Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Speaking Statistically

The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting different results. Take the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for example:

A 2009 report on spending by “fishers, hunters and wildlife watchers” from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) found that commercial fisheries generate $3.8 billion a year in economic activity for the State of Washington. The report was based on Fisheries Economics of the U.S., 2006, published by the NOAA office of Science and Technology.

The 2010 WDFW report for the State of Washington, based on the same 2006 NOAA study, found the impact of commercial fishing to be $1.6 billion. Same report, same data, different results. Crazy? Perhaps. The 2009 WDFW report has now been relegated to the state archives, and branded with a disclaimer that it “may contain factual inaccuracies that do not reflect current WDFW regulations or policy.”

The discrepancy was called to our attention by a group of stakeholders, who discovered that the state had massaged the numbers, giving less importance to the commercial fishermen in favor of the “hunters and wildlife watchers.” The “new” study reduced commercial fishing’s share of the profit generation from 56 percent to 35 percent.

In December of 2008 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife published a new report, titled “Economic Analysis of the Non-Treaty Commercial and Recreational Fisheries in Washington State”. While the new 49-page report’s findings are the basis of the State’s data going forward, it includes the following disclaimer in the first paragraph:

Although the study estimates net economic values and economic impacts of both commercial and recreational fisheries, it is not sufficiently comprehensive and the values are not estimated with adequate precision to warrant a comparative analysis of the two fisheries.

A group of concerned commercial fishermen engaged the Seattle Marine Business Coalition in support of an independent, third party scientific study, in response to the State’s inadequately estimated comparative analysis.

The result is a study by economist and former Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Hans Radtke, Ph.D. Radtke’s study, Washington State Commercial Fishing Industry Total Economic Contribution, was released last month. The new, independent study, determined that the State’s study “represented about 28 percent for the sum of Washington harvest value from onshore landings and the harvest value of Washington based vessel participation in other West Coast fisheries,” but left out large economic effects from other commercial fishery related activities.

Among the omissions noted by Radtke were the tribal fisheries:

“The ocean, Puget Sound, and river tribal fisheries are major contributors to Washington’s economy. Tribal commercial fisheries’ activities are tracked in the commercial fish ticket system. The data available for such tribal fisheries include: ocean non-salmon and salmon treaty allocations, inland shellfish, river salmon and steelhead, and others. Tribal harvesters depend on the same gear and other supply businesses; and, harvests enter the same processing and distribution chains as non-Indian fisheries.”

Also omitted from the State exercise were the economic effects from distant water fisheries.

“Distant water fisheries are mostly in Alaska waters and at-sea deliveries off the West Coast. This segment would also include onshore deliveries made in other West Coast states by vessels based at Washington ports.” Radtke notes many economic effects to Washington’s economy for these fisheries, including, “Skippers and crew that have residency and spend their earnings in Washington; catcher-processor products entering seafood distribution channels in Washington; provisioning and repairs purchased from Washington businesses; secondary and analog seafood processing; and cold storage occurring in Washington.” Radtke also notes the legal, financial, and administrative companies that provide services for the direct participants.

Aquaculture, including shellfish, was also omitted from the State’s study. Radtke notes that this fishing industry segment is important to include because, “economic activity in the included Washington fisheries relies upon many of the same support businesses as does aquaculture.”

Other omissions from the State report include the West Coast offshore Pacific whiting fishery, which is prosecuted by catcher vessels delivering to motherships and catcher- processor vessels, Oregon Coast catch area harvests that are southerly of the Washington–Oregon land boundary extension but delivered to Washington ports, and Alaska and other West Coast waters’ catch delivered to Washington ports.

Radtke’s study is a clear condemnation of the slipshod, albeit publicly funded, report on which Washington State is basing its economic decisions. This editor will not speculate on the motivation of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in producing and disseminating its admittedly inaccurate study. I will note, however, that Professor Radtke’s report is accurate and has been made available to any Washington State legislators who are interested in the true economic benefits to the State of Washington from the largest commercial fishing fleet in the US. The report is available to our readers for download and dissemination at

Feel free to share it with your legislator and your fellow fishermen.

Several local fishermen have approached Fishermen’s News about having the paper advocate on behalf of the industry regarding this issue. Fishermen's News has picked up the mantle of exposing the state's manipulation of scientific data to minimize fishing industry's value to the state's economy.

Several fisheries group’s representatives will be meeting at Wild Seafood Exchange ( to begin informal discussions with each other about presenting a cohesive industry-wide response to the Department of Fish and Wildlife's recent actions.

David Harsila, John MacDonald and Bill Gardner are rallying their constituents. We encourage those of you interested in this effort to pass on this message to your customers and colleagues in the fishing industry to alert them to next week's Wild Seafood Exchange.

Professor Radtke will discuss the economic impact of Washington State commercial fisheries, and the findings of his just-released study, at the 8th annual Wild Seafood Exchange to be presented March 9th at the Embassy Suites in Lynnwood, Washington.

Wild Seafood Exchange is produced every spring by Fishermen’s News, in partnership with Washington Sea Grant. The conference assembles independent commercial fishermen to explore harvesting, marketing and delivery of sustainably harvested wild seafood to retailers and restaurants. In recent years Wild Seafood Exchange has grown to also cover small business issues, and this year new vessel construction financing.

More information about Wild Seafood Exchange can be found on the Wild Seafood Exchange website, or by calling the offices of Fishermen’s News at (206) 284-8285.

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