PCFFA Fishermen’s News Nov. 2004: Fishing for Foolishness

November, 2004

FISHING FOR FOOLISHNESS Fisheries’ Constant Irritants

By Zeke Grader and Glen Spain

For years now, PCFFA’s columns in the Fishermen’s News have centered on some pressing fishery issue or issues. This issue we’re taking a break from that approach and, with apologies to 60 Minutes’ Andy Rooney, we’re going to give you our list of some of the real foolishness we’ve encountered over the last few years – those constant irritants that really piss us off. Hopefully it will make you laugh as well as think as we go into a new year.

So They Think We’re All Weasels?

About 1980 or so, the Department of Labor in the Carter Administration issued a directive that fishermen, fisherwomen, whatever, were thereafter to be called ‘fishers’ in light of the political ‘correctness’ of the time. No one in the government, of course, bothered to ask any actual fishing men or women what they thought about the idea or if they agreed to it. There it was by fiat, a fisherman was now a ‘fisher,’ said the U.S. Government.

Admittedly some of us were more or less resigned to the change. After all, chairmen or chairwomen had now become ‘chairs,’ so we figured we were next. Sure we didn’t like it. For one thing, the traditional term ‘fisherman’ had much more panache, history and culture tied to it, which ‘fisher’ certainly didn’t. For PCFFA, and most other fishermen’s organizations, it meant, too, that we’d have to be filing with the state to change our names and order new letterhead. That is, until the women in our industry, showing the balls we men were apparently lacking, said hell no. In a letter to Labor, that was picked up in the Wall Street Journal, the women wrote they were perfectly content to be called fishermen, or even fisherwomen, but they weren’t weasels, which is what a ‘fisher’ actually is. If you want to do something for the women in the fleet, they said, then do something substantive like passing the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment], just don’t think you’re helping women by calling all of us weasels.

Over two decades later, the term ‘fisher’ may seem more appropriate since the fisher, in the weasel family, is on the endangered species list and doesn’t even fish – a state which could describe a lot of fishermen right now. The real issue, however, has to do with the arrogance and hubris of government, and a lot of pious folks in academia, thinking they can arbitrarily come up with names for folks without even asking them. Other than our parents naming us individually, it should be up to us to determine what we’re called.

The 1980 action by the Department of Labor, that still lingers in some quarters today, is reminiscent of those 19th century anthropologists who insisted on dividing humans into three races (incorrectly) that they named – Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroid. Of course, they – the WASPs [white Anglo-Saxon protestant males] – were superior to all; so they thought and so they told us. Since that time, a lot of folks have been taking back the naming rights and determining for themselves what they are going to be called. Latinos have opted for the name they like best, as have African-Americans. Gays and lesbians have told us what they want to be called and we’ve learned to respect that too.

What we’re saying here to all the rest of the world is that unless the fishing community says it wants to be called ‘fishers’ then leave it alone and respect the term fisherman, fishermen, fisherwoman and fisherwomen, even fisherperson and fisherfolk, but please not ‘fisher.’ If government or academia insist on calling fishermen weasels than we ought to return the favor and call them that part of the anatomy that is most descriptive.

‘NO Fisheries’ May be More Appropriate

Speaking of names, who are these NOAA [National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration] minions that have taken it upon themselves to rename the National Marine Fisheries Service ‘NOAA Fisheries?’ Did Congress pass a law to change the name? Did the President sign an Executive Order changing the name? Since when have our old and proud nation’s fisheries been denigrated to just being some appendage of a second-tier agency? What happened to the words ‘United States’ or ‘National’ before our fisheries, instead of some agency acronym?

On the other hand, why stop renaming branches of government there? Let’s see what else we can rename. How about DOD Navy, or DHS Coast Guard (sounds like a suntan ointment), or USDA Forests, or DOI Indians (sorry Cleveland)? It was bad enough when Gingrich’s Congress got rid of the old Merchant Marine & Fisheries Committee in the zeal of the wise use bunch and western neo-cons to erase fisheries from the public’s, or at least Congress’s, collective consciousness. Now we have the ultimate insult with some bureaucrats arbitrarily deciding to place their agency moniker in front of the word fisheries.

