Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When government drops the ball, I mean, fish

When we get a report like this about a technological breakthrough for seafood handling, we're going to pass it on. This new temperature tracking device is a throw-away and trumps all the bulky and expensive devices for monitoring temperatures of fish in-transit, one of which was recently explored by Alaska state employees.
IP Discharge into Androscoggin River
IP discharge into the Androscoggin River (DEP aerial photo from Summer 2005)

Albertsons grocery stores are going to start demanding a supplier use these things, or an equivalent, if you want to sell to them. This will probably be the industry standard in the near future for wet-lock boxes flown out of Alaska. If a guy wanted to consistently get a thousand dollars for his big king salmon, like happened this spring, he might want to put one of these labels right on Mr. Big. (the king salmon)

From the press release site, PR Inside: "A flat, 2" x 2" disk, PakSense labels are sealed in food-grade packaging and are easy to use. They also cost a fraction of current monitoring systems, which promotes their use in more product shipments. Lights on the sensor alert quality assurance personal if temperature specifications have been breached and all data collected by the label can be downloaded and graphed, enabling Albertson's LLC to pinpoint if, when and for how long, temperature excursions occurred. PakSense Labels are intended for one time use and are priced accordingly. There are no laborious rebate programs to adhere to in order to recoup money invested in temperature monitoring devices."

Going to the problem of government timely disseminating good business information, it is a real problem. Some industry groups have figured out that they can work hand in glove with government to get the inside track, and maybe even nip in the bud the flow of information to potential competitors and the public. Where else have you seen this report on Congress dealing with fish issues? Or this one June 12 &13 in Soldotna, the only product oriented fishing industry "expo" on the West Coast?

The other problem is that sometimes good information is packaged up in such quantity that it's too expensive to print and nobody would plough through it anyway. I remember one Marine Advisory Agent telling me that he co-authored this great report, that was two inches thick, and only six copies were ever made.

A host of perils that government runs into, in herding this flock of chickens we call a fishing industry, is exemplified by this article from New Zealand. "If you persist in opposing aligning the Fisheries Act with international best-practice it will be hard to convince your customers, and the New Zealand public, that your commitment to sustainability is anything but skin-deep." (He's speaking to the big fish companies.)

I should comment here and say that this very thing might come back to bite numerous fisheries in Alaska. There are many, many cases of ecological abuse in Alaska, and it all stems from the fact that large corporations control the industry. A corporation may be an entity, but it doesn't have a conscience. Employees of these big fishing corporations, who make up the federal fisheries management councils and other organizations, are not required by their employers to make moral calls.

The New Zealand article goes on to say:

"How does it help any fishing business in the long term if stocks are ruined? What sort of basis for building an industry is that? He(the Fisheries Minister) wanted to work with commercial fishermen, urging them to spurn lawyers, "who have tangled you up in inconsistencies and confusion" and talk direct to the Government.

Do you think Alaska is any different than any other place in the world regarding big business concern for the future? If you could prove it is different, it would prove there is some staircase to heaven that fisheries managers use to go get wisdom. Maybe it's right at the end of the Homer Spit, or maybe it moves to every new North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting room. Yeah, that's it!

Most all of this is summed up in three words; laissez fare economics, which of course led to the Great Depression. Compare Wikepedia's definition against the Republican agenda as trundled over to the North Pacific from Washington D.C. by the Alaska congressional delegation: "It is generally understood to be a doctrine that maintains that private initiative and production are best allowed to roam free, opposing economic interventionism and taxation by the state beyond that which is perceived to be necessary to maintain peace, security, and property rights.[1] In this view, it is not the job of the state to intervene in the economy in an attempt to reduce inequality, poverty or protect worker's rights (except to the extent that they are covered under property rights)."

"Property rights" are the end-all, be-all to the laissez fare economist. Notice the huge effort being expended by the NPFMC to allocate "property rights" to animals "on the hoof," I mean, "on the fin," as described by the American Fisheries Act, "crab ratz," or "Gulf ratz."

I remember once proposing a light industrial development office to some folks. They said, "Good proposal John, but it doesn't have a call to action at the end." Well, I figured the title was the call to action for them. For whatever reason, the mind needs guiding along and ya gotta do like Lee Iaccoca said. "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what ya told 'em.

