The present system may be flawed, but thats not to say that we in Congress cant make it worse. -- Representative E. Clay Shaw in the 1994 debate on health care reform.
With the ushering in of the newly elected 106th Congress, our industry will have new opportunities to help set policies which protect our people and livelihoods. Unfortunately, we will also have to fend off direct and indirect attacks on our ability to function as businesses and as stewards for the resource. In other words, batten down, stow the ropes and prepare for storm weather!
Somewhere in the storm and stress of what is sure to be a fractious Congress well have to fight for every needed change and protections for our industry. To do that we will need a road map. Here are PCFFAs top priority items to push for action in the upcoming Congress:
Bogged down for months with scandals and impeachment, the 105th Congress left a whole bunch of loose ends and unfinished business on fisheries protection. Here are some of the things it should address carefully:
Sustainable Fisheries Act Amendments: The Magnuson-Stevens Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) needs several tuneup and cleanup amendments to address the unfinished business of the last two Congresses, including the following:
(1) Reauthorizing the current state crab management provisions. Right now, Section 112(d) of the SFA gives California, Oregon and Washington the right to assert exclusive state management over the Dungeness crab fishery within federal waters in the absence of action by the PFMC to adopt its own management plan -- which it has long said it has no intention of doing. This amendment was necessary to prevent depredation of the crab resource outside the 3 mile limit in absence of any federal management plan. In fact, most of the west coast crab fishery now takes place outside state waters.
However, those provisions automatically sunset in late 2001. This section has already been extended once, and should now be made permanent. If allowed to lapse, it could mean the depletion of coastal Dungeness crab beds by unregulated big boat fleets wiping out the crabs within weeks.
(2) Implementing the Essential Fish Habitat provisions: For the first time ever, the 104th Congress authorized fisheries managers under the SFA to at least comment meaningfully on federal projects which could destroy fish habitat. This is a pretty weak power -- just the power to designate 'essential fish habitat and to comment on actions which may affect it -- but even that is under assault by inland habitat abusers who feel threatened by even the idea that the prospect of fish habitat damage could limit their largely unregulated and polluting activities.
The 'essential fish habitat provisions of the SFA need to be fully implemented, including for inland salmon habitat. Without protection of inland habitat from which salmon derive, there will simply be no salmon to harvest. Unfortunately, the agencies have thus far predictably caved in to timber and Agribiz lobbyists (and angry members of Congress in their pockets) and backed off from any definition of 'essential fish habitat that would actually protect inland salmon habitat. There will almost certainly be an attempt in the 106th Congress to make that de facto situation statutory. PCFFA and other fisheries groups have vowed to fight any efforts to gut the 'essential fish habitat provisions of the SFA and will do their best to see that they are fully implemented.
(3) Bycatch reduction: Section 106(b) of the SFA (16 U.S.C. 1851(a)(9)) created a new national standard requiring that conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, (A) minimize bycatch and (B) to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch. NMFS has a long long way to go to meet these standards, but it makes sense to support whatever measures we can toward this goal. For one thing, excessive amounts of bycatch can close you down! For another thing, the public will no longer tolerate dirty fisheries, plus bycatch simply represents economic waste. The more efficiently and the more selectively fishermen can fish, the more profitable. Bycatch reduction just makes economic sense. For fishermen to be actively working to minimize bycatch also puts us on the high road with the public, and reduces criticism by the public of our industry.
While we are on the subject of bycatch, the original SFA also contained Section 208 calling for a study of the possibility that instead of just wasting a food source because it is bycatch, that these non-commercial fish could simply be turned over to food banks to feed the poor. It runs against our grain and against public sentiment to deliberately waste good food. Allowing us to turn bycatch over to food banks is an idea that should be seriously pursued, if necessary through amendments to the SFA to make sure there are no abuses.
Obviously bycatch issues could trigger closures as well, such as the case with the stellar sea lions issue in the Bering Sea. However, PCFFAs view is that if fishing is provably seriously disrupting the ocean ecosystem we are clearly doing something wrong. Lets work together as an industry and with our potential critics to find effective and science based solutions that allow fishing and still maintain the ocean resource we ultimately depend upon for our livelihoods.
(4) Creating a rational and fair buy-back program: After decades of government policies encouraging ever more capital investment in fishing effort, now the government is closing us down all over the coast because of overcapitalization! Frankly, we are owed at least a graceful way for willing sellers to sell out their boats and permits for something akin to their original investment, rather than be forced into bankruptcy and poverty!
Within our industry as a whole, we have been struggling internally to fashion fair and equitable buy-back programs in the trawl groundfish fleet and for salmon trollers, with (to say the least) mixed success. Its time to make this a high priority. We need a buy-back program that does not artificially benefit one sector over another, that helps the small boat fleet and fishing communities to make needed economic transitions, and that above all is fair and generous.
