SCAMS, SWINDLES AND BOONDOGGLES
Fishermen Are Feeling the Brunt of Much of It
By Zeke Grader, Glen Spain, Nate Grader
Unfortunately, there are numerous marine resource scams being run on the American people by the current Bush Administration and its big industry cronies. You need to know why these are scams, how they will likely hurt your fishing industry, and what the facts really are in order to fight them or blunt their impacts. For that you need to be armed with some clear thinking and some facts they do not want you to know.
Though many of them come from this federal Administration, we’re not here to bash the Bush Administration (which has only a little over 100 days left), but instead to focus on the series of scams being run right now by government, corporations, even environmental organizations (“ENGOs”), often in collusion.
These scams will outlast the Bush Administration unless they are combated. At best they are diversions from the real issues. At worst they are deliberate industry-based swindles intended to grab valuable offshore resources to the profit of the very few, but at the expense of all rank-and-file fishermen and their communities.
The first of the scams we want to examine here has been going on in earnest now for the past five years. Euphemistically called “Marine Protected Areas” or MPAs, and sometimes referred to as “marine reserves,” these are, to date, nothing more than restricted or no-fishing zones. Except for eliminating fishing (but often only commercial fishing), however, MPAs have done nothing to protect marine waters from pollution or a myriad of other activities, many of them far more damaging than sustainable commercial fishing.
Now don’t get us wrong. Closing areas to some types of fishing, even all fishing in certain areas depending on the area and the intent of the action, may be beneficial to our industry at times, and should not be just rejected per se. However, our view is that such choices should be made thoughtfully, designed to increase surrounding fishing opportunities based on the best available science, and placed where biologically needed (such as critical nursery areas), not just scattered willy-nilly in reaction to perceived fishery management problems that either don’t exist or could be corrected far more effectively with other existing management tools. Indeed, most everything called for by MPA proponents could be achieved with existing fishing regulations and tools. See PCFFA’s well-respected Policy Statement on MPAs at www.pcffa.org/MPA.htm.
The term “marine protected area” should not simply be a euphemism for no commercial fishing. If shutting down fishing is all it means, it’s a term of misdirection aimed at duping the public into believing that the establishment of these sites will protect our oceans (even our fisheries), when in fact these areas remain vulnerable to other and often bigger threats such as pollution and offshore oil development. But then conservation isn’t what these struggles are really about.
Beyond the euphemistic name and the misdirection, some of the more misguided MPA proponents first asserted that “fishery management doesn’t work” and that’s why protected areas are “our last best hope.” In most cases this is simply bunk.
Statements that “fishery management doesn’t work” may come as news to the IPHC, which has been successfully managing halibut for 80 years. It may be news to the Alaska Board of Fisheries that has a string of sustainably-managed fisheries. It could be a shock to members of the Marine Fish Conservation Network who have worked long and hard to ensure the success of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Sure there are some fisheries in trouble around the nation (and many more in the rest of the world were regulations are laxer), but that’s not because “fishery management doesn’t work” — it’s mostly because it hasn’t been allowed or been properly funded to work. In other countries outside of the US, it is often because proper science-driven fisheries management has not yet even been tried.
The latest rationale from the MPA crowd is that these reserves are needed to provide “resiliency” in light of climate change and its impacts on the oceans. Huh? Let’s get this right — widespread changes in oceanographic patterns, including increased temperature, spreading “dead zones” and acidity are going to affect all ocean waters the same, whether or not they’re within or outside of any MPA. MPAs are going to be about as useful in the face of massive climate-driven changes in our oceans as the Maginot Line was in preventing the Nazi invasion of France. In other words, no use at all.
So why are MPAs being pursued so vigorously? The answer is simple. The fishing industry, which is concerned (and always should be) for the protection of fish stocks, is small, fragmented and a relatively easy political target. It’d be a lot different if this was the oil industry and their offshore leases.
But MPA proponents have to date not lifted a finger to address widespread marine pollution, ocean acidification, the massive and well-funded political drive to open up the oceans for oil and other industrial development, nor all the other factors threatening the very areas they’re closing off just to commercial fishing. So they’ve yet to take on any real major player or well-financed resistance — nor are they likely to. If they did, they would find that fishermen are already fighting on all these fronts and could really use their help.
