Monday, February 14, 2011

The tide is always rising for NOAA press release

If you hang around fisheries long enough, you'll hear some pretty absurd things. One of the more absurd and obtuse things I've read recently is this press release from NOAA. Take the following quote as an example:
“Rebuilding economically valuable fisheries goes hand-in-hand with protecting fishing jobs and supporting coastal communities,” Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said.


“This is another instance of our continuing effort to use whatever flexibility is available to us to protect fishing jobs and the long-term vitality of local fishing communities as we continue rebuilding the valuable groundfish stocks in the Northeast,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
Sorry, but NOAA has done little to nothing to protect fishery jobs and they have had ample opportunity to do so. In fact they have publicly said they want to consolidate the fishery.

In this case they are allowing an increase in the Yellowtail Flounder Catch and saying they are doing it to preserve fishing communities. The sheer hypocrisy of these statements leads me to believe that they actually think people are stupid. When they talk amongst themselves, they are saying quite a different thing.

It would in fact be nice if NOAA could get behind efforts to ensure a diverse fleet and sustainable fisheries. One might think it would be an obvious choice to help create more jobs rather than eliminate them. One might think it would make sense to have a fleet that can provide higher quality product (like the fish we get at CAFC) while preserving and even creating fishing industry jobs.

But what if your aim is not really to protect fishing communities and a diverse fleet, but rather to create investment opportunities for the big wigs?

I can say however that there are folks working hard to actually preserve a diverse fleet and fishing communities. CAFC's Angela Sanfilippo has worked tirelessly for decades to support, protect and ensure the safety of the New England fleet.

Currently, NAMA (Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance) is pushing hard for new rules that will place restrictions on the rapid consolidation of fishing rights. It is an uphill battle. Those who have much to gain from a consolidated fleet are working around the clock to stave off any restrictions on their ability to buy up fishing rights.

If you have any interest at all in preserving a diverse fleet, now is a great time to speak up. You can let the decision makers at NOAA/NMFS/NEFMC acronymville that you care about a diverse fleet by doing a video testimony, submitting a written testimony or testifying in person at the next NEFMC meeting. If you would like to testify, please contact me and I will help you through the sometimes confusing process of getting NOAA to listen to real people.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Marine Spatial Planning

Last week, I mentioned that the idea of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is becoming the next big thing in fisheries management. At the most basic level the idea is akin to zoning laws on land.

The ocean, of course exists in three dimensions and many of the creatures in the ocean migrate from and through zones. However, the idea is that by taking what we know about the ocean we can make plans that will balance the desires to maintain and improve the ocean environment, extract resources from the ocean etc.

A frequent example used to explain how the concept works is the recent change to the shipping lanes approaching Boston Harbor to protect marine mammals, specifically whales, and in this case even more specifically, the North Atlantic Right Whale which is an endangered species. You can see from the image below how moving the channel can reduce the likelihood of a ship striking a whale.

In the image above (Example of the Potential Benefits of CMSP: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Photo Courtesy NOAA)) the dots represent Right Whales and the colors represent baleen whale densities.

Another example that can help explain MSP is how the Lobster Fishery is managed in Maine, where regional councils of fishermen set the rules for their "area". In this case they are managing a single species in a specific area as opposed to an entire eco-system, but the idea is the similar. In the case of the Maine lobster fishery, it is and has been one of the few examples of a prolific fishery that fishermen voluntarily chose restrictions to their catch to ensure the species would be around for future generations.

Some people argue that catch shares serve the same purpose in that giving fishermen a share of the fishery will encourage stewardship over the resource. However, the reality is that fishermen become stewards of the economic value of their share rather than stewards of the resource itself. They only have incentive to care about the resource when it would negatively affect the value of their share. Think of it like the difference between leasing a car and owning a car.

In general MSP does have a lot of potential as a means to deal with the ocean resources and competing interests, and the science to effectively do it is improving all the time. I always suggest reading some of Ted Ames' work on gaddiform populations in the Eastern Gulf of Maine as a way to understand how fish can fit into manageable areas.

Other News and Notes
I think it is about time to blow the lid off the cooking pot here at Cape Ann Fresh Catch blog. We started this blog because we want our members to be informed. Initially we felt that there were so many critical things happening in fisheries issues that we had a responsibility to inform and maybe educate a bit along the way.

However, most every time I talk to CAFCatchers (thats the new name I am giving to members, ) all we ever talk about is cooking fish and fish recipes. To that end, I would like to offer that anyone who would like to contribute an article, recipe, fish experience with the blog should please get in touch.

I am also in the process of trying to line up some guest columnists who can provide different takes on all things seafood.

Last but not least, remember to sign up for the spring season, and make sure to tell folks about CAFC!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Last week a reader asked me what I thought about the Obama administrations Ocean Policy Task Force. The task force was created to:
"strengthen(s) ocean governance and coordination, establishes guiding principles for ocean management, and adopts a flexible framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes."
Sounds good in principle. One of the common themes of failed regulation and management is that it tends to be reactive. We've seen this time and again with the NEFMC, which only tends to deal with issues after they are already a problem. And even then it can be argued that the NEFMC has failed to do much of anything that includes any kind of vision for how the coastal fishery can and should operate. For example, they could strive to become a model fishery that is sustainable, delivers the highest quality product and preserves jobs and coastal communities. But they dont.

So, on the heels of Massachusetts own spatial planning effort, it looks like the federal government is endorsing the concept of "marine spatial planning". Marine spatial planning is somewhat similar to zoning laws on land. The idea is to manage competing or in some cases conflicting interests. Well done, zoning can enhance the utility of a given space. And of course, there are often problems with bad zoning.

So, to start with, it seems that any attempt to get out in front of these issues with a long term plan and vision for our oceans is a step in the right direction. And, it seems that the first and foremost concern is protecting the environment, which as an oceans objective is certainly admirable. However it remains to be seen what this means specifically for fisheries. NAMA has long advocated for eco-system based management/marine spatial planning and area based management, which are all essentially different flavors of ice cream in the same cone.

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a big topic however and one that cannot be covered in one single blog post, however it is an important topic and so next week I'll delve into more detail about and what effect it might have on ocean management.

Dont forget to sign up for the spring season!