COMMERCIAL FISHING POLICY NEWS
Today’s Catch is devoted to the commercial fishing industry, the marine ecosystems it depends on, and the catch shares and catch quota policies being put in place to protect both. As fisheries collapse commercial fishermen, particularly draggers, get blamed for damage to ocean floor ecosystems. The fishermen blame the science behind the policies and we try to represent both on this page.
Why Commercial Fishing Needs No Lobby 04.2014
Unbeknownst to the bulk of the America’s-Got-Talent viewing world, there are two kinds of corals in the sea. The sort shown here are shallow water corals. They make up the underpinnings of the world’s shallow water tropical reefs. They grow in all manner of bone-hard shapes and sizes which shelter all manner of colorful fish that anyone with a snorkel can ohhh and ahhh over. They are treasure troves of biodiversity and as such when they are threatened, either through crown of thorns starfish, people walking on them, coral killing sponges, or ocean acidification everyone freaks out. However, in terms of total contribution to world marine habitat, shallow water coral reefs are just eye-candy
The workhorses of marine ecology are deep-water corals. They don’t depend directly on sunlight as a source of energy so they are not nearly as colorful or biodiverse. They also don’t have the bone-hard structure, rather deep-water coral tend to be sponges, sea fans and other considerably less noble life forms of the sort pictured here. What deep-water corals do have is tons and tons of delicious fish because deep-water corals cover enormous expanses of ocean floor. Think of the American bison roaming the Midwest prairie before sportsmen discovered the joy of using them for target practice. Moreover, because deep-water coral reefs tend to be softer, fishermen can drag nets over them and scoop up all those delicious fish with relatively little resistance or gear damage. Which is why a Filet-o-Fish sandwich costs less than a Big Mac. The world’s enormous reserve of deep-water corals, many times that of shallow coral reefs, has spawned a commercial fishing industry called draggers that has been both, a very dangerous and very thrilling business opportunity since the early 1900s. Think “Perfect Storm,” but with nets instead of fishhooks.
Which brings NBN to this week’s ecological aggravation: the Empty Oceans Act. The EOA—not its real name—is actually a handful of changes proposed to a long standing law called the Magnuson Stevens Act, which regulates commercial fishing. The MSA can almost be considered the Endangered Species Act of fisheries management: a regulatory hammer brought down on commercial fishermen according to the annual findings of the incredibly inexact science of counting how many fish are in the ocean at any given time. When the MSA says certain numbers are too low, hundreds of commercial fishermen stay home watching America’s Got Talent. Needless to say, a lot of commercial fishermen hate the MSA but none more so than those that make a living dragging nets over deep-water corals. All those delicious fish in those deep-water reefs are going the way of the American bison, so the regulators behind the MSA are dramatically cutting back on how many of those fish—pollock, haddock, cod, flounder, and several other hugely popular, and one populous, species—the draggers can take.
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This is where the feckless politician come into the story. The author of the EOA is Rep. Doc Hastins (R-Washington), yet another ultra-conservative politician from a gerrymandered district surgically sculpted for ideological idiosyncrasies that kept him in office for 20 years. (Incidentally, Hastings also wants to gut the Endangered Species Act.) Does anyone think that Hastings would be proposing such legislation if the fishermen involved were dragging their nets over shallow-water coral reefs? Heck no, because everyone would see corals shattered by multi-ton nets and all the pretty fish would disappear. The entire world would be looking for Hasting’s head on a stake. However, that’s exactly what’s happening with the deep-water coral reefs which are mowed down on a regular basis by draggers.
Instead of fighting to protect these arguably ugly fish for future generations, Hastings is wringing his hand over how the MSA is threatening the jobs of the draggers doing the damage. Why is this? Because nobody can see the deep-water reefs. Out of sight, out of mind, and onto the platforms of political leaders who put short term economic/political gains over long term resource planning in order to stay in office.Which might lead one to ask how our leaders can be so reluctant to lead? The answer is that commercial fishing is the sort of iconic symbol of hard-working America that no politician dare oppose in these economic times. That’s why politicians on both sides of the aisle line up to defend these jobs, even though the entire national dragger fleet probably numbers fewer than 20,000 boats employing a few hundred thousand people almost all earning under $35,000 a year. With numbers like that it's not too surprising that draggers can't really have a congressional lobby to bribe our congressmen on their behalf. But they don’t need one. They are a symbol of America and nobody but a bunch of scientists enforcing the MSA really know the damage they do. So from a political perspective, stopping draggers is like banning baseball. Or football?
Which has NBN thinking that maybe the EOA isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, let’s repeal all the legislation protecting the ocean fish and let the draggers have at it. Empty the oceans. The fish will return in 50 years or so. Meanwhile, the industry will quickly die of its own greed and we won’t have to listen to politicians battling on its behalf every year, blithely ignoring the damage they do in order to enhance their own re-election prospects. Either that, or we have to start asking our leaders to stop people—even decent, honest Americans—from making a living at the expense of the environment we all must share. Let's face it, the EOA has a much better chance of succeeding.
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