While MPAs as they are currently conceived will provide precious little in the way of real marine conservation, they are still a cash cow for lots of environmental groups. They’re easy to raise money around, and you can bet they’re being touted right now to foundation funders as deliverables or future deliverables, showing off charts with circles claiming them as “protected waters.” For some scientists, of course, having a reserve to build your funding and career around is a great thing, especially when you can get rid of pesky fishermen who may question your hypothesis.
And, finally, for government officials, MPAs are a great opportunity for press events and to score some green points, expending little political capital. Just ask President Bush when he created the Northern Hawaiian Islands National Monument, closing that vast ocean area to the “threat” of only a half dozen or so small family fishing boat operators. One major environmental group even went to his White House Easter Egg Roll because of this to apply some green scrub to the President’s otherwise abysmal record on the environment.
In closing on this scam, it’s interesting to note that two of the most famous MPAs in the world are currently under major threat. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is threatened by run-off from agriculture killing its coral reefs, and Bush’s Northern Hawaiian Islands Monument has a massive marine trash problem that is far more a threat to marine wildlife than any fishing there ever was. So much for protected areas.
The fact is, until all human factors affecting an area of the ocean are considered, there is no true protection. We encourage fishermen to be open minded about closed areas where they potentially can do some good, but be wary and question mightily the proselytizers of marine protected areas on the often specious assumptions. The question should always be asked, protected from what?
The Bush Administration and its industry cronies have long had it in for the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), especially when it comes to the many west coast endangered salmon runs. It is apparently too “inconvenient” to curtail agribusiness’s water deliveries to save salmon. It is too “inconvenient” to change operations at federal or private dams when those operations kill endangered salmon wholesale, as they frequently do. It is also apparently too “inconvenient” for the timber industry to have to curtail its landslide-prone clearcut operations because there might be endangered salmon in creeks they muddy below. And its “inconvenient” for giant chemical companies to have to keep profit-making pesticides out of salmon bearing streams, as they are slowly being forced to do under the ESA. However, it is just these industries and their environmental impacts that put these salmon on the ESA-lists to begin with.
If the ESA requires these inconveniences, those big polluting industries say, then let’s get rid of the ESA! They tried to do just that in the Republican-donimated 109th Congress, but failed by a slim margin.
With Congress now against such changes, the Bush Administration’s most recent ESA ruse has been to sidestep Congress entirely and to propose sweeping new ESA rules (which do not need Congressional approval) that would allow each federal agency to decide for itself (i.e., “self-consultation”) whether its proposed projects would violate the ESA, such as damaging already depressed salmon runs, instead of having to consult with the federal science agencies like NMFS or the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The agency head (a political appointee) would make this final decision.
Great — let’s just eliminate the independent scientists and take science out of the review process, shall we, and let political appointees decide whether they like their own proposals! Talk about letting the foxes run the hen house! Imagine the Bureau of Reclamation asking itself whether it likes its own plans for increasing Central Valley water diversions (which this year we have seen kill salmon en mass), and then having its purely political and internal decision subject to no appeal.
The proposed new rules would also create a “default approval” provision by which a project would be deemed in compliance with the ESA if FWS or NMFS were simply not able to act on a consultation within 120 days. Meanwhile the Administration asks for less money for the ESA consultation process each year, making it nearly impossible for NMFS and FWS to meet these tightening deadlines.
This last-minute rule change smacks of the worst political cronyism. In a highly unusual move, these rules were drafted entirely through the Solicitor General’s office under the guidance of Bush Administration political appointees and industry lobbyists, and not reviewed first through regional offices of FWS or NMFS as is customary. This is likely because they are widely opposed by FWS and NMFS professional staff and scientists.
Furthermore, the Bush Administration has allowed only 60 days for public comments (the deadline is Oct. 14th) when at least 90 to 120 days would be typical for something this sweeping. There will also be no public hearings anywhere, even though several members of Congress and more than 100 major organizations (including PCFFA) have called for such hearings as well as more time for public responses. Their release is also “conveniently” timed during a month long Congressional recess and most people’s vacations, a tactic also clearly designed to minimize public and Congressional input. No faxes or email comments will be accepted, a tactic to further reduce public input. In every way, the Bush Administration is signaling its intent to jam these new rules through before its last day in office, regardless of the consequences.
