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Change is the buzz word in this years Presidential campaign. True, the economy is starting to get some attention after six years of the Iraq War, but that too will require change for the nation to pull itself out of recession.
What wed like to discuss are some changes we think will be necessary to address a myriad of problems facing our fisheries change that will pull fisheries out of depression, change that will bring hope to beleaguered fishing families.
We have no illusions about any change for the good in the Administrations last year in office, or any change Congress could make that would be signed. We suspect, excepting perhaps an economic stimulus package for the nation, little will done for fisheries or to help our coastal communities and oceans during the 300 plus days remaining of this Administration. But then, whos counting?
Rather, we believe now is the time to begin floating ideas for the types of change wed like to see from a new Administration. If something good were to happen this year wed welcome it, but are not counting on it. Mostly, wed like to set the groundwork for what happens next January 20th and after. We want to be ready on day one with our list for change; and not just ready, but with the right changes in hand for the revitalization of Americas oldest industry.
Weve put together a short list of changes wed like to see passed and enacted by the next Congress and President. We hope these can generate discussion this year and stimulate other ideas from the fishing fleet. Here are those ideas for change:
The issue of establishing a national trust fund for our fisheries is something weve been harping on for about a decade now (e.g., see Planning and Paying for Future Fisheries Research, Fishermen's NewsAugust 2003, www.pcffa.org/fn-aug03.htm). Were not alone. Both the national ocean commissions called for development of an ocean trust fund and, thanks to Senator Boxer, the last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act opened the door for such a stand-alone fund with its own revenue source, placed outside the annual Congressional appropriations process.
Its evident that many of the problems afflicting our fisheries today are the result of inadequate funding. Weve never had enough money for annual stock assessments, much less the research needed for a better understanding of fish stocks to guide fishery management decisions. Moreover, funds for collaborative fishermen/scientist fishery research, or the development of cleaner fishing gear, or improving the fuel efficiency (reducing the carbon footprint) of our fleet, or adding value to the catch have all been sorely lacking.
A stand alone trust fund could potentially support a variety of other programs as well, such as financial matches for fishermens health insurance, and catch insurance, FDA seafood safety inspections, USDA seafood labeling enforcement, as well as directing aquaculture research and development on shore (i.e., no open ocean or coastal net pens, no citing in Mangroves) into operations that do not threaten wild fish stocks or the marine environment.
The revenue source weve suggested for a national fishery trust fund is a nominal ad valorem fee on all seafood sold in the U.S., probably at the retail level, such as where state sales taxes are collected on non-food items. At a 2½ percent level, for example, an estimated $3 billion annually would be generated. Now in terms of Iraq, to put it in context, thats not much. Itd be about 20 percent of the monthly cost of that war ($15 billion per month), but itd be three times more than the current annual budget for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). So it could do some good for fisheries.
Identifying a revenue source for a trust fund, of course, is only part of the problem. The revenue source weve recommended is expected to face stiff opposition from some quarters. Consumers should realize the need for a fish conservation fee on their seafood, but look for the fish importers and distributors to scream like stuck pigs, claiming itll take food from the mouths of their children. In reality, we know such a fee will be passed on and not make a dent in the BMW payment or the country club dues of these importers and distributors. Our challenge is convincing Congress.
The bigger issue will be assuring that the trust fund is distributed only for those projects for which it is intended the Sport Fishing Restoration Fund has done a fairly good job and that it is not squandered by NMFS, much as has happened with Saltonstall-Kennedy Act monies (e.g., NMFS funding aquaculture research from dollars intended for the fishing fleet).
Weve suggested a source of revenue for the fishery trust fund that is fair, equitable and will broadly spread the burden - to avoid a hardship on any one sector. But, there may be other ideas. There may, too, be better ways to collect the fee. This is the time for those discussions. The important thing to remember is that a solid and reliable source of funding for stock assessments and research (even management and enforcement), for gear and vessel development and numerous other programs if we want sustainable fisheries and vibrant fishing communities must be found. Were not talking about chump change here, were talking about real change intended to give hope to our fisheries.
Since 1981, commercial fishermen have pretty much been at the mercy of private health insurance companies for their medical care. 1981, for those of you who remember, was when fishermens access to the U.S. Public Health Service (originally the old marine hospitals) and its contract physicians a program that had been in effect since 1799, when the first President Adams signed it into law was cut-off. Since that time fishermen have paid dearly for private coverage, or found coverage under a spouses program. Many have simply gone without.
The Commercial Fishermen of America (CFA) has made the establishment of a health care program for our nations fishing fleet one of its top priorities. Some may ask why should this be an issue for fishermen to work on if some form of national health insurance is likely to be established in the next Administration, whether its Democrat or Republican.
