Back to PCFFA Home Page
Back to PCFFA Fishermen's News Archive
I have been asked to provide an outlook on fisheries from another nation, on the challenges and solutions faced by fishermen from other countries. Since Canada is the United States immediate neighbor, you are undoubtedly aware through U.S. media and trade publications of many of the problems, or challenges, facing U.S. fishermen. I am not exactly bringing you news from Senegal or Sri Lanka or some distant place far from the North American continent and the coverage of our western press. Our Canada and the U.S. fleets, our industry, our markets, our problems are very similar.
You should also know that I am talking from the perspective of a fisherman who is the owner and operator of a small boat who fishes alone or with a single crew member and I directly sell my own fish. My organization, the PCFFA, principally represents small to mid-size fishing vessel owner captains, whose boats range in size from 8 to 20 meters, engaged in numerous different fisheries using a wide-variety of gear types. In essence, mine is an organization of family fishing men and women. It has also been, from the days of its founding over a quarter century ago, a champion of fish conservation.
Over the course of the past two and a half years, I have had the honor of serving on something called the Pew Oceans Commission. This commission was established by the Pew Charitable Trusts to address ocean issues that had not been comprehensively examined since the late 1960s in the U.S. by the national Stratton Commission. During the 1990s there were countless calls on the U.S. Congress to establish a national commission to revisit the work of the Stratton Commission and address the problems that have arisen in the 30 years since it issued its report including the problems of coastal development, new demands on ocean resources, aquaculture, pollution and, yes, fishing. When Congress failed to act, the Pew Trusts stepped in, naming a score of some of the best minds on ocean issues to its privately established commission. New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman was named Chair, but she left shortly after the Commission began its work, to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Taking over as Chair was former California Congressman, head of the U.S. Office of Management & Budget, and White House Chief of Staff during the Clinton Administration, Leon Panetta. I was one of two commercial fishermen named to this prestigious group, which includes scientists, political and business leaders, conservationists and even a former astronaut.
Interestingly, after the Pew Oceans Commission was established, the U.S. Congress finally acted by forming a U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Unfortunately, no fishing men or women were appointed to the government commission. In a sense, we have dueling commissions. Fortunately, because of the leadership of Leon Panetta and that of Admiral Wadkins of the U.S. Commission, there has been a fair degree of cooperation and even coordination between the two groups and I am confident the recommendations of the two ocean commissions will compliment and not compete with one another. I believe those recommendations will be helpful to our fishing men and women and the challenge ahead will be to get those recommendations implemented.
From my experience with the Pew Commission, coupled with the fact that our industry is one of humankinds oldest (at least 10,000 years old), Id like to avoid today reacting to the current brushfires facing U.S. fishing men and women, and focus, instead, on where I see our industry going, and where I think it should be heading. Instead of offering up solutions to todays crises, lets think about the challenges that lay ahead for fishing in the next 25 and 50 or even 100 years. It is when we begin planning ahead, not just reacting, that I think we develop the best solutions.
Dont get me wrong, in the U.S. we will still have to respond to a number of crises this year and that response may be different among various sectors of our industry. We have to deal with the issues of MPAs and IFQs as you do. We have the question of whether the our principal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, will be strengthened or weakened in the 108th Congress or whether our legislators will even take up the matter of reauthorizing the statute.
Moreover, we are uncertain in this Congress what the fate will be of other U.S. laws that have been essential for protecting the fish and their habitats, from the Clean Water Act to the Endangered Species Act. In the U.S., we have the problem of developing regulations that strike the correct balance protecting fish stocks while still providing a fishery. We also have problems with markets getting a fair price for our fish. And, we have new problems on the horizon from invasive species threatening our native fish stocks to biochemical companies trying to foist off transgenic fish into aquaculture operations, where those fish will no more be controlled than genetically modified corn or soy crops. From snakeheads to "Frankenfish," weve got problems.