The proposal was published on 15 August in 73 Federal Register 47868-47875. Federal Register notices can be downloaded from http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html. Written comments are due in by 14 October 2008 by US mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comment Processing, Attn: 1018-AT50, Division of Policy and Directives Management, US Fish & Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203. Remember, faxes and email comments will not be accepted. You have to have your comments physically there by the deadline of Oct. 14th.
Don’t let the salmon industry die for the “convenience” of the big industries who dam and dewater salmon rivers, ruin our watersheds and pollute our heritage. Send your comments in blasting this obvious effort to cut the NMFS scientists out of the ESA consultation process.
The next example we have of a problem that could soon turn into a disaster is the current California water situation. It actually has broader implications, as Oregon salmon fishermen can attest to with their closure this summer due to the collapse of Central Valley fall-run chinook. Nor is it just related to salmon, since fresh water inflows affect estuarine health which, in turn, affect the abundance of other fish species, such as Dungeness crab.
What California is faced with is a combination of water shortfalls in drier years — shortfalls at least when various user’s desires or demands are concerned — and something of a distribution problem. Nearly every California coastal stream is over-drafted, because the regional water boards have allowed these waterways to be over-appropriated, failed to consider in-stream flow needs of fish and wildlife, and in many instances are unable to enforce water rights to prevent water poaching by land owners.
The bigger problem, though, is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its Central Valley rivers watershed. This is an area where more than half the state draws its drinking water from, and which supplies the massive Central Valley Project with water for irrigation. It’s also where 90 percent of California’s salmon production (and upwards of 50 percent of Oregon’s ocean salmon catch) migrates through from the Sierra streams to the Golden Gate. This is the single most important estuary on the West Coast of North and South America, providing habitat for Dungeness crab, herring, striped bass, sturgeon, California halibut and, prior to World War II, even supported major shrimp and oyster fisheries.
Central Valley fall-run chinook have thrived during years of high water, and slumped under low flow conditions brought on by small snowpacks and excessive diversions at the massive state and federal Delta pumping stations. This year’s salmon closure off California and Oregon is a direct result of record levels of pumping during 2005, unmasked by below average ocean conditions.
For over 25 years — certainly since the ballot defeat of a proposed Delta “Peripheral Canal” in 1982 — Californians have been working on addressing these water issues. Conservation, or water efficiency, is seen as the least expensive way of meeting demand and there remain numerous opportunities for water conservation throughout the state. Water recycling or reuse, including the capture and treatment of stormwater runoff (often a pollutant), is another source for meeting supply. Finally, “green technology” desalination (brackish and saltwater) holds the promise for augmenting supplies generated from conservation, reuse, and groundwater sources.
In July, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Water4Fish, and PCFFA released a joint report, “Fish Out of Water,” (www.nrdc.org/water/conservation/salmon/contents.asp) emphasizing increased water conservation, efficiency, and focusing on developing alternative water supplies and regional self-sufficiency; reforming governance of the water projects and imposing equitable funding mechanisms to fund ecosystem restoration; and, directing that water withdrawals and management of the Delta be guided by principles of sustainability, rather than focusing primarily on water extraction. The earlier California Water Plan Update had similar recommendations and many of these same types of comprehensive water planning recommendations, including more regional self-sufficiency (reducing water’s “carbon footprint”), are in the current draft of the State’s Delta Vision Strategic Plan. Indeed, NRDC, Water4Fish and PCFFA have asked that additional fish protection goals be inserted, including salmon doubling.
So, with all the innovative work that’s going on, what’s the problem? Here it is: the State Chamber of Commerce, the State Farm Bureau and the State Department of Water Resources (CDWR) are mired in failed 1950’s engineering and policy. Instead of conservation and reuse, groundwater capture and storage, or development of green desalination technologies, they’re pushing new surface reservoirs that, because they are shallow and wide, act as large evaporation ponds taking water needed by fish out of the rivers. And then they want to build the previously defeated “peripheral canal,” which would suck even more water out of the already over-drafted Delta. This would be disastrous for fall-run chinook salmon runs, more of which could also end up listed under the ESA despite the state’s avowed goal of doubling these populations.
