Sunday, August 23, 2009

Transparency is Fish Management King

This is what I was talking about on Facebook: "RFA(Recreational Fishing Alliance) is recommending that the US Department of Commerce and individual governors in each of the coastal state coordinate a more transparent appointment process in the future,(to the federal Fishery Management Councils) thereby allowing potential candidates to be fully vetted within the fishing community as required under federal law.

This reaction was prompted by the appointment of PEW connected folk to the Mid Atlantic FMC. This right there is why our fisheries are in such bad shape. Maybe these prople are God's gift to fisheries management, but I doubt it. Not only was the appointment process not transparent, (no opportunity for public vetting) but the PEW and NOAA agenda is not transparent. They can't and don't seem willing to justify their 'catch share' agenda.

I've observed the process very closely since joining the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank in Alaska in 1984. Not a slam-bam-thank-you-mamme study. Nor has my analysis been 'purchased,' just ask my kids who can't get a red cent out of me. There is no transparency in the federal fishery management council system. East Coast reformers may be surprised to know that their nice neat 'best managed fishery in the world' Bering Sea is managed thusly thanks to a timely $200,000 plus grant to the university that the famous 'two-pie theorist' worked for.

Decisions are made behind closed doors, public comment is ignored, so folks don't bother showing up for the most part. (The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council will hold meetings out in left field, like Portland, Oregon, or Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Have you ever inquired how much it costs to fly to Dutch and back. It's like going on safari to Africa. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. Not much public inclusion there.

What nails down this connection between secrecy and poor fish stocks is a study done by researchers at Dahlouise University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They looked at a ton of factors present in fisheries management regimes around the world and found that the one that stood head and shoulders above the rest when the fish have been wiped out is a LACK OF TRANSPARENCY in decision making.

This is how you get a lot of experts saying that the fish are headed for trouble. Then they can change their minds and say the fish could survive. It's because we CAN change the way we do business on the ocean. It's up to us. The way NOAA is going at the moment does not represent change, so we're still on course to get what's behind Door No. One.

I'm not saying that 'catch shares' don't have some role to play in some fisheries, but not as a panacea for all fisheries, and not at the exclusion of other well founded strategies that support the economic well-being of fishing families and communities. You ignore those two and your management tools are like tying fire-brands to the tails of foxes and turning them loose in the wheat fields.

Some people might wonder who all these folk are up in Halifax who come up with these studies. I haven't been to Dahlouise U, but I flew over to Halifax from Anchorage, Alaska to visit Technical University of Nova Scotia (TUNS) and I can vouch that the folks I saw have their stuff together. I thought that using a couple of 280 foot clam catcher/processors was a bit much for the clam resource, but that TUNS was the best fisheries product lab I'd ever seen. (Those clam boats are a private investment matter, but the dollars involved do intimidate fisheries managers.)

And, I don't know exactly how to put this, but like in the U.S., if I had been single I could have made huge strides professionally that trip. That kind of thing is an example of what I'm talking about on transparency. Maybe we should call the PEW Group, or the Environmental Defense Fund, NOAA's 'midnight mistress.' Or is it the other way around? In these affairs, one never knows, does one?

People are people all over, looking for ways to benefit themselves, so if you don't have transparency, you are going to have food fights for sure. Same as the Native Americans had around here in Oregon over the Camas fields. Herring food fights have been going on for a long time in the North Sea. And transparency won't come either when local newspapers like the Anchorage Daily News and the Kodiak Daily Mirror won't discuss anything of substance, or print letters from advocates for the fish and for the public. A lot of folks might be surprised to learn too, that political correctness is just a new term for deviousness and is a recent phenomenon.

Now, there are some cases where closed door decision making works, and maybe we need more the sort. I refer to the the panel of ex-judges who arbitrated in the case of Pacific Gas and Electric vs the People of Hinkley, California. The ground water under Hinkley was green and full of hexavalent chlorine, but the government had no threshold levels of green drinking water to say PG&E was in violation. So as people were dying right and left around the toxic dump site, PG&E denied responsibility, and might have gotten away with it had it not been for some objective men working alone. But these men's records of decision making were transparent, as former public officials.

If NOAA is so concerned about social well-being, they should create protections to enhance transparency. We would like to see NOAA make good on their own planning and strategy documents which states clearly that they are collaborative and transparent. We would like to see in their own words how privatization works to benefit society and the fish stocks. They need to make the argument themselves. They need to walk the talk they have put in print. Here are some things from their Next Generation Strategic Plan (NGSP:

Stakeholder engagement
"Details societal benefits and how NOAA will achieve them."
"Generates agreement on challenges and opportunities."

NOAA hasn't detailed the societal benefits of 'catch shares,' nor attained any level of agreement on the use of this management tool with the public at large, or if it even is a legitimate one. If they call 'willingness' by only the potential recipients of instant wealth to accept it, 'agreement,' we have a big problem. Under the 'no-transparency' model of fisheries management, we'd better start learning to grow community gardens on the fish docks.

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