The problem and the reason fishermen have to be concerned, as CFA is, is that most of the proposals merely mandate that individuals purchase private health insurance (excepting, perhaps Congressman Kucinichs single payer proposal). Given the age of many in our various fleets, their pre-existing medical conditions, the lack of workers compensation coverage for fishermen and the dangers inherent in some of our fisheries, that health insurance for fishermen is likely to be cost-prohibitive for most.
The alternative of no care - by being exempted out of any health care mandate - is no alternative. A fisherman cannot put his or her family at risk by not having some way of providing for their medical costs, nor can a fisherman risk the cost of any serious or chronic illness to themselves that could result in the loss of a home and boat trying to pay medical bills..
What this means is that fishermen will need to pay close attention and be involved in the health care debate. It could very well involve creating a special fishery provision within any national health care program in order to assure fishing families have affordable and sufficient medical care available to them. This could mean, for example, accessing a fishery trust fund to meet a portion of the costs of any health care program mandated by the government.
The fishing fleet needs change when it comes to health care, and this is the time to begin discussing what that change should look like. Fishermen are encouraged to contact CFA (go to the CFA website at www.cfafish.org for more information) and begin working with them for this needed change.
One of the biggest challenges facing our fishing fleet has been to protect our port infrastructure the unloading piers and processing plants, the ice houses and fuel docks, the boat yards and repair shops, the chandlers and suppliers, the safe tie-up areas and marinas. Pressure by developers to turn working waterfronts into boutique tourist spots, tupperwear recreational marinas, office spaces and even condominiums has been immense over the past 25 years. It has been made worse by falling fish catches in a number of fisheries and fewer and fewer boats to maintain a working fishing ports infrastructure.
The loss of our working waterfronts and fishery infrastructure is a problem worldwide, and its particularly acute in places like New England and Florida. Even in California, however, where a strong Coastal Act protects commercial fishing facilities, its only good so long as those facilities are utilized and the firms are in business. Once theyre gone the protection goes away; once a boatyard is converted to lofts, a fish house to a restaurant, a fuel dock to a kayak operation, its gone for good.
Three separate bills to preserve working waterfronts have been introduced in Congress, although it is unlikely there will be action on them this session. U.S. Representatives Tom Allen of Maine and Lois Capps of California are authors of HR 328, Representative Jo Ann Davis of Virginia has HR 2565 and Senator Susan Collins of Maine has introduced S. 741. The fishing industry needs to get behind these measures.
We all recognize the need to protect our fish stocks, our oceans, bays and estuaries, and our salmon rivers but we also need to protect those places that supply, support and shelter our fleet our fishing ports.
For most of the country, the issue for fishery infrastructure will involve efforts to preserve and revitalize working waterfronts. In Alaska, however, it will mean developing those facilities in the ports to better care for the catch, to maintain and expand processing capability, and to establish transportation links to quickly and inexpensively move fish to the lower 48 and other markets around the world.
The change we need is one in direction. That change in direction is going from the fishing industry being forced out of -- or just disappearing from -- our ports, to reclaiming the waterfront. Ports where fishermen can offload their catches, take on supplies and tie their boats are better equipped to buffer economic change. They provide diversity. Moreover, for tourism they offer unique and individual places to visit; places where theres working fishing craft, not mass produced recreational boats; vessels offloading fish, not seasick passengers; local seafood vendors, not chain restaurants; gear stores instead of trinket shops. Lets change our ports back to working waterfronts that serve our fisheries and welcome the public.
Another change we need to see is a move from cyclical economic crisis to economic stability in our fisheries. Fish populations fluctuate and with global warming were faced with even greater uncertainty. The status quo were faced with in a number of fisheries, particularly on the east coast, of overfishing some stocks or delaying rebuilding others cannot continue. Nor is the alternative of economic hardship brought on by severe regulation or closures (that may or may not even be related to fishing) acceptable. Having to continually go back to Commerce or Congress asking for disaster financial relief is not much consolation.
Some are suggesting that the Magnuson-Stevens Act be amended to provide more flexibility. What this really means is that stock rebuilding will take much longer and fishing will continue at low levels of production. That is, if the future of a fishery is not put at risk altogether by failing to put in place aggressive rebuilding plans immediately. The discussion about flexible stock rebuilding reminds us of the subprime adjustable interest mortgages morass and the problem this has caused our financial markets, and hapless homeowners, by putting off the day of reckoning. We dont want fisheries to end up in foreclosure, but this exactly where some of this flexibility could lead.
