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Looking to what is ahead for our fisheries in the New Year, we thought it useful to review the activities surrounding two topics that have been of considerable interest here to West Coast fisheries the activities surrounding the Klamath River and its impacts on the salmon fishery, and the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act (MSA) in the final days of the 109th Congress.
Following the November, 2006, elections, many pundits were writing off any chance for reauthorizing the nations primary fishery law the Magnuson-Stevens Act. As was reported in this column in earlier issues of Fishermens News, the Senate acted early this year to pass its version of the bill, S.2012. Action by the House, however, was slower and more controversial and by the time of the election the Resources Committee had passed out a poorer bill and was still working on amendments before the November election. Control of the next Congress changed hands in the election and the chair of the Resources Committee, California Congressman Richard Pombo, lost his re-election bid.
An eleventh hour push by the Senate, however, changed what only a week earlier had been seen as a lost cause. The last time the MSA was reauthorized was 10 years ago, when the Sustainable Fisheries Act was passed, and it was long overdue for renewal. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, Alaskas Ted Stevens, wanted a bill out while he was still chair and before the new Congress took over in January.
When the House bill, HR 4956, suddenly started moving the week of December 4th, there was a flurry of negotiations on language. The earlier Senate-passed MSA language served as the basis of the talks and HR 4956 is similar enough to S.2012 to be able to graft them together. Also, the controversial portions of the House Resources Committee bill were not included and that helped to keep conservation groups on board through the last-minute reauthorization push. Thus a greatly revised HR 4956 passed out of the Senate on Thursday, December 7th and cleared the House early Saturday morning, the 8th, just as the 109th Congress came to an end. It is now on its way to the President for signature.
Though certainly not perfect, PCFFA has described the bill as forward progress. It is certainly less than what many had hoped for, and were greatly disappointed with the individual fishing quota (IFQ), or limited access permit programs (LAPPs) as their now called, standards, but the bill also doesnt retreat from the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act language as had been feared.
Probably the main provision of note in the new language is a greater emphasis on science-based management. The regional council Scientific & Statistical Committees (SSC) are strengthened, including payment to SSC members for participating, and providing for a discretionary peer review process to examine the science that management decisions are to be based on. SSC members are now required to have strong scientific or technical credentials and experience.
The regional councils are now required to follow the science when setting total catch limits for a fishery. They are required to set out annual research priorities. And, regional council members are now required to undergo training in fishery management principles within 6 months of being appointed to a council seat.
As far as protections for fishermen are concerned, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are at least some standards in place now for any individual fishing quota or LAPPs system a council develops. This is better than the current situation where there are no standards whatsoever following the lapse of the Congressional moratorium on these systems. Remember, with the passage of the SFA in 1996, Congress imposed an IFQ moratorium and directed NMFS to develop standards, which NMFS simply refused to do, with the result being that the moratorium ended and no standards were in place. These new standards at least set some broad goals and a review process.
The bad news is all that the LAPPs language really does is establish some broad goals and a review of the permits after 5 years, and within every 7 years after that. Although the language says these permits are not rights, nor can they be used as collateral for a loan, they are still for an unlimited duration, which could be problematic should problems later arise and substantial changes have to be made to the LAPPs system for a fishery or requiring its termination.
Worse, there is no requirement to limit the permits to those engaged in the actual fishing activity, i.e., the captain and crew, so permits could be held by shoreside interests relegating fishermen to the status of sharecroppers. There is no prohibition, for example, on processors holding harvesting quota or processor quotas. This sets the stage for more disasters like the BSAI crab fishery.
The new law does provides for a process whereby 50 percent of the fleet can petition for creation of a LAPPS system for their fishery, but there is no provision for a subsequent referendum among fishermen in such a fishery voting up or down a program once it is developed. There is no fishermen referendum, that is, except for New England and the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen under the jurisdiction of the Pacific, North Pacific and Western Pacific councils are screwed.
It is obvious that further work will need to be done to strengthen the LAPPs standards. Such language was floated by Congressman Tom Allen of Maine but did not get included in the bill. Allens language, which had been developed with input from New England fishermen as well as many from the west coast, including PCFFA, is something the industry needs to press for in the new Congress. That opportunity may arise with the ongoing problems with the Mid-Atlantic summer flounder fishery, which is expected to be back before Congress next year.
