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The Fisherman’s Dilemma - The California Sunday Magazine
"Off the coast of California, a radical experiment has closed hundreds of miles of ocean to fishing. Will it lead to better catches for years to come?"



"Maricich’s decision to throw in his lot with fish counters rather than catchers is in part economic, but it also stems from one truth that in a backdoor kind of way unites fishermen and conservationists: After all the closures and commissions, all the surveys and reappraisals, the ocean is still deeply mysterious. In the 1970s and 1980s, a profound knowledge deficit led to a policy of killing fish first and asking questions later. In the 2000s, the corrective — to close fishing grounds first and ask questions later — has been equally burdened by the problem of the vastness of the ocean.

Which was why the research Tim Maricich has been doing with the Nature Conservancy over the past three years is so important. It suggests that the regulatory overhaul and the federal and state closures are working. “We’re pretty consistently finding species like the yelloweye rockfish, which are deemed overfished,” the Nature Conservancy’s Mary Gleason told me. “That suggests that the formal stock assessments are probably underestimating their abundance and that the Rockfish Conservation Areas are probably contributing to their rebuilding. We’re seeing big schools of fish — widow rockfish, chilipepper rockfish. It’s gotten the fishermen pretty excited. They’re hoping some of this data might support opening up some of the closed areas.”"



"A decade later, the first comprehensive results are starting to emerge from scuba surveys. Jenn Caselle, a research biologist also from the University of California at Santa Barbara, has logged thousands of dive hours in the same cold water and kelp I experienced in Monterey. She’s found a noticeable change there, particularly around Anacapa Island, where I was now fishing. “The important message from the Channel Islands over ten years,” she says, “is that the fish inside the reserves are increasing. But here’s the key point. The populations of many fished species outside the reserves are also increasing — not as fast, but they’re increasing. This is really important because it was feared that the redistribution of fishing effort could cause scorched earth outside the reserves. That’s not happening.”"



"Evidence like Caselle’s isn’t good enough for some critics. Ray Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fisheries science at the University of Washington who’s frequently cited by fishermen as a counterweight to the “enviros,” claims there’s no evidence that the sanctuaries are having a comprehensive effect. Hilborn had taken part in the establishment of California marine reserves and found the science guidelines lacking in academic rigor. “If they had done it correctly,” he says, “there would have been adequate control groups, like with any experiment. They would have set up three reserves and three non-reserves and then compared the fish in each after five and then ten years.”

But Caselle argues that a control for an experiment the size of the Channel Islands network is an impossibility. “The hypothesis is that the total effect of a network is greater than the sum of its parts,” she says. “But that is very difficult to measure. That would require having another region that is similar in all ways to Southern California but without marine protected areas. Essentially, there are no controls for entire networks.” In other words, the entire California approach to linking its fragmented coast is a leap of faith. A leap of faith where the default is not fishing instead of fishing."



"Were all these fish the result of the reserve? Or was it just a good day, as can happen, even when there aren’t that many fish around? It cannot yet be scientifically documented. Since many fish that are specifically protected by the reserves, like rockfish, can live many dozens of years, it may be a long time until we know the extent to which reserves populate other fishing grounds. By the end of the day, when the mate cleaned our catch and the dozen-odd fishermen aboard the Cobra all had a bag or two of fillets to show, there seemed to be a grudging feeling that the Channel Islands experiment had shifted something. As we motored back to port, a retired chef who’d been fishing next to me muttered, “I’ll tell you what, if it wasn’t for these closures, there wouldn’t be any fish at all.”

This thought stayed with me as I made my way to the airport. After boarding a plane I checked my phone before shutting it down for the trip back east. Atop the headlines was the news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had closed the entirety of the East Coast from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to the Canadian border to both commercial and sport cod fishing —  at least until May, in an effort to reverse declining fish populations in the Gulf of Maine. These were grounds I’d helped deplete over the past decade. After the latest stock assessment it was revealed that cod had dipped to an even lower level than had previously been assumed. The remaining stocks from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Maine, a population upon which colonial New England built its economy, were now reported to be between 3 and 4 percent of what would be required to have a sustainable fishery.

As I considered this news, I thought how the fishermen of California might have avoided a similar fate. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recently surveyed the range of fisheries off California and moved many of the state’s groundfish species off its red “Avoid” list. In the decades ahead, commercial fishermen might enjoy rebuilt runs of rockfish and lingcod, surging runs of white sea bass and squid, all of them dashing through the regrown kelp in pursuit of sardines and anchovies that are also, apparently, on the rebound.

