EDF Wants to Get It Right: Helping Fishermen and the Fishing Industry

I believe in US fishermen and our fisheries.  My brother and uncle both worked in fish houses and on fishing docks.  I have sorted fish alongside NOAA fish scientists on research cruises in the Gulf of Maine.  Even now, a great afternoon for me is talking with fishermen – maybe about fishing but about everyday stuff, too. 

Here’s one thing I also believe: Fishermen get a rough deal from nearly every quarter.  I’ve watched them struggle with ups and downs in the economy, with regulations that aren’t working and with public opinion that casts them as the bad guys in stories about ocean declines.  All the guff fishermen take is as big a pile of crap as the notion that I am interested in some kind of sell-off of New England fisheries.

There is a story being circulated in the Gloucester Times that is playing on – and distorting – very real concerns, concerns that I share, about the recession and unethical financial dealings.  Although the allegations about EDF are not true, we strongly share the author's core concern: What’s the best way to evolve from today’s declining fisheries to ones that have lots of fish and jobs? 

One thing we’re going to need, for sure, is money.  From the fishermen’s point of view, where’s the best place to get that money?  One option is government. Some places, like New England, are blessed with powerful senators who can bring home the bacon.  Others aren’t so lucky.  In any event, government money always comes with strings.  Banks are another option.  But is there anyone out there who believes fishermen are getting the best possible deal from the government or the banks?  Fishermen tell us they’d welcome more choices because more choices mean a better deal. 

That is why we at EDF are working with fishermen to help them establish their own funds to purchase quota.  That is why we’ve set up the California Fisheries Fund to make loans to fishermen that banks won’t make.  That is why we help advise the Sea Change Investment Fund that directly invests in building markets for sustainably caught fish to benefit fishermen.  That is also why I will talk to anyone, anytime – including investors at the Milken Institute – about the incredible opportunity there is to work with fishermen to restore both fisheries and fishermen’s livelihood.

What I’m out there telling the wider financial community is that fishermen are good business partners.  Alerting new communities of investors to the risks and potential profits of catch share fisheries increases the number of options fishermen have for the financing they are going to need to evolve their fisheries.  And, obviously, the more options fishermen have, the better deal they will be able to negotiate within the bounds of the rules set up for each fishery.  Defining these fishery-specific rules well is important.  They can include such things as accumulation caps, owner on board, fishery association by-laws or whatever else is appropriate for each fishery. 

If you hear something that strikes you as wrong here, let me know.  EDF wants to get it right when it comes to helping fishermen and the industry.  I want to get it right.  If you have ideas about better things to try than simply more of the same that hasn’t worked over the past decades, please let us at EDF know.  Our minds are wide open.  There is room for improvement everywhere – including ideas EDF puts forward.

A lot needs to change (regulations, enforcement, financing, and marketing) to bring back our fishing communities.  Working together and pulling in the same direction, we can do it. 

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8 Comments

  1. Vincent Doyle
    Posted July 8, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    David,
    My family has been involved in the Commercial fisheries in California for over 60 years,I currently own and operate the F/V Verna Jean.We are dealing with a IFQ program on the west coast that will put a financial burden on my family,to deal with this burden I went to the folks at the California Fisheries fund to get a loan to purchase quota so my family could remain in the fisheries.I was unable to sercure a loan,I was told that I did not fit the program.
    Actions speak louder than words,my loan fit your program to the tee from what I've read, yet I was denied.I have good credit and a very good production record in the fisheries.
    Thank You,
    Vincent Doyle, Fishing Vessel "Verna Jean"

  2. Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Not sure that this is true:), but thanks for a post.
    Charlie

  3. Posted July 10, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Hi Vincent. Thanks for your feedback. Why don't we talk off line about your particular interest in the California Fisheries Fund?

    For those interested in the California Fisheries Fund, here's the deal. The CFF is a new kind of loan fund created by EDF in partnership with the State of California and other financial partners. We launched it earlier this year to help fill a gap in the options available to fishermen who are transitioning to more sustainable practices in general and catch shares in specific.

    Because EDF wants to get fisheries and fishing communities back on their feet quickly, the CFF is set up to consider loans that would entail risks or complexities that conventional banks are reluctant to handle. As loans are repaid, CFF will "revolve" the funds — meaning new loans will be made with the money that comes back. EDF and our financial partners don't get a dime out of CFF loans nor will we ever. In fact, the financial partners donated capital to start the fund and EDF is subsidizing CFF's operating costs until it gets enough throughput in loans to cover those costs.

    Why would we do that? Everyone involve in CFF believes fisheries can recover and are willing to put our own efforts and resources into working with fishermen and regulators to make that happen faster.