It may take a few years to sort out how the new language on science-based fishery management works. It is too early to tell what problems might arise out of this tweaking of the thou shalt not overfish wording from the SFA.
There are also some sleeper provisions in the bill that are worth noting that could in later years be looked upon as some of the more important and positive provisions in this reauthorization language.
Included in this is Section 208, to establish a Fishery Conservation & Management Fund. This is the trust fund (see FN, August 2003, www.pcffa.org/fn-aug03.htm) that weve been discussing in many articles, and similar to what both the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy have been calling for to fund ocean programs. HR 4956 really just starts the program, since a broader and more substantive funding source will be needed to provide the necessary support for the nations fishery programs, but this is an important beginning in establishing this off-budget fund.
Section 117 sets up a community-based restoration program for fish and coastal habitats. This is important mostly because it is further recognition that the act of fishing is just one of a number of factors affecting fish health. If the program is run anything like NOAAs current community-based habitat restoration programs, however, dont look for anything of major substance. Nevertheless, this provision has great promise.
Section 316 sets up a bycatch reduction engineering program to help fishermen develop fishing gear or fishing techniques that can avoid the take of sea birds, mammals and other non-target species in fishing.
Section 318 is the language on cooperative research, building on the successful program in New England, the Northeast Consortium between four universities and fishermen. Like Sections 117 and 316 above, there is no funding, so appropriations will be needed to begin implementing this language.
There are also the beginnings of ecosystem-based fishery management in the bills language, in Section 210. This had also been included in the earlier Senate bill to reauthorize the MSA. Rather than declare, as some conservation groups were clamoring for, that fishery management simply be ecosystem-based without there being agreement on just exactly what that means and without much of the data needed to serve as a foundation for this type of management, the Congress has wisely set the stage for moving toward such a system more methodically. Moreover, this Section will go hand-in-hand with the trust fund and cooperative research language, since they provide the wherewithal to begin the transition.
Finally, to go along with our discussion of the Klamath below, language (Section 315(b)) was inserted at the last minute by Senator Boxer with the support of Oregon Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden and Congressman Mike Thompson setting a time line for NMFS development of a recovery plan for Klamath coho salmon, together with mandatory annual reports to Congress on recovery, coupled with language (Section 315(c)) to provide disaster assistance for fishermen, fishing communities and tribes affected by the Klamath-imposed salmon fishing closures. The disaster assistance language, however, is just an authorization, not an appropriation, meaning well have to go back next year to get the actual money from the Congress. But, at least, its now authorized.
The only big disappointment in the bill was the failure to include study language for fishermens health care that had been included in earlier drafts of the legislation. The Commercial Fishermen of America (CFA), a newly formed organization to represent the nations fishing men and women, has made affordable health care for fishing families a top priority and had called for language in the MSA reauthorization to explore the reestablishment of national health care for fishermen. Such a system had been in place between 1799 and 1981. This too will be a topic high on our agenda for the next Congress.
At the insistence of several Oregon and California members of Congress from coastal districts, Klamath hydro dam FERC relicensing hearings were held on the coast in Eureka (CA), North Bend (OR) and finally Newport (OR) during the month of November, and were attended by literally hundreds, including dozens of commercial salmon fishermen. Each speaker delivered the strong message that the Klamath dams should come down! These coastal port meetings finally gave the fishing industry the opportunity to present our side.
Thanks to all who attended, and especially thanks to the many more who could not personally attend one of these FERC meetings but sent in letters to FERC asking them to remove the dams. Keep those letters coming!
As outlined in Klamath article we wrote for the November Fishermens News (Taking Down Klamath Dams Restoring Fisheries, on the web at: www.pcffa/org/fn-nov06.htm), the Klamath dams are an ongoing disaster for our fishery, and not only block hundreds of miles of good spawning and rearing habitat, but helped destroy the Klamath Rivers ability to support salmon. NMFS, the Pacific Fishery Management Council and many others say they should go. Your efforts help make that possible.
Although the formal comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) closed December 1, FERC must still consider every letter submitted to them from the public, and every letter asking for dam removal helps. So keep those letters coming.
