Leaving Little Norway
Friday,29 July,2011 10:38:13
As I flew out of Petersburg, Alaska, Thursday morning, I watched the seascape below me until the clouds obscured my view of the Sockeye Islands in Frederick Sound.
I'm on my way home from a week in Alaska's Little Norway. Those kinds of titles are often just marketing ploys, but the moniker holds true in Petersburg.
This town of 2,800 (not including seasonal cannery workers) is fiercely proud of its Scandinavian heritage — which can be seen in its tidy homes and gardens — and the people are as closely connected to the sea as were their Viking cousins.
In recent years, the fleet has been diversifying and accumulating fishing permits — so much so that Petersburg, with less than 0.5 percent of Alaska's population, holds nearly 10 percent of the state's permits. It comes as no surprise to me in a town that pulses with fish.
Overall, the fishing has been good this summer in Alaska, and that is definitely the case in Southeast. The humpies and chums were so hot the seiners moved from two-day to four-day openings while I was in town. Those can be long trips away from home for this family-friendly fishery in which many of the town's children have been raised.
I won't soon forget my visit to this amazing fishing village. I can't thank its people enough for their kindness, hospitality and eagerness to talk fish with a stranger.
Tusen takk to Julianne Curry, executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, for being my tour guide and bountiful hostess.
Narrowing the gulf
Friday,15 July,2011 13:58:00
Collaborative research has changed the face of data in the fishing industry.
Many fisheries have benefited from revised assessments and improved survey techniques, and research programs (like the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Chesapeake Bay derelict gear retrieval) have benefited from fishermen's knowledge of fishing grounds.
But a new project in the Gulf of Mexico signals an important shift in the application of collaborative research. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, fishing has been somewhat status quo in the gulf. However, many fishermen have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That proverbial shoe may turn out to be the health of snapper and grouper populations. This summer, fishermen have been reporting higher than normal incidences of unexplained lesions on their catch.
In an effort to find some answers University of South Florida scientists are collaborating with fishermen to catch and examine fish from an 80,000-square-mile area.
What they find may not only tell us about the dangers of oil spills on certain commercial species (if that can indeed be traced as the source of the lesions), but also whether or not those fish are safe to eat regardless of physical markers.
The marine world is vast and mysterious. The more we can learn and document trends and anomalies, the closer we will get to effective fishery and ocean management.
Letters of the law: brought to you by E, D, F
Monday,11 July,2011 12:52:42
In many ways over the last week, I've felt that a government of the people, by the people and for the people is a basic tenet lost in the court system. Unless, of course, we redefine "people" to mean "groups with money, power and influence."
Late last week, U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel handed down a judgment declaring a multiparty challenge to groundfish catch shares has no ground on which to stand simply because NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council followed procedural protocols.
Forget the fact that the aim of the challenge is to protect the small-boat owners of the fleet and the fishing communities in which the fleets were founded centuries ago.
The real juice of this suit lies in the surprisingly high portion of cod granted to the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association.
After two years of watching the unfolding story of corruption in NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, can we really turn a blind eye to the many coincidences that may or may not have resulted in the hook fishermen getting a disproportionately large slice of the pie?
Their CEO also happens to be the chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council. The council happened to be the group setting allocations. The hook fishermen happen to have partnered with influential environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, and become the flagship of sector management. NOAA happens to be guided by Jane Lubcheco, a former vice chairwoman of the EDF.
To be fair, New England council Chairman John Pappalardo has a generally good reputation among fishermen. But his affiliation with the Cape Cod group opens him up to an extra measure of scrutiny any time that group benefits, fairly or unfairly, from council proceedings.
The true kicker is that the district judge who presided over the case decided not to allow the plaintiffs to conduct discovery to illuminate what influence non-governmental organizations may have had on the process. Add to that the fact that Lubchenco and EDF President Fred Krupp were no-shows at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject of catch shares in June.
I'm no conspiracy theorist, and I'm certainly no politician. But even as an average American, I think I know enough about the way the system works to have an inkling that this situation is more "politics as usual" than it is "coincidence."
The result is that the many parties involved in the suit may decide (even today) to appeal the decision. Or that Congress may take up the matter by reforming the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Congress has some major tasks at hand in trying to map the future of this country. It would be nice to see some of the politics put aside and someone throw a bone to New England fishermen, rather than force another burden on our federal lawmakers.
In the meantime, New England's fishermen will be scratching and clawing their way up the Hill.