So, with that said, my advice is to get behind the nearest Regional Seafood Development Association. And if there isn't one, help start one. And if you don't know what one is, do a Google search of a successful model like the almond growers association, Blue Diamond Almonds. That'll give you a compass to go by in the fog of competing interests and ethical lapses that has led to fish stock collapses all along the U.S. coastline, with Alaska heading down the same "ocean ranching," "clear-cut bottom" road.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Coalition of Fishermen, Researchers and Conservationists

"A coalition of fishermen, researchers and conservationists is calling for a new approach to groundfish management that advocates predict will help rebuild depleted stocks while protecting another increasingly rare species: Maine’s small, independent fishermen." And, "This is just essential if we’re ever going to bring the fish back and are going to have fishing communities that have diversified options." "The Legislature recently passed, by unanimous vote, a resolution urging support for local management."

Will my grandson be the sixth generation of Enges to commercial fish out of Petersburg, AK or will opportunity knock no more?

This sounds much like the Depoe Bay, Oregon consortium that I wrote about two articles ago. The sad thing is that it takes flattening the stocks completely to get the big businesses to leave the area alone so locals can start to do it right. Although, Oregonians are really working under the nose of that sleeping giant, Pacific Seafood Group, who has one eye half open. Likewise, the North Pacific Council members have been waiting for the Pacific ocean perch stocks to build back up in the Gulf of Alaska after the Japanese hammered them 40 years ago. Gulf "ratz," that Sen. Ted Stevens rammed through Congress, is their fishing companys' gun to bring down that quarry.

Civil society all over is stepping up to the plate after government strikes out.(All over the West Coast, Judges are having to step in to save the salmon.) I was watching a TV program yesterday on the classic example of a successful NGO. (Non-governmental organization) This woman started working alone to stop everyone from using land mines. She got 1,000 other NGOs throughout the globe to join, and ended up getting 132 nations to sign on to the idea. She got the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Of course she never could get the U.S. Government to sign on.

The point for the seafood industry is epitomized by the fact that an estimated 95% of Kodiak area residents and fishermen object to the privatization, by the big companies, of the fish in the Gulf of Alaska. But there is nothing they can do about it, with the force of the Federal Government behind the privatizers. Anything the Federal Government touches, and that's most everything in Alaska, is controlled by the politics of money.

Places a little less stable, like Lebanon, make no bones about the fact that no economic development is going to happen until the politics settles down. It's obvious in the fishing business in Alaska that there will be continual infighting until there is a Congressional delegation make-over.

People in a small region really can get together and influence fisheries management though, or anything else for that matter. The trick is in the getting together. At present in Alaska there is still a lot of money on the table(fish stocks to hammer down), and public servants and players of all stripes are being pulled in a hundred different directions by their individual ambitions.

I guess the fishing business is like the car jacking business, in that you aren't going to drag the car jackers to church right away. They need coarse policemen to deal with them first, and that's only slightly successful. It sure doesn't do any good for a preacher to go out and try stop a car jacking by his methods. But civil society itself can collectively get up on it's hind legs and be effective. Probably with a little organizing thrown in.

The Regional Seafood Development Associations in Alaska could be wildly successful if they got the town folk, researchers, conservationists and others behind them and for extra brain power. The eight regions of Alaska now have that howitzer to bag local prosperity. But it always takes a forerunner to wheel these kind of things out on the field. It's a thankless job, and a little like the foolishness and self-sacrificing aspect of being a preacher. But a necessary job none-the-less.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Alaska's fisheries management needs realigning

It's been a wonderment to me how with such a big Alaska Department of Fish and Game, so many salmon streams in Alaska are struggling to even produce the "last of the Mahicans." This article about the fallacy of the maximum sustained yield principle Alaska uses might shed some light on the subject. I doubt that those "certified sustainable" folks ever walked a salmon stream in S.E. Alaska in the summer, and compared what's there with what was there in the past. But then, how would they know how many salmon choked the streams historically?

The problem is that under maximum sustained yield, it appears that not enough fish get up the creek to "fertilize" the stream system so young salmon can survive and grow. It's the difference between short-sightedness and far-sightedness it appears. They had to go in and fertilize Karluk Lake on Kodiak Island to try jump-start the former big sockeye run there. Don't think they had much success.

I can tell you that the abundance of salmon in all the streams I went to over 50 years has gone down, down, down. The term has even been coined "an Ocean Ranching State" regarding all the fish that comes from hatcheries to replace the wild runs. Alaska can't afford to "rest on it's laurels" in scrutinizing it's management practices any more than any other area of the world can.

