Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Industrial fishing ruins 20% of Philipine fishing communities

I admit that when I heard that "rationalization" in the Gulf of Alaska was going to prevent any fisherman from starting to process his own fish, I was a little shocked. How could such an un-American, anti-free enterprise concept ever take hold? It's such a foreign concept to people of good will. Where do these ideas come from anyway?

This picture of Craig, Alaska shows a typical coastal fishing community in Alaska. The industrial base is mostly fishing related. The rest is government and the service sector. (A reminder that I took all the pictures that appear on this blog.)

Philipine fishermen number about 1 and 1/2 million souls. Large foreign industrual fishing and marketing operations that illegally fish in these fishermen's waters number a whole lot fewer than that. Yet the Philipine government has reduced the import tax on these illegally caught fish so they effectively replace the locally caught fish on the Philipine market. And in consequence, 20% of the small scattered fishing communities cannot support themselves anymore. Government policy did that to their own people in deference to some large scale business interests. Wow! Could that happen in the U.S.? Ask the Aleutians East Borough if you think not.

Even the agencies that are supposed to be skilled in maximizing the beneficial impacts on the multiplier effect in communities could never get it right. Some notable ones of these at the state level in Alaska had to have the plug pulled on them. Has the desire for profit and the means to get there changed much over the years? No. What has changed though is communications technology. That means that fishermen and community leaders don't have to live like mushrooms anymore; live in the dark and be fed b... ....

That means they can vote for politicians with conscience. Although those might be mutually exclusive variables. (The flip side is that there really are good politicians and agency people, but they just aren't given many good choices to pick from.) If fishermen want to be part of the solution, they can support the better mousetrap, the Regional Seafood Development Associations. There is no better solution on the horizon, unless doing nothing is an option for them. Then it's back to the stone ages, and Philipine style fishing, with not enough income to support a community.

But the RSDAs, like the double referendum in federal fisheries management, can start to develop solutions from a free enterprise platform. A platform that consists of the 99% and not the 1% that is industrial scale. Sure, you can give it all to the 1% and it might look like a success and a big glorious deal, but just don't go to a little coastal village and see what kind of boots 8 year old Mary Jane has to walk to school in the winter with. But it's the responsibility of fishermen and city councils all over to get behind these democratic solutions and not let the tail wag the dog.


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