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.