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)


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 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 - 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 - 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

              May 28, 2011

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 ( 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 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 ( 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 (, 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 boats and the pockets of U.S. seafood consumers.

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.*


*The Titanic sunk on April 15.


Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011 - what's there to argue about?

              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

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 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

            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

NOTE: Bob Vanasse at and Phil Paleologos at Boston radio station WBSM covered Congressman Jones' legislation on their Saving Seafood Radio show (available at 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" (

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...

            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 U.S. It's now at a staggering 80 plus percent, but hey, that's only lost jobs and money for fishermen and fishing dependent businesses.)

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, 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 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.

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 Director, Lands, U.S. and Canadian Oceans and Ocean Science or Officer, Offshore Energy Reform Campaign, Global Conversation Initiative on your business card and the door to your office?). Having dealt with bureaucracies fairly extensively, I've observed that lots of employees with impressive seeming titles are often an indication of rampant bureaucratization. And it goes without saying that any "successful" bureaucracy is one that has reached critical mass. It won't be diminished regardless of the status of its original mission, just keeps chugging along.

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 U.S. fishermen, with the most productive EEZ in the world, are now permitted to supply less than a fifth of the seafood we consume in the U.S.

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:


Net Assets


David and Lucille Packard Foundation



Pew Charitable Trusts


(from Annual Report)

Pew Charitable Trusts


(from Form 990)

Natural Resources Defense Council



Environmental Defense









Ocean Conservancy



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



Environmental Defense


Managing Director

Pew Environment Group


Executive Director

Environmental Defense


VP West Coast, VP Land, Water and Wildlife

Environmental Defense


Executive Director

Natural Resources Defense Council


Development Director

Natural Resources Defense Council


President and CEO

Ocean Conservancy


Finance Director

Natural Resources Defense Council


Chief Executive Officer



VP Marketing and Communications

Environmental Defense


Executive Vice President




Ocean Conservancy


Communications Director

Natural Resources Defense Council


Executive Director of Oceana in Europe



Senior Vice President for North America, Chief Scientist



VP Legal Affairs

Ocean Conservancy





VP Resource Development

Ocean Conservancy


VP Communications

Ocean Conservancy


Jim Ayers Oceana Regional Director in North Pacific



Shark Conservation Program Director

Ocean Conservancy


Managing Director



VP State Advocacy Center 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 U.S. fishermen - any longer.

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 (


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