trade publications, government services and just plain old web searching. Get familiar with what’s available and use it.
Make the investment in staying current with what’s going on in fisheries locally, regionally, nationally and internationally and when an issue sparks your interest, call up the staffer you now have a relationship with and discuss it. When you read an article that you think he or she should see, send it along (but use judgment here. Congressional staffers tend to be very busy people).
We have a Congress with Members who are almost overwhelmingly ignorant of fish and of fishing. They aren’t going to learn anything – at least anything that you are going to want them to learn – from either the leadership of NOAA/NMFS or from ENGOs that have bloated their treasuries and their leaders’ salaries by selling out to the highest agenda-driven foundation bidder. Their education depends on you, and on anyone else who you can convince. If they don’t start to get federal legislation right when it comes to fishing, you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.
Note: The New Bedford Harbor Development Commission ”has developed a ‘top ten’ list of issues as a press briefing to inform journalists, talk show hosts, and other newcomers to the issues facing the New England fishing industry.” While presented as issues facing New England, in some form or another, virtually all ten of them apply to fishermen and fishing anywhere in the United States. The list, along with links to supporting material, is on the Saving Seafood website at http://www.savingseafood.org/state-and-local/pressing-challenges-facing-the-commercial-fishing-ind-3.html. Particularly if it serves as a starting point, this list should be an invaluable tool in challenging the anti-fishing management status quo that is being used to curtail fishing, drive fishermen off the water, and bankrupt fishing dependent businesses from Alaska to Maine (including Hawaii and the island complexes that are under US jurisdiction).
by Nils Stolpe
The Catch Shares Choo Choo’s Leaving the Station
When you hear her whistle
blowing, then it’s too late
Getting rid of “fishers” is number 1 on her slate
Billionaires for competition
Controlling how you’re fishin’
Jane Lubechenco’s catch shares program, isn’t it great?
(With more apologies to the memory and the art of Glenn Miller)
What’s the probability of a federal agency becoming involved in an attempt to wrest control of a public resource-based industry away from the communities that have built up around it since colonial times - an industry with a Congressionally mandated role in the management of the resources it depends on - and turn it over to private “charitable” foundations and the business entities they are linked to? If your answer is “pretty low,” give some serious consideration to the following.
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation commissioned a study, Financing Fisheries Change: Learning from Case Studies, by Manta Consulting, Inc. that was completed last month (January, 2011). The report, which is available as of this writing at http://www.packard.org/assets/files/conservation%20and%20science/Financing-Fisheries-Change_case_study_report.pdf (if it disappears, contact me and I’ll provide you with the file) lays out in 119 pages how foundation supported ENGOs and the “green” businesses they support can take over recreational and commercial fisheries. This could have the effect of reducing people who were previously independent vessel or fishing-related business owners/operators to wage slaves working for the environmentally correct “company store,” being forced to adapt their methods, their technologies and ultimately their lifestyles to what billionaire industrialists and their heirs deem they should be. Is this anything but elitist social engineering at its worst?
“The expectation is that the lessons from each (of the presented case studies) will help new innovators and entrepreneurs to adapt and design their own investment and governance structures to achieve significant change on the water.” (Packard/Manta report, pg 7)
How is this to be accomplished? According to Packard/Manta, “foundations in the field are now looking to support this transition from fisheries conservation as a purely philanthropic investment to a blended conservation and business investment by encouraging non-profits, social change leaders and business entrepreneurs to create innovatively structured projects that can both build value for private investors and improve the speed and scale of fisheries conservation impacts.”
In the report, several examples of “sustainable” seafood marketing companies are cited. They got an initial boost from the Sea Change Investment Fund, launched by Packard and California Environmental Associates. It “is funded equally from low-interest Program Related Investment debt from the Packard Foundation and private equity from independent investors.” How would you like to be an owner of a truly independent business and have to compete with a business on the next block that has the Packard Foundation behind it?
It’s glaringly obvious that when foundations have billions of dollars in assets, an unprecedented amount of political clout and highly effective PR machines, the potential “encouragement” they are able to offer to what they have decided are acceptable businesses is going to be staggering. It’s going to be particularly staggering if you’re the owner of or if you’re dependent on one of the businesses that is about to find itself with a competitor of such Brobdingnagian proportions.
Mega-foundations whose directors in their ivory towers are convinced that they know more than the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on fishing and on healthy fisheries to support their families and their way of life is an issue that’s been studiously ignored by the main stream media. A handful of these foundations have spent tens of millions of dollars pushing their dream of catch shares, the form of fisheries management that is most amenable to this kind of “encouragement,” with no apparent thought given to the human repercussions.
Then there’s the role being played by ex ENGO super-star Jane Lubchenco and her no-holds-barred campaign as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to convert every US fishery she can to catch shares, whether the conditions of the fishery warrant such a cataclysmic change – or any change, for that matter - or not. (Relative to any so-called necessity for massive changes in how we manage our fisheries, I recommend reading an interview with recently retired NOAA/NMFS head scientist Steve Murawski. In it he announced that by the end of this year overfishing would be a thing of the past in U.S. fisheries. It’s at http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2011/01/overfishing_has_ended_top_us_s.html.)
But is that all there is? Not hardly.
You’re probably aware that some of these “charitable” foundations, generally characterized as anti-fishing by fishermen, are associated with what they call sustainability guides rating various fish and seafood species. Packard is one of them, through the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. These guides are compiled with seemingly scant consideration given to whether the fishery is pursued in compliance with the appropriate fisheries management plans, whether it is free of overfishing, or whether it is anything else, apparently, other than what the whims of the people doing the rating dictate. If they like the way the fish are harvested – or perhaps if they like the people who are doing the harvesting – they’ll stamp the products of that fishery as acceptable. If they don’t, they’ll give them the thumbs down.
With the increasing market focus on the sustainability of fish and shellfish, itself the response to a huge investment in PR by the same foundations, these “thumbs down” ratings have a significant influence on the demand for the seafood products being rated. This is reflected in the prices that are paid for those products from the boat all the way up the chain.
So we have huge foundations spending millions of dollars to convince the public that what they’ve decided is “sustainability” should be the critical criterion when buying seafood and spending other millions of dollars on supporting rating programs that grade whether seafood products should be embraced or avoided by seafood consumers, we have fishermen who are fishing well within the letter of the world’s most stringent array of fishing laws here in the U.S., and there is no connection between the two. The fish labelers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are ready, willing and able to brand a product “avoid” simply because they don’t like how it’s caught.
Take monkfish as a case in point. The National Marine Fisheries Service monkfish page on its own seafood rating website, Fish Watch, states “monkfish are primarily caught with bottom trawls and gillnets. Dredges also account for a small percentage of landings. Monkfish habitat has been determined to be only minimally vulnerable to these fishing gears,” and continues regarding bycatch in the monkfish fishery “measures have been implemented to reduce any impact.” Yet the Monterey Bay Aquarium warns consumers against eating monkfish “due to high bycatch concerns and severe habitat impacts.”
