"Those who do not object are said to consent. -- Old English legal maxim
November 3rd is Election Day! Lets also make it a day of reckoning for any member of Congress or any state Legislator who is not sympathetic to the importance of maintaining a strong commercial fishing industry or who disregards our contribution to the national and regional economy.
There are a huge number of issues which will be dealt with by the incoming 106th Congress that will directly affect the commercial fishing industry. These include international trade and its impact on fishermens markets; clamping down on the reflagging of foreign factory trawlers in US waters; problems caused by Columbia and Elwha River dams; reclaiming the San Joaquin River, Battle Creek and Butte Creek from obsolete fish-killing dams; water quality and quantity issues in the Puget Sound, the Columbia, the Klamath and the California Central Valley; funding of Mitchell Act and other federally funded mitigation hatcheries; funding a good buy-back program; funding for fishery research and gear development; and of course the all pervasive federal budget.
There will also likely be some Magnuson-Stevens Act revisions which directly affect harvest allocations. On top of that, there are international issues like the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the Law of the Sea Treaty that Congress may also be dealing with next year.
Inside state waters, states reign supreme in managing fisheries. State Legislatures control salmon habitat restoration funding; vessel permit and licensing restrictions; limited entry permits; marine reserves; state hatchery programs; state fisheries data collection; how you sell and process your catch, etc. On top of that, fishermen should expect yet another legislative attempt to close down major portions of the commercial fleet in Washington and Oregon by certain ?lose cannon dissident rabble-rousers of an otherwise responsible sportfishing industry. Each year, in fact, your state legislatures see dozens of anti-fishermen bills which PCFFA, fishermens local associations and their allies have had to modify or kill.
To say that your industry and your income is on the line in any major national election is an understatement. Unfortunately the number of commercial fishermen who hold elected office is small. What that means, though, is that fishermen have a duty to get even more involved, and to help elect state legislators and members of Congress who know who we are and will work for sustainable fisheries. That is just good ol political common sense as well as a key to our survival.
In west coast races, fishermens votes really can make a difference. For instance, in the 1996 national election the majority of precincts nationwide swung on less than 1% of the vote. There are several members of Congress who won (or lost) because of commercial fishermen. Here are some ways you can make sure your votes (and your campaign contributions) really count:
If you are in any doubt, call up your County Elections Department and make sure you are currently registered, and if not register right away. On election day, make sure your vote is accounted for. If you think you might be away on election day, ask them to send you an absentee ballot. Last year a number of elections swung on the count of absentee ballots.
Dont hesitate to call up the campaign people of candidates running for public office. You should ask the staff about positions the candidate has taken or is taking on helping the fishing industry and assuring a sustainable fishery -- or on any other issue that concerns our industry. If the candidate has no position on these issues, ask them to develop one and mail you a written position statement. Follow up on your call a week later or in writing to make sure they do it.
Go to local meetings with the candidates (especially debates among them). Meeting the candidates face to face is the most important way to see where they are coming from. Introduce yourself as a commercial fisherman and ask them what they are going to do to help you, your industry and the resource on which you depend. Pin them down on specifics -- their public statements will be remembered. If elected, it will be their job to make good on promises. Elected officials work for YOU -- its always important to remind them of this fact.
If the candidate is an incumbent, question them about their past voting record on these issues. Voting records are always public -- you can get their voting record on any issue or bill through the Internet or from Project Vote Smart (see box insert). If you know they have voted against industry and resource protection interests in the past, this should be a big red flag and you should ask them to justify themselves. Again, pin them down on their public statements. This is how the campaign process and public debate works.
Try to get the most unbiased information and analysis you can. Never put much trust in the campaign literature of one candidate alone, since they always put themselves in the most favorable light. Local newspapers, the League of Women Voters and other such nonpartisan civic organizations usually have the best analyses. Some of the best sources for detailed and nonpartisan analysis are listed in the box attached to this article.