    Right now, the CFF is limited in its scope to California but we're interested in your thoughts as to whether something like this could work in your region. You can read more about the CFF at http://www.californiafisheriesfund.org.

    David

  4. Duncan MacLean
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    David
    If you want to do it right maybe you should put more time in listening to the ones who have the least to gain from your catch shares. you want to protect the communities make it owner on board, mandatory. No stacking, no corporate ownership. Regulate appropriately. We shouldnt be able to move mountains or fit them in a cod end. Let the fish spawn in peace. Make a net that hangs up, tear up. Get rid of the corporate mentality. You dont need to reduce the fleet size, maybe just the size of the fleet. But most importantly, maybe you should have spent the time listening a little more before you rode in on your white horse with that silver bullet in hand. ITQ's are not the end all cure all but they will destroy all before you can turn it back around.Duncan MacLean f/v Barbara Faye

  5. Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Absolutely what Duncan said – right on!
    Mike ~ ~ ~ <*)(((((<

  6. Tommy Ancona
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    It is absolutly amazing how many experts are out there on trawling who have never owned a tral vessel. Making a trip as a deckhand or participating in the California Halibut trawl hardly constitues trawl experience.
    Suggestions like "owner onboard" would eliminate many fishermen jobs and is a radical departure from the way the industry operates now. Most "corporations" are made up of single family entities for legal reasons having to do with employee liability. The nets we use today are extremly expensive and costly to repair, consequently the use of those nets is restricted to areas where damage in not likely to occur. The average size of the west coast trawl fleet is 60 feet. The limited entry point system used 60 feet as the baseline for fishing power. There are many 50 foot vessels in the fishery, towing much smaller gear that wouldn't hold a small hill let alone a "mountain top". Those the would call for even smaller vessels only prove their lack of practical experience.
    As a proponent of the Trawl ITQ system, one of my biggest concerns are the economic impacts to the coastal communities and the infrastructure that supports all the different types of fisheries. The California Fisheries Fund could be a useful tool if properly used to help qualified trawl fishermen (like Vince) purchase quota shares, but not exceeding the ownership caps. Forcing fishermen into cooperatives of "CFA's" in order to qualify is the wrong approach and will do nothing to maintain the coastal community. Individual trawl fishermen have proven to be very good business operators and collectively have been the backbone of support for many communities. Morro bay could be the Poster Child for such an example of how wrong things can go if we are not careful.
    One last thing that David mentioned has to do with "declining fisheries". This may be the case on the east coat, however I would argue that point for the west coast. As a long time participant with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, we have stopped the decline and are well on our way to rebuilding our fish stocks. Some that were declared overfished have already been rebuilt and taken off the list of concerns. Our west coast groundfish are well managed and if anything is going wrong, then it would be the managers fault, not fishermen. The term "overfishing" should be eliminated as we have been fishing under highly regulated management for decades now.
    Sorry, I meant for this to be a quick response and have still left out many points that should be brought to light.

    Tommy Ancona, President
    Fishermens Marketing Association
    Chairman, Groundfish Advisory Panel to the PFMC

  7. Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Duncan,

    I couldn't agree more about listening. One of the things we've learned from listening is that the key to increasing the chances of recovery for fish and fishing communities is not Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) per se. What we are saying is that the government's micro-managing of fishing fleets isn't working well.

    For example, ratcheting down on days at sea for the fleet can put pressure on individual fishermen to do things like use the huge nets you mention. A better alternative is to give fishermen a simple instruction: make sure you have quota share for the fish you catch — thus our advocacy for catch shares like IFQs.

    And another thing we've learned is that quota share doesn't have to be given to individuals like it is with IFQs. It can be with a community, or fishing association, or fishing sectors. That's why EDF supports sectors in New England.

    In exchange for this freedom, the government needs to insist upon good monitoring. It also needs to have rules ensuring fair play on and off the water. There are many kinds of rules, including the ones you mention. Some will appeal to one group of fishermen but not to another. That is one of the points Tommy is making in his post.

    Indeed, while there are lots of options that can and do work, we've had a front row seat at heated debates among stakeholders about those rules. Our expertise is in conservation but when it comes to rules regarding fair play, EDF's goal is to help by bringing information to the table as fishermen and regulators consider different design options to create a system that will work best for their fishery.

    One thing that is very important in this process is that the system must be flexible over time. No system is perfect. So having flexibility to adapt is vital. The Alaska halibut program, for example, has that kind of flexibility. It has been updated many times over the past 15 years to work better for fish and fishermen.

    Thank you for all of your input and feedback.

  8. Posted December 13, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree. All of us fishermen and sport fishers should help each other to keep our chosen field alive and healthy.

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