Instead of being reactive, however, recanting current problems, lets begin talking proactively about where we want our industry, our community to be in 25 or 50 years. Being 10,000 years old, we ought to be able to think and plan beyond the immediate horizon. Some of the issues cross boundary and internationally - we need to begin thinking about and planning for, not just waiting to react to, are these:
A few years ago I had the honor of addressing this Council, discussing professionalization in the fishing fleet. In my remarks, I made mention of five of Jesus disciples and what would happen today if those Apostles came back and sought to enter their original occupations. The fishermen -- Simon Peter, Matthew, Mark and John -- could go on board nearly any fishing boat and get a job, assuming any jobs were available. Nothing more would be required of them over and above the skills they acquired working the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago. Luke, however, would be required to go through years of training and a residency before he could be licensed today to be a physician, assuming he could even get into medical school in the first place.
Now I am not here advocating using some form of lengthy program to sort out who shall be aboard a fishing boat. Nor do I mean to imply fishermen are not educated. Our fleets, certainly here in North America, are peppered with émigrés from education and academia, law and the military, civil service and the skilled trades, science and the humanities. So our fleet is educated, some may even say over-educated.
Nor do I mean to imply fishermen are not skilled. Consider that a fisherman aboard a vessel such as mine must not only be skilled in knowing how to catch fish, but must know how to build and tend gear, to navigate, to operate and maintain a vessel, sometime even being a diesel mechanic, electrical technician and refrigeration specialist -- and then find the best market for the catch and otherwise do what is necessary to conduct this small business. But what we do not have is any type of uniform training to assure that those engaged in fishing operations are skilled in fishing selectively and fishing in a way that does not damage marine ecosystems or otherwise harm marine wildlife. This is critical, not just because fishing is under a microscope currently, but also because the economics of fishing that is, the maintenance of the stocks we depend upon and their habitats depends on everyone fishing responsibly. Moreover, with limits placed on the amount of fish that can be taken and with global competition in the marketplace, fishermen have to be skilled in handling their catch to assure the very best quality, with the least amount of waste, to get the most value from what is harvested.
Finally, commercial fishing is considered the most dangerous occupation in the United States, and it may very well be the most dangerous here in Canada. We have to do more as an industry to make our operations and our vessels safer, and that will also require training.
Canada, among the fishing nations, is the leader in the effort to professionalize its fishing fleet and this Council is to be congratulated for its leadership in this endeavor. Those of us south of your border will be looking for your guidance and recommendations for training programs to develop a fully professional fishing fleet. If fishing, as we know it, is to succeed in the 21st century, fishing men and women will need special skills that only formal training and education programs can provide.
Our challenge now as an industry is to begin thinking about what type of training and educational programs are needed, and how best to implement them, to meet the demands of fishing in 2025 and 2050.
The oceans for thousands of years have been the exclusive province of sailors and fishermen. Over the oceans we transported goods and armies and from beneath its depths we sought food. That began to change in the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century as the public began flocking to the seaside to escape the cities and the summer heat. Writers and artists sought the coast for solace and beauty. Surfers are now as prevalent as seals along much of the coast.
In the middle of the 20th century, with the development of modern diving gear and underwater cameras, Jacques Cousteau was able through television to bring to millions in their living rooms a panorama of life under the sea. This, along with television and movie productions featuring Flipper and Willy, captured the public imagination and fascination for the sea. As a result, the public is no longer just swarming to the seaside, they are on the water aboard whale watching boats, charter fishing vessels and cruise ships. They are snorkeling and diving.
What all this means is that fishermen now have to share the seas with the public. This has its problems, but also some benefits. However, the increased public focus on the ocean means that our fishing operations will be watched more carefully. It is critical therefore that fishing be conducted in a responsible manner. It is not enough that we conduct our operations responsibly and sustainably, wed better be sure our brothers and sisters are doing the same. Nor is it enough that we conduct our operations responsibly and sustainably dont assume the public knows that, particularly when there are folks making money deploring fishing or certain types of fishing gear, such as trawling or longlining. We have to be ready to reach out to the public and educate them about what commercial fishing is really all about.
There is a benefit, however, to the increasing public awareness and concern for our oceans. For the fishing industry dependent on a healthy ocean environment to support abundant fish populations that in turn support a thriving fishing industry, the public can be our ally, if mobilized, in helping us protect our ocean waters. The public through education and outreach can become the fishing fleets strongest ally in protecting the oceans and conserving its resources. This will be critical as we address issues of pollution, wetland preservation and coastal development. Considering the other activities fishing will have to share ocean waters with, having strong public support may be essential for the future of our industry.