And hopefully the World Trade Organization can slow down and stop the subsidizing of fleets of fishing vessels that leads to so much overfishing. Remember when the Norwegians subsidized all those big factory trawlers for use in the Bering Sea? They had to be bought out by the U.S. taxpayers. You can see why the U.S. is against this practice, now that it's learned it's lesson from this and it's own Capital Construction Fund. Alaska state government has a loan program that flies in the face of the Federal approach.

On the subject of bottom trawling, a couple of interesting articles have popped up lately. One was about 22 nations banning bottom trawling (Check out the before and after photos of bottom habitat.) in the chunk of ocean between South America and Australia, and from the Equator to Antarctica.(See the movie "Happy Feet" and you'll understand the problem with midwater trawling in the Antarctic Ocean too.) The other article was about a scientist who got some satellite pictures of a fleet of bottom trawlers working off the Yangtze River mouth. One scientist said, “This really shows the impact of (trawling) is like agriculture on land. There is no chance for wild animals to live there."
It's painfully obvious that this punctuates what others are saying about this fishing method turning a firm bottom into a field of ooze, only fit for ocean shrimp growing in places. The article went on about how bottom trawling is so destructive to both the ecology that supports the desired fish, and the prey species for the desired fish. What do you suppose happens when you take the fish, take the home for possible future fish, and the food for any possible future fish? Hardly a tenable position for government to take. Oregon found that you sacrifice 30% of the species complex in targeting a couple of species. How many species are lost? This article from the Gulf of Mexico is symptomatic of the problem.

Folks that speak up about the abuses of bottom trawling in Alaska are ahead of their time, but in Oregon and California, these ideas are a welcome addition to the conversation because they have nothing left to lose. And if you really want to see messed up, take a look at Puget Sound in Washington state. The feds just declared the steelhead there "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. If honest coastal dwellers in Alaska don't speak up now, they might find that they are an endangered species pretty quick.

Many of us still have faith that the new Governor of Alaska will do the right thing and re-invent some of the State institutions that concern marine resource utilization. Cabinet heads will be meeting to hash these things out, hopefully they will create a new process to rationally deal with Alaska's ocean wealth. Then it might have a chance to move from the co-pilot seat to the captain's seat in managing the marine resources, and just as importantly, the marine and stream habitat.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Coastal communities discuss ocean information needs

Oregonians have begun a process to develop a "Whole Oceans Catalogue," or "How To Have Your Ocean And Eat From It Too." This article is a prescription for the health of coastal economies, if policymakers dare to read it. The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has consistently declined to work up this kind of medicine, instead, using pre-engineered economic analysis from flat-land economists.

The latest instance had NPFMC suggest that the Department of Justice should investigate the consequences to the communities of the Maruha-Nichiro merger instead of themselves. (What about the effect on price negotiations with the fishermen, with 36% of them forced to deliver to Maruha?)

I took this picture of our "focus group" from the Department of Commerce at a retreat about 20 miles from Juneau. Not pictured is that most famous fisheries specialist, Dick Reynolds.

Why should the Dept. of Justice know more than the North Pacific Council about what such a large marketing force would have on Alaska? Conspiracy theorists can have a field-day with this one. I'll just say that the State of Alaska should go through the same exercise that Oregon is going through. Although it would be a good thing if they had a level of scrutiny going on all the time so sudden changes, like this merger, can be plugged into the model.

Here's a sample from the results of the first focus group meeting in Depoe Bay, led by the Sea Grant Program:

"Among suggestions in response to the theme of Social and Economic Vitality of Coastal Communities, for where to focus research and information monies, were support development of wave energy as a sustainable source, particularly for meeting coastal community power needs; develop an economic impact model accounting all aspects of commercial fishing, tourism and residents sectors, and ancillary businesses that support them; define thorough process for analyzing how fisheries management policies affect individual coastal communities and seafood processors and harvesters; and explore how management techniques such as conservation zones affect harvesters and their communities; include humans and their activities as parts of the system when developing and implementing ecosystem based resource management; monitor and forecast the effects of human behavior on ocean ecosystems; better define, recognize and encourage sustainable resource use practices; and institute science-based decision making process to resolve competing demands on limited ocean and coastal resources."

Wouldn't it be wild if you plugged into your model a scenario for human behavior that resembled real people scrambling for everything they can get? And the political/industrial machine that grinds the small boat fleet to nothing was accounted for in the same model?

