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On June 4th, the Pew Oceans Commission will release its report on the state of America's living oceans, the first comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policy in more that 30 years, since the Stratton Commission of the late 1960s. Sometime later this summer the U.S. Commission on Oceans is also expected to release its own report. The Pew report will provide recommendations for restoring and protecting ocean ecosystems, rebuilding fish populations, controlling coastal development, curbing pollution, and improving ocean governance. As such, it should be carefully reviewed by the fishing community and it will, I hope, offer a number of actions that could help our fish stocks, fishermen and fishing communities.
For the past three years I have had the honor of serving on this 18-member blue ribbon panel of experts from different fields across the nation. I have been one of two commercial fishing representatives on the Commission; the other is Pat White of the Maine Lobstermens Association. By contrast, no fishermen were invited to sit on the Congressionally created U.S. Oceans Commission.
The Pew Commission was first chaired by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman prior to her taking the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since that time it has been chaired by former California Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta. Panetta comes from Monterey, California, which was the center of the sardine fishery from the 1920s to the 1950s, and during his time in Congress he worked closely with his own fishermen constituents and fishing groups from throughout the Pacific Coast. Others on the panel include former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, New York Governor George Pataki, Dr. Charles Kennel, Director of Scripps Institute of Oceanography, former astronaut Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, and retired Coast Guard Admiral Roger Rufe.
The areas of inquiry we set out to examine were: fisheries; aquaculture; introduced species; coastal development, and; marine pollution. In the three years we have met leading up to the release of our report and recommendations in June, Commissioners traveled all around the country, from New England to New Orleans, Iowa to Alaska, looking at those things affecting the health of our nations oceans. I have talked to fishermen from throughout the country, reflecting on our frustrations, sharing our visions. I have talked to farmers in the Midwest about the commonality we share as food producers and helping them to understand that some of their practices in Minnesota and Missouri and all along the Mississippi drainage were causing a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey. Whether its farming in the Midwest or development along the coast, the message that came out of our meetings is that we are all affecting our oceans -- farmers, fishermen, everyone.
Leading up to the release of the report in June, a number of briefing papers were prepared (which are available to the fishing community from the Commission). They were:
- Managing Marine Fisheries in the United States
- A Dialogue on Americas Fisheries
- Socioeconomic Perspectives on Marine Fisheries in the U.S.
- Marine Reserves: A Tool for Ecosystem Management and Conservation
- Ecological Effects of Fishing
- Coastal Sprawl
- Marine Aquaculture
- Introduced Species
Fisheries, of course, were a big part of our deliberations. Fishing is a major factor affecting marine ecosystems, although by no means the only one. We examined the promises and perils of aquaculture development, the threats of alien aquatic invaders (introduced species) and the losses of fish habitat. Marine protected areas, or reserves, were discussed, including both pros and cons. We also looked closely at the management of our fisheries and at ocean governance.
In past issues of Fishermens News, I and others from PCFFA have from time to time discussed the fundamentals of commercial fishing the three essential elements for a commercial fishery are: a fishery resource; access to that fishery resource; a market for that fishery resource.
Without those three essentials there is no fishery. We know that well here on the North American west coast. Just in the past two years we have witnessed what has happened to the groundfish fishery as a result of a resource decline. We have also watched what has happened to Alaskas salmon fishery, where the fish are abundant, but where the markets have all gone soft. So it was with our discussions at the Pew Commission; we looked not only at the status of fish stocks, but also the social, cultural and economic aspects of our fisheries.
While I cannot yet share with you the full report, let me at least share with you some of the findings and recommendations in the fisheries socioeconomic report, because I think it contains both a sobering look at our fisheries today, as well as a hopeful vision for our future.
EXCERPTS FROM THE PEW OCEAN COMMISSION
FISHERIES SOCIOECONOMICS REPORT
The economic status of U.S. commercial marine fisheries is declining. Excess exploitation and poor management are dissipating value in todays fisheries, costing tens of thousands of jobs, harming the economies of our coastal communities, and placing an economic, natural and cultural heritage at risk. The decline in fishery productivity below its potential has worsened in the last decade. There appears to be scope for more than doubling current catches if conservative policies are pursued and depleted fish populations are rebuilt. Increasing annual catches to long-term sustainable levels could add at least $1.3 billion to the U.S. economy. Rebuilding U.S. fisheries has the potential to restore and create tens of thousands of family wage jobs and to substantially boost local and regional fishing economies. Restoring marine ecosystems and fish populations to a status capable of supporting higher but sustainable yields will require an era of transition en route to a more sustainable future.
