Water Out Of Fish
Reports of declining fish populations have inspired several recent regulatory moves, including a new bill by Rep. Sam Farr.
Thursday, July 26, 2001
Some fishermen say they are being hurt by new fishing regulations, and they fear more limits will threaten them with extinction.Kathy Fosmark, a spokesperson for local commercial fishing interests, finds herself exasperated these days. Her family has been fishing out of the Monterey Bay for three generations and out of California for six. She says it seems like no one wants that tradition to last.
Several areas along the coast have been proposed as no-fishing zones through the state Marine Life Protection Act. Further off the coast, in federal waters, more reserves are also under discussion. Fosmark fears that upcoming revisions to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary general plan will call for stricter fisheries management.
Even though the ice-filled case at the fish market may be fully stocked, there is ample concern about the health and sustainability of fisheries around the world. A January 2001 report to Congress by the National Marine Fisheries Service found 92 out of 905 fish stocks off the U.S. coast to be overfished. In the Pacific, Chinook salmon, canary rockfish and cowcod are listed as overfished.
With increased attention being paid to ocean conditions and to the health of marine life, there''s a push for ensuring sustainable fisheries, through measures like ecosystem management and marine protection reserves.
But Fosmark--who recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for county supervisor--now feels like her own congressman is moving against the family business.
On July 19, Rep. Sam Farr introduced a bill that would amend the nation''s fishing regulations. Farr''s office says his bill will "strengthen U.S. ocean fish populations and safeguard jobs in the fishing industry," by preserving "the sustainability of our fisheries."
"This is subjecting fishermen to a slow death," she says. "What he''s doing is legislating a plan that makes it financially impossible to operate."
As a local spokesperson for commercial fishing in the five harbors of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Fosmark works with other fishing organizations, as well as the Sanctuary itself. She sees added costs, not progress.
Under Farr''s bill, a program will be established to place observers on fishing boats to monitor practices and watch for "bycatch"--fish other than the "target-species" which get caught up in nets and lines. Although the observer program has been funded for this year, Fosmark complains that in Farr''s bill, fishing operators will bear an undue part of the cost in the future. She also complains about an expanded definition of "bycatch" in Farr''s bill, which, she says, could even include kelp.
Farr''s bill urges an ecosystem-based management approach, which considers habitat and other factors in forming management plans. The bill is backed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as the national environmental consortium known as the Marine Fish Conservation Network.
The new rules will be counterproductive, Fosmark says.
"If it costs more money to make more money they''ll have to catch more fish to cover their expenses," Fosmark says. "I would think we don''t have to put fishermen out of business to achieve the goals of a good, managed ecosystem."
Farr says Fosmark has it wrong.
"This bill certainly does not spell a slow death for fishermen," Farr says. On the contrary, it is a step to save our fishermen and fisheries. If we continue to fish the way we have in the past, and if we don''t develop a better means of monitoring our fish stocks, the fishing industry will continue to face hard times.
Part of Farr''s bill calls for $50 million to be diverted from customs duties to set up collaborative programs for fishermen and scientists. The money would also be used to help fishermen design new gear.
Farr also says having observers on fishing boats won''t be as damaging as Fosmark makes it out to be.
Farr points out that according to his bill, the observer program will be half-funded by landing fees, which is a fee incurred when a fish is actually landed onboard a boat.
"Matching funds from the $50 million in the bill will fund the rest," he says. "What''s more, small fishermen will not be disadvantaged by the bill, because the landing fees are based the size of the landings."
Some fishing groups are more optimistic than Fosmark about Farr''s proposal.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen''s Associations (PCFFA), based in San Francisco, is an umbrella group of 25 different organizations representing small to mid-size fishing vessels from Alaska to the Mexican border. Natasha Benjamin is the fish program officer for the nonprofit arm of the PCFFA, the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
Benjamin says Farr''s measure to aim for reduced bycatch is more attainable than one proposed in a congressional bill last year. In fact, the PCFFA worked with Farr''s office to make the no-bycatch language more flexible.
"We support the need to reduce bycatch, but to say a fishery will have zero bycatch is an unrealistic thing to do," she says. "It''s almost impossible for any fishery, even the cleanest fishery."
The federation looks forward to the exchange of information between scientists and fishermen proposed in Farr''s bill. Benjamin says fishermen have "traditional knowledge" from being on the water that''s otherwise unavailable, just as scientists have knowledge that fishermen otherwise would not be exposed to.
"When you have just one side, you''re missing a really big part of the picture," she says. "It kind of goes both ways in terms of learning from each other."