Sunday, March 08, 2009

Waging Peace for the Salmon

For Community Based Fisheries Management to work, fishermen of different gear groups need to meet face to face. That brings up a vision of Japanese and Seattle trawl company owners meeting with Eskimo salmon gillnetters to work out getting some of the Yukon kings through the trawl fishery alive. And you never used to see, 'sustainable fisheries,' that viral marketing shtick, on North Pacific Council/National Marine Fisheries Service and Coast Guard reports. Even in reports of vessels stopped for lifejacket violations. Like they are trying to convince us the fish are invisible and just swim through nets. Remember what Hitler said about saying something loud enough and long enough?

The king salmon and the chum salmon (some say the pollock as well) that are being brought up in pollock trawls in the Bering Sea in vast numbers are on the brink of collapse, like the Atlantic cod before them. 2009 is tracking previous high salmon by-catch it looks like, and slowing down the by-catch is mostly voluntary. Would those big factory trawlers slow down if they haven't broken even? The history of extinction of species is being made as we speak. Exact numbers of king and chum salmon, herring, squid and halibut are irrelevant; the commercial fisheries for these have plummeted since the start of large scale domestic trawling in the Bering Sea . Goliath is just eating everyone's lunch.

Of course the justification is to keep the pollock train moving. Much of the pollock dollars come from selling their eggs from spawning season fishing to the high-end market in Japan . The pollock itself is ninety-something percent water and virtually useless as food for humans in my opinion. Notwithstanding the current practice of selling scrawny bits of them covered with lots of greasy breading to kids at McDonalds. Let the buyer beware.

Other funny, or not so funny dynamics are at play. At a sportsman's show here in the Rogue Valley of Oregon last weekend I kept hearing that foreign fleets are wiping out our fish offshore. Where did that come from? They have been gone since 1976. Except the media hasn't done a good job of explaining that it is American flagged vessels who are overfishing the runs, because it begs the questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

In this fish company lobbyist game of Spy versus Spy, they even have Oregon legislators talking 'foreign fishing.’ The little black spies really got 'em barking up the wrong tree. And Alaska legislators can't even utter the word 'by-catch.' And don't think the Universities are any better. One Alaska Professor recently was de-funded for speaking out for fish conservation, upon request by the U.S. Department of Commerce. It's sure not coastal communities' commerce they are looking out for.

Isn't this the era of 'green jobs' and ecosystem management? Obama beware! Remember that old video game, "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," Now the coastal communities and all of us who eat fish should play a game of "Where in the World are the State Legislators."

And I've heard a flurry of complaints about a big news-service in Alaska removing blog submissions because they make some of the perpetrators of by-catch uncomfortable. The main point is like the legal beagle of the biggest trawl company said, "Help us behave ourselves."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is helping Western Alaska Villagers with checks for maybe $500 apiece this winter. That's like giving each one of them a fish, after all, one carefully marketed large Chinook from the Copper River sold for $1,000. Thanks alot. To the federal government's credit they tried before to give them a fishing pole instead of a fish, it's just that the pole broke. And it wasn’t their entire fault it broke. But the fishing hole is being fished out anyway. Where did ALL the pollock in the Donut Hole go? Where did that huge school of pollock in Shelikof Straits go? Why do trawlers have to sift so much more water in the Bering Sea now to get enough salable fish to buy gas?

Lots of experienced people saw it coming. My father saw it coming in the 70's when he set up one of the first white-fish plants in Alaska in Petersburg . I don't know the whole history of why no trawling is allowed in S.E. Alaska to this day, but they had knocked the pollock stocks flat and ended up trawling flounder in little bays full of Dungeness crab. Bottom trawling in state waters all through Alaska was prohibited about the same time as well.

Remember, those mid-water trawl nets are like pulling a football field sized sieve through the water sideways. There are 12 factory trawlers and fifty odd smaller trawlers. And why don't they take some net makers suggestion to heart and slow down so the kings have some chance of escape? And why don't they say who it is that is responsible for all the by-catch, when they testify at Council meetings? Like kids in the school yard fight, they all stand in a circle with the teacher in the middle and point a finger to the one to the right.

Articles like this are supposed to end with a call to action to address the, "How can I help, nobody is ever going to listen to me." To maybe take a cue from the fighter plane Aces of the Tuskagee Airmen, the Western Alaska gillnetters could convoy to Anchorage to read their testimony into the Federal record at the next NPFMC meeting. Since a paralyzed fisheries management system hasn't listened to the cries of "stop the bycatch" before, maybe it's time to bring out the "Double V" slogan again. For peace to rein in the land, I think you have to "wage peace" on an individual basis. It's what makes us men. I urge you to read the story of David and Goliath again. And my message to the purveyors of the politically correct 'sustainable fisheries' mantra, it makes you look foolish, especially in a branch of Homeland Security. Tens of thousands of residents of Western Alaska might consider Homeland Security, who protects the trawlers, a real oxymoron.