The change we suggest is for our industry to begin looking at a form of affordable catch insurance. The idea is that rather than politically push to fish harder than stocks can sustain, or in the alternative, tie-up and sell the boat, that we begin looking for a way to provide for fishermen economically to get through periods of restricted or closed fishing so they can return to fishing, or full fishing, when stocks rebound. It is intended to provide a bit more certainty for fishermen than the current practice of scrambling for disaster dollars when theres a problem in the fishery.
We may wish to examine agricultural crop insurance, although were not suggesting that be the model. Here again, a fishery trust fund could be utilized to help assist with implementation of a catch insurance program. Whats certain is a change from the status quo is needed. Lets start the discussions on the change that will be needed to do that.
Were not about to argue that aquaculture hasnt the potential to significantly augment the worlds production of fish. Nor will we deny that some types of aquaculture can be sustainable, not harm the environment, not endanger wild fish stocks, and actually be net producers of protein. But sustainable aquaculture is not about to occur under the Bush Administrations plan for fish farms in the open ocean with no standards or safeguards (see Analyzing the Administrations Ocean Farming Legislation, Fishermen's News August 2005, at: www.pcffa.org/fn-aug05.htm). We need to change the course of aquaculture this Administration has charted.
Rather than the open ocean, or even in coastal waters or in bays and bayous, estuaries and inlets, aquaculture should be directed shoreside where the fish can be grown in completely contained facilities, and where they cannot escape into the wild or spread disease or parasites to wild fish populations.
Moreover, the selection of fish has got to change. Ranching tuna in pens is horribly inefficient for protein production, where ratios of pounds of feed to a pound of fish produced is approximately 20:1. Even with salmon, which are highly efficient at converting feed to edible pounds of flesh, the ratio is still between 6:1 and 3:1. Tuna, salmon, halibut, sablefish and cod should best be left wild fisheries. But species such as tilipia, catfish, barramundi, carp -- fish that are herbivores or omnivores -- lend themselves well to fish farm production in captivity. They can be grown without endangering wild stocks of herring, anchovy, capelin, sardine or menhaden to feed them.
On shore aquaculture development with the right safeguards, species selection and feeding programs could actually help wild fisheries in two ways. First these farmed fish could serve to augment existing wild fish in the marketplace by providing for a more diverse selection of fish for consumers to choose from meaning the public is likely to visit the seafood counter more often. Second, in many parts of the country there is a need to retire land from agricultural production either because irrigation is taking too much of the available water, or the lands when irrigated discharge toxic tail waters that can be lethal to fish -- such as the situation now on the west side of Californias San Joaquin Valley.
Contained aquaculture in onshore ponds could provide an alternative crop for farmers in these areas. Self-contained and water re-circulating fish farms would not have the water demand of irrigated agriculture, and since there is little if any discharge of water there would not be a problem of toxic tail water.
Thus, change in the direction of the nations aquaculture development is not only necessary, but completely doable. This means stopping the Bush/NOAA headlong rush for open ocean fish farms and, instead, redirecting the effort shoreside where it can be conducted safely in contained facilities.
Along with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and, yes, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act is part of that trinity of environmental laws fundamental for fish protection in the U.S.
Although much of the focus in fisheries tends to be on the regulation of fisheries under the MSA, it is the Clean Water Act (CWA) we rely on to prevent and clean-up pollution as well as protect vital wetland habitats. The value of the CWA was made abundantly clear recently in the negotiations for the removal of the Klamath dams. Water quality violations under the CWA -- in this case the dams causing the growth of toxic algae in the river -- more than anything will force PacifiCorps decommissioning of these fish killing structures.
The CWA is constantly under threat from developers and polluters, and more recently from the courts with extremely narrow interpretations regarding the designation of wetlands and their protection. The CWA is extremely popular with the public and essential for maintaining abundant fish populations that are safe to eat. Thats why theres hope for strengthening this law, and thats why it is critical that the fishing industry support it.
Absent being veto-proofed in an Iraq War spending bill, we see no chance for strengthening the CWA under this Administration,application.. But this is the time to begin pushing for change to improve this Act so essential for our fisheries in preparation for a new Administration.
Here in the west, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has played a critical role in preventing the extinction of many salmon runs and helping maintain others. It is unfortunate, but true, that while Magnuson-Stevens can curtail or close just about any fishery where stocks may be depressed -- not just threatened or endangered -- there is really no other statutory vehicle available to address non-fishing impacts, excepting the ESA. For salmon thats a big deal since most or all of the declines are directly attributable to dams, their operations, water diversions and bad land use practices. Without the ESA, salmon fishermen, for example, would be forced to bear the total brunt of conservation measures even though fishing is not the problem. For more on the importance of the ESA to our fisheries see Why Fishermen Need the ESA, in the January 1995 issue of Fishermen's News, on the web at: www.pcffa.org/fn-jan95.htm.
