Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Science vs Barons of the Fish Business

"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them." President Barak Obama. At this point, we need a refresher for the thousands of new appointees in the Obama administration who may not have been following the demise of the ocean resources.

The 'Lindy II' is a model of efficiency and selective fishing methods. (Photo by John Finley of Kodiak, owner.)

Maybe they noticed there are very few fishing boats down in the harbor anymore, and maybe they associate it with global warming or the foreign fleets, or just a general disinterest in bouncing around the ocean anymore. So let's have a little refresher course.

President Obama's statement would seem to indicate the tide will turn on those few fish companies who are trying, and currently succeeding, in eliminating the independent fisher/businessman. Sure, these companies use fishermen too, if you can call sharecroppers fishermen; the skippers and crew who are sworn to silence about their activities on the fishing grounds for the chance to supply the company store. Just try interview a trawl crew in the whiting fishery off Neah Bay, Washington, or a pollock skipper, mate, or deck crewman in the Bering Sea, much less get a ride-along.

This is what a Federal Judge recently had to say: "Harrington also served notice that an era of "window dressing" respect for the legitimate concerns of the governed fishing industries and their states would no longer be tolerated." Judge Harrington was referring to the National Marine Fisheries Service and their 'Councils' and their disregard for science and common sense.

It is apparent that the two trawl fisheries mentioned above are not conducive to family fishermen, subsistence and sport users, the many other species of fish in the ocean, or the coastal communities. The problem is that these giant factory trawlers, and many independent trawlers fishing for shore plants with 'legal rights to process a certain % of the total catch,' don't mind snuffing out all other species of sea life. The big fishery in the Bering Sea is the pollock fishery, prosecuted by mid-water trawlers. That would seem to be a safe way to fish. Just scoop up the schools of pollock, leaving plenty behind for replenishment of the stocks. (Except that half the pollock fishery is right before propogation and the pollock never get to sow the seeds of the next generation.)

The first mates on these 'death star' ships are scanning the ocean with electronic equipment, a process they liken to submarine hunting. It's fun. And it's been profitable for the 'designated owners' of the pollock (and the crab). Many times, the electronics are indicating the wrong kind of fish; fish that they are not permitted by law to keep. So down goes the nets and up comes millions of pounds of squid, king salmon, chum salmon, halibut, herring and anything else that lives in proximity to the pollock. It's not like they all live in separate apartments. You clean out one apartment and you get a mixed bag of occupants. Remember, the trawl nets are like pulling a football field-sized sieve sideways through the water, with everything in that amount of space for miles squeezed into a 'sock' on the end of the net. (I won't even go into bottom trawling where Oregon State University researchers found that it extinguishes 30% of the species complex where they have been.)

There has been discussions by the Western Alaska Natives on the blogs of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Anchorage Daily News on this subject. The problem is that they live on the salmon that have to swim past all these trawl nets, and not very successfully as it turns out. For their food supply, they don't need a small fraction of the dead salmon that gets thrown over the side of the trawlers. (And this is a problem the whiting fishery has off the coast of Oregon and Washington too. The lack of water in CA, and Dick Cheney and Pacific Power doing in the Klamath R. king salmon, isn't the only reason the West Coast troll fishery had to close. Again, it was the small guys who had to bite the bullet.)

It hasn't been 'politically correct' to point out these truths. You will notice the fisheries managers on the Yukon River won't criticize their peers managing the Bering Sea fisheries. Same as down here in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife won't criticize the Pacific Fisheries Management Council for intercepting their king salmon. (Did I hear the ODFW Commissioner had a barbecue for these Council folk?) The family fishermen have to stop fishing AGAIN to accomodate the big fish barons, in this case the owner of Pacific Seafoods.

And why would that owner testify on a little issue like non-selective fishing practices in the main channel of the Columbia River? There are hardly any fish caught commercially in-river anymore: it's a glorified sport fishery for a few. But it's supported by the big fish baron as a matter of principle. He is majorly involved in midwater and bottom trawling on the West Coast and doesn't want anyone to get a toehold in the by-catch/nonselective fishing issue.

This same virulence is manifesting itself in Alaska in the form of the owner of Trident Seafoods, who said he will shut down his plants if he doesn't get the Pacific ocean perch. (Politicians don't realize that if he gets those fish he will use the biggest trawler possible and none of the benefit will touch Alaska. As opposed to a large fleet of community based boats targeting the POP selectively, and leaving the ecosystem intact as well.) I've butted heads with this company and came out on the losing end. We were flying Pacific cod to Korea and Trident told the fishermen to stop supplying us or they could kiss home heating fuel good-by. That was in January. Does anybody still believe the big fish buyers/processors/marketers support the idea of 'community?'

The NMFS has allowed these overlords to regulate themselves, using lobbyists to man the Management Councils, in much the same way the financial sector was allowed to police themselves. In case anyone needs to be told in the most basic terms, there is a reason much of coastal America is without fish. It doesn't just happen and it started way before global warming. There was no global warming when Hume built a cannery at the mouth of the Rogue River in Oregon, intercepted the runs for canning purposes, started a newspaper to justify all of it, got himself elected to the Oregon Legislature to fight for his sole right to the fish, and even sent men to the spawning grounds upriver to get the spawners for their eggs. Sound familiar?

Maybe the heart of the issue is the political correctness that we are now saddled with that keeps the status quo rolling right over the disadvantaged. Has anyone ever looked into the melding of Marxism and Freudism at the Frankfurt Institute for Marxism for the explanation to why we just can't seem to stop all this foolishness? The boots on deck people are the last ones we should point a finger at in this, for the most part. They are paid peanuts for their fish, blackballed, regulated and threatened out, and could care less about political correctness. Remember when Khrushchev said that he didn't need to get into a war with us, that we would bury ourselves?

I would admonish that we really take President Obama's words as a license to demand that our public servants, the politicians and agency staff, do what Obama is calling for them to do. After all, they are working for us, not the other way around. I would say, speak up now if you value liberty. And given that the dry belt is moving northward, what if all the food and money is going away fast? (After I wrote this I saw in the Medford Mail Tribune that California is in a multi-decade record drought.)

Last year a friend said the Alaska Permanent Fund was at risk of evaporating and he was heckled for it. Guess what it's value is now compared to the start of 2008? And how can you wait for your stocks to appreciate when those companies are going out of business? Turns out much of business wasn't our friend. (Notice the banking lobbying effort to stop mortage refinances in court. Your friendly banker is knifing you in the back. One Congresswoman said Congress has been owned by the financial industry for too long.) There are tons of dots to connect. You'll see many businessmen cut and run, but some, like the fish barons, are digging in their heels with the view to carve an empire out of the chaos.

Ok, that's ten minutes worth, but I'll include a dedication of this article to a family member who turns 94 today. He managed one of the first two bottomfish operations in Alaska and always pointed to the risk of overharvest with non-selective fishing gear. He captained large Naval vessels in two oceans during WWII, pioneered in many areas of Alaska fishing, processing and marketing and has lived in Alaska all his life. If you know the fish business in Alaska you know who I'm talking about.


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