Needless to say, the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn’t have anything approaching the dollars that the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its connection to the Packard Foundation (in 2010 the Aquarium received $36 million from the Foundation) has. So the federal agency with the responsibility to manage our marine fisheries is saying to go ahead and buy and enjoy monkfish with a clear conscience and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is saying don’t you dare. Guess which message is reaching more consumers?
Why the discrepancy?
To collect its own data, the aquarium could have a fleet of research vessels manned by a crew of scientists that no one knows anything about, but operating in a low-profile stealth mode is uncharacteristic of the foundation funded crowd. As the Pew/Oceana folks showed us in the Gulf of Mexico during the BP disaster, when going down to the sea in ships they want their creature comforts with them and they want everyone to know – see The Oil Slick – Oceana scientists “roughing it” in the Gulf at the bottom of the page at http://fishnetlite.blogspot.com/. Minus collecting their own data, the Monterey Bay Aquarium fish raters must be using the same information that NMFS is using. They’re sure coming to different conclusions. So having their own, independently gathered information is probably out.
Is it because they don’t like gill nets and otter trawls? They rate black sea bass as a “good alternative,” and they’re caught with otter trawls, as are silver hake (“good”), Alaskan pollock (used in surimi and rated “good”), sand dabs (“good”) and lingcod (“good”). They rate Atlantic croaker a “best choice,” and they’re caught with gillnets, as are bluefish (“good”), Spanish mackerel (“good”) and salmon (“good” to “best”). It’s apparently not the gear being used.
Whatever their reasons for this rating, it puts a dent in the demand for monkfish. That’s why they are doing it. This dent in demand is translated into a lower price for the fish that is felt by everyone from the fishermen to the retailers.
The monkfish fishery is one of the initial candidates for Jane Lubchenco’s catch shares revolution. As I’m writing this, a series of public hearings are being held from Maine to North Carolina so that federal regulators can gauge the interest in catch shares in the fishery. If she is successful, rights to the annual monkfish harvest will be divided among some of the “historic” participants. Fitting in with the Packard Foundation’s grand plan for “saving the fisheries” while at the same time turning a profit, this could open the door for green organizations and individuals to start buying control of the fishery. The Packard Foundation has now provided them with a roadmap of how to do this and, based on past actions, might well be willing to provide them with financing as well.
The lower the consumer demand for monkfish, the lower the cost for outsiders to “buy” into the fishery.
Putting the icing on this particular cake, monkfish are classified as a data poor stock. In other words, the fisheries scientists claim they don’t know as much about the condition of the monkfish population as is necessary to manage them adequately. This being the case, the monkfish quotas are set extremely conservatively. If the scientists were more comfortable with the condition of the stock, if the uncertainty was less, the quotas would be increased, and they’d probably be increased significantly.
The level of knowledge that scientists have about any fish stock is determined by the amount of money available to collect and analyze data about that stock. Given adequate funding, monkfish could be taken off the data poor list in fairly short order. What would result? It’s impossible to believe it would be anything other than a significant increase in the quota. Ms. Lubechenco has taken millions out of the NMFS research budget and put it into her catch shares campaign. At least for the time being, it’s apparent that monkfish are going to continue as a data poor stock. (Note that I work for the Monkfish Defense Fund, an industry trade group.)
It’s safe to say that less data = lower quotas = less income to the fishery participants = lower price for acquiring catch shares in the fishery.
But is it possible for a foundation – or an ENGO that it supports – to decide to start supporting a massive monkfish survey effort as soon as it becomes a catch share fishery and a bunch of those shares have been acquired by the “right” kind of people, businesses and organizations? Why not? And then monkfish could be taken from the data-poor category, the allowable catch could be increased significantly, monkfish could be promoted to a “best choice” by the fish labelers, the value of the catch shares could increase dramatically, and everyone would be happy – except for the fishermen and the other folks who would be casualties of this green takeover of their fishery.
So we’re looking at a possible scenario where the value of the shares in a fishery can easily be driven down by a combination of government and foundation efforts and where the value of those shares can just as easily be increased by making a few adjustments in consumer ratings and research funding levels.
It’s not just monkfish.
In spite of formidable and totally justified political pressure to do so, the Secretary of Commerce has just refused to allow Northeast groundfish fishermen to catch significantly more of the uncaught 80% or so of the target Total Allowable Catch that a complicated web of extremely harsh regulations presently prevents them from catching. The groundfish fishery is in a tailspin because of this government mandated underfishing, and thanks to a catch share system instituted at Ms. Lubchenco’s insistence last year, quota can be acquired at bargain basement rates. (See Chronic Underfishing - The Real New England Groundfish Crisis at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/chronic_underfishing.htm.)
These regulations resulted from successful lobbying by the foundation-funded ENGOs, and their heavy-handed implementation has been guaranteed by a series of lawsuits brought by those same ENGOs. Several of the projects detailed in the Packard report focus on this fishery, and its current dismal condition and future promise (a harvest with the potential to increase at least 400%) would seem to make it a natural for investment. But to allow that investment to be made, guided or encouraged by members of the same complex of foundations, ENGOs, investors and bureaucrats who are responsible for the dismal conditions that exist in the fishery today (and the attendant human suffering) is, or should be, far beyond the pale.
As of now, it isn’t.
It would seem that a couple of amendments to the Magnuson Act could forestall some serious potential problems. The Act already requires that before any individual quota system is put in place by either the Gulf of Mexico or New England Fishery Management Council it has to be approved by two-thirds of the permit holders in a fishery-wide referendum. This should be expanded to apply to all of the Councils, all of EEZ fisheries and all proposed Catch Share programs, not just those dealing with individual quotas. And any quota acquisition by a non-fishing entity should only be allowed with the express approval of a certain percentage (20%?) of the permit holders in that fishery. Without these provisions at the least, it’s very possible that the type of speculation that destroyed the U.S. housing market could be inflicted on our commercial and recreational fisheries.
Trouble in the catch share paradise or something else entirely?
The Alaskan halibut fishery, which has been operating on a catch shares basis for several years, has been held up as one of the examples of what a superior form of management it is; in fact, the only system that guarantees sustainability. On December 10 Craig Medred wrote in 2011 halibut quota cut nearly in half:
"Fishermen who borrowed money to finance the purchase of "shares" of the allotted halibut harvest are struggling to make payments as the value of those shares goes down along with the harvest.
Everything was rosy in the commercial halibut fisheries off Alaska's shores as long as it was rosy. Now the dark side of what is called "privatization" has begun to emerge.
Commercial fishermen who borrowed money to finance the purchase of "shares" of the allotted halibut harvest find themselves struggling to make payments as the value of those shares goes down along with the harvest.
Shares looked like a good investment in 2005 when the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets catch quotas for the water off Alaska and Canada, set a limit of 10.93 million pounds for Area 2C in the Gulf of Alaska off the panhandle. Catch quotes, however, have been going doing down ever since. The commission is recommending a catch of only 2.33 million pounds for next year. The area had a 2010 quota of 4.4 million pounds this year”
by Nils Stolpe
Call it conspiracy, cooperation or coincidence, but no matter what you call it, the public record isn’t going to change
Nils E. Stolpe/Fish Net USA
May 08, 2011
In his latest column in Saltwater Sportsman magazine, New England Fishery Management Council member and chairman of the Council’s Groundfish Committee Rip Cunningham devoted almost a thousand words to refuting the existence of a catch shares “conspiracy” that, he leaned towards thinking, was “a bunch of BS conjured up by anti-regulation crackpots with too much time on their hands and too little brainpower to figure out something constructive to do.”