Coupled with this, the Westlands Water District, a west-side San Joaquin Valley agricultural water agency, and the most junior water rights holder, wants to take over part of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) irrigation system in return for a promise to address its toxic discharges into the Delta. Part of the deal is that Westlands wants guaranteed water flows, no matter what happens to the fish or other users.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad, if both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein were not championing a Bond Act to build these new surface reservoirs and the “peripheral canal.” Senator Feinstein is even considering legislation to allow Westlands to pull off its waste discharge-CVP take-over bid.
Playing on the public fear of another drought, and off the cutbacks already ordered in this very dry year, the Governor and Senator are either knowingly or unwittingly playing into a major scam that would destroy California’s salmon fishery (note that Oregon and Washington fishermen will also be affected), destroy the already stressed Delta ecosystem, and make California’s water system even more unreliable than it is today. Of course, some of the big agricultural water districts and land developers will make out like bandits. The Kern County Water Agency, for example, has already made many millions selling water dearly back to the state that the state gives it for a pittance.
No one is denying there is a water problem in California — particularly when it comes to the currently over-drafted streams and the Delta. However, the plan the California Governor and Senator are promoting on behalf of big agribusiness and the State Chamber is no solution, it’s a disaster in the making.
There are answers that make sense for solving the state’s water problem and restoring salmon populations, but in the meantime fishermen need to call the reservoir/peripheral canal scam for what it is and strongly oppose it.
In the July 2008 Fishermens News (“Independence Lost: Individual Quotas and Privatization May Be Deadly for Fishermen,” (www.pcffa.org/fn-jul08.htm), we discussed some of the problems inherent in individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs and what steps could be taken to assure that the privilege to fish remains in the hands of fishermen. As problematic as individual fishing quota programs can be for fishermen, they would be disastrous if quota is allocated off the top to processors. That’s just exactly what happened in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island (BSAI) crab fishery “rationalization,” or “ratz.” It could soon happen too in the West Coast groundfish fishery, where the Pacific Council has, under heavy lobbying pressure from processors, already given away 20 percent of the future trawl quota to processors in its preferred draft.
The argument being made by processors (not all of them, mind you – some of the smaller ones are wary and worry about cannibalization within the industry), that won over the North Pacific Council, Senator Ted Stevens and looks to have some advocates on the Pacific Council, is that processors need to have quota to assure jobs in local communities are protected since, they argue, fishermen can take their catch to any port. That argument sounds good on the surface and, since there are few deep thinkers on either the North Pacific or Pacific Councils, it is one that could hold sway.
The flaw in the processor argument — and this is why it is a scam — is that there is nothing to assure that the processors awarded that quota do not simply sell it to a processor in another port, or simply themselves pack up and sell our, or as has happened recently, outsource the processing jobs offshore. What processor quotas do is give their business a saleable commodity, one that they never possessed before, free of charge. Moreover, quota leverage gives that business monopolistic control over the resource, allowing it to unilaterally decide what boats they’ll buy from and at what price — regardless of market conditions. Fishermen will have no say in the process and no bargaining clout at all.
Even the Justice Department in the Bush Administration identified processor quotas as violating the nation’s anti-trust laws. That, however, left the North Pacific Council and Senator Stevens undeterred as they rammed it though in one of his famous appropriations act riders. We don’t know what opinion a Justice Department in an Obama or McCain Administration may have, but fishermen certainly need to begin making their opposition known if they are to stop this scam.
If regional councils, or whoever is charged with adopting a quota system for a fishery, are concerned with community impacts, the solution is to award the community itself, through some form of cooperative or trust, the quotas to be held on behalf of all fishermen in that community to assure that the community reaps the benefits in employment for its fleet, its shoreside processing, support infrastructure and it’s workers. This protects the community itself, including the processors in that port, as long as they stay in that port and are competitive. This is the fair way of dealing with community impacts; processor quotas, on the other hand, are simply a scam.
