No quick fix
Friday,27 May,2011 11:52:41
Scientists in Florida this week are asking a question that has been on the lips of many Gulf Coast fishermen for more than a year: What are the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
A two-day meeting at the University of Central Florida among scientists whose efforts are being coordinated by the Florida Institute of Oceanography — using $10 million in grant monies from BP — gives me hope that someone is trying to get to the bottom of things.
The angle the scientists are taking is that some degree of ecological collapse could be taking place, but the scientific community may not yet have the knowledge and tools to predict and measure it.
What "it" is remains to be seen. However, this seems to me to be an exemplary case for the precautionary principle.
How many fishery management tools have been implemented without adequate data but with the understanding that we must protect one species or another "just in case"?
And yet, when it came to a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration's immediate response was to assume all was well.
The scientific community is increasingly eager and willing to work with fishermen. It's time for policy-makers to realize that fishermen's anecdotal reports have value, as well.
We need to stop trying to fit our management of fisheries and oceans into bar graphs and start treating them like part of a living, ever-changing, sometimes-unpredictable ecosystem.
The more information we can gather from a variety of sources, the closer we will get to truly managing fisheries.
On the safe side
Monday,23 May,2011 12:49:48
The news of five clam diggers who died in Alaska's Cook Inlet this week is a sad reminder that whether you're aboard a 20-foot skiff, as these men were, or a 220-foot processor, you are taking certain risks by working at sea.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, three of the five men were wearing life vests when they were found. The president of Pacific Seafood, the Oregon-based seafood group they were contracted to work for, says the company provides safety training. However, that training is provided by the contractor who hires the workers. He could not say whether these workers had received training.
I find it especially concerning that the men were not Alaskans (and may not have been familiar with the terrain in which they were fishing) and that the company they worked for has not been able to provide a definitive record with respect to any safety training they may have received.
We write about safety gear all the time, but gear does you very little use without proper instruction.
Regardless of what caused the deaths of these five men, companies that employ fishermen ought to ensure that crew members are properly trained and can reckon with an emergency on the water.
Water, water everywhere
Monday,9 May,2011 09:29:44
This week the California Public Utilities Commission endorsed the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.
Scheduled to begin in 2020, the dam-removal project should go a long way toward restoring salmon habitat along the California-Oregon border and ease the water battle between farmers and fishermen.
Fishermen and tribal leaders have been fighting for years to urge the removal of the PacifiCorp dams. Though it will be another decade or more before they see the benefits to be gained by restoring the Klamath River basin, I hope this is a lesson to fishermen across the country that no battle is fruitless.
I hope it may also be a lesson that Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with.
PBS has a new Nature episode called "Salmon: Running the Gauntlet". (You can watch it streaming on the PBS website.)
While I disagree with the premise that salmon hatcheries have been essentially unsuccessful, I appreciate the overall message that our interventions with the natural process rarely fail to surprise us.
Thank you for your time.
Editor in chief, National Fishermanwww.nationalfisherman.com
Management in review
Monday,2 May,2011 10:59:54
For too long now, New England groundfish stocks have been the poster child for increasingly punitive management tactics.
At long last, an independent review of the management process in the Northeast and the data upon which fishery policy is based has raised important questions about the quality of the scientific data, as well as monitoring and enforcement methods.
The review simply says what fishermen have said for years: The system is not set up with the industry in mind. The impetus is to react immediately to save the fish from a perceived doomsday at any and all costs, but data collection does not allow for timely stock assessments.
Who takes the hit in this scenario? Fishermen.
The retort to this sentiment is often that fishermen don't care if they catch the last fish; they just want to make money. That may be true of some fishermen, but I haven't met any of them yet. The fishermen I talk to want to pass their fishery to their kids. But they don't want to pass on the stress and worry of barely making boat payments because they're not allowed to leave the dock or can hardly manage the amount of paperwork required to rig a net.
We ought to be doing our best to maintain healthy stocks, but we must balance that with reason and an eye to the future of the industry.
There is a balance to be struck here, but we are still far too skewed toward a mythical vision of abundance for all stocks. As long as there are any fish in the sea, some stocks will be up while others are down.
It is clear that we have a remarkable system that is working to establish and maintain healthy stocks. We ought to be proud of that.
But I also hope that one day we can be proud of our robust working waterfronts and fishing fleets from coast to coast.
Read a PDF of the review requested by John Pappalardo, chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council, and Eric Schwaab, NMFS director.
Thank you for your time.
Editor in chief, National Fisherman