For updated information on the need to remove the Klamath Dams, and a sample letter to FERC you can download and adapt for your own needs, see the PCFFA web site at: www.pcffa.org.
In other good news as mentioned above, thanks to Congressman Mike Thompson, Senator Barbara Boxer and many others, the Magnuson Act reauthorization contains some good Klamath language intended to push Klamath fisheries restoration much further up the ladder as a national priority. Here is the language:
"(1) RECOVERY PLAN- Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Commerce shall complete a recovery plan for Klamath River Coho salmon and make it available to the public.
"(2) ANNUAL REPORT- Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce shall submit a report to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House of Representatives Committee on Resources on
"(A) the actions taken under the recovery plan and other law relating to recovery of Klamath River Coho salmon, and how those actions are specifically contributing to its recovery;
"(B) the progress made on the restoration of salmon spawning habitat, including water conditions as they relate to salmon health and recovery, with emphasis on the Klamath River and its tributaries below Iron Gate Dam;
"(C) the status of other Klamath River anadromous fish populations, particularly Chinook salmon; and
"(D) the actions taken by the Secretary to address the calendar year 2003 National Research Council recommendations regarding monitoring and research on Klamath River Basin salmon stocks.
There is also some language in Title I, at Sec. 113(c), making it clear that Oregon and California commercial and Tribal fishermen whose season was slashed in 2006 immediately qualify for disaster assistance:
Sec. 113(c): OREGON AND CALIFORNIA SALMON FISHERY- Federally recognized Indian tribes and small businesses, including fishermen, fish processors, and related businesses serving the fishing industry, adversely affected by Federal closures and fishing restrictions in the Oregon and California 2006 fall Chinook salmon fishery are eligible to receive direct assistance under section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1861a(a)) and section 308(d) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986 (16 U.S.C. 4107(d)). The Secretary may use no more than 4 percent of any monetary assistance to pay for administrative costs.
There is, however, no money for funding any of this theoretical disaster assistance and no federal budget adopted by the 109th Congress. This will have to be addressed early in the 110th Congress.
PFMC Salmon Fishery Management Plan Amendment 15: The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) took formal action to approve the Salmon Fishery Management Plan (FMP) Amendment 15 at the November 2006 PFMC meeting based on the preferred alternative in the Draft Environmental Assessment for Pacific Coast Salmon Plan Amendment 15 (DEA). This will give the PFMC some much needed fishery management flexibility, but will not, of course, solve water quality problems in the Klamath in itself, only blunt their economic impacts on coastal communities. The long-term solution to salmon survival problems in the Klamath must come from dam removal.
You may download the DEA and get more details, including the alternatives considered and the rationale for Amendment 15, by visiting the Council's website at: www.pcouncil.org/salmon/saldraftfmp.html. Public comments are still being taken, with an adoption of the final Amendment 15, with any modification, scheduled by May 1, 2007. For additional information contact Mr. Chuck Tracy, PFMC Staff Officer for Salmon at (503) 820-2280 or toll free 1-866-806-7204.
Next Steps in FERC Klamath Relicensing Process: There are several tracks going on simultaneously, all leading toward a decision by FERC on the fate of the Klamath Hydroelectric Dams sometime in 2007. These tracks include:
The Klamath Summit: Finally, the current plan is to reschedule the Oregon and California Governors sponsored Klamath Summit for early February, 2007 to allow time for whatever negotiated settlement might be worked out in current multi-stakeholder negotiations over the fate of the Klamath dams. Keeping the Oregon and California Governors fully engaged in support of dam removal will be key to making this removal and restoration process happen.
Oregon and California commercial fishermen who make their living from salmon, and who have suffered immensely from salmon losses in the Klamath, will play a key role in keeping state and federal political leaders working toward dam removal with full restoration of the Klamath River and its fisheries. They are listening to us now, and this is our chance to make it happen.
When we speak out, it really makes a difference. Make that difference and speak out!
Zeke Grader is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens Associations (PCFFA), the west coasts largest trade association of commercial fishing families. Glen Spain is PCFFAs Northwest Regional Director. PCFFA can be reached at its Southwest Office at PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, (415)561-5080, and at its Northwest Office at PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, (541)689-2000 or by email to: email@example.com. PCFFAs Internet Home Page is at: www.pcffa.org.
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