I’ve been chronicling – and documenting – the push for catch share management for several years, and in doing that I haven’t come in contact with any fishermen who I would describe as anything close to anti-regulation, as crackpots, with too much time on their hands, or with too little brainpower to figure out something constructive to do. Rather, I’ve found virtually all of them to be hard working, hard fishing individuals who are concerned about a multi-million dollar taxpayer funded campaign to transfer ownership and/or control of what are now public fisheries resources into private hands (see my article The Catch Share Choo Choo is leaving the Station at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/Future_of_fishing.pdf). And at a national level I suspect I’m at least as well connected to recreational, commercial and party/charter fishing circles as he is.
So why is he using such a derogatory and grossly inaccurate description of fishermen concerned about catch shares and the future of fishing? Perhaps for the same reason that his column is accompanied by a half-page illustration of three hovering helicopters in silhouette: a transparent attempt to paint all of the fishermen – and the people in fishing-dependent businesses – who are opposed to any unilateral, top-down imposition of any form of management on their fisheries as over-the-edge extremists and therefore not worthy of anything other than ridicule. That’s called marginalization, and it’s something that the anti-fishing activists, the foundations that support them and the fishermen – and perhaps even the journalists - who they’ve bought off have become very effective at doing.
And then Mr. Cunningham gets into funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other ENGOs that advocate for catch shares, writing “don't confuse the conspiracy with the truth; we have learned that the last funding happened 10 years ago.” While I find it admirable when anyone admits to learning anything at all, in this instance Mr. Cunningham didn’t learn anything approaching enough. All told EDF got less than $2 million from Pew - minimal dollars in the mega-foundation world (see http://www.fishtruth.net/EnvDefense.htm) - and that funding appears to have stopped in 2004. That’s not quite ten years, but I guess it’s close enough for Saltwater Sportsman. However, EDF has received over $20 million from the Marine Conservation program of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) from 2007 to 2009, over $9 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Intel) since 2005 (all of which was for the EDF catch shares campaign), and $1.5 million from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation since 2008.
Further, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a federal quasi-agency, just announced that it will fund 18 new projects totaling over $2 million that “will engage fishermen around the country in the design and implementation of effective catch-share fisheries.” The funds for this were provided by the Walton and Moore Foundations, two of NFWF’s “foundation partners,” which are described as “supporting NFWF's National Fisheries Innovation Fund, which will assist the transition of United Statesfisheries to catch share programs by encouraging fishermen to pursue innovative management strategies through a competitive grant award process.”
The NFWF lists among its corporate partners Exxon/Mobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, Conoco Phillips and Walmart.
That’s either a pretty big bundle of truth that Mr. Cunningham seems to have overlooked or a trophy-sized red herring that he wanted his readers to swallow. While he zeroed right in on the relatively paltry funding of EDF by Pew from way back when, in his zeal to further discredit the “crackpots” completely missed the boat on $30 million plus in funding for promoting catch shares by other foundations which are apparently working in close coordination with government agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency to the National Marine Fisheries Service, is one of the NFWF’s Federal partners).
On top of this, NOAA head Jane Lubchenco has transferred tens of millions of sorely needed research dollars from the National Marine Fisheries Service research budget into her catch shares program, and many of these millions are available to the regional fisheries management councils for instituting catch shares programs.
I’ve been directly and indirectly involved with the federal fisheries management process since its inception in 1976, and one of the most noticeable changes that it has undergone in the intervening three plus decades is its enthusiastic embracing of rampant bureaucratization. Both NMFS and the regional councils have become administrative empires and are accordingly subject to all of the bureaucratic pressures that entails. Chief among these, particularly over the last several years, are budgetary pressures. Quite simply, the money isn’t flowing from the taxpayers the way it used to. So what impact on the regional council system do you think the availability of millions of dollars to establish catch share programs is going to have? If you are on a regional fishery management council, if you work for a regional fishery management council or if your job depends on the workings of a fishery management council, should you be expected to think anything is more important than swelling the coffers of that council? And, considering today’s economic realities, what’s the only way to do that? Push catch shares, of course. With an arrangement like that, it doesn’t take an edict from on high to make catch shares management the rule. All it takes is an understanding of how bureaucracies work and a cynical willingness to take advantage of that.
And we can add to this the fact that, besides providing transportation to and bed and bread in what tend to be fairly nice digs in fairly pleasant locales at least several times a year, serving on a regional fishery management council can contribute significantly to one’s bank account. Because of this, some council members (though definitely not all of them) put a high premium on being reappointed to their council seats when their terms expire.
The governors of each coastal state recommend several people for each council seat as it becomes available. The final decision on who is appointed is made by Ms. Lubchenco’s agency. Speaking in Boston in May, 2009, she said “the scientific evidence is compelling that catch shares can also help restore the health of ecosystems and get fisheries on a path to profitability and sustainability. These results, … these scientific analyses, … are why moving forward to implement more catch share programs is a high priority for me. I see catch shares as the best way for many fisheries to both meet the Magnuson mandates and have healthy, profitable fisheries that are sustainable.” How far do you think being a catch share proponent will go in getting someone appointed or reappointed to a council? How far do you think not being a catch share supporter will go in the other direction?
And then we have the following three paragraphs taken from the Alex C. Walker Foundation website (at http://walker-foundation.org/net/org/project.aspx?projectid=81773&p=50769 - emphasis added). The Walker Foundation is a strong supporter of catch shares and other such market manipulations as a way to regulate us and effect social change.
Whether this is evidence of a conspiracy or not, it’s obvious that the people in charge at Saltwater Sportsman want their readers to believe that there’s neither cooperation nor coordination involved in the national drive to implement catch shares. By the use of black helicopter imagery and demeaning descriptions of people who recognize what’s really happening, they’re trying to manipulate their readers into writing off people who recognize the extent of the push by mega-foundations, ENGOs and federal agencies working together to “revolutionize” fishery management. These organizations want, and are still campaigning for, this in spite of the fact that our most credible fisheries scientists agree that this year, for the very first time, we’ll be free of overfishing in U.S. waters. (I have to add that we’ve gotten here with catch share management in place for a meaningful time in less than 5% of our fisheries.)
The evidence that this coordination and cooperation, or whatever it’s called, exists is overwhelming, even without the on-the-record recognition of it by the very same groups that are involved in coordinating and cooperating. Arguing that it doesn’t seems an awfully strange role for a publication that claims to be “the fishing authority since 1939.” Perhaps Saltwater Sportsman should stick to fishing.
And I would strongly suggest that you etch indelibly into your memory the use of the phrase “anti-regulation crackpots with too much time on their hands and too little brainpower” by someone who serves – and is well paid to serve – on a federal regional fisheries management council. Whether we see the future of fisheries management the way they do or not, don’t we all deserve better from council members than that?