The ESA then can be the great equalizer forcing dam operators, diverters and others to change their practices to protect our fish. The problem, of course, is that the ESA only kicks in when stocks are at a very low level and fisheries are already closed. Measures to protect listed stocks, however, can benefit more abundant populations, as we witnessed protections for Sacramento winter-run chinook populations benefiting that rivers fall-run chinook (which have been the mainstay of the west coast ocean salmon fishery).
However, what weve witnessed increasingly in recent years is stocks being listed -- usually under threat of lawsuit -- by the agencies and then just lingering there. List and linger is no way to protect or rebuild wildlife, including fish, populations. The change we need, therefore, in the ESA is not to weaken it or fill it with loopholes for landowners to avoid it, but press the next Administration and Congress for funds necessary to develop and implement plans to fully recover listed fish populations. Funding for recovery not only helps our industry, but would help landowners and others affected by ESA-mandated measures to protect species by moving the species to recovery and off their ESA-listing. This is change we need.
Over the past two decades we watched as billions of dollars have been spent to restore Pacific salmon populations most notably in the Columbia, and in the Sacramento/San Joaquin through CALFED. Salmon populations in both of those systems are still in trouble, some now in worse shape than when the funds started flowing. The reason is clear. The funds disguised the need for fundamental changes in river operations in the two most important salmon producing systems in the lower 48.
Thinking it was possible to continue operating the dams on the Columbia with no change in operations by barging fish down the river made absolutely no sense. Maintaining four lower Snake River fish killing dams, all so Lewiston, Idaho can make like a deep water port, is also foolishness. No amount of money can maintain or restore salmon under those scenarios.
Likewise continuing to divert ever more water from a Bay-Delta system and its tributaries that in 1988 was identified as having an average annual overdraft of 1.6 million acre-feet cannot continue. The paltry returns last year and this of Sacramento and San Joaquin chinook, when there was almost no fishing on them, are evidence that its not just the tiny Delta smelt in this system whose populations are collapsing.
In 2007, over 7 million acre-feet of water was diverted from the California Bay-Delta a new record. And with it, going south, was the freshwater inflow needed to maintain the San Francisco Bay estuary. All this water was for San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and new development in Southern California needs that could have been satisfied through conservation and wise use, instead of endangering fish and fishermen.
Blaming fishermen (domestic, Canadian, Tribal), blaming Caspian terns or California sea lions or, now, global warming doesnt cut it. The simple fact is that all the money in the federal treasury wont get us out of the salmon mess until we change operations in the Columbia/Snake and Sacramento/San Joaquin. We need to begin now to push the Bush successor wannabes for commitments to change the way we run our rivers. We need a commitment to protect salmon for a change.
Finally, its time we begin thinking about a thorough house cleaning at the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries or whatever the hell theyre calling themselves today. We can no longer operate with an agency that sees itself as the handmaiden for the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Authority, the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Defense and any number of other agencies or business interests it continually places ahead of the well being of the nations fish and fisheries.
Were tired of continually suing to throw out NMFS biological opinions because they fail to protect fish whether on the Columbia, the Klamath or the Sacramento/San Joaquin. Today all these once-great rivers are being run by Court Order because the Administration has repeatedly failed to craft a salmon recovery plan worth the paper it is printed on. Its time we threw out those responsible for this travesty.
Its not good enough to have a good old boy running the operation whos chummy with fishermen, even returns their calls, while his minions are giving away the resource in closed door negotiations, promoting technologies such as open ocean aquaculture that would exterminate our wild fisheries, or undercutting fishermens meager attempts to get some financial relief when fisheries have been taken away. We need an agency that will stand up for the fish and work with fishermen. Change has to occur at NMFS.
Its time we begin preparing recommendations for the new Administration for administrators and scientists who are capable and committed, visionary and courageous, worthy of our respect.
This is our Top 9 list for changes wed like to see in our fisheries. This is our hope.
What are your thoughts, what changes would you like to see? Lets use the 300 plus days available to us to begin our dialogue for fishery change. Lets be prepared to act, not simply react. We know change is possible and we can make the change for the better. This will, however, require effort. Hope, after all, unlike wishful thinking, requires hard work. And, change will mean all of us pulling together, working hard for that better future.
Zeke Grader is PCFFAs Executive Director, and can be reached at PCFFAs San Francisco Office at PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, (415)561-5080 x 224. Glen Spain is PCFFA's Northwest Regional Director and can be reached at PCFFA's Northwest Regional Office at PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, (541)689-2000. PCFFAs website is at: www.pcffa.org and it can be reached via Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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