Fishing is Americas oldest industry. It played a central role in the European settlement of North America and continues to enrich the social, cultural, and economic heritage of our nation today . For many, fishing is not just a job; it is a way of life. People fish because of the continuity of tradition. They like the freedom, the sea, and the lifestyle.
American fishermen ply waters that boast some of the most diverse and productive ocean habitats of any nation on earth . These diverse ecosystems give rise to distinct differences in marine life, regional fisheries, cultures, and communities. Across the regions, fishermen employ a variety of different fishing gear and vessels to catch different species . Fisheries range from the highly industrialized Alaska offshore Pollock trawl fleets to the day-boat lobster fleets of Maine to the traditional indigenous salmon fisheries of Washington, Oregon, and California. American fishing communities range from truly remote fishery-dependent areas such as St. Paul Island, Alaska where 85 percent of the tax revenues come from fishing to communities closer to urban population centers with a more diversified economic base. Though fishing occurs off the shores of every U.S. coastal state, diversity is the defining characteristic of U.S. fisheries.
Unfortunately, we know all too well that the valuable natural, cultural and economic diversity of our fisheries can be lost.
The social and economic crisis precipitated by the Pacific sardine collapse revealed that fisheries are as much about people as fish. Marine ecosystems support complex social, economic, and cultural human systems, and the two are interdependent. The health of ecosystems and fish populations directly affects the health of fishing economies, and the economic imperatives of fishing directly affect the health of fish populations because they dictate the behavior of fishermen and fishing communities.
This relationship implies that in order to provide for healthy ecosystems and viable fisheries and economies over the long-term, it is necessary to maintain the sustainability of both natural and human systems. We need to know as much about social and economic systems as we do about the dynamics of fish populations. We need to match the scale and capacity of our fishing economies to the health of marine ecosystems and gear them to long-term catches that are ecologically sustainable. Fishing economies and effort need to be flexible and adaptive given the natural variability of fish populations and marine ecosystems.
U.S. fishermen depend on fish, which in turn depend on healthy ecosystems and habitat that are increasingly under siege. Every eight months, nearly 11 million gallons of oil runs off our streets and driveways into our waters the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
More than 60 percent of our coastal rivers and bays are moderately to severely degraded by nutrient runoff. Invasive species that crowd out native species and alter habitat and food webs are regularly finding new homes around out coastlines. More than 200,000 acres of coastal wetlands are disappearing each year, and gentrification of the coast is replacing fishing infrastructure with condominiums and beach houses. These problems threaten coastal areas that serve as essential spawning, feeding, and nursery areas for the majority of commercially valuable fish species.
The status of fish stocks relative to fishing pressure is also of concern. Of the federally managed fish stocks that have been assessed, one-third are either overfished or are being fished unsustainably. Fifty-three of 81 populations (65 percent) that are already overfished are still being fished unsustainably, frustrating restoration efforts. Since 1991, the NMFS reports that losses in potential productivity have increased as increasing numbers of targeted fish populations fall below levels that would produce long-term potential yields, or LTPY. By 1999, LTPY was conservatively estimated to be 64 percent greater than recent yields, compared to 38 percent greater than recent yields in 1991. New assessments will likely show this trend is more pronounced because additional stocks are below LTPY levels. We currently do not know the status of two-thirds of our managed populations, including many that are the basis of major fisheries.
Depleted fish stocks support fewer fishermen. Recent estimates suggest the number of Americans employed in the catching sector of the commercial seafood industry has declined 20 percent to 166,000 from a peak of 210,000 in 1986 .. Because of great difficulty obtaining accurate information on fishing employment, most observers believe these absolute numbers are low but the overall trend is accurate ..
When fishing incomes decline, entire communities suffer. A variety of socioeconomic impacts resulting from depleted fish stocks ripple through local, regional and national fishing economies. Gear stores, fish processors and brokers, fuel depots, and haul-out and repair facilities can go under. Local businesses that benefit from fishing income also suffer. A host of less visible social problems often accompanies such economic distress. Significant everywhere, these problems are most acute in isolated rural fishing communities where, even in some areas of the fairly diversified Pacific Northwest, fishing can generate up to 25 percent of total earned income in coastal counties.
The potential economic benefits of rebuilding depleted fish populations are significant. In 1999, the NMFS conservatively estimated the nation could increase overall catches by 64 percent approximately 6.9 billion pounds by restoring stocks to levels capable of producing long-term potential yields (LTPY). These increased catches could add at least $1.3 billion to the U.S. economy. The NMFS further estimated that catches of just those depleted fish populations under purely domestic management (excluding tunas and billfish) could increase 136 percent if populations were restored to healthy levels. These depleted populations include some of the most valuable commercial species in the nation, such as New England groundfish. For that fishery alone, the New England Fishery Management Council estimates that recent catches of 120 million pounds valued at $105 million could increase fourfold to 425 million pounds with a value near $425 million if the fishery were fully rebuilt.