When it comes to the NOAA Law Enforcement scandal, “we’re sorry” doesn’t cut it
by Nils Stolpe/Fish Net USA
May 28, 2011
“An environment with poor internal controls, a lack of standards, contradictory regulations, and it creates a circumstance that’s ripe for exploitations. It’s what you would see in embezzlement cases, where no one’s watching the store. And if someone’s predisposed to take advantage, they do” (Gloucester mayor Carolyn Kirk in an interview with Gloucester Daily Times reporter Richard Gaines addressing the Special Master’s report on NOAA fisheries enforcement – the interview is available at http://www.savingseafood.org/wbsm/WBSM_2011-05-26.html).
Much has been made of the coordinated apologies and associated media machinations of Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco for specific enforcement abuses targeting mid-Atlantic and New England fishermen and associated businesses. Ditto for the return of some fines wrongfully levied as a result of these abuses. I was left with the distinct impression that they felt that after their not quite mea culpas they would be able to move on, leaving a whole bunch of satisfied fishing industry folks in their wake.
I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, particularly that of the DOC/NOAA/NMFS spin masters, but they weren’t even off to a good start. Sure, some of the industry people who were most egregiously impacted by what it now appears were nothing more than agency encouraged goon squads - both on the streets and behind the desks - got something back, but are they whole after their individual ordeals? Not hardly. What of their legal fees? Their loss of business? Their personal suffering and that of their families and their employees? For a first-hand grasp of how well they have fared through the ministrations of Secretary Locke and Ms. Lubchenco, invest 27 minutes into listening to the interview of NOAA victims Larry Ciulla and Larry Yacubian by Saving Seafood’s Bob Vanasse and radio station WBSM’s Phil Paleologos (http://www.savingseafood.org/wbsm/WBSM_2011-05-19.html). I can only hope that the aggrieved fishermen and business people find what Secretary Locke and Ms. Lubchenco have offered them as inadequate as I do and have the wherewithal to seek full compensation for what they’ve suffered.
But significant as these federal agency depredations were to the 11 people and/or businesses that were singled out by the Special Master for at least partial payback, they were and are only a small part of a sordid and shameful story that continues to affect the entire domestic fishing industry and the hundreds of millions of consumers who do or should depend on it for fresh local seafood.
These out-of-control agents, attorneys and judges didn’t just arise spontaneously; they were all products of a still ongoing devolution of NOAA/NMFS from an agency primarily concerned with supporting fishermen in catching fish into one that is focused on nothing beyond protecting the fish from fishermen. It’s true that this devolution has peaked with the current leadership at NOAA/NMFS. Ms. Lubchenco is on the record (on April 7 on the website Takepart.com) with “at the global scale, probably the one thing currently having the most impact (on the oceans) is overfishing and destructive fishing gear,” and her oft-stated goal is fewer boats and fewer fishermen. But, sadly, this devolution has been going on for most of two decades.
It’s impossible to believe that the cops and robbers mentality that was behind law enforcement behavior so repugnant that it occasioned a public apology from a member of President Obama’s cabinet could have developed and so blatantly flourished in anything other than a “fishing and fishermen are bad” culture that percolated down from the leadership cadre at NOAA/NMFS. An apology and the return of a few hundreds of thousands of ill-gotten dollars out of a slush fund a couple of hundred times larger isn’t going to change that.
How many press releases in the same vein as one dated June 19, 2009 titled “NOAA Notifies Gloucester Seafood Display Auction of 10-day Sanction” by NOAA/NMFS have bombarded fishermen over the last decade (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mediacenter/docs/gloucester_auction_june09.pdf)? The fact is that the trumpeting of these discredited NOAA enforcement actions by NOAA/NMFS press offices, actions judged as unacceptable by the Department of Commerce’s own Inspector General and a Special Master brought in from outside the agency, have done incalculable harm to the public perceptions of fishermen and fishing. Given the anti-fishing agency attitude necessary to allow this disgraceful situation to evolve, should we assume that this was also unintentional and spontaneous?
And what about “research” such as that carried out by Professors Jon Sutinen and Dennis King and funded by Pew/Lenfest? The inescapable conclusion of their article, Rational noncompliance and the liquidation of Northeast groundfish resources is that the supposed sorry state in the New England groundfish fishery was in large part due to fishermen and those running fishing businesses breaking the law. I did a critique of Sutinen’s and King’s efforts in a column for the Saving Seafood website (http://www.fishnet-usa.com/All%20Stolpe%20Columns.htm#Law%20enforcement), but in it I hadn’t mentioned that their “special thanks” went to “the staff of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service regional offices who provided researchers with enforcement data.” That’s not data that I or anyone else should be willing to hang a mortarboard on, but is this research going to be redone in view of the shambles that NOAA law enforcement in New England was in at the time? Is anyone at Pew or Lenfest going to correct the public record?
And how much in unnecessary and/or duplicative regulatory overkill did this institutionalized (in NOAA/NMFS and a handful of universities, ENGOs and the foundations that enabled them) “you can’t trust fishermen” myth cost those fishermen, the businesses they supported, the consumers they supplied and the U.S. taxpayers? The people who and the organizations that manufactured and perpetuated the myth all profited handsomely, and those profits came out of the holds of U.S.fishing boats and the pockets of U.S. seafood consumers.
“Fishermen and fish dealers believe that they are treated like criminals. It is an “us against them” mentality. The regulations are complex, complicated, constantly changing, and in some cases, contradictory. Fishermen are paranoid every time they come ashore to offload their catch that they will be met at the dock by a Special Agent who will look for and find a violation of some obscure or even well known regulation. They feel that the offloading of their catch is fraught with peril. Fish dealers who daily offload volumes of fish are always apprehensive that they would be charged with a violation committed by a fisherman, over whom they have little or no control or that the daily requirement of reporting substantial volumes of fish may inadvertently be in error. All of these occurrences can result in a violation, which in turn, can result in a substantial monetary penalty or permit sanction. Either may be enough to put a fisherman or fish dealer out of business. There are cases reviewed in this Report that support this conclusion. This is the plight of the regulated.”
“I have noticed in practically every case a pattern of assessing high monetary penalties in order to force a settlement of approximately half of the assessed penalty. The fisherman or fish dealer has no option but to settle because as previously pointed out in this Report and discussed later, they have no confidence that they could get a fair de novo hearing before an ALJ. The choice is simple. Settle with the Enforcement attorney for a coerced amount or run the substantial risk that the ALJ will uphold the original assessment which could force the fisherman out of business. This scenario becomes even more egregious because of the constant use of permit sanctions as a substantial bargaining chip and advantage to the Enforcement Attorneys in negotiating a settlement.” Hon. Charles B. Swartwood,_III ret., Report and recommendation of the Special Master concerning NOAA enforcement action of certain designated cases. April, 2011 – available at http://www.noaa.gov/lawenforcementupdates/specialmasterreport.pdf.
