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.