Our challenge ahead is to develop means to protect our oceans from this increased usage and protect our access to the fishing grounds. Ocean zoning may be one answer, but it will only work if we know what we want and are at the table developing zoning regulations. If fishing men and women are not present, not unified, it will be easy for the new ocean interests, the public and government to dismiss us as an anachronism, an economy and culture not worth preserving and simply marginalize us, as happened to the Great Lakes fisheries.
Of all the users of the ocean -- public enjoyment, transportation, energy production, manufacture of medicines and aquaculture -- none is more dependent on ocean health than our fisheries. For the future, I believe, our stake in the ocean, our reason for being there will not simply be food production, but for our stewardship. The recent spill off Galacia, where Spanish fishermen are at the forefront in the clean up of the oil from the tanker Prestige, reminds us that we are usually the first to respond to any ocean disaster. That was certainly true over a decade ago in Prince William Sound where fishermen were a big part of the Exxon Valdez spill clean up. Fishermen and the environment also took the biggest hit from that spill. If the public, in particular, views fishermen as the first line of defense for the marine environment, as those who are caring for the marine environment, they will certainly be sympathetic to the plight of fishing men and women and loathe to support proposals eliminating commercial fishing.
Our challenge, therefore, in light of increased usage of ocean waters by others, is to develop and strengthen our stewardship role to assure both protection of the stocks and our access to fishing grounds.
Part of our stewardship of the oceans, of our fisheries, I believe will have to entail much greater fisherman participation in scientific research, much greater collaboration between fishermen and scientists. Some collaboration is now going on in New England and efforts are afoot on the U.S. west coast to partner fishermen and their vessels with marine scientists. Certainly fishermen involvement with scientific research is nothing new; however, such partnering has been sporadic at best and never part of any formal structure.
A partnership between fishermen and marine scientists should be quite natural. Fishermen and scientists alike, if they are good, are by nature curious. Fishermen have a working knowledge of the oceans; marine scientists are trained in the study of ocean life. Fishermen have at their disposal platforms that is, their vessels from which research can often be conducted. Moreover, to achieve the greatest amount of research, data collection and stock assessments at the least possible cost will entail collaboration between fishing fleets and scientists.
Our challenge ahead is to determine what scientific information we need as fishing men and women, what data, what assessments, and how to foster relationships with researchers from government and academia to address our needs as well as their direction of scientific inquiry. Our challenge is to determine what training programs may be needed for fishermen to foster collaboration with marine researchers, and what equipment needs and design will be required for our vessels in the future to facilitate meeting research needs as well as the requirements for the 21st century fishery.
This brings me to our next challenge and that is our vessels. Not only must we begin thinking about outfitting our vessels with that gear that will most selectively harvest fish, with that gear that will have the least impact on the marine environment, but we have to look at the vessels themselves. We will need to strive to make them safer. They must be outfitted with that equipment that allows us to best preserve the catch to meet modern health, safety and market requirements. Additionally, we have to consider the energy expended by our vessels in relationship to the volume or value of fish we catch.
The energy requirements of our vessels will be an important factor in the 21st century and we need to begin thinking about them now. Fuel is a major cost in many fishing operations and obviously the move to more fuel-efficient engines can save money. In California, where Im from, pollutants from marine diesels have also been an issue, and resulted in a program aimed at assisting fishermen and marine users to install cleaner-burning engines. Obviously with the cost and availability of fuel always a concern, coupled with the impact the burning of fossil fuels is having on global warming, our industry needs to begin looking at its fleet in contemplation of a change over from petroleum-based fuels.
In the near-term, our challenge will be to find ways to make it feasible to install in our vessels the most efficient and clean-burning of engines. For the not-so-long term -- probably within the next decade or two -- we need to plan for the transformation from petroleum fuels to renewable sources, most likely hydrogen. I remember my predecessor as president of PCFFA, the late Nat Bingham, proposing and planning for hydrogen powered fishing vessels back in the 1970s. Nats vision now doesnt seem all that far-fetched some thirty years later.
