Saturday, January 10, 2009

Action Plan for Alaska Fisheries

If you insert the Alaska comparable into this Action Plan, you have a pretty good blueprint for halting the demise of the Alaska fishing industry. There is no evidence that this industry isn't going the way of the other basic industries in this country, like the auto industry, or the steel industry, or fishing in California, Oregon and Washington. Commercial fishermen are like United Autoworkers Union members. It has been a good gig, but things changed. Business as usual is not sustainable or competitive. Either one is a killer for them and the communities they live in, and is darned dangerous for the country as a whole.

Alaska fihing action plan

With three Alaska born sons in three branches of the military now, I'm more sensitive to living a patriotic life here at home. I also think that this last Presidential election demonstrates the country's skepticism that $50 million 'fish boss' jets and demanding 'ownership' of ocean resources is synonymous with patriotism. Are the 'ownership rights' to fish in Alaska, especially by Japanese companies, being wielded in a patriotic manner? Is what is being demanded, and promised, is change. Change to what? Look at this blueprint and see if you can improve on it, with the country in mind, not individual pocketbooks.

The conversation needs to be dominated by more of the former and less of the latter. We hear alot about global warming and coral reef extinction, and fish stocks around the world collapsing. We tend to lose focus on our problems at home of spawning stream and river degradation and destruction of the ocean bottom with trawls, for example. I lived in Israel for a short time and I guarantee that the Israelis do things right, because their survival is at stake. Well, ours is at stake now.

We can't automatically talk about economic recovery; we dropped to our knees for a reason. There won't be an economic recovery if we keep making SUVs with big V-8s and keep snuffing the life out of our streams and the bottom of our oceans. Otherwise the lessened amount of money we can generate will continue to flee overseas in a greater percentage all the time, making it harder to recover still. The following article was published anonymously in Ahab's Journal, as the author was "speaking on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to talk to the media."


President-elect Barack Obama, Governor-elect Beverly Perdue, the United States Congress, and the North Carolina General Assembly have an unique opportunity to assist the commercial fishing communities that harvest carefully managed, sustainable marine resources, provide wholesome, healthy food to U.S. consumers, and lend support to local, state, and national economies.

At a time when food prices are high, when public concern over food safety is rising, and when jobs are disappearing, the United States Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly can adopt forward-looking policies that support thriving, socially-just, and environmentally-sound commercial fishing communities at relatively little cost.

With a straightforward shift in policy, the future of the small, independent family-owned and family-operated commercial fishing businesses that have been the hallmark of the North Carolina fishery can be secured.

A bold vision of economic, social, and environmental sustainability for traditional coastal communities will strengthen the vital connection between harvesters, consumers, and healthy oceans and coastal waters, as opposed to fostering an anonymous food production system with little accountability.

On the federal level, a shift in policy can be accomplished through amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the framework for management of United States fisheries in federal waters.

*Amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to allow flexibility in rebuilding American fisheries.

Magnuson currently requires federal fishery management councils to rebuild fish stocks to healthy, sustainable levels in the shortest time possible, not exceeding 10 years in most cases.

This rigid rebuilding schedule doesn’t allow councils to minimize the adverse socioeconomic impacts of harvest regulations on fishing communities, even though the councils are directed to minimize adverse impacts under national standard eight in Magnuson.

Adding just a few years to the recovery deadline can often mean the difference between the survival and the collapse of commercial fishing infrastructure, such as docks, processing plants, and fish houses.

Congressman Walter B. Jones introduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act (HR 4087) in 2007, and Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ) introduced a nearly identical bill (HR 5425) in 2008. Both bills attracted bipartisan support, and Congressman Pallone is expected to introduce a similar bill in the 111th Congress.

*Amend the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act to strengthen measures to prevent the adverse socioeconomic consequences of Limited Access Privilege Programs on small harvesters and on fishing communities.

Under Limited Access Privilege Programs, sometimes called Individual Fishing Quotas or Rationalization Plans, the total harvest quota for a fish species is divided into quota shares that are allocated by the government to individual fishermen or corporations based on a history of past landings in specific years – those with higher past landings of a species are allocated more shares, while some fishermen will not qualify for shares.

After the initial allocation, the shares can be sold, bought, or leased. The idea is that the market then resolves the issue of who gets to fish.

Huge social justice issues surround the use of these systems. In the initial allocation of quota shares, the federal government grants an asset to a relatively small group of fishermen who then essentially “own” or control future participation in the fishery.

While fishermen who are lucky enough to qualify for large initial harvest shares gain new wealth under Limited Access Privilege Programs, other fishermen face additional hardship, i.e. the expense of buying or leasing shares if they want to continue in or enter into the fishery.

Researchers in Alaska have found that rationalization programs carry harsh consequences for smaller, remote fishing villages, where the generational aspect of commercial fishing is broken as shares are sold to individuals or companies outside of the villages.

A Government Accountability Office study of Individual Fishing Quotas found that the easiest way to protect the economic viability of fishing communities is to “allow fishing communities to hold harvesting quota and decide how this quota is to be used.”

