Monthly Archives: March 2010

60 Fishermen, 23 EDF Staff, 89 Meetings: Lawmakers Hear About Catch Shares

EDF Oceans Communications Director Tom Lalley holding a fish on a boat with Willy Phillips of NC

Tom Lalley, EDF Oceans Communications Director and author of this blog post.

A frenetic week in Washington, D.C. brought Congressional leaders together with fishermen.  Early mornings, full days and late nights were the norm as fishermen spread the message that catch shares are important for their future.  Funding for the national catch shares program is included in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

As fishermen face closures for the fisheries they depend on, they told lawmakers how catch shares avoid closures and allow fishing to continue even as stocks recover.  Catch shares avoid the blow dealt by closures to communities and fishing jobs.

Many fishermen also zeroed in on the universal call for better fisheries science.  Catch shares give you robust catch accounting and monitoring, whereas conventionally-managed fisheries often have few data with minimal monitoring coverage.

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EDF’s Tim Fitzgerald Appears on the Kojo Namdi Show to Talk Bluefin Tuna and Sustainable Sushi

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Yesterday, Tim Fitzgerald, EDF’s Senior Oceans Policy Specialist and Marine Scientist who leads our sustainable seafood work, appeared on the Kojo Namdi Show with Casson Trenor to discuss sustainable sushi and ask the question to listeners, “how well do you know your sushi?”

With the recent defeat of a proposed ban by the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on the export of the overfished Atlantic bluefin tuna, how to make responsible choices at the sushi bar is a timely discussion. Japan imports approximately 80 percent of the world’s bluefin tuna to satisfy the country’s love of this prized fish for sushi, which can sell for more than $150,000 per fish, so their ardent opposition to the ban was no surprise. 

Aside from bluefin tuna, other species of fish used for sushi are also unsustainably sourced. Tim and Casson went on to discuss with Kojo and the audience that while it’s helpful for restaurant owners and consumers to be knowledgeable about the best fish to select, real success in restoring overfished species will occur from industry change and effective fisheries management. Listen to the show.

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Fishermen Come to D.C. to Educate Lawmakers About Catch Shares

United States CapitolApproximately 50 fishermen have arrived in Washington, D.C. today to tell members of Congress how important catch shares are to their future.   Funding for the national catch shares program is included in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.  The fishermen are in Washington to talk to their Congressional representatives and Senators about how conventional management is increasingly pushing fishermen off the water and how catch shares is a solution that keeps fishermen working – even while fish stocks recover.
Today more than 60 federal stocks are overfished or undergoing overfishing.  Thousands of fishing jobs have been lost as fisheries have declined under the current management system. This adverse impact from conventional management continues to increase as many valuable fisheries face huge closures or dwindling seasons, which will have devastating impacts on fishing jobs and coastal communities.

During their visits to Capitol Hill, fishermen will tell lawmakers how catch shares are locally designed to meet economic, social, and conservation goals.  Catch shares management is not a one-size-fits-all approach; rather programs are designed to meet the specific needs and goals of each fishery.

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New NOAA Report Shows Progress Being Made to Rebuild and Sustain Fisheries and Ocean Ecosystems – Catch Shares Help

Cover of NOAA report, Our Living Oceans - 6th edition.

Cover of NOAA report, Our Living Oceans - 6th edition.

In NOAA’s newly released 6th edition of Our Living Oceans: Report on the Status of U.S. Marine Resources, catch shares (referred to as Limited Access Privilege Programs – LAPPs) are raised as one solution to the over-harvesting of fisheries. Citing the successes of established catch share programs, Our Living Oceans reports that the Alaska halibut fishery has seen healthy stocks with near record levels of total catch since the implementation of its catch share program.

Recognizing some challenges of implementing catch shares, the report rightly points out that policies set during the design of a catch share can address those challenges and concerns.

“Additional rules or special programs built into the LAPP either at implementation or after implementation can often mitigate any potential negative impacts.”

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Online Radio Show Dives into Catch Shares

Tom Lalley

Amanda Leland and I were guests on Moir’s Environmental Dialogues the other day.  The host, Rob Moir is the president and executive director of the Ocean River Institute.  Rob has had an illustrious career as an educator, scientists and environmental activist and wanted to hear from EDF about catch shares.  This is an important time for fishing as a new catch shares policy gets underway.