Restoring fisheries is a matter of choosing a goal and allowing time for recovery to occur. The shifting baselines syndrome often confounds choosing a goal for population abundance and an ecosystem baseline for restoration. As more scientific studies reveal the former bounty of many valuable marine species, it is clear that chronic depletions over the past century have led us to underestimate potential biomass targets for many of the populations we need to restore. This realization suggests the projected benefits of restoration presented in this white paper may be conservative because our estimates of long-term sustainable yields may be based on rebuilding populations back to only a fraction of their former and, in principle, sustainable bounty.
Selecting a population and ecosystem baseline as a restoration goal in turn informs how long recovery will take and also what benefits one can expect from the restored system . Restoration to greater abundance will require a longer period of restricted fishing, and the greater the abundance the higher the catches the ecosystem can sustain. Ultimately this is a question of the size of the investment that society wishes to make in restoration and future productivity of our fisheries .
Participants in both the catching and the processing-wholesale sectors of the commercial fishing industry range from independent, family-owned businesses to multi-national corporations. From a social and economic standpoint, there are several differences of note between smaller-scale community-based fishing operations and large-scale industrial seafood companies. Whereas both likely have the capacity to catch the available fish, differences between the two are found in terms of employment and social implications. Larger-scale operations typically require more capital, accrue greater debt and are known more for volume of fish catch. Smaller, community-based fishing operations are typically looked upon as the mainstays of coastal communities, providing diverse jobs in local economies.
Small and large-scale operators are both clearly valuable. Prosperous and organizationally diverse fishing communities are likely to be the most adaptive, resilient and stable. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that many observers of U.S. fisheries increasingly see the fishing industry trending toward consolidation, specialization, and industrialization. If such a trend is actually underway, it could have important implications for jobs, fishery values, and the diversity and stability of coastal communities. Many U.S. fishermen feel the people involved in fishing and coastal economies are facing trends similar to those already played out in the dynamic between family farms and industrialized agribusiness, and in the reductions in timber employment as forestry operations industrialized and mechanized in the face of declining supply of raw resource material.
Our nation needs a sustainable fishing industry. American fishermen put food on our tables. They contribute to the economic health of our coastal communities. They possess generations of knowledge and experience gained from many long days at sea. They are a source of knowledge, legend, and heritage.
Unfortunately the nation has allowed the biological and economic status of our fisheries to deteriorate, placing communities, a valuable industry, and a national heritage at risk. It is time to reverse that trend. The single best thing that can be done for current and future generations of fishermen is to increase the economic productivity of U.S. fisheries. Of necessity this requires time to rebuild fish populations and restore healthy, resilient and productive marine ecosystems. Over the longer-term, rebuilding U.S. fisheries is an economic engine with the potential to more than double annual catches, restore and create tens of thousands of family wage jobs, inject millions of dollars into local and regional fishing economies, and contribute over $1 billion in added value annually to the national economy.
Copies of the Pew Oceans Commission Final Report will, of course, be available after June 4th . To order a printed copy of the Summary Report and a CD-ROM containing the full report and the Commission's science report series, go to: http://www.pewoceans.org/forms/publication.asp. If you have no access to the Internet, you can also contact the Pew Oceans Commissions staff directly to order a copy of the Final Report or any of the briefing papers, at: Pew Oceans Commission, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 550, Arlington, VA 22201, Phone: (703)516-0624, or Fax: (703)516-9551.
Fishermen should take the time to read and think about the recommendations in the report and then become active in the upcoming debate on proposals to adopt those recommendations, all or in part. As I noted at the beginning, this is the first comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policies in over 30 years, and it may well be another 30 years before there is another.
Many changes will flow from this report, and frankly many changes are necessary. This is the time for fishing communities to become fully engaged and to help guide the outcome. This debate is, after all, about the future of our fisheries, our livelihoods and our communities.
Pietro Parravano is a long-time commercial fisherman, and current President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens Associations (PCFFA), the west coasts largest organization of commercial fishing families, and a member of the Pew Oceans Commission. PCFFA can be reached at: Southwest Regional Office: PO Box 29370, SF, CA USA 94129-0370, (415)561-5080; Northwest Regional Office: PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR USA 97440-3370, (541)689-2000; or by email to: email@example.com. PCFFAs web site is at: www.pcffa.org.
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