Remember, the well-being of the fishery -- the resource and our ability to market the fish -- depends on clean water, healthy habitat and good data. Candidates spewing anti-regulatory rhetoric may sound appealing, but they are no friend of the fishing industry if they vote against clean water, the protection and restoration of fish habitat, or funding for needed fishery research. Make sure your candidate is clear on the concept: fishing is a business whose economic health depends on a healthy environment and good information.
The hard reality is that running a successful political campaign takes a lot of money. Advertising time, pamphlets and travel all have to be paid for. The less personal money a candidate has the more they have to rely on citizens like yourselves helping to support their efforts.
Most states have a state income tax credit for political campaign contributions up to a certain amount -- in other words, contributing up to that amount will not cost you any additional money. Each state also has campaign contribution limits for any particular candidate, plus information disclosure requirements for contributors. The campaign staff can help you with any required paperwork (which is minimal) and let you know what those restrictions are.
The lifeblood of any political campaign is its volunteers. Once you identify a candidate you believe will support our industry, if you have any free time (even a spare afternoon) your help would be much appreciated. You will also meet the campaign staff, many of your neighbors and generally have a good time. You will also know that your efforts have really made a difference.
Especially around election time, people read the Letters to the Editor sections of local newspapers for information on the candidates. Your letters as a commercial fisherman reminding other voters about the conservation and other issues important to our industry serves an important role in the public debate. If you believe your candidate is going to be good for the industry (or the other guy wont) you should say so and tell the readers why. You will also reach thousands of other voters that way, many of them fishermen themselves.
In west coast states the people themselves can submit measures to the state ballot without going through the Legislature. This 'initiative process is an important safety valve to assure a more responsive government. The Legislature itself can also refer measures it does not want to deal with directly to a public vote by 'referendum.
Every western state ballot will contain a whole bunch of initiatives and referenda measures. Some of these will make a major difference in your lives and to your industry. As good citizens and as commercial fishermen, you should educate yourselves about these measures. The same suggestions for getting involved apply to initiatives as for candidates. Most initiatives will have both pro and con campaigns going on with lots of public debate, and the Voters Pamphlet pro and con statements can also be helpful. Again, make up your own mind after thoughtful reading.
If you do even a fraction of these things, if your favored candidate wins, youll know who they are and chances are good they will know you too. Keep engaged with their office on the issues you raised, and make sure your local fishermens association does the same.
If your candidates lose, you will still have helped educate both the candidates and the public about the needs of our industry. This alone will help make sure the winners do not take our industry for granted. Send them a congratulations letter on their victory, and again, keep engaged. After the campaign rhetoric is over, the hard work of governance really begins. That is the time to pull the ranks together and tackle the real issues. Your job then is to continue to educate your elected representative about the needs of our industry and to make sure they know we exist -- AND that they know they must represent our industrys interests now as your elected representative.
Finally, regardless of the candidates or measures you support, and regardless of the outcomes, whatever you can do to educate yourself and your elected officials about the issues our industry faces, and about the needs of commercial fishing-dependent communities, the better off you, your family and our whole industry will be.
Here are some of the best nonpartisan sources of political information, including past voting records. Feel free to check your candidates out:
Project Vote Smart: One of the best sources in the country for nonpartisan and well researched federal and state candidate information, including past voting records. Their toll free Voters Research Hotline can give you immediate information and voting records. Their Internet site is packed with searchable information, and they publish The Voters Self Defense Manual and other valuable voters information booklets available free and downloadable on the Web.
129 NW 4th Street, Suite 204
Toll Free Voters Research Hotline: 1-888-VOTE SMART
Congressional Quarterly: Nonpartisan and carefully researched reports on the issues and voting records of members of Congress. Current issues, campaign financing records and a huge database. One of the most reliable sources available on the Internet.
Library of Congress THOMAS search engine: You can get voting records, text from the Congressional Record (both by member of Congress or by bill number) and just about everything else you could possibly need about Congress from this nonpartisan site, maintained by the Library of Congress. It is the starting point for in-depth Congressional research.
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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