Of course, with the way the National Marine Fisheries Service is managing fisheries right now, from the Columbia, to the Klamath, to the Central Valley, not to mention all the groundfish collapses, coupled with their refusal to defend fish stocks against the attacks of the Administration’s developer friends, and their unabashed, albeit still behind the scenes, promotion of ocean aquaculture, it might as well be called ‘No Fisheries.’ That’s certainly the direction they’re headed. As for us, we’re going to continue working to make sure there are fish and fisheries, despite ‘No Fisheries.’ It’s time to take fisheries out of NOAA, make it a stand-alone agency and give it a proud no-nonsense name like ‘U.S. Bureau of Fisheries,’ where fish and fishing mean something good.

Have They Visited Yosemite Lately?

The ship of state unfortunately is not the only ship of fools. The enviros, too, are capable of their share of absurdity and some of that has us seeing red. Aside from Environmental Defense’s proselytizing their problematic positions promoting ‘market based solutions,’ from water marketing to individual fishing quotas, but with none of the sideboards necessary to ensure fairness or effectiveness, the one that really gets to us most is ‘ocean wilderness.’

‘Ocean wilderness,’ of course is their sales pitch for marine protected areas – preferably, for the promoters, places where there’s no fishing. They say we’ve got to do as we did onshore with our national parks and create a system of protected places in the sea – ocean wilderness, they tell us. Of course it doesn’t stop there; they’ve even got the percentage they need down to the last decimal, made with the certainty of an 18th century clergyman declaring 4004 BC the year of creation. They might as well as set up their revival tents on the beaches where we can all shout ‘hallelujah.’ Because believe us brothers and sisters this is more about religion than it is science with some of these folks.

Those skeptics among us who sit back and watch this hype with a jaundiced eye, of course, wonder when was the last time any of these people visited a national park. We love Yosemite, don’t get us wrong, but the floor is paved over and it seems like there’s more traffic on it than the 405 through Los Angeles or I-5 coming into Seattle during commute hour. There’s probably a wider variety of corporate logos to be seen there than flora and fauna. Frankly, if it were wilderness we were seeking to save, not an outdoor experience for the masses, then Yosemite would have been better off as a private hunting preserve. Likewise, plan on dodging the snowmobiles in Yellowstone next winter and, with this Congress and Administration, can ATVs be far behind? Bears and badgers had better learn to scatter, much as otters are diving trying to avoid being hit by personal watercraft (aka ‘jet skis’) in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, meanwhile choking on the oil from the exhaust of the two cycle engines.

In their rush to create their ocean wildernesses modeled on the national park system, these MPA disciples forget that some of those same parks allow for commercial activities, unrelated to tourist service and retail vendors. Point Reyes National Seashore, for example, has working dairy ranches. One of the best activities along the beach of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is watching the herring boats catch their quotas on San Francisco Bay. Glacier Bay once allowed a benign commercial fishery (trolling, crabbing) within that national park, until some bright bureaucrat decided to get rid of the fishing boats — and bring in cruise ships that polluted the place.

We’re not saying that marine protected areas, even some with no fishing, may not be justified in particular areas. It probably makes sense, following consultations between fishermen and scientists, to set aside some areas free from all human activity for baseline research or to protect key nursery beds. In other areas it may make sense to set up reserves for certain species, but not banning all fishing, or to protect sensitive habitats from the impacts of certain types of fishing gear, but not banning all fishing gear. There is a lot of middle ground few ever think about.

The point is, shore-based parks and national wildlife areas are not the best models for the conservation of ocean waters. Some areas may warrant special protections, either to provide baseline research, preserving special habitats or conserving resident species, but our oceans and our fisheries need more than that. Most fish know no boundaries, water pollution knows no boundaries and the winds depositing mercury, or carrying the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – half of which is sequestered by ocean waters, thus making our seas more acidic – likewise know no boundaries. Creating ‘ocean wildernesses’ is not going to save us; treating the ocean itself as in need of special protection and working to protect all of its waters from pollution as well as overuse, difficult as it may be, is what is really needed.