With the spring migrations coming on, the usual time I’d head to Gloucester for cod, I thought about what I might do instead. Was there something else I could fish? Maybe mackerel would swing through our waters as they once did in my youth but now only do on occasion. Maybe the blackfish would make an appearance if they hadn’t been hit too hard by lobstermen whose Long Island Sound lobster had grown scarce. Or maybe I’ll just hang it up and not fish at all this season."

[See also: http://aeon.co/magazine/science/a-radical-model-for-saving-californias-ocean-fisheries/ ]
paulgreenberg  coreyarnold  california  fisheries  fishing  commercialfishing  2015  oceans  pacificocean  montereybay  timmaricich  natureconservancy  conservation  rayhilborn  stevegaines  jenncaselle  aancapaisland  channelislands  environmentalism  economics 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Radical hope for saving ocean fisheries – Megan Molteni – Aeon
"The good catch: Hope for the world's devastated oceans rests on a change in the hearts of the fishermen that know them best"



"‘Used to be, the first three days I would stay awake straight,’ he tells me, wincing slightly and running a hand through his thick, greying hair. ‘But I just can’t do that anymore.’

Nor does he have to. For Seitz and a handful of other fishermen in California, the testosterone-frenzied, fish-till-you-drop lifestyle is becoming a thing of the past. This is no accident. Rather, it is the deliberate work of old enemies who have teamed up in the face of environmental tragedy to chart a new course in collaborative resource management. If the venture is successful, it could not only revolutionise the way the American fishing fleet does business: it might forever alter the way we think about our planet’s last great frontier."



"The modernisation of the world’s fishing fleets was good for fishermen, but it was very bad for fish. Looking back at historical catch data, scientists estimate that the marine biomass of open-ocean communities declined by 80 per cent within 15 years of industrialised exploitation. The ocean has lost more than 90 per cent of its large predatory fishes — iconic species such as the bluefin tuna, the Atlantic cod, and the Pacific halibut.

How did this happen in less than a century? The simple answer is hubris. The notion that we could take and take from the seemingly limitless bounty of the sea without consequences has permeated everything from governmental policy to management efforts to fishing culture for decades. You see it in the government-subsidised expansion of the US fishing fleet despite falling catch rates; in modern management strategies that enabled fishermen to catch as much as possible in a given time frame; in a supply chain that encourages opacity and deceit at every stage. However, the more complicated answer is that we have managed (and mismanaged) economic incentives, consumer markets, scientific data, environmental policy and, above all, individual accountability. Fishermen get much of the blame for the state in which we find ourselves — this ‘race to the last fish’ — but they didn’t build this system by themselves. They are, however, the ones with the power to change it.

When Rob Seitz was growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, he didn’t play sports or do much studying. Instead, he’d spend weeknights and weekends out at sea with his grandfather, fishing for salmon and halibut. In 1988, he took up fishing full-time. The next year, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s icy waters. The disaster shut down the salmon fishery, and over the next decade Seitz was forced to cobble together a living in less lucrative fisheries. By the time things recovered, aquaculture (or fish farming) had come to the US, and in 2000 prices for salmon plummeted. That was the end of Seitz’s fishing career in Alaska. He drifted south, eventually landing in Astoria, Oregon, a fishing port perched at the mouth of the Columbia River, and home to the third-largest fish processor in the world.

That same year, 750 miles further south, California’s Morro Bay fishery was officially declared a federal disaster. Like so many ports along America’s coastline, Morro Bay had seen the advent of enormous trawlers that destroyed local marine wildlife in just a few decades. Between 1986 and 2000, fish landings and economic revenue in Morro Bay fell by more than 80 per cent. This was emblematic of fisheries the world over — starting in 1988, global catch estimates show a steady decline of more than 300,000 tons per year. In Morro Bay, a common story began to unfold. Stocks collapsed. Processors left town. Regulators stepped in. The Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service spent $30 million to buy out fishermen who were willing to get out of the business — about 40 per cent of the town’s fleet. By 2002, the remaining fishermen were getting desperate. That year, under pressure from a federal mandate, the regulators announced they would be making large closures up and down the California coast, to protect fish habitat and prohibit trawling. While the size of the closure was to be dictated by regulatory agencies, the exact boundaries were open to public input. And this was where the nation’s largest environmental group — the Nature Conservancy — saw an opportunity to step in.