(5) Cleanup legislation on S. 1221/Stevens Rider: One of Senator Stevens last acts in the 105th Congress was to pack a last minute rider onto the Omnibus Appropriations Bill called The American Fisheries Act, now signed into law as Title II (Sections 201 --213) of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4328). Its provisions will radically restructure the Bering Sea Pollack fishery and impact Alaskas fishery for years to come. To say that this bill (formerly S. 1221) was controversial is to say the least (see FN issues for Oct. & Nov. '98). The North Pacific Council is still trying to figure out the implications of this new law. However, one of the strangest parts of the bill is that it also creates (for the first time in American history) a limited entry program for certain named processors, who will now be able to completely avoid competition via a brand new statutory monopoly. Most likely this and other aspects of the rider (which never received a single public hearing, by the way, and was negotiated mostly without fishermens input) will have serious unforeseen negative consequences to rank and file fishermen, and some cleanup legislation will probably be necessary. At the minimum, public hearings on this bill and its implications should be scheduled by Senator Stevens.
Lack of good data collection: Among the other bloopers of the 105th Congress was to neglect to fund parts of the shipboard observer program. They also grossly under funded west coast groundfish surveys, and did not include money to continue the cooperative groundfish surveys between NMFS and the industry begun this past year. Surprisingly, NMFS and NOAA leadership have still not made the aggressive efforts they need to make to press for more and better funded statistical fishery surveys. Worse yet, so far there has been little effort to include these items in the upcoming FY 2000 budget, which the President will submit to Congress in January. The danger, of course, is that lack of data will simply mean more closures. If we are to keep our fisheries open, we must continuously fight for better data collection upon which to make statistically valid management decisions. We also need to strongly support (in spite of its flaws) keeping the shipboard observer program effective and credible. Fortunately, Oregons Senator Ron Wyden has been taking the lead, together with Washingtons Senator Patty Murray, in pressing to have these funds are restored.
The Issue of Marine Reserves: It has become fashionable among certain marine conservation groups to press for 'marine reserves -- by which they usually mean areas of ocean forever closed to commercial fishing -- and there are likely to be efforts to impose such reserves in Congress or through NOAA. The Regional Management Councils are also seriously considering this concept.
The problem is that it has yet to be scientifically demonstrated that marine reserves actually work to protect ocean ecosystems. Only a few studies have been done to date, and the results for one species may not translate well to another species. While PCFFA is neither categorically opposed to marine reserves nor categorically embracing the idea, we do believe that for any marine reserve system to be legitimate it must meet certain criteria, as follows:
(a) The biological need for the reserve has to be demonstrated. Is there really a problem with species depletion? Is fishing really the cause of this depletion? Will restricting fishing actually rebuild stocks? In most cases these are total unknowns, but it makes no sense to close an area unless it serves some biologically sound conservation purpose;
(b) Reserves should be designed to protect and sustain fisheries, not to simply or gratuitously close them. If, for instance, the reserve is intended to protect important nursery grounds, the reserve system should result in increased fishing opportunities elsewhere, or at least a more sustainable fishery over time.
(c) Reserves should not result in a net loss of fishing opportunities unless there is substantial scientific justification for those reductions. This means credible scientific data supporting the need for more stringent conservation measures. Fishermen certainly support conservation of the resource, and will accept closures on that basis, but in absence of credible scientific support there is no reason to accept a closure just for closures sake.
(d) Closures should apply equitably to all fishing sectors. Some reserves have been proposed that would simply shift harvest from commercial to recreational fishermen, but result in no net conservation. Worse, such a 'reserve might be depleted far faster by sportfishing because there are fewer controls over sportfishing than over commercial vessels. Obviously a reserve system that singled out commercial fishermen just in order to benefit sportsfishing interests would be biologically counterproductive as well as morally unacceptable.
(e) If there are closures, there must be some compensation to the fishing industry for forgone opportunities, i.e., openings elsewhere, permit buy-backs, etc.;
(f) The reserve program must be coupled with a legitimate monitoring program to demonstrate what, if any, impact the marine reserve really has had on fish populations. There is much supposition but little hard data that marine reserves even work. Monitoring over time is essential to validate the reserve approach, and if the data supports the reserve system as effective, then it will have much broader support.
(g) Finally, marine reserves do not necessarily have to be no take zones. They could just as easily be like those Nat Bingham suggested, which are a combination of no take zones and protected habitat areas for types of habitat of special significance to particular species. In those areas only certain types of fishing gear might be prohibited. If the purpose of the marine reserve were to protect resident species, for instance, it might be totally appropriate to allow harvest of migratory species passing through. As an example, if the marine reserve were established to protect sea urchins, fishing for migrating salmon much higher in the water would have little or no impact.
