Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Today's Catch - Playing by the Rules

by Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Something Fishy in the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission
In mid-January the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to adopt major reforms for the Columbia River, including the eventual closing of the mainstem of the Columbia River to commercial fishing. This vote was cast almost two weeks after the terms of three of the commissioners had expired, and the Senate has not confirmed several of the remaining commissioners.
While this was accomplished on Governor Christine Gregoire’s watch, by the Commission she appointed to carry out her administration’s agenda, a few days later a new Governor, former US Congressman Jay Inslee, was sworn into office.

Fishermen’s News, through our editorials as well as direct outreach to Governor-elect Inslee’s office, has been very proactive in keeping Governor Inslee informed on the issue. Then-candidate Inslee spoke at one of our commercial fishing conferences in April, and in our May, 2012 Pacific Fisheries Review, Inslee noted that Washington’s commercial fishing industry plays an important, yet often unheralded, role in our state’s economy. He pointed out that nearly $4 billion a year is added to personal incomes in an industry that employs boat builders, gear manufacturers, electricians, welders, processors, and fishermen. He pledged to sustain our local fishing industry by providing support to the Washington State representatives on the Pacific and North Pacific Management Councils and their respective scientific and statistical committees, as well as international fishing regulatory bodies.

Now a small group of gubernatorial appointees has essentially handed an entire public resource – wild, sustainably harvested Pacific salmon – to a small, elite group of well-heeled sport fishermen. The closure of the Columbia to commercial fishing will devastate the local communities, and could do to Wahkaiakum County what the spotted owl did to Grays Harbor County in the early 1990s, when Governor Inslee was a State Representative.

Given the clear and carefully-documented effect the closure of the Columbia River will have on the families and businesses that rely on the gillnet fishery, we are asking Governor Inslee to address the issue by appointing a more balanced board of Commissioners, and have them confirmed by the legislature, to work toward a more science-, environmental- and economics-based solution. We’re hoping Governor Inslee will address the lack of process and work toward a reprieve for the hundreds of families who will be devastated by this last-minute power grab.

Washington State law stipulates that “… the governor shall seek to maintain a balance reflecting all aspects of fish and wildlife, including representation recommended by organized groups representing sport fishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private landowners, and environmentalists.” In spite of this, there are no members of the commission who represent the interests of commercial fishermen, either tribal or non-tribal. This is contrary to State law, and it is the opinion of this editor that the vote should be nullified until the commercial fishery is represented by a commission which has been confirmed by the Senate. In the past, Governor Inslee has been reluctant to comment on the closing of the Columbia, but now that he represents the entire state, we hope he’ll find the time to address the issue.

When is a Big Boat a Small Boat?
In Southern California, brail (scoop) fishermen are concerned by an influx of foreign-built vessels ranging from 50 to 80 feet in length participating in the California seine squid fishery through state registration. These large seiners, while admeasured at less than 5 net tons, can actually load 80 to 150 tons of fish.

In three years, the catch rate for the California squid fishery has gone from 1,000 tons per day to more than 4,000 tons per day. The normally year-round California squid fishery is currently closed for the season due to the quota being reached four months early. These incorrectly admeasured foreign-built vessels with three times the fishing capacity of the legal US fleet are shutting out American-built vessels, and the squid quota is being reached before the squid scoop fishery even begins.

The admeasuring and documenting of large Canadian boats for US fisheries is a well-known practice, and any number of helpful websites can instruct on the practice:

In order to commercially fish a Canadian built boat it cannot be ‘Documented’ with the Coast Guard, it must be registered with the State. In order for it not to be required to be a Documented vessel, it must be under 5 net tons according to the US Jones Act.

Mathematically speaking, any troller longer than 24 feet will displace more than 5 net tons and therefore could not fish in the US. Fortunately, there is a process called ad-measurement, in which a survey is performed by a certified professional who excludes areas of the boat that are “not used for fish storage” thereby making a normally too-large boat, technically under 5 net tons. This process costs between $1000 and $2000.

Once your boat is certified as being under 5 net tons you can register it with the State and then place your fishery permits and whatnot on the boat, and go fishing.

Squid have a short lifespan of only 9 to 12 months, and the scoop fishery targets squid that have spawned and will die shortly thereafter. The result is a clean, bycatch-free product, including minimal interaction with marine mammals. The scooping practices are equivalent to a highly efficient hatchery program where the eggs are preserved and the waste product is harvested for marketing. The squid harvested by the scoop boats have spawned and are headed toward self-termination, and the eggs have been laid to ensure the future of this sustainable fishery with no destruction of egg beds. This harvesting practice is not only the cleanest and most environmentally sound way to harvest the squid in California, but also worldwide.

The squid float in their spawning ritual approximately October 1 through April 1, normally allowing scoop permit holders to harvest the floating squid. This year the squid season closed on November 19th, four months early, after the seine fishery reached the quota of 118,000 short tons.
Sustainably harvested seafood is an important source of healthy protein and provides economic benefits to entire communities. It’s hard enough to make a living as a commercial fisherman without having to compete with sportsmen and foreign boats that have been given an unfair (or illegal) advantage. Our state and local representatives answer to us. Is it asking too much that they observe the same rules they impose on us?

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