There were people in charge at NOAA/NMFS who had to know that the judges who were presiding over their in-house courts were in the position of benefiting from the penalties they assessed. They had to know that their in-house enforcement agents – and judges - were acquiring luxurious yachts, personal automobiles and exotic foreign travel much more easily and with far less oversight than should be acceptable for federal employees, that they were overseeing a force that consisted almost entirely of highly paid criminal agents who were involved almost entirely in civil violations, that data being supplied to researchers with the intention of indicting fishermen was, in the most charitable way I can phrase it, suspect. Or if they didn’t know, they were more grossly incompetent than anyone who is getting paid with public dollars has any right to be. But it was all ok at NOAA/NMFS because they were catching those bad guys who thought fish were there to be caught. In fact, if they were good enough at catching those fishermen, the NOAA enforcement people were given bonuses – sort of like bounty hunters, only with federally issued “get out of jail free” cards.
If Ms. Lubchenco and Secretary Locke are really interested in changing things at NOAA/NMFS, or if Congress is really interested in seeing that things are changed, the job has to begin with changing this increasingly pervasive agency attitude. Could you imagine the condition our agriculture industry would be in if the Department of Agriculture looked at farmers the same way the NOAA/NMFS leadership so obviously looks at fishermen? Along with importing 80% of our seafood we’d be importing 80% of everything else that we eat as well. If the Secretary of Agriculture announced that his goal was to get rid of farms and farmers do you think it would be more than a week or so before we had a new Secretary?
Ask a farmer if the federal government is on his or her side and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you’ll get an unqualified yes as an answer. What are the odds of getting the same answer from a fisherman?
But we’ve got someone in charge of NOAA, the parent agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who has publicly acknowledged that fishermen are on her hit list. And we’ve got someone in charge of the Department of Commerce, her boss, who is willing to apologize to a handful of fishermen when a bunch of his fish cops get caught with their hands in the cookie jar up to their waists, but has yet to say anything on the record about Ms. Lubchenco’s “get rid of fishermen” fixation. And need I write yet again that we’ve reached the point of no overfishing and rebounding stocks with all of those boats and all of those fishermen that she’s committed to getting rid of?
So how much do you think the in-house attitude towards fishermen has changed at NOAA/NMFS? Using a Titanic analogy, something that I try to do at least once a year and that’s become increasingly easy of late, we’ve heard the captain and first mate telling us that they are shifting crew from job to job, messing with the paperwork that keeps everything running about the way it has been, and giving new fake books to the orchestra, but their ship is still unsinkable. They would be telling us this on April 16, 1912.*
“It had the tone of a renegade law enforcement agency that felt it was above the law…. That’s a complete breakdown in checks and balances that we have in our responsibility as government officials in protecting the public but also in protecting the accused…. They used their enforcement power as an adhesion type of relationship where they would lay out what they thought the penalty would be and if you don’t comply with what we’ve indicated, it’s going to be a lot tougher on you. They completely took due process out of law enforcement…. It was completely Un-American.” (New Bedford mayor Scott Lang in the same interview with Gloucester Daily Times reporter Richard Gaines referenced above).
*The Titanic sunk on April 15.
Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011 - what's there to argue about?
by Nils Stolpe/Fish Net USA
August 15, 2011
New Jersey freshman Congressman Jon Runyan, along with North Carolina Congressman Walter Jone's and Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has introduced the “Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011.” It is another weapon in the growing arsenal which is being provided by Members of Congress who are intent on re-establishing the role working fishermen once had in managing their fisheries.
Participation by fishermen was a central part of federal fisheries management following passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976. It is a role that has in recent years been usurped by a handful of agenda-driven ENGOs, the multi-billion dollar mega-foundations that support them, and the anti-fishing activists that have been put in charge of our Nation's fisheries in the U.S. Department of Congress (for more on this, see "Obama Ocean Priorities" at http://www.fishtruth.net/ObamaPriorities.htm).
The pro-catch shares ENGOs and the fishermen, fishermen's organizations and fishermen's publications that they have bought have already started another foundation-funded PR campaign aimed at convincing Congress that the Runyan/Jones/Ros-Lehtinen legislation will sound the latest death knell for U.S. fisheries, but in reality it is far from that. Rather, it's an attempt to save fishing jobs - a supposed priority of the Obama Administration, but obviously not when it applies to fishermen - and to give back some of the control of their fisheries that fishermen used to enjoy.
It doesn't prohibit the establishment of catch shares or any other form of management in any fishery, it merely prevents the federal fisheries management establishment from being able to unilaterally force catch shares on a fishery without the approval of the participants in that fishery. This approval would be expressed first by a simple majority of the participants, allowing the managers to proceed with the design of a catch share program. Then, a two-thirds majority of the participants would have to vote to adopt the resultant program.
Approval of a catch shares program by the affected fishermen is supposed to be federal policy already. Unfortunately, Ms. Lubchenco and her cadre at NOAA/NMFS have bureaucratically "finessed" their way around this in forcing catch shares on the New England groundfish fishermen.
The legislation also provides for the rejection of any catch shares program by the Secretary of Commerce if, once it is in place, it results in a job loss greater than 15% in the fishery. If that isn't a legislative provision fully in keeping with the will of the U.S. people today, it's hard to imagine what is - but when the head of the U.S. Department of Commerce must be told by Congress that a federal program in place that is putting people out of work must stop, Washington is far ahead of Denmark in the "something's rotten" department.
Of course the ENGOs, the Obama Administration, the compromised fishermen, fishing organizations and publications and the foundations behind them will be providing specious arguments for why the Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011 will be bad for the fish and bad for the fishermen, but as is being demonstrated in more domestic fisheries every year, conservation and sustainability can be accomplished quite effectively without destroying fishing jobs, fishing lives, fishing families and fishing communities by imposing catch shares against the will of the people dependent on those fisheries.
So why are the people in the catch shares claque so hard at work voicing their objections and exercising their political muscles? It's impossible to think that they believe that the fish need it. We have hundreds of domestic fisheries that aren't classified as overfished today that have gotten there without the supposed benefit of catch shares. We have perhaps a dozen in which catch shares have been in place long enough to consider them successful - and that's successful from a biological, not a socio-economic, perspective. So if the fish don't benefit from catch shares, who does?
If the fishermen feel that they can benefit from catch shares, the Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011 will allow them to have them, but why should anyone from outside the particular fishery care?
I quoted from a 2011 report commissioned by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation "foundations in the field are now looking to support this transition from fisheries conservation as a purely philanthropic investment to a blended conservation and business investment by encouraging non-profits, social change leaders and business entrepreneurs to create innovatively structured projects that can both build value for private investors and improve the speed and scale of fisheries conservation impacts” (see Is this the future of fishing? at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/All%20Stolpe%20Columns.htm#Future%20of%20fishing). The enthusiasm with which the ENGO community, the foundations that support the ENGOs, and the federal bureaucrats who very likely consider themselves only temporarily "on leave" from the ENGO world could easily see catch shares as a way to not only impose their distorted idea of what fisheries management is on fishermen, but to pick up a bunch of dollars in the process.
Of course, the price of seafood in the U.S. now being controlled by imports, there's only so much money to be made from every domestically harvested fish. With some of that money being funneled off by billion-dollar foundations and the people and organizations that they are subsidizing, it's easy to see fisherman after fisherman "owing his (or her) soul to the company store." And, according to Packard's consultants, that's exactly where the foundations, the ENGOs and the temporary bureaucrats want them. Otherwise, why would Packard have allowed the report to see the light of day?