The problems with open ocean aquaculture are legion and well known. Escapes of non-native fish, transfer of disease and parasites to wild fish stocks, the creation of polluted “dead zones” around net pens, and the use of wild fish stocks in aquaculture for feed in ways that lose net protein rather than gain it are just a few of the negative environmental impacts associated with open ocean aquaculture.
NOAA has so far been unsuccessful in pushing legislation through Congress that would set standards and licensing procedures for open ocean aquaculture in federal waters. In NOAA’s latest attempt to convince Congress that developing aquaculture is a good idea, it released a report, “Offshore Aquaculture in the United States: Economic Considerations, Implications, and Opportunities,” that details their argument (http://aquaculture.noaa.gov/pdf/econ/Econ_rpt_all.pdf).
The argument goes something like this: The world’s population is rapidly expanding and is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. Demand for seafood is increasing. The catch in capture fisheries has been stagnant or has been declining for decades. Capture fisheries will not be able to meet the demand for seafood in the future. There is currently a “seafood trade deficit” in the US since the US imports most of its seafood. Therefore, the US should develop aqua-culture to meet its own seafood demand and develop a profitable export industry to compete with other countries such as Norway that have developed aquaculture (through to the detriment of their own wild fisheries).
The most striking aspect of the argument is its astonishing simplicity. The argument is rife with false assumptions. The most glaring assumption is that aquaculture somehow exists outside of the marine environment and has no relationship to wild fisheries. Yet wild fish for both fish meal and fish oil are essential ingredients in supplying aquaculture feed. Worse, it currently takes about two pounds of wild fish protein to grow one pound of farmed fish protein, a two-to-one loss that makes aquaculture a net drag on the food supply. The industry simply cannot create a limitless supply of seafood since it will always be constrained by the available supply of forage fish in wild fisheries. Yet the appeal of aquaculture is that it continues the fantasy that we live in a limitless world.
The second false assumption in the argument is that wild fisheries will remain the same. Many stocks of fish are seriously depressed from habitat loss (think of the enormous runs of salmon on the West Coast before dams and poor land use practices) and historic overfishing. But rather than concentrate on traditional fisheries management and restoring wild fish stocks, NOAA is taking the lazy route out. Rebuilding stocks to healthy sustainable levels is the job that Congress has tasked them with, but they are shucking that responsibility in favor of pursuing a dangerous aquaculture technology that they claim can meet demand with minimal environmental impact. This claim has never been demonstrated.
Finally there is the issue of the so-called “seafood trade deficit.” This supposed deficit is also a fraud developed as aquaculture propaganda. The United States is a major exporter of high quality seafood and major importer of low quality seafood. Much of the seafood harvested in Alaska is destined for Europe and Japan, while much of the seafood that contributes to the “trade deficit” consists of low quality farmed product from China and other parts of Asia where environmental standards are weak at best. If US-produced seafood were simply kept for domestic consumption there would be no deficit.
What all the supply and demand curves in the report fail to capture is the messy complexity that currently characterizes the state of the world’s fisheries. It certainly would be a lot easier to conjure up supply by developing aquaculture to meet growing demand than doing the hard and politically difficult work of restoring healthy fisheries. But large scale ocean aquaculture would be an unproductive road to follow in the long run.
In a way the aquaculture argument is similar to the push for new dams for more water storage (and water diversions) in California to “create” more water to meet growing demand. Both arguments fail to recognize natural limits. Just as California can not “create” more water, aquaculture can not create more fish than the ocean could do on its own. What we need is better management of the finite resources we have, which is what NOAA is supposed to be doing, not investing in boondoggles like open ocean aquaculture.
The last (but not least) of the problems or crises we want to discuss that the Bush Administration and many in Congress are determined to make a disaster out of are the proposals for new offshore oil drilling, particularly in areas now supporting key fisheries.
