Friday,25 May,2012 12:52:30
This week Ray and Ulrike Hilborn (authors of the book “Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know”) wrote an editorial for the New York Times that quite eloquently cleared up so much of the confusion consumers face when pondering what fish to buy and what traffic-light list to follow.
The lists proffered by well-meaning environmental and other advocacy groups merely serve to make consumers feel better about their choices. But they have no bearing on the management process in this country. Unfortunately (among other problems), the data on which the lists are based are often quickly outdated. U.S. fishery management is a process in permanent flux. Fish stocks fluctuate naturally and based on a multitude of human factors, and the regional management councils (as well as state and federal management entities) are constantly shifting their tactics to make the most of healthy species and recover subpar stocks.
But, as the Hilborns point out, no part of U.S. management is influenced by market forces. The value of a fish does not determine how its quotas are set in this country. So while consumers might be well advised to avoid species that are farmed or overfished in other parts of the world, they can rely on American fishermen to land only healthy portions of fish populations in their local markets.
Consumers would be better off learning how to identify and purchase local or other favorite fish species. Consumer education could make great strides toward curbing fish fraud. Success in that realm would reward both consumers and fishermen.
Below the beltway
Thursday,17 May,2012 14:17:13
I’m a multitasker, but I’m considering ridding myself of the habit.
On my walk into work this morning, I was reading an editorial in the New York Times that first made me physically ill and then made me so agitated I was shaking. The piece is so full of errors and slights on hardworking commercial fishermen that I could not contain my irritation. On the plus side, my already boiling blood gave me a boost to practically run up several flights of stairs to my office.
This editorial does not seem to have been written by anyone who has spent any time with East Coast fishermen, which seems odd for a paper based in New York. It heralds catch shares for saving summer flounder and Northeast haddock, which is like crediting a freshman class for the seniors’ high college placement rate. Summer flounder and haddock were healthy and strongly rebounding stocks long before catch share management was in place.
By the same token, I suppose, we could blame catch shares for the demise of Northeast cod stocks. But we don’t. Why? Because that is a complete falsehood, like so many of the claims in this editorial. (Most commercial fishermen support this program? Perhaps, if you interview those fishermen who are making money under catch shares, that’s the feedback you’ll get. By the same logic, you could declare that no one on Wall Street is to blame for our current economic distress. That’s what they told me, anyway. I didn’t bother to interview anyone whose house is in foreclosure or who lost their retirement as the result of undisclosed details in their private investments because they’re just bitter.)
What we can credit catch shares for is making it easier to manage some fisheries because inevitably it causes consolidation, a shrinking of the fleet and risks the changeover of valuable working waterfront properties to condos, offices and seasonal homes. Catch shares do not affect the science with which we analyze fishery biomass. They do not affect the maximum sustainable yield or fishing quotas. It is merely a scheme that enables managers to assign the quotas to certain fishermen, groups of fishermen or other private entities. Catch shares do not change the number of fish fishermen are allowed to catch, so how could they possibly be credited with the rebound of a species, especially a species that was rebounding before catch shares were applied as a management tactic?
The concept behind catch share management flies in the face of American values and quality-of-life standards. We can tweak it to help preserve small-boat fishermen and working waterfronts, but so far, that provision is sorely lacking in the Northeast catch share program. Would you rather buy your food from a large-scale retailer or from your neighbor?
Until NOAA and its leader Jane Lubchenco recognize the weaknesses as well as the strengths of catch shares, then it will be a system destined to compromise the beauty and history of American coastal towns. The only time catch share management works is when it is a system designed with significant input from the fishermen.
The New York Times calls it “a worthy effort by the Obama administration to improve the health of America’s coastal waters.” Maybe so. But do we want to preserve only the waters, or the land, infrastructure and the people, too? It is all possible with a different tactic, but not under the push for catch shares as it exists today.
Under the hammer
Monday,14 May,2012 07:41:31
Today the U.S. House made waves.