MPAs, after all, are a tool, and certainly no substitute for strong anti-pollution measures and sound fishing regulations. They need to be based on science, not the religious fervor of the ‘ocean wilderness’ proselytizers. So please, let’s cut the crap about ‘ocean wilderness’ and get real about what the ocean really needs and how humans are part of its ecosystems.

The ‘Great Pew Conspiracy

Another constant irritant is the foolishness among some in our own industry with their drivel of denial and concocted conspiracies. Let’s face it folks, we’ve got some real problems and they aren’t all due to ENGOs [environmental non-governmental organizations] and their foundation sponsors. The chronic anal-cranial inversion (to use Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s favorite expression) of some folks in the fisheries really pisses us off. While we may argue about the extent, the collapse of the groundfish stocks is real. And the regional councils ain’t exactly perfect either. Even the North Pacific Council (from the land where Alaskans manage fish perfectly), as you recall, gave us processor IFQs. Don’t even get us started on NMFS (excuse us, ‘No Fisheries’). But what really is grating, and makes us all look like fools as well, are those folks not just denying any of our obvious problems, but who claim all the bad news is a result of some plot by the Pew Charitable Trusts and some co-conspirator private foundations, like Packard, to put us all out of business.

There are a lot of things we may disagree on with the Pew Charitable Trust and some of the other foundations, from MPAs to some of their funded trawl bashing, but there have also been a lot of things the foundations have sponsored in the past decade that greatly benefit fishermen. We may quibble about some of the recommendations of the two ocean commissions’ recommendations for fisheries, but taken as a whole the two commissions have likewise come up with some really good ideas for protecting ocean waters that ultimately benefit fishermen. If it were not for the Pew Trusts, forming their own ocean commission, Congress would not have acted to establish the U.S. Commission. Both ocean commissions have heightened public awareness of the crisis facing ocean waters, from dead zones to ocean aquaculture, something fishermen by themselves have not been able to do.

Remember, too, the Pew Oceans Commission had two commercial fishermen members; President Bush refused to appoint any commercial fishermen to the U.S. Commission. The Pew Commission also took a much harder line on ocean aquaculture, not buying into the hype of fish farm promoters, unlike the U.S. Commission. In the end, despite what the two Senators from Alaska and their fishermen followers have said, the two reports, while we may not agree with all of them, set forth some solid recommendations for ocean protection and with it a future for our industry.

It should be remembered, too, that Pew helped sponsor coalitions such as Save Our Wild Salmon, which has been working for many years to restore salmon in the Columbia Basin, and which includes several fishing organization, including PCFFA. If they were really out to get fishermen, why would they lend financial assistance to our efforts to restore our salmon runs? Why not just fund the initiatives to get rid of commercial fishing?

In California, the David & Lucille Packard Foundation has likewise been generous in helping fishing groups as well as environmental organizations. It was Packard, after all, that put PCFFA Past President Nat Bingham on the road in the early 1990’s, supporting his efforts at protecting winter-run salmon and maintaining healthy stocks of Sacramento fall-run.

Packard’s support for the Marine Stewardship Council and the Seafood Choices Alliance and other consumer oriented programs has made a big difference for west coast fishermen, who are trying to fish sustainably, in getting recognition and better prices for their fish. A lot of folks can take credit for the improved market for wild salmon, from the California Salmon Council and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, to the chefs that revolted at serving farmed salmon, but the programs Packard helped fund played a big part in boosting our markets and no one in our industry should ever forget that.

As we said, there will be issues we disagree on. But we’ll sit down and try to convince the foundations and those they fund of the wisdom of our positions, in a civil and adult manner. For those in our industry who come lurking around with their conspiracy theories, all we can say is save your bogeymen for Halloween.

We Need Aquaculture to End Our Nation’s ‘Seafood Deficit’?

The enviros, the recreational fishing groups, and our own industry all engage in their share of folly, but no one beats the U.S. Government. The latest being pushed by the Bush Administration is that the U.S. has a ‘seafood deficit’ and therefore the country needs to establish offshore aquaculture. Our Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, has even stepped in to say it’s a matter of ‘food security.’ Honestly, what are these people smoking?