I was thinking about the silent screams of the small boat owners, the ones that have the older boats, and the less modernized, just this morning. Maybe because I wrote about the silent screams of the tiny coho fry that got cooked by some chemicals down here in an Oregon creek. The human face of the fishing industry is effectively hidden, and whole fleets or labor forces disappear and nobody notices. Just some word-of-mouth that they were there once. Very few standing up and saying "I won't go quietly into the night!" Who would have thought that processors would have dared deliberately putting fishermen out of business. That's not in anyone's model, but it happens, a bunch.

This Oregon effort touches on a point of order involving role models for these efforts, scattered around the ports. Not just one in the Governor's Mansion, or somewhere else. And they are talkin' role models, not "Corrupt Bastards Club" members. (Lest we forget, it was the FBI who named CBC tee shirts and hats in it's search warrants.) Alaska puts a great reliance on the guidance, for the public good, of large seafood processing/marketing companies. Now 36% of the crab in the Bering Sea will be in the hands of one Japanese company. The legal limit is 30%; and the NPFMC washed it's hands of the matter, given that Maruha is one of "it's own" processors. See why having information readily available to yield an informed public would help a lot? I've written on the need to do this kind of work on an ongoing basis before.

Ocean Education and Environmental Literacy was the final theme suggested as framework for the beginning of discussion. Among ideas submitted were develop consistent messages on ocean health, value and importance to assist public in better understanding the urgency necessary to become sustainable; evaluate viability of more interpretive centers to bring science down to public level; educate the public about local ocean conditions; develop curriculums for ocean ecosystem health and protection, and for ocean safety, including issues related to beach and nearshore use; improve public access to real-time coastal /ocean information; and identify and promote role models for ocean science and ocean stewardship in diverse communities, while engaging citizens in ocean science, monitoring, stewardship and education programs."

The reporter for the Newport, OR paper who wrote this just copied the lists the group came up with, so there's some grammar problems. That's how it comes out of a focus group though. This one was moderated by Oregon Fish and Game and Sea Grant, hence the government-speak, but that's ok, it's concise and reduces the ambiguity.

Take the issue of the recent fish kill here in Central Point. The fly fishing shop owner here says nobody does anything in Southern Oregon to help the runs. I don't think that is entirely true, but with a blueprint for what to do coming out of this Depoe Bay effort, agencies would automatically have their marching orders and volunteers would see a dizzying array of areas they could help in. Even the power company employees would know what to do and not have to live a life of guilt imposed on them by the "prophet of doom" of Omaha. Or in Alaska's case, agencies wouldn't be beholdin' to the "Corrupt Bastards Club," or the "Processors' Club."

An effort like this doesn't need ten doctorate degrees all lined up in a row. Technology has made it a new day. It would draw on research from the grantees of the North Pacific Research Board, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Marine Advisory Program, the Pew Oceans Commission, and little Sally down the street. One thing I could see happening immediately is that the public would take their rightful place as "gatekeepers" through this very public and ongoing process.

Kind of like how Wikepedia became the leading source of reference material in the world almost overnight, and by volunteer contributors. Come to think of it, this kind of effort could be a national one. After all, Alaska has shown it can knock a fish stock flat just as fast as they can in any part of the world. We should be an example of using our noggins for more good than just explaining how cold the water was after falling off a crab boat in the Bering Sea.

This is the logic behind the Congressman from California who introduced a bill setting certain standards for the federal Regional Fishery Management Councils to follow. The big fish processor/marketers are objecting to this undermining of their control of the oceans, a system they have cultured over the last 150 years. It's going to be up to the communities themselves whether they can survive that business and stewardship model.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

News from around the spawning grounds

"We hear all the time from our fathers and grandfathers how great the fishing used to be, and how schools of salmon and steelhead used to choke our waterways, before headwater forests were logged or roads were constructed along fragile coastal streams.

Now you gotta drift for miles looking for winter steelies on the Rogue River. But what better way to spend a sunny weekend.

Today it’s heartbreaking to see those schools of ocean-going fish hanging on by a thread." This excerpt from a guest opinion to support a wilderness area on a remaining good fish creek in Oregon says it all.

The Librarian at the Southern Oregon Historical Center summarized it this way: "The Indians said that you used to be able to almost walk across the creeks on the backs of salmon." Some folks think that the 30,000 fish king salmon run the Rogue River had a few years ago was big, being back to it's usual 6,000 a year now. Well, the Hume cannery at the mouth of the Rogue ran for half a century and I wouldn't doubt that they had DAYS early on where they caught 6,000 kings. They were using the same beach seine methods as on the Karluk River on Kodiak Island and one set there yielded 40,000 reds.

