Monday, December 28, 2009

The Times They Are a-Changin'

It’s been a long time coming, but it appears as if a critical number of fishermen have finally reached the conclusion that the way things are heading, there’s not going to be an acceptable fishing future for any of us, that it’s time for some long overdue changes, and that the place to effect those changes is in Congress.
It’s really difficult to identify all of the major factors responsible for this, but among them I’d list the excessive and in-your-face obvious influence on the Obama Administration’s NOAA/NMFS by foundations with a long track record of actions inimical to fishermen, the looming crisis (of management, not of fish) in the New England groundfish fishery, the sorry state of the economy for us mere mortals who haven’t benefitted and won’t benefit from any bail-out $billions, massive fishery closures or cutbacks without adequate science behind them, an ongoing investigation of what appears to be institutionalized strong-arm tactics in the federal fisheries enforcement branch, and most importantly, the unnecessary and incessant erosion of our ability to fish – either recreationally or to earn a living – by a management system that is focused solely on the fish and that we as fishermen are now effectively isolated from.
And I can’t forget the role that a long list of coastal legislators – most have already been mentioned here - in Washington and elected and appointed officials in Massachusetts have played in demonstrating that the ongoing overzealous, verging on punitive, management of fishermen is becoming far more of a threat to fishing communities than declining stocks ever were.
One of the most edifying byproducts of the management morass that the majority of U.S. fishermen are mired in is the growing cooperation between people in the commercial, recreational and party/charter industries, the businesses that depend on them and the communities that they support. Are we one big happy family? No, and we probably never will be, but every day more of us are realizing that there’s a common enemy that we’ve allowed to take control of the management process while we’ve been almost totally focused on throwing rocks at each other.
What’s the payoff of this nascent spirit of cooperation? On Capitol Hill, in no particular order of importance:
* New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone and twenty-four co-sponsors reintroduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding America’s Fisheries Act. New York’s Charles Schumer introduced corresponding legislation in the Senate.
* Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank announced a caucus of East Coast legislators to discuss the modifying the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Congressman Frank said “the effort was justified because of the unrequired harm being done to the fishing communities along the Atlantic coast by regulators who misinterpret the legal principle imbedded in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to balance ecological with economic and sociological interests.”
* Fourteen House Members and twelve Senators sent letters to the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior objecting to the CITES listing of spiny dogfish.
* Thirteen House members and five Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce expressing “extreme disappointment” in the New England Council’s decision to severely cut back sea scallop landings.
* The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act (S. 2856), relieving the management of trans-boundary groundfish stocks in U.S. waters from the irrationality of what the Magnuson management regime has become. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.
* Florida Congressman John Mica and 16 cosponsors introduced legislation to prevent the Secretary of Commerce from closing the red snapper fishery without further analysis.
There is a core group of federal legislators from Texas to Maine who now realize that things are far from well in fisheries management, and that the problems don’t lie with the fishermen but rather with what the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been turned into by foundation funded activists and how it is being interpreted by NOAA/NMFS.
It’s up to all of us to capitalize on that.
Inspired in part by the successful fishermen’s demonstration at NOAA/NMFS Northeast Regional Office that was organized by Amanda Odlin, a fisherman’s wife and business partner in Scarborough, Maine, a number of fishermen’s groups from both sides of the recreational/commercial fence are organizing a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol on February 24. With fishermen of every stripe participating, the message to Congress will be straightforward; put the original flexibility back in the Magnuson Act that will allow the needs of the fish to be balanced with the needs of the fishermen.
And make no mistake; this is a result of grass roots activism at its most pure. No massive corporations, no “charitable” trusts, no foundation funded ENGOs are behind it, just commercial and recreational fishermen, the businesses that they support and the trade organizations that support them.
But what’s the other side up to?
They’re sure not about to enter into a public discourse, seek acceptable compromises with the aggrieved fishermen or find some middle ground that will let fishermen fish and let fishing-supported businesses remain viable while stocks continue to rebuild. That’s not what their billions are for. Instead those organizations that have made life so miserable for so many fishing dependent people for so long are going to respond as they have since they became involved in “saving the oceans from fishermen.” They’re going to throw even more money at what they perceive as a growing problem; the increasing awareness in Washington that fisheries can be and should be rebuilt in a manner that is consistent with maintaining viable fishing communities.
Accordingly, we learn from the Careers@Pew website, since December 1 the folks at the Pew Charitable Trusts have been looking for a “Manager, Federal Fisheries Policy Reform Campaign.” Among the responsibilities for this position:
* The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance. This project manager will be responsible for determining the nature and amount of this support
* Oversee and manage campaign staff and environmental, commercial fishing and recreational fishing NGO consultants. The campaign will provide financial support to key NGOs for campaign assistance.
* Working with PCT (Pew Charitable Trusts) and PEG (Pew Environment Group) public affairs staff on messaging and media strategy, the project manager will help ensure that communications and outreach are used to advance the campaign’s overall goals.
* The project manager will be responsible, in consultation with the project director, for identifying and contracting with scientists, legal experts, economists, polling firms, communications and other technical specialists as necessary to provide information, prepare reports, brochures or other documents as required to advance the campaign goals (from
What greater example do we need of the difference between real grass roots and astroturf? Need a fisherman, a scientist or an environmentalist to help you spin? Write a check. Buy one or two or a dozen. Want to manipulate the media? The Pew PR machine – backed by Pew’s tens of millions of dollars of media grants – will lend a hand. With billions of Big Oil/high tech dollars to draw from, a couple of decades of expensive successes under their collective belt and access that few enjoy to what I’d guess are excessively sympathetic ears at the highest levels of NOAA/NMFS, why would we expect them to do otherwise? And they have a bunch of people in Congress from inland states who have proven more than susceptible to their well oiled anti-fishing spin machine in the past. That’s why we’re in the position that we’re in today, with a mutated Magnuson-Stevens Act that gives scant consideration to the people and businesses involved in fishing and every consideration possible to the fish – which time after time have been shown to be far more resilient (how many fish stocks are “recovered” or on their way to recovery? How many fishing businesses that have gone bankrupt have come back?)
As applied to fisheries management, without Congressional intervention government “of the people, by the people, for the people” might well perish, to be replaced with checkbook activism. We’re most of the way there already.
When the Magnuson Act was written over 30 years ago, the intent wasn’t to have fisheries managed from the Board Rooms of multi-billion dollar foundations but from the docks, the marinas and the beaches where fishermen – let’s not call them fishers – were plying their trade or pursuing their sport. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it can be again, but not without your serious support and participation, no matter what your fishery.
Have a great holiday and I hope to see you in Washington.

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