In Canada and the U.S. there has been the common mindset that with each generation our lot will improve. For European settlers, as well as those from Asia and now Latin America, our nations were the land of opportunity. Indeed, for most generations, the lot of our people did improve. Now there is a question of whether that will continue or whether conditions will begin to decline for succeeding generations. For our fisheries, conditions have certainly deteriorated in the past score of years. There have been the closures of the fisheries of Newfoundland, as much as half of the British Columbia fleet is being eliminated and fisheries from cod to salmon are in sad shape. The stocks, however, can be rebuilt, and though the fishing activity may be less, in theory a healthy industry should come back.
The problem however for a healthy fishery is that there must also be markets for the product and a fair price paid. In that regard, it has not just been the lot of fishing men and women in many fisheries that have declined, but of all food producers, particularly family farmers. Primary food producers throughout the world are being squeezed -- mainly by processors and middlemen -- with the dramatic decline in the price paid for fish and farm products. Globalization has done nothing but exacerbate this fact of life.
How can we fight this trend of lower producer prices and more consolidation in our industry that threatens to make paupers of what was once a proud middle-class industry? Our challenge is to find ways to more directly market our products, so our prices reflect those paid by consumers. Our challenge is to work to better educate consumers, so they can distinguish between that fish that we take the time and effort to harvest sustainably, versus that which is not, and to have labels in the market so they can choose our wild fish over the crap coming out of the net pens. Yes, we need certification such as that provided by the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainably harvested fish. But we also need a fair trade label for our fish.
Our challenge also is to make sure fishing men and women are at the negotiating table on trade deals. Issues of trade in fish should not be left up to free-trade theorists or globalization ideologues, much less processing conglomerates or fish importers and exporters. Canadian fishermen need to be at the table, U.S. fishermen need to be at the table, fishing men and women from throughout the globe have to be at the trade table.
If we have differences between us, let us come to the table and discuss them among ourselves, fishing men and women extending hands across borders and over oceans. We cannot afford to have governments compromising our fisheries, or traders working to hold us in bondage with slave wages. We cannot survive any longer having governments divide us by pitting us against each other.
Our survival for this century depends not simply on abundant stocks, but markets paying a fair price for the fish we catch. Our challenge is to find ways to more directly link with seafood consumers and educate them. Our challenge is to make sure fish are traded fairly, not just freely. Our challenge is to assure fair prices are paid fishing men and women in the developed and developing world alike.
Fishing communities throughout the U.S. and in much of the world are in trouble. The reduction in catches due to depressed stocks, or in the case of the developing world governments selling off quotas to foreign factory ships, has caused job losses ashore and at sea, a loss of economic vitality and the degradation of the infrastructure needed to maintain a fishing industry. In other instances, coastal development, particularly tourism, has pushed the fishing industry out of many waterfronts and ports.
Our challenge ahead is to protect our fishing communities, to protect its infrastructure and develop it where it is needed. Our challenge will be to find ways to assure new coastal development, new coastal uses, and tourism are compatible with our fishing communities and commercial fishing. Our challenge will be to assure that our fishing communities are good places to raise our children, are safe for our families, and where we want to grow old.
As the world continues to shrink due to advances in communication and transportation and as we move increasingly toward a global economy, the need for cooperation among fishing men and women -- not just within nations, but between nations -- is apparent. I said earlier that ours is an industry 10,000 years old. It has outlived virtually every nation, and if we do our jobs and our children theirs, it will survive all the ones now. We can no longer be divided along national lines, but must begin cooperating, working together, to assure there will be the fish and fishing for our children and their childrens children.
Yes, there are differences between fishermen of different nations. But so, too, are there differences between fishermen of various gears, between small boats and large boats, between ports and regions, between part-timers and full-timers. What unites us, however, is that were still fishermen, we still depend on the fish, we still have to catch them, we still must market them, and we still must feed and care for our families from the fish we sell. Our diversity should not be divisive, but be our strength, our richness.
Our challenge ahead is to foster and strengthen international cooperation and organization among the worlds fishing men and women. In unity we will find our strength, together we shall survive and prosper.
Pietro Parravano is PCFFAs President, reachable at its Southwest Regional Office, PO Box 29730, San Francisco, CA 92129-0370, and by phone at: (415)561-5080; PCFFAs Northwest office is at PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, phone (541) 689-2000. PCFFAs web site is: www.pcffa.org and its general email is: email@example.com.
Back to PCFFA Home Page
Back to PCFFA Fishermen's News Archive