They put a hatchery in at the mouth in 1887 to make enough fish to keep the cannery running. In 1902, one writer figured the runs would go extinct from the cannery taking spawners off the grounds up-river for their eggs. Judging by the size of the river and it's tributaries, the run was probably in the millions of king salmon. On one tributary, the Applegate R., a salting operation put in a board dam to trap migrating salmon.

The Fraser River, emptying into Georgia Straits at Vancouver, BC, is down to an estimated 2007 run of only six million reds. Forget the kings, coho and chum. There are still some pinks left though. The entire run was estimated to be over 100 million before fishing started and and especially before they choked the river with a landslide from building the railroad. The red run was up to 17 million a few years ago though. But the bycatch of endangered runs has whittled one run down to one survivor last year.

Dam removal: The Elwah dam on the Olympic peninsula is scheduled to come down, but it will now take five more years as of late. Earliest start date of dam removal is now 2012. That's the river that used to have 100 lb king salmon go up it. I have an old trolling spoon of my Grandfather's that has stainless steel wire on it for a leader. He ran down from Alaska to troll Puget Sound once: maybe he was after these kings. There used to be a run that sagged into Tebenkoff Bay in S.E. Alaska that had big fish too. When they were there, the trollers had to switch to wire leaders.

On the Klamath, those four dams that are causing so much grief aren't coming down 100% for certain. Fishermen, Indians and farmers all just recently went back to a Berkshire-Hathaway stockholders meeting to try convince Warren Buffet that the only thing "green" about his power company, Pacific Power, is the toxic levels of algae in his dams.

The estimated cost of getting those 70 miles of king salmon spawning ground on the San Joaquin River back in shape has risen to $500 million. The Friant Dam is the problem there. Of concern to 25 million Californians is the Judge who gave the State a couple of months to figure out how to keep from sucking up protected king salmon and delta smelt and sending them down the California aqueduct. Cal Fish and Game is balking at doing anything about it. Looks like a old West shootout shaping up there.

On the subject of removing the four lower Snake River dams, it's spy versus spy as usual. The Oregon and Washington politicians vs. the Idaho politicians. I mentioned some of this stuff to my father who has 93 years of fishing industry experience and observation under his bridge and he just chuckles. Not very encouraging. Neither is the six sockeye that came back to Redfish Lake in Idaho last year.

I won't even go into mining threats to Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay fisheries. I just know that from the Lower 48 experience, it's not likely you'll get your salmon to come back once they are gone. Maybe in a hundred fifty years if you're lucky. It's when they shut down and everything covered over that they can show those cute ads on television with birds flying all over and fish jumping. But on big mines you're probably talking about race extinction. Not whole species, but the races in those streams.

Fish kills: Puget Sound had one in salt-water, in the head of Hood Canal. Now they have to scuba dive to try eradicate one kind of invertebrate that got out of hand. That's not something you would want a steady diet of, no pun intended to the sea squirts.

There was a die-off a month ago of tiny coho fry and steelhead smolt in a creek within a mile of where I live here in Central Point, OR. I'm a little baffled at the Troopers and the Fish and Wildlife not even finding a smoking gun, but did say spraying herbicide into the creek directly could have caused the kill. I went over to where it was reported to have happened, via the Medford "Mail Tribune" article. In two minutes I saw a storm drain from the high school protruding into the creek and a huge patch of blackberry brush on top the bank withering under the influence of herbicides.

The "fish kill" was reported days after the first good rain we had all winter. They use herbicides in the ditches all over the place here. Ditches that run right into creeks. I took photos of everything. The herbicide sales lady I talked to said you could have a problem with the wrong herbicide at the wrong time. If Jackson County quit using so much herbicide, they could have their salmon and eat it too. To spray the blackberry brush I saw dying by Griffin Creek, you had to stand on the service road of a power sub-station and you would be pointing your spray gun straight toward the creek twenty feet away.

The "blackberry kill" fifteen feet from the "fish kill"(mostly a vertical drop) was right behind the power sub-station. By now you might have guessed that the owner of the sub-station is Pacific Power. They were the ones who said how they are such a "green" company because the Klamath River dams help global warming. Give me a break!(Someone wrote this nonsense in the Wall Street Journal not long ago.) See why my dad chuckles and shrugs over these ecology issues. Money will keep on talking louder than the silent screams of salmon starved of oxygen in their home rivers, and of baby salmon and the bugs they live on, as chemicals wrack their tiny bodies.