Saturday, August 01, 2009

Freedom to choose share-cropping the ocean

The Tyee, an online magazine from British Columbia, has an article on privatizing the rivers in B.C. Sound crazy? Think privatizing all the ocean's fish like NOAA wants to do. British Columbia started this fish privatization business, and countries we sometimes compare them with, like New Zealand, were right there with them. Turns out, someone has been pushing these ideas in the think tank, the Fraser Institute, and now the Campbell government is fully on-board.

'The Family' at 'C' Street in Washington has also been preaching 'privatization' to the Washington elite for decades: their 'trickle down fundamentalism' would have the rich have it all and then bestow blessings on the rest of us as good Keepers of the Faith, and as their mood swings on any one day. Part of this mentality is that these rich and powerful folk can do no wrong, as they have a 'mandate' to govern, and be Keepers of the Wealth as well.

This is how really wrong these folks are. People have tremendous freedom in our countries, right? Then in the Fraser Institute's mind, we have the freedom to sell ourselves into slavery as well! Isn't all that convenient thinking for big fish companies who want to own the fish. Big political contributors/investors don't want to actually be on a boat, but if they had a way to get the fish and get someone else to harvest their fish, they could be generous in return, wink, wink.

Ecotrust Canada came out with an socio-economic analysis of the Individual Transferable Quota system, or catch shares, that Canada implemented and it isn't pretty. It's called 'A Cautionary Tale About ITQ Fisheries.' They call the new breed of landlord who has managed to buy all the shares and get people to go to sea for them - 'sealords.' And as you can imagine, sealords wouldn't pay much for the harvesting subcontracting service.

Tradition doesn't have a leg to stand on anymore, thanks to various cultural revolutions. So do we just get over the fact that fishermen are going to be just equipment operators for the owners, at whatever pay is the whim of the day, and if they don't like it, the owners will just hire lower paid help? Hence, freedom to enslave oneself.

You've heard me and others use the term 'sharecropping' fishermen before. These are people who used to be able to just go joust with the elements and seize hold of ocean resources out of the common fisheries and claim them as their own. Long tradition there - yielding the culture and nomenclature of 'fishermen.' So now that people are starting to just plough the ocean floor for all the Michael Milk'ems, what do we call them and their task-masters?

Using fishing techniques that literally plough the ocean floor is a real yardarm knot in itself. That right there proves the fallacy that the new owners of the fish will respect the ecology of the oceans. Jane Lubchenko of NOAA knows this and so do real lifestyle fishermen. She was around Oregon when OSU researchers concluded that bottom trawling extinguishes 30% of the species complex on the bottom: target fish, bait fish, invertebrates, vertical structures like coral and sea whips that the immature fish need for protection, etc.

Lots of places on the continental shelf have been so smoothed over by trawls, they might as well keep trawling now. Sea whips and coral are old as redwood trees, so they wouldn't grow back to provide habitat any time soon anyway. I'm amazed that any fish at all can live in these areas. It points to the resiliency of the marine ecosystems, especially if there is scientific fisheries management and not management by fisheries lobbyist, as currently practiced in the U.S.

Ending trawling is going to be like ending racism. You're not going to stop it, but you can at least stop lynching fish stocks. But don't hold your breath with this NOAA administrator. They figure now the reason all the sea mammal life in the Bering Sea is disappearing is 'chemicals.' Ignore the fact there is a giant fleet of factory trawlers out there that makes the 'Deadliest Catch' boats look like kayaks.

'The Privatizers' have reason to believe they can get away with this theft of the commons, because there is plenty of precedent and they have figured out how to get armed force to administer it. They want us to believe their engineered theories and have us just accept that Michael Milk'em will be a wonderful protector of the seas.

Going back to privatization of the rivers too, we are getting a taste of it in this country as well. A village in Alaska on the Yukon River got a lesson in River Privatization 101. Most of this has to do with the 'rights' of a corporation to put electric power turbines right in a fast moving spot in a river. With the exorbitant cost of fuel to make electricity in Alaskan villages, Fort Yukon, Rep. Don Young's home-town, got the notion to get a permit for a good spot nearby. When they checked, they found that it had already been taken by a company from the Midwest, as had all the other good spots on the horizon. We all might be surprised what all has been sold off around us that we thought was free.

One last point, one that I make all the time. Remember how if you can tell a lie long enough and loud enough......? Then remember how often you have heard the expression, "the North Pacific has the best fisheries management in the world." Let me give you some facts.

1. The federal Fisheries Management Council up there opened the king crab sanctuary to bottom trawling and wiped out the king crab. Only a remnant remain.
2. Pot fishing for black cod was outlawed, so now half the black cod is stripped off fishermen's lines by sperm whales. (Think "Don't feed the bears." Not to mention possible over-harvesting due to non-reporting of losses.)
3. The king salmon are disappearing coincidentally with the huge by-catches of same by pollock trawlers. Ya think?
4. The number of herring gillnet permits in Western Alaska has dropped from 252 to 51, coincidentally with by-catches of up to 100 tons a tow by trawlers in the Bering Sea. There is still no sanction on this practice.
5. In one recent year, 17 million pounds of squid were accidentally destroyed, food for lots of sea creatures at their different life stages, as herring are.
6. Northern fur seal, sea lion, and sea bird populations are steadily diving coincidental with the growing effectiveness of trawl fishing technology and sifting more water for the pollock needed to keep the floating factories running.
7. Millions and millions of pounds of halibut are destroyed as by-catch every year, to the point where they cut public catch down. You didn't think the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (lobbyists for the big fish companies) would cut their own production down?
8. The North Pacific started with lots of fish and crab; the foreign fleets didn't make a dent up to 1976 when they were pushed beyond 200 miles. They did wipe out Pacific ocean perch as the preferred species, but they've come back in spades, and there is a huge food fight to 'own' them. The vastness of the fisheries resources has helped hold up total tonnage, as has technology advances in the face of declining stocks. (Remember 'canyon buster' bottom trawls, and mega-trawls that a flock of Boeing 747s could fly into at once?
8. Fisheries reporting by NOAA Fisheries Service has covered up these inconvenient facts. Alaska hasn't changed appreciably since Territorial days when Washington ran the place on behalf of large campaign contributing canning companies. The only change is that now trawl companies are king, and people like Ted Stevens gave them a leg up financially which is going to be hard to reverse.

1. Don't give away things that aren't yours to give away, especially without the owner's(the public's) knowledge. Dr. Lubchenko is no King George.
2. You'll never have real fisheries management if the federal fisheries management councils are manned by representatives of moneyed interests, or are not required to recuse themselves when there is a conflict of interest. That system needs overhauling first of all.
3. My pet concern: stop commercial fishing close in to towns so Noah Finclip can row out and and catch food for his hungry family.
4. How do you stop all the 'spin' from all sides? Do like on the Columbia River - have a Judge decide. They have a record run of sockeye this year. Or require a peer-reviewed study to back up claims, like who is inherently more committed to ecosystem health. Jane Lubchenko says commercial fishermen are the most altruistic, millions of other folks say they are slash and burn types.
5. I'm no more impressed with a guy snagging king salmon out of a Rogue River holding pool than a trawler 'dumping' a deck load of salmon.(Oops) So, engage other fishermen to enforce the rules and make it pay for them. Pay them for their observations of all sorts. They are on the grounds a lot more than bureaucrats.

More about this later