Magnuson authorizes federal fisheries managers to assign quota shares to fishing communities and to regional fishery associations, but the eight federal fisheries councils have not proposed alternatives to Individual Fishing Quotas that undermine fisheries for scores of coastal communities.

*Amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to require referendums in which fishermen in the regions managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council must approve a Limited Access Privilege Program, as currently required for fisheries managed by the New England and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils.

*Amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to include a minimum standard for “best available scientific information.”

National standard two in Magnuson states that conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available. In other words, biological and socioeconomic data can be sketchy or not representative of all gear types or regions, but if that is all that is available, it qualifies for use in federal fishery management plans.

*Amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to establish a grant program or low-interest loan program to protect and enhance waterfront access for commercial fishermen.

As coastal populations have increased, less waterfront land has been available for commercial fishing docks, boat slips, and fish houses. Senator Susan Collins (Maine) introduced the Working Waterfront Preservation Act in 2007, and a similar bill was introduced in the U.S. House last year.

In addition to amending Magnuson, the U.S. Congress can take other steps to secure the future of small, independent family-owned and family-operated commercial fishing businesses in North Carolina and other coastal states.

*Pass the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment Act.

North Carolina commercial fishermen have not benefited from free trade agreements and the growth of the global seafood market. Low-cost competition from seafood imports from Asia and Latin America countries with little or no environmental, food safety, and worker-safety oversight has resulted in stagnant or even plunging ex-vessel prices paid to domestic commercial harvesters.

As U.S. shrimp imports grew from 264,207 metric tons in 1996 to 556,936 tons in 2007, prices paid to North Carolina shrimpers dropped from $2.54 to $1.88 per pound.

More than 84 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. in 2007 was imported.

The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment Act (TRADE) lays out a process for the review and renegotiation of existing trade agreements and the reform of the negotiating process and policies. The bill (S 3083, HR 6180) was introduced in June 2008, and drew more than 80 cosponsors, including Congressmen Walter B. Jones and Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

*Oppose offshore aquaculture legislation that does not protect the environment, human health, and coastal economies.

At the request of the Bush administration, several versions of the National Offshore Aquaculture Act have been introduced in Congress. The current administration has promoted offshore aquaculture as the remedy for the nation’s $8 billion seafood trade deficit, despite the absence of information on the economic feasibility of offshore operations and despite environmental, food safety, and local economic concerns.

*Secure federal Saltonstall-Kennedy funds to strengthen the North Carolina commercial fishing industry.

These funds come from duties imposed on seafood imported into the U.S. Funds could be used for marketing, developing value-added seafood products, protecting and enhancing waterfront access points for commercial fishermen, and other projects.

*Secure federal funds from the Market Access Program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service to support the overseas marketing of North Carolina seafood.

*Federal permitting or leasing for activities in offshore waters must be consistent with state coastal policy.

In addition to offshore fish farming, projects like wind farms, wave and tidal energy operations, and oil and gas drilling, and conservative efforts like marine sanctuaries, marine protected areas, or “no-fishing zones”, are likely to be proposed for federal waters off the coast of North Carolina. A strong state coastal policy could protect the state’s commercial fishermen.

*North Carolina commercial fishermen must be recognized as important stakeholders in the development of ocean management policy in North Carolina.

As activities in coastal waters increase, the odds are great that North Carolina commercial fishermen could see important, traditional fishing grounds in state waters placed off-limits.

*Receipts from the sale of North Carolina standard commercial fishing licenses and retired standard commercial fishing licenses should be deposited in special, dedicated trust funds to fund research, education, marketing, waterfront access and other projects that benefit commercial fishermen.

These funds could be set up in a manner similar to the trusts created for coastal recreational fishing license receipts.

*Establish a continuing North Carolina grant program or low-interest loan program to protect and enhance waterfront access for commercial fishermen.

As coastal populations have increased, less waterfront land has been available for commercial fishing docks, boat slips, and fish houses. One-third of the fish houses in North Carolina closed in the years from 2000 through 2006. In many instances, those closures left commercial fishermen with no boat slips and no unloading docks. The Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund created in 2007 will assist commercial fishermen in several communities, but many coastal towns and counties still lack public docks.

*Create regional seafood development associations in North Carolina to increase the economic value of North Carolina seafood.

North Carolina seafood must become a strong brand name, recognized on state, national, and international levels, if the state is to accrue the highest possible economic, environmental, cultural, and consumer benefits from its marine resources.

Regional seafood development associations were authorized by the Alaska legislature in 2004. That legislation could be a template for similar legislation in North Carolina.

In Alaska, these non-profit associations are created only with the approval of licensed fishermen in a region, are managed by licensed fishermen, and are funded by an assessment on harvests as well as by state and federal grants.

Development associations would help increase the demand for and the value of North Carolina seafood by developing promotional activities, developing more value-added products, developing more seafood processing facilities, developing and protecting commercial off-loading facilities and other infrastructure, improving harvest quality, developing innovative direct marketing systems, and other projects.

*Enforce truth in labeling laws on restaurant menus or require country-of-origin labeling for seafood products sold in restaurants to protect seafood consumers.