(I have to note here that Fishery Management Plans that implement catch share programs may have provisions to limit the ownership of quota. This is to limit concentration of catching capacity in the fishery, and is certainly laudable. However, there is no way that control of quota - or more accurately, control of the individuals who own the quota - can even be determined, let alone regulated.)
It was the intent of Congress to allow fishermen a significant role in how their fisheries are managed and to prevent the impacts of top-down, out-of-touch management from destroying fishing communities, one of the most significant segments of our coastal heritage. This legislation by Representatives Runyan, Jones and Ros-Lehtinen recognizes that, and recognizes as well that in no way, shape or form should our federal bureaucracy be purposely and unnecessarily putting our citizens out of work. That obviously means nothing in the plush board rooms where the marching orders for the people at NOAA/NMFS are apparently originating, but it does on main street America, and the People's Representatives in Congress, or at least the ones who are listening, are hearing that loudly and clearly. Thank you, Congressman Runyan, Congressman Jones and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. Every independent fisherman, anyone in a fishing-dependent job, their families and their communities all are deeply indebted to you, as is every seafood lover who would like to see more than imported basa, tilapia and shrimp in their fish markets and restaurants.
Congressman Walter Jones' Fishery Management Transparency and Accountability Act
by Nils Stolpe/Fish Net USA
September 6, 2011
Another idea whose time has come -
Nils E. Stolpe/September 6, 2011
(A .pdf version will be available via the FishNet USA home page at http://www.fishnet-usa.com)
NOTE: Bob Vanasse at SavingSeafood.org and Phil Paleologos at Boston radio station WBSM covered Congressman Jones' legislation on their Saving Seafood Radio show (available at http://www.savingseafood.org/wbsm/WBSM_2011-08-04.html) on August 4. In listening to the show I discovered that several Councils in addition to the Mid-Atlantic, including the New England Council, are already webcasting their meetings and that NOAA/NMFS in general supports the goals of the Congressman's legislation.
It's generally agreed that traveling has become one of the less agreeable afflictions that people have to deal with. Whether by automobile or airplane (and I assume by train, but I can't conveniently get anywhere from here via Amtrak), it's increasingly expensive, it's increasingly time-consuming, and it's increasingly uncomfortable.
And, while I can't document it, it sure seems like there are an increasing number of fisheries management meetings, and those meetings are dealing with increasingly important - and increasingly complex - issues.
Unless you are fortunate enough to have a council, monitoring committee, advisory committee, plan development team or other meeting an easy commute away, if you want to be there you're going to spend at least a day and at least a couple of hundred bucks every time something comes up that could affect your fishery. If you are in one of the fisheries that is so blessed, you get to do it not just for the appropriate regional management council but for the appropriate regional commission as well - and in that case you'll have to travel even farther. And I can't leave out the various stock assessment exercises, which are possibly the most important meetings for any fishery, because that's where everything starts and where informed input can be invaluable.
Thanks to the diligence of the leadership at NOAA/NMFS, just about everybody in the fishing industry - at least anybody whose job involves catching fish - now has extra time to attend this myriad of meetings. But, thanks to that same diligence by those same people, few can afford to.
However, North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones is once again coming to the rescue of - or at least trying to make as good a deal as he can for - fishermen and people in fishing dependent businesses.
He has introduced the Fishery Management Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R.2753), an amendment to the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act that will require that each regional management council will make available on the Internet website of the Council "a live broadcast of each meeting of the Council, of the science and statistical committee of the Council, and of the Council coordination committee" and "complete audio, complete video if the meeting was in person or by video conference, and a complete transcript of each such meeting" within 30 days of the meeting and maintain it there for three years.
While I haven't surveyed the others, the Mid-Atlantic Council has started to webcast their full Council meetings. Last week I listened "live" to the monkfish discussion at the meeting in Wilmington, Delaware. Video wasn't available, but audio and an accompanying Power Point presentation were. Obviously it wasn't the same as attending in person, but it cost nothing and took half an hour instead of a big chunk of two days. At this point there isn't any provision for direct live feedback - questions and/or comments - but this could prove particularly valuable, and I hope the Council staff will include it at some point in the future.
The people at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center - and perhaps the other Centers as well - are quite a bit ahead of the Councils on this with their webcasts of stock assessments. These are exercises that demand as much information, anecdotal and otherwise, as possible. Having fishermen attend in person is asking an awful lot, but having several who are knowledgeable about the fishery - and particularly about the interactions with other fisheries - could be extremely important. With the system in use for assessments, people participate from remote locations via voice and/or keyboard, and this adds another valuable dimension to the discussions.
Having the meeting records archived for three years will be useful. Having full transcripts available will be even more useful and more convenient as well, and having a detailed index of the contents would make them much more user friendly.
It's obvious from the title of his proposed legislation that Congressman Jones is interested in increasing the transparency of the federal fisheries management process. The need for more transparency was made more than obvious in an article by Richard Gaines in the Gloucester Times on 12/14/2010. He wrote "also figuring in the legal tussle (surrounding a suit brought by the cities of New Bedford and Gloucester, MA against the Secretary of Commerce over Groundfish Amendment 16) is the Conservation Law Foundation, which has filed a brief against a request — still pending before (Judge) Zobel — by the cities and fishing interests for the right to conduct discovery into possible improper influence by environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Pew Environment Group on federal policy" (http://www.gloucestertimes.com/topstories/x1666503922/New-suit-targets-need-for-catch-share-referendum/print).
I'll note here that the Conservation Law Foundation is another of the environmental groups that has been deeply involved in groundfish management in New England. I'll also note that Judge Zobel denied the request. Whatever improper influence did or did not take place affecting Amendment 16 has yet to be discovered.
While Congressman Jones' Fishery Management Transparency and Accountability Act is a giant step forward in making the public portions of the regional management council process more accessible to more people - particularly to fishermen who can ill afford either the time or the expense of attending the meetings in person - it isn't going to shine a light on every area of federal fisheries management that is screaming out for more illumination. Why, for example, would a federal agency - or the people running that agency - resist a request for copies of communications pertaining to how a fisheries management plan affecting the lives of tens of thousands of people as Amendment 16 is doing was created? And why would an environmental group support that resistance?
In a press release issued by the Obama White House on July 28, barely a month ago, Vice President Biden was quoted as saying "we are tapping the top leaders across government who have been most aggressive in cracking down on waste to drive change and make the government work for our nation’s families. With our nation’s top watchdogs at the helm, we will deliver the kind of transparency and accountability for Federal spending that the public deserves and expects.” Unless fishermen, people in fishing dependent jobs, their families and their communities are somehow exempted from the "public" that the Vice President was referring to, the members of the Administration's newly launched Government Accountability and Transparency Board aren't going to have to look very much beyond the Department of Commerce - which we assume is already on the radar screen because of the still continuing NOAA enforcement mess - for ideas on where to start.
But assuming that doesn't happen, and when it comes to fisheries issues that seems to be a fairly safe assumption, lets hope that Congressman Jones is looking at H.R. 2753 as a well thought out and necessary starting point, because it is. But it's not going to solve any of the problems at NOAA, a federal agency that is increasingly being described as "out of control" by the media and on Capitol Hill.