The conservancy quickly realised that, to establish the right boundaries for the closures, it would have to go to the very people who were fighting to keep the fishing grounds open. ‘What the fishermen had was a deep local knowledge of the habitats of certain species,’ Michael Bell, a senior project director with the conservancy, told The New York Times in November 2011. ‘There wasn’t scientific information at that level that could match the fisherman knowledge.’

So Bell went to the fishermen of Morro Bay to ask for help. The proposition was this: either work with us, sharing your knowledge to create a proposal for the new closures — of which we’ll help mitigate the financial burdens — or don’t, and let the regulators put the lines wherever they want.

Fishermen were torn. To work with environmentalists would mean allegations of ‘sleeping with the enemy’ from friends and colleagues. On the other hand, any other economic opportunities had left town with the processing plants. Eventually, out of the 23 permit-holders approached, 13 fishermen volunteered to sell their permits and six of those also sold their boats to the conservancy. Other fishermen began sharing their knowledge of areas needing protection for breeding grounds and juvenile fish habitat. ‘They realised this was a chance for them to shape their destiny a bit,’ said Bell. And so, together, the conservancy and the fishermen came to the council with a plan for the closures.

By 2006, this unlikely partnership had resulted in the creation of 3.8 million acres of protected fish habitat — all of it off-limits to trawling, and with stricter regulations for other kinds of fishing. It also made the conservancy the second-largest fishing permit-holder on the west coast — unprecedented for an environmental group. For decades, the typical dynamic in US fisheries consisted of fishermen pushing the limits of what scientists said was sustainable, management agencies not doing enough, and environmentalists filing lawsuits. This didn’t do much for how environmentalists and fishermen felt about each other. The conservancy’s move changed everything. Other environmental groups had bought boats and licences in order to retire them and relieve pressure on fish stocks, but no other conservation group had become a significant stakeholder in the fishing industry. ‘Before that, we had an advocacy role only,’ said Bell, ‘and now we were at the table with assets.’

But what to do with those assets? The conservancy wanted to find a fishery model based on collaboration, which would work for both the environment and economics — a model that would break from the practices that caused the decline in the first place. Rather than taking boats and permits out of action, they decided to lease some back, provided fishermen agreed to new sustainable practices. These included switching gear to traps and hook-and-line, updating catch-reporting technology, and sharing that information with the conservancy for research and monitoring purposes. Those fishermen who agreed to the new conditions got a special exempted permit to fish Morro Bay’s waters.

The plan wasn’t popular with everyone. ‘Fishing was our heritage,’ Andrea Lueker, then assistant City Manager, told me. ‘And we were very concerned we were going to lose fishing in Morro Bay.’ The conservancy realised that in order to get the full support of a city built on trawl fishing, they would have to resurrect the trawl fleet. They had the boats, but no one to captain them by their rules. They needed new blood.

Back in Oregon, Rob Seitz was having something of an existential crisis. After six years of gruelling work aboard crabbing boats, tuna boats, salmon boats and anyone else who would take him, he had his first captain’s job. He also had a wife and four kids. Seitz found himself wishing he were going to his kids’ football games rather than getting his butt kicked for a few more pounds of crab. But if he weren’t out there, someone else would be. And that meant money in someone else’s wallet instead of on his mortgage. He felt trapped. And he worried about the kind of legacy he was leaving his children.

Then one day, he picked a book of home remedies off his in-laws’ coffee table and flipped to the chapter titled ‘midlife crisis’. Inside, he found a passage from Carl Jung: it said that when you’re young you separate yourself from society so that you can go out and create value for your own life, but once you have children there is a desire to return to society, to meet social goals rather than personal ones. Seitz was intrigued and sought out more of Jung’s work, until one day the message became clear: life isn’t about personal gain, it’s about trying to make the world a better place in which your young can grow up. The revelation brought relief.

‘I realised that all this time I’d been thinking, “I’m a victim.” Things happened to me and all I did was complain about it,’ Seitz said. He didn’t want to suffer at the hands of a broken system any longer: he wanted to change it and himself. So when he heard that Morro Bay was looking for a trawler, he jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to build up a whole new system that rewarded fishermen for making sustainable choices.

As Seitz was moving his family south, further monumental changes were hitting the California’s Central Coast. At the beginning of 2011, the Pacific Fishery Management Council switched … [more]
fishing  oregon  california  policy  2013  us  meganmolteni  morrobay  astoria  alaska  pacificcoast  robseitz  collaboration  environment  sustainability  nature  natureconservancy  commercialfishing 
july 2014 by robertogreco

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