If the language in a budget bill gets through the conference committee with the Senate, then NOAA will have to hold off on implementing any new or pending catch share programs.
Fisheries already under catch share management would not be affected by this bill, including New England groundfish. However, the ongoing management difficulties and lack of protection (by the way of allocation caps) for small-boat fishermen under the Northeast groundfish program are ample proof that NOAA still has work to do on at least one existing catch share program before it declares success and charges ahead with the policy.
There are some easy fixes that could vastly improve working conditions and help stabilize the New England fleet. We need to hunker down and make sure we are protecting the small businesses and working waterfronts before we wave the Mission Accomplished banner.
The Environmental Defense Fund (the non-governmental organization where NOAA head Jane Lubchenco once was a vice-chairwoman) has invested a lot of time and money into promoting catch shares. But there has sadly been little focus on the small-boat fishermen or the working waterfronts that dot the New England coast and have relied on fishing fleets for hundreds of years.
The catch share system is not inherently good or bad. It works best when the policy is adapted to suit the fishery to which it's being applied — which includes accounting for the biomass as well as the human elements that make up that fishery.
Fishery managers have access to far better solutions than to approach every problem wielding only a hammer. As stewards of some of the healthiest ocean resources in the world, it ought to be our duty to respond to any fishery management obstacle with careful assessment first. From there, we can begin to gather the appropriate tools to solve the problem.
Monday,7 May,2012 11:31:38
The next swipe at the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska may not survive the political shell game.
Bristol Bay fishermen are concerned about the future of their salmon run and fighting the prospect of a gold and copper mine that could sully pristine salmon-spawning waters. But Alaska’s attorney general, Michael Geraghty, has taken another tack in this epic battle and is now fighting the EPA assessment that could declare an end to development of the watershed.
Geraghty notes that the area EPA is investigating (and could declare a protected watershed) is about the size of West Virginia — 15 million acres — and that the work is an overreach of the federal agency’s powers. But the federal government did not step on Alaska soil waving a flag of national sovereignty. Thousands of stakeholders in Bristol Bay's future asked EPA to step in and put a stop to the drumbeat toward Pebble.
I’m not a proponent of dragging the federal government into every major state kerfuffle. But it seems to me that the people who fish in the state of Alaska (and have for generations) ought to be able to rely on the local government to ensure the longevity of the run wherever possible.
Instead, the state seems to favor risking the riches of the fishery in favor of the riches of the mine. It’s like taking a hammer to the piggy bank, rather than popping its cork and shaking free the loose change.
Gold and silver mining would provide a sudden influx of money to the region, but the deposits are finite. The salmon fishery could last forever, if we have the foresight to protect it.
Welcome back, workers!
Tuesday,1 May,2012 08:31:35
The fishing and seafood processing industries got great news yesterday when a federal district court judge in Florida handed down a decision to delay implementation of new H-2B guest worker program rules.
The new Labor Department rules threatened to shut down processing facilities from Alaska to the Chesapeake Bay by complicating the process that allows seafood processors to bring in foreign workers for jobs that are no longer appealing to American workers.
“The new rules force us to spend more time and money on recruitment initiatives that have proven almost worthless. They greatly complicate efforts to bring in employees who have demonstrated their willingness to do what American workers simply won’t do,” said Jack Brooks, president of the Coalition to Save America’s Seafood Industry, in a press release.
The coalition is committed to continuing to work with Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to improve labor regulations as well as communication between the federal government and the industry that relies on a staggered influx of foreign workers based on varying needs as fishing seasons progress.
While I think it’s unfortunate that millions of American college students would rather pile on student loan debt than work in seafood plants for the summer, we must recognize that the system has changed. Students are often expected to further their career credentials by working for nothing (or next to it) in summer internships.
As a nation, we have veered away from understanding what a day’s work really means. I hope to teach my own child the value of true labor. In the meantime, I’m happy to know the processing and picking houses will be humming along as usual.