If it's going to save a few sharks and, more importantly, punish a bunch of fishermen, so what if your nose grows a bit?
Any of us who have interacted with elected officials know that those officials divide their interactions with the public into one of three categories. The first is with constituents, and the officials pay attention to them. The second is with donors, and the officials also pay attention to them. The third is with non-constituents/non-donors, and it would be accurate to suggest that their contacts tend to not garner as much attention as the other two.
The most simple way for the officials and/or their staffers to determine whether people contacting them are constituents or not is by asking for their zip codes, and on their websites just about all of them do this. Needless to say, accurate residential zip code information is important not just to the office holder, but to the entire legislative process.
There's an organization in Princeton, New Jersey called the Shark Research Institute that is interested in the passage of a bill by the California Legislature which would ban the sale, trade or possession of shark fins. In a member newsletter, Marie Levine, the executive director of this "research institute" urges members to contact California state senators to urge the bill's passage. She continues "because the senators are most likely to heed the wishes of constituents, if asked for your zip code remember that SRI has an office in Malibu, California; as an SRI member, you are entitled to use our Malibu zip code - 90265. Phone as many Senators as you can - the Senate is in session right now."
Now I'm not up on the finer points of dealing with elected officials and/or their staffers, but I'm pretty sure that if one of them asks you for a zip code when you contact them, that what they are asking for is the zip code where you live so they can determine how important your comments are to them and to the legislation in question - remember that we're dealing with representative democracy here. Giving them instead the zip code of an office of an organization that you belong to, or your second cousin's mother-in-law's summer house, or the store where you bought your new toaster oven, or any zip code other than where you reside and vote doesn't seem to be playing by the right set of rules.
Ms. Levine ends her newsletter with the words "If ever there has been a time to stand up and be counted, it is right NOW. It is time to stop those who are pillaging the oceans and its resources - resources that belong to you, to be inherited by your children and future generations." It appears as if she wants her members, and anyone else that she can convince, to "be counted" by California's legislators whether they should really be counted or not, and she wants this regardless of the intent of the people who established our system of representative democracy way back when.
Perhaps she believes that the nobility of her end justifies the means that she is suggesting. I'm of the opinion that protecting the foundations of our government - whether at the local, the state or the national level - is far more important than protecting illegally harvested sharks (and I note here that it is already illegal to possess or to sell illegally harvested sharks, their fins or any of their other parts in California or anywhere else in the U.S.)
Anyway, if real California residents take the trouble to forward Ms. Levine's newsletter (linked below, but if the link becomes inactive, contact me and I'll send you a copy), it might contribute somewhat to having California legislation reflecting the wishes of actual Californians.
Finally, the big question remains; how widespread are such efforts in the radical environmentalist community? It should be pretty simple to make it appear as if what is an infinitesimally small group of activists from a national perspective represented a relatively much larger block of a legislator's constituents if those activists were willing to purposely mislead that legislator. What are the odds of that, do you think?
The newsletter is here.
ps - I in no way endorse the illegal - in U.S. waters - practice of "shark finning." I do, however, fully support responsibly managed and sustainable shark fisheries. The fins from legally harvested sharks can account for a significant part of the revenue from a shark fishing trip and arbitrarily destroying the market for the fins would do nothing more than reduce the value of the sharks to the fishermen. That sounds much more like prosecution than conservation to me.
A good fisheries crisis is harder to find, but...
by Nils Stolpe/Fish Net USA
October 116, 2011
People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important. P.J. O'Rourke, All the trouble in the world, 1994
Crises just keep getting harder to find - Do you think folks in the so-called marine conservation community look fondly back to their "good old days?" Those would be the days when - in their collective and jaundiced estimation - overfishing was running rampant, the oceans were on the brink of a fishing-induced collapse and they could delude themselves, the foundations that support them so lavishly and an unknowing and gullible public into believing that they were the white hat guys here to save fishermen from their greedy selves.
Alas for them, those days are over.
Every year sees more domestic
fisheries added to the sustainable list. (It's another issue, but because of
arbitrary management restrictions, every year also sees another 5 percent or so
added to the total amount of seafood we import into the
So what's a dedicated and devoted ocean savior to do? Having oceans - at least the U.S. EEZ parts of the oceans - filled with fish and having the number of bothersome fishermen, fishing boats and the waterfront businesses that keep them fishing whittled down dramatically, perhaps a consideration would be to move on, finding new nature to save and new businesses to destroy.
But that doesn't seem to be happening. Instead, those folks in the foundation funded greenish-tinged white hats are still setting their sights on domestic fishermen, but they're doing it for increasingly picayune reasons.
Take the issue - or perhaps I should use cause célèbre, because that's what it's been turned into - of bycatch, and of the Endangered Species Act/Marine Mammal Protection Act implications of bycatch. In a report recently released by the National Marine Fisheries Service (U.S. National Bycatch Report http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/by_catch/BREP2011/2011_National_Bycatch_Report.pdf), as of 2005 the overall rate of bycatch in domestic commercial fisheries - defined as the ratio between the total bycatch divided by the total catch) was 0.17. Note that this was in 2005. In the intervening six years many more bycatch reduction strategies and mechanisms have been developed and implemented, but the initial estimate that only one-sixth of the total catch of the entire domestic fleet is not used - and this includes regulatory discards that would be saleable but the management measures in place make it illegal for fishermen to land them - puts the bycatch "crisis" in the proper, real-world perspective; a crisis only in the eyes of the ocean eco-alarmists.
"Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status" Laurence J. Peter - Canadian author who formulated the Peter Principle
But why are the people in the ENGOs grasping at such seeming straws as bycatch rather than moving on? Why are they focused so fixedly on inflicting ever more destrucion on fishing people, fishing businesses and fishing communities? The current ENGO push for listing as endangered Atlantic sturgeon, thorny skates and American eels, the ongoing efforts to list bluefin tuna, the past - and pathetic - attempts to list spiny dogfish (spend some time browsing the Plague Of Dogfish website at http://www.fishnet-usa.com/dogforum1.htm) and barndoor skates and the seemingly endless - and outrageously expensive to the taxpayers and to the fishing industry - string of lawsuits aimed at the sea scallop fishery to "save sea turtles" whose populations are increasing dramatically anyway seem to be little more than attempts to use federal legislation and apparently unlimited access to legal talent to continue the anti-fishing onslaught.
almost beyond belief, the dogfish entirely deserves its bad reputation. Not
only does it harry and drive off mackerel, herring, and even fish as large as
cod and haddock, but it destroys vast numbers of them. Again and again
fishermen have described packs of dogs dashing among schools of mackerel, and
even attacking them within the seines, biting through the net, and releasing
such of the catch as escapes them. At one time or another they prey on practically
all species of Gulf of Maine fish smaller than themselves, and squid are also a
regular article of diet whenever they are found." (Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, Bigelow, H.B. and W.C.
