Friday, June 12, 2009

Oceans Week, or Exxon Week

Some very strange things going on in Washington. Oceans Week is sponsored by Exxon and friends. The events are staged by them and moderated by them under the guise of a do-gooder foundation. Some enviros have been sucked in, but the respected ones haven't. Here's what Food and Water Watch had to say about the whole happy mess.

“Yesterday, one of the panels for Capitol Hill Oceans Week, Feeding a Nation: The Role of Fishing and Aquaculture in Today’s Economy, touted parceling out our oceans to a few big businesses as the best way to feed U.S. consumers and alleviate pressure on over-stressed wild fish. These ideas at the most basic level are ocean privatization – giving over what should be a public resource, our oceans, to private entities to use for their own economic gains with no benefit to the general public. Sadly, these ideas seemingly are also openly backed and supported by U.S. government agencies charged with conservation and management of natural ocean resources, as they participated in the program.

“The panel was designed to convince members of Congress and others that catch shares of fish, known in policy circles as individual fishing quotas (IFQs), and ocean fish farming benefit the economy and the environment. While major issues like job loss and pollution were admitted as potential issues with these programs, they were immediately dismissed as unimportant.

“Fortunately, no one bought the obvious attempt at a sales pitch. In reality, most IFQ programs force many historic smaller-scale fishermen to stop fishing, or pay exorbitant prices to buy or lease fish quota to continue fishing. Often it is large-scale fishing operations that are rewarded with the most shares of the quota. The problem is, many of those businesses got big by fishing hard with gears that are associated with negative ecological impact – like too much fish being caught and habitat damage.

“Ocean fish farming, the mass production of fish in large floating pens or cages in the open sea, is also at the forefront of debates over equitable use of public resources and was overwhelmingly backed by panelists. They presented the tired and unsupported mantra that a U.S. ocean fish farming industry would benefit the public by providing new jobs, reducing pressure on depleted wild fish populations and lessening U.S. dependence on imported seafood products that are often unsafe for consumers. However, most people now know that ocean fish farming programs often primarily benefit the corporate owners of the facilities rather than consumers. The United States exports more than 70 percent of the seafood produced here. We our seafood to countries willing to pay higher prices for fish produced in accord with U.S. health, safety, and environmental standards. Likely, this will not change dramatically with the coming of ocean fish farms. The industry is intended for profit—therefore fish will probably be sent elsewhere for bigger dollar returns—likely leaving the United States with just the negative environmental and economic consequences.

“As for jobs, the salmon farming industry in Scotland, Norway, and British Columbia dramatically expanded production in those regions, but because of more mechanization, added no new jobs or even decreased employment. Worse than not creating new jobs, is the potential for offshore fish farming to reduce existing jobs. For example, when farming of salmon became popular, from 1992 to 2001, the value of the wild Alaskan salmon catch plunged from $600 million to a bit more than $200 million, a drop of more than 60 percent. As the market was flooded with farmed product and prices crashed, many fishermen were forced out of business. Although prices of Alaskan salmon have since recovered, thanks to intense marketing efforts, many fishermen were permanently displaced. These effects trickle down. As the number of fishermen dwindles, support businesses, like marine supply stores and dock facilities, will also suffer, risking more job loss and hurting the economies of coastal communities during a national economic downturn.

“Capitol Hill Oceans Week should not be used as a forum to promote potentially ecologically destructive and economically devastating programs for our oceans. Rather, this week should be an opportunity to discuss ideas for more innovative management and technologies, and to explore more sustainable options to meet our domestic seafood needs.”