Thirty years ago commercial fishermen along the West Coast objected to offshore drilling proposals based on the fishery impacts experiences in the Santa Barbara Channel. There a combination of lost fishing grounds, small un-reported oil spills, toxic drilling mud discharges, a seafloor laden with trash (old washing machines, tractor tires, etc.) from oil operations, plus fishing impacts from seismic testing, led to strong opposition that helped to put in place the current Congressional OCS moratorium.
Now, however, given the recent rise in gasoline prices, with OPEC production quotas capped and a growing global demand, the public is clamoring for action. The oil industry and its friends in the White House and Congress have seized on this as an opportunity to get rid of the 30-year Congressional moratorium and add more leases to the already bloated asset list of the oil companies. To his eternal discredit, even Presidential Candidate Senator McCain has bought into this obvious scam.
The actual facts don’t seem to phase the oil companies, the Administration, Senator McCain, most of the Congressional Republicans and some Democrats more inclined to dishonest pandering than honest leadership. The actual facts are these:
- The oil companies have many thousands of offshore and onshore oil development leases already that they haven’t even developed.
- The time line for any of these new leases to come into production, assuming they do and are not just held for speculation, is at least a decade since the equipment and infrastructure for developing this will all have to be built. This is far too late to affect current gas prices.
- The additional oil won’t necessarily even reach U.S. shores, but will go into a global market where the small amount of production it represents is unlikely to make even a blip in international oil prices, much less prices at US pumps.
- All the oil likely available from OCS development would amount to less than two years of US national oil consumption, and then it would all be gone — leaving us worse off than before and with a highly polluted coastline to boot.
Now consider this:
1. In the same decadal time frame, the U.S. could build enough solar power plants in the California and Nevada desert sufficient to meet the nation’s total electrical needs (thereby greatly reducing demand on oil and natural gas). The biggest impediment is likely to be the power lines. This action would have a far greater (and more permanent) impact on oil prices far sooner than the small amount of oil available in US offshore areas.
2. Our oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, a direct result of green house gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. This is a clear message that we need to get off carbon-based fuels as quickly as possible, not spend time seeking out the last reservoirs of oil and becoming even more addicted to a vanishing resource.
3. In the next decade, rather than the fleet working around the massive construction of infrastructure and installation of oil rigs, and all the pollution problems that come from drilling operations, it would seem we’d be better off developing alternative energy sources to power fishing boats, farm machinery and our instruments of transportation, not seeking out oil in the ocean that is a problem when it’s drilled for, another problem when it’s burned and potentially a huge problem for fisheries in the event of the inevitable major spills or accidents.
Nevertheless there will be a push in Congress when they come back this September to lift the Congressional moratorium and open the whole OCS to new drilling. The arguments for new coastal oil drilling are every bit as scandalous as those the Bush Administration used for invading Iraq, but they might get away with it if the opposition is simply drowned out.
Fishermen need to be far more vocal in their protests. Yes, we need to lower the price of diesel so we can fish, but lowering that price won’t come about from offshore drilling. Congress could very well be looking at some drilling agreement compromises in Gulf states, but West Coast fishermen at least have to be vocal to stop it from happening here. The Exxon Valdez disaster was only 30 years ago, and this shows what even one accident can do to our fisheries, which even 30 years later have not fully recovered in Alaska.
There you have it. Six problems that folks with dubious agendas are trying to force down your throats, and which are liable to create huge disasters in the long run, especially for fisheries.
Fishing men and women have always prided themselves on their independence. Well, now it’s time for some independent questioning, independent thinking. The government and the politicians, the big corporations and the corporate environmental groups may be able to dupe the American people with their scams, but we can’t let them dupe us.
We need to fight back by taking our message to the American public, to make them aware that they’re being had. To let any of these scams succeed would be tragic, but an even bigger tragedy would be for them to happen while we did nothing.
Zeke Grader is the Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), and can be reached at PCFFA’s Southwest Regional Office at PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370, or by phone to (415) 561-5080 x 224. Glen Spain is PCFFA’s Northwest Regional Director, in its Northwest Regional Office at PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370, or by phone to (541)689-2000. Nate Grader is a staff member with the Institute for Fisheries Resources, which shares offices with PCFFA’s Southwest Regional office in San Francisco. PCFFA’s web site is at: www.pcffa.org. Email to: email@example.com.