Schroeder, 1953) A plague of spiny
dogfish (Squalus acanthias) is interfering with fisheries in coastal states
Another update on the extinction of the Barn Door Skates – In the late 1990’s the foundation-funded doomsayers manufactured a media tempest by predicting the imminent extinction of the barndoor skate. A number of these anti-fishing activist groups lobbied to have the species listed as endangered, something that would have negatively impacted many of the trawl/dredge fisheries operating in the skate’s range. Recognized as one of the most egregious examples of overblown environmental alarmism that had been manufactured to date as an assault on commercial fishing, the fishing industry came together with the managers to prove conclusively that the “plight” of the barndoor skate was non-existent. (Google “barndoor skate extinct” for an idea of how the anti-fishing claque piled on to this non-issue). Far from these long-lived skates being “endangered,” the Northeast Fisheries Science Center reported in the 2007 Spring Bottom Trawl Survey “history was made at Oceanographer Canyon, station 204, when over 3200 pounds of barndoor skates and 1500 pounds of winter skates came over the stern and ended up sliding all over the back deck. This is the first time in survey history that so many barndoor skates were landed" (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/esb/rsr/sbts/sbts_2007/large_file.pdf). Unfortunately, while these activist groups and foundation-funded researchers are adept at spreading their erroneous information far and wide, they are characteristically inept at getting the right information out when they are shown to be misinformed. (from Fisheries Management – It’s time for a new paradigm, 07/18/2007, http://www.fishnet-usa.com/new_paradigm.html).
Yet in spite of these expensive exercises in futility, the same circle of ENGOs are persisting in their attempts to further cripple fishermen via raising the spectre of one supposed extinction "crisis" after another.
I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who's wondered why. How can anyone attempt to inflict such economic devastation on so many hard working people time after time?
I was sent a link to
the webpage titled "Our Team" on the Pew Environment Group website. Each of the over 200 Pew "team" members is
listed individually. Many of them have titles that seem to be somewhat more grandiose than
necessary (how'd you like to have, Deputy
This whetted my appetite.
While I have researched and written quite a bit about fishermen-focused ENGOs
and the foundations that support them, I've never gotten very much involved in
their inner workings. I decided to correct that obvious lapse, so I set out to find
what I could about the ENGOs that had done such a thorough job of "saving
our fish" that
As I've observed before, having the ability to examine the most remote nooks and crannies on the internet facilitates effective research in a truly dramatic fashion. After a few minutes with Google, I discovered a website that makes available the IRS Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) filings for not-for-profit organizations, including those that have made life miserable for fishermen for most of a generation.
One of the things that these forms reveal is the total assets of the organizations. For some of the ENGOs and foundations that fishermen have become far too familiar with, net assets were reported as follows:
David and Lucille Packard Foundation
Pew Charitable Trusts
(from Annual Report)
Pew Charitable Trusts
(from Form 990)
Natural Resources Defense Council
Conservation Law Foundation
(The Pew Environment Group didn't file its own Form 990. Rather, it was included in The Pew Charitable Trusts filing.)
This sure makes these ENGOs' willingness to pursue, for example, a seemingly interminable string of suits in federal courts easier to understand. If you've got tens of millions of dollars in the bank and a stable of lawyers in house or on retainer, and if the foundations that have funded you to this point have billions of dollars available, why not? The alternative would be something akin to downsizing, something that's probably not all that acceptable to either bureaucrats or bureaucracies.
Another Form 990 reporting requirement is the compensation from the particular organization to "Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, and Highest Compensated Employees." Again, for employees, etc. of some select and familiar ENGOs and foundations, total compensation from the organization (not necessarily the total compensation that person received from all sources) in the most recent year for which a Form 990 was available was as follows:
Total Compensation from Organization
Chief Investment Officer
David and Lucille Packard Foundation
President & CEO
The Pew Charitable Trusts
David and Lucille Packard Foundation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Pew Environment Group
VP West Coast, VP Land, Water and Wildlife
Natural Resources Defense Council
Natural Resources Defense Council
President and CEO
Natural Resources Defense Council
Chief Executive Officer
VP Marketing and Communications
Executive Vice President
Natural Resources Defense Council
Director of Oceana in
Vice President for
VP Legal Affairs
VP Resource Development
Jim Ayers Oceana Regional Director in North Pacific
Shark Conservation Program Director
Conservation Law Foundation
And this chart represents
only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Remember that the Pew Environment
Group, for example, lists in the neighborhood of 200 "teammates," and
well over a third of them are in the Pew oceans campaign. It's apparent that
while the gold might be gone from them thar hills, there's still plenty
available in the oceans, though it's not going to fishermen - at least
With this level of "commitment" to solving ocean problems, is it any wonder that the involved ENGOs are more than willing to pump up any of those problems that come along or come to mind to the greatest extent that they can? And with what seems to be virtually unlimited access to geese that are far more capable of laying golden eggs than the average barnyard fowl, is it any wonder that the programs that these people inflict on the rest of us seem so completely out of touch with the working world? They want those geese to keep on laying, they know that saving "oceans in crisis," regardless of how real the crises actually were, has worked admirably up until know, so why should they stop?
And with salaries (and perks) ranging up into seven figures, is it any wonder that these people exhibit such a lack of empathy for people with real jobs - you know, the kind of jobs that depend on actually producing something tangible to justify a paycheck? (And no, putting people out of work isn't producing something tangible.)
Anyone who has built a successful career - that is, successful as far as the size of their paycheck and their ability to climb the (ENGO) corporate ladder is concerned - by spending money earned by someone else isn't likely to have much of an idea of what it would be like to be out of work or, it appears, to be particularly concerned when their actions have that consequence on others. If they think about it at all, these "marine conservationists" must be convinced that if the welfare of fishermen or fishing communities were that important, those uber-rich foundations wouldn't be giving them all those bucks to save all of the fish that they can regardless of the human consequences. And their self-serving argument that it will be good for the fishermen - and the fishing communities - at some point in the future conveniently ignores the fact that the profusion of ex-fishermen and bankrupt fishing dependent businesses make abundantly clear; that the path out of fishing is almost always one way.
But those grants keep rolling in.
Rightly or wrongly, environmentalists used to be stereotyped either as little old ladies wearing tennis sneakers while clutching a Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, as superannuated versions of Pee Wee Harris complete with thick glasses and knee pants, or as bearded, bedraggled, beplaided rugged individualists. What they all had in common was a dedication to the environment, a realization that grass roots movements were the only acceptable way to get things done, and a severe aversion to corporate life and all its trimmings. They've come a long way, haven't they?
(For those of you who are interested in delving into the IRS Form 990s of your favorite ENGOs, they are available on the Guidestar website (http://www2.guidestar.org/).
Words of wisdom on a Pew/Seaweb website?
Going back to its very beginning, I haven't been much of a fan of Seaweb, another product of The Pew Charitable Trusts' $billions. However, shark researcher Shelley Clarke's "Ocean Voices" article, Examining Scientific Integrity In the Global Shark Fin Trade, on the Seaweb website should be taken to heart by anyone who spends any time reading - and being influenced by - second, third or later-hand reports on ocean-related research. I'd draw particular attention to the second and last bulleted sentences in the final part of her article, which I've highlighted below:
What can we do to become better science consumers? My advice is to apply the following tests to the science on your daily menu:
Choose carefully, and bon appétit!
The URL is http://www.seaweb.org/getinvolved/oceanvoices/ShellyClarke.php.