Our industry is engaged in a life or death struggle to save the west coast salmon fishery. Among the big decisions of the upcoming 106th Congress that will spell salvation or doom for major salmon runs are:
(1) The 1999 decision whether or not to remove the lower four Snake River dams to restore wild salmon to the Columbia: It is already clear from the science that this is the best option for salmon restoration, and the economics is getting clearer that dam breaching will not bankrupt the region nor much affect power rates. The problem is in the 'over my dead body attitude of certain key members of Congress, all politicians that would gladly sacrifice the families and futures of west coast salmon fishermen to keep their upper river corporate campaign contributors happy.
(2) Removal of several others of the worst fish-killing dam will be a huge funding issue: the Elwha Dams removal, Savage Rapids Dam funding, and several smaller dams to follow Maines Edwards Dam, all are either already authorized for removal but blocked by lack of funding, or their removal is likely to be blocked in the near future. We also need to press forward on removal of Wild Cat, Eagle Canyon and Coleman Dams on Battle Creek to open Sacramento winter-run chinook habitat; push for removal of Centreville Dam on Butte Creek to create a 'home stream for Sacramento spring-run chinook; and insist on removal of Englebright and DaGuerra Point Dams on the Yuba River to protect naturally spawning Sacramento fall-run kings.
(3) California water reform implementation under CVPIA: The California Central Valley Project Improvement Act guaranteed 800,000 acre-feet of Project water would be restored to the rivers to support our fisheries. To date we have seen not a drop, and PCFFA is now in court over the issue. The inland irrigators are terrified and will doubtless sponsor another swipe at the CVPIA itself from their Congressional allies. Additionally, the CAL-FED process must result in restoration of salmon fishing, not just new water development.
(4) Federal assistance for state salmon recovery plans: The federal government could do much more to assist locally managed and state based salmon recovery plans, such as the 'Oregon Plan and similar efforts further behind from Washington and California. One third of the habitat in question is on federal lands, and the feds have destroyed their share of salmon habitat as well. They should now do their share to assist recovery.
(5) Reforms at US Forest Service and BLM: Mining, grazing and logging all have impacts on salmon, and needed management reforms to protect and restore salmon habitat are gradually being addressed wihint these agencies, though against great resistance.
ESA Reauthorization -- The federal Endangered Species Act has been the driving force behind all salmon restoration, but is still up for reauthorization. The ESA needs to be improved but not weakened, and species protections for salmon need to be much better funded.
Clear Water Act Reauthorization -- The Clean Water Act is also a major driving force in preventing water pollution and estuary loss, and is again up for reauthorization. Efforts at creating consensus proposals for amendment are ongoing between conservation and sportfishing groups (an effort called the Fishable Waters Act) and these amendments may become part of this reauthorization process. PCFFA will also once again be involved in this process as well, on behalf of commercial fishermen, to prevent the Clean WaterAct from being gutted by major polluters.
Superfund Reauthorization -- The Natural Resource Damage Assessment program which operates through the Superfund law requires polluters to pay to clean up damage to fisheries, but is once again under heavy assault by petroleum and mining companies. Without this law it would have been impossible for fishermen to sue for damage to their livelihood after the Exxon Valdez spill. PCFFA and its allies will fight to retain this authority vigorously.
International Trade Agreements -- The World Trade Organizaiton under GATT, and the NAFTA agreements, will be used as a pretext both to 'dumb down US environmental, health and safety laws as well as to open our markets wide to Chilean farm fish and other imported fish products. We have seen in the salmon price collapse and the recent albacore tuna market collapse in 1998 what this dumping of foreign products on US markets can mean to fishermen. We should view these agreements with deep suspicion. PCFFA has long opposed giving the President 'fast track approval, i.e., allowing approval of treaties by Congress but without any Congressional amendments that would protect our industry.
Congress must not only authorize programs, it must annually provide money to run them, and this appropriations process has often been used to block progress. For example, the Elwha Dams have long since been authorized by Congress for removal, but funding has been systematically and unilaterally blocked each year by Washingtons Senator Slade Gorton.
There are bound to be a whole lot of rancorous general appropriations issues in the 106th Congress. ESA recovery efforts are always poorly funded. Dam removal has been blocked, but efforts to BUILD more dams funded. Salmon habitat restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin and Trinity Basin are also grossly under funded, and so forth. Frankly, fishermen will have to fight for every dollar they can get for essential fisheries protection and restoration programs. This can only be done by uniting our collective strengths -- which is considerable once we are united -- and working together to make sure Congress knows and responds to our needs. As always, PCFFA intends to take the lead in these fights -- with a little help from our friends.
PCFFA is the west coasts largest organization of commercial fishermen. PCFFAs Southwest Regional Office can be reached at: PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370 and by phone (415)561-5080. PCFFAs Northwest Regional Office can be reached at: PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370 and by phone (541)689-2000. PCFFAs Internet Home Page is at <http://www.pcffa.org> or PCFFA can be reached by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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