We’re not so sure the Administration is as worried about the ‘seafood deficit’ as it is about the oil industry and what’s going to happen to all their offshore rigs once their wells go dry. While the U.S. exports a fair amount of fish – squid to China, sardines to Italy, herring roe to Japan – it imports a massive amount of farmed salmon and farmed shrimp. Those two commodities account for our so-called deficit. If the Government would just crack down on seafood imports that are environmentally destructive, there wouldn’t be any ‘deficit’ and U.S. fishermen would also be doing a lot better.

Cracking down on environmentally destructive seafood imports is not all the U.S. can do to deal with its seafood production. Protecting habitats, from salmon streams to coastal wetlands, and preventing pollution will help to increase fish production in the long run.

If the Bush Administration were more concerned about fish than the operations of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), we could increase salmon production on the Columbia; if the Administration were more concerned about fish than farming alfalfa in the Klamath Wildlife Refuge, there would be fewer closures on salmon fishing along the Pacific Coast; and if the Administration were more concerned about fish than the wet dreams of the Westlands Water District and a plethora of water contractor wannabe water brokers, there would be a lot more salmon production out of the Central Valley rivers.

The fact is, if the Bush Administration were really concerned about fish production it would have been working with fishermen to protect and restore our fish producing capabilities, not selling the fishing fleet down the river. Offshore fish farms utilizing wild fish for feed, or even some farm products, are not going to increase food production, but will actually reduce the amount of available edible protein for humans. Salmon reared in net pens and tuna fattened in offshore cages are not going to feed the world’s starving masses. But the millions of tons of feed, made from anchovy, sardines and other perfectly good food fish, now used to produce thousands of pounds of fish for first world markets, could make a real dent in satisfying world demand for protein.

Our patience is at an end with government bureaucrats, and their fellow travelers in academia, claiming aquaculture is needed to address this contrived ‘seafood deficit.’

Bi-Polar Thinking

Finally, among our list of irritants, with just about everyone, is this penchant for ‘bi-polar’ thinking. That is, to them things are either black or white. On issues ranging from IFQs, to MPAs, to even aquaculture, we can see a place for how these things can work or not work. The problem is most folks either are not, or most likely choose not to be, nuanced thinkers.

Instead we hear either hype or hysteria on issues, but none of the thought needed to determine what will work or not work in a given circumstance. Trawling is a prime example. We’ve said there may be areas where certain types of trawls should not be used. To listen to folks in our industry, you’d think we were anti-trawl or have sold out to Oceana. On the other hand, when we’ve defended trawling, because in a lot of areas it’s the only way targeted fish can be taken and it can be done in a way that neither results in sea floor damage nor unacceptable levels of bycatch, to hear some of the enviros or recreational fishing advocates, you’d think we were promoting deep sea bulldozing and destruction on the level of an underwater nuclear explosion. Come on folks, get a grip on reality.

Without sounding like Ross Perot, who was always proclaiming – and rightfully so – ‘the devil is in the details,’ we’ve all got to be a lot smarter. We are not going to survive in a complex world if we engage in simplistic thinking. And in these trying times, when the key to our survival is going be our ability to be smart, and to adapt, there’s nothing that pisses us off more than this simplistic ‘black or white’ bi-polar thinking. All we can say to those folks who engage in it is either get your meds or get out of the way.


There, you’ve got our short list of irritants and foolishness that we most have to contend with. November is the month we give thanks for all of our blessings. In mulling over what we have to be thankful for, consider too your own list of fishery irritants. But don’t stop there. Think about what you can do about them too. See you at Pacific Marine Expo Seattle and Happy Thanksgiving.

William F. ‘Zeke’ Grader, Jr., is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the west coast’s largest organization of commercial fishermen and fishing families; Glen H. Spain is PCFFA Northwest Regional Director. PCFFA can be reached at Southwest Regional Office: PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370 USA, (415)561-5080; Northwest Regional Office: PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, (541)689-2000. PCFFA’s email address is: fish1ifr@aol.com and its web site is at: www.pcffa.org.