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Listening Sessions with Gullah/Geechee Fishermen Continue

Gullah/Geechee fishermen listening session with EDF and Queen Quet (standing).

Gullah/Geechee fishermen listening session with EDF and Queen Quet (standing).

My journey to engage and build relationships with Southeastern, African-American fishermen continued last week with stops in Florida and Georgia. On Friday and Saturday, I reunited with Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, to co-sponsor listening sessions in Fernandina, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia. Mirroring the session previously held in South Carolina, the focus of the events was to document the concerns of African-American fishermen in these areas regarding their ability to continue fishing.

Both coastal areas have a large Gullah/Geechee community and a history in the fishing tradition. The Gullah/Geechee have been a part of this history for years. Fishing is truly a valued craft upon which this group places great importance. It enabled them to become self-sufficient, feed their families and neighbors, bring the community together, and generate a sufficient income. However, as seen in fishing communities throughout the United States, many fishermen have left the waters due to various impediments that have made it difficult to continue this way of life.

Fernandina, Florida

Held at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in Fernandina Beach, Queen Quet began the meeting asking attendees to share what the community had and what it has today. According to participants, seafood became a major industry in Fernandina. Equipped with the knowledge of their elders, African-Americans perfected the craft of cast net making, crab picking, and shrimp heading, among other skills. Although the fishermen harvested a variety of fish including shad, porgy, oysters, and shark, most fishermen were shrimpers. 

Participants in the session provided poignant accounts of their relationship with the sea.  Some vividly described events they experienced on the water that were nothing short of miracles; for instance, one fisherman was able to survive turbulent waters for days after his ship capsized. There was an apparent religious connection between the waters and the heavens in the Gullah/Geechee culture.

While some had their prayers answered in such times of need, others witnessed problems developing that complicated African-American participation in fisheries. Attendees noted several issues that affected their ability to fish:

  • The price of fuel blowing out of proportion,
  • Great overhead costs,
  • Diminishing waterfront access,
  • Pollution, and
  • Difficulty competing with the prices of foreign imports.
Coastal ...

Coastal Florida

The community really changed with the emergence of mills; many people left the fish houses to work in mills because of the benefits and wages. The number of small boat owners today is nearly non-existent, and there isn’t a large interest by the youth to fish.

Brunswick, Georgia

During the meeting, Brunswick was described as once being the seafood capitol of the world – oysters were in excess and the conditions were good for shrimp. Today there are two major seafood plants, SeaPak and King & Prince Seafood, among other smaller companies. Such companies had their own boats when they first started, and African Americans served as crew members, but problems began to rise once the supply was gone.

It was believed that around 20 years ago, area companies started to heavily rely on imported fish from Asia and South America. Now, although there is marketing for fish from Georgian waters, fishermen are having trouble competing with the much lower prices of imported seafood.

Fishermen in Brunswick have traditionally harvested whiting, oysters, mullet, catfish, croaker, blue crab, shad, shrimp, oysters, and at one time turtle eggs. There are a handful of boat owners currently; many became discouraged from going out into the waters because of the costs of owning a boat. Concerns raised during the session were similar to those stated in Fernandina:

  • High costs,
  • Overfishing,
  • High levels of mercury,
  • Run-off and pollution from chemical plants,
  • Poor quality of farm raised seafood,
  • Competition with imports, and
  • Scarcity of the resource forcing fishermen to go father away from local fishing grounds.

Is there a future?

When asked if there is sufficient interest here for newcomers to enter the industry, there was a mixed bag of reactions to this question. While some believed they knew of a couple of people interested in teaching the next generation these useful skills, others didn’t believe such efforts were worthwhile.

However, many attendees called for a better fishing future because they see fishing as essential to sustaining their way of life and families. They expressed a need to have young people present in these talks or there will be no future, as this will reconnect children to their culture and history. Queen Quet stated that the community suffers if it does not know how to feed itself. She concluded “we recognize collectively we have something to offer.”

The last listening session is slated for April 17 in North Carolina. All comments made thus far will be reviewed with those in the next session to determine what steps can be taken in addressing some of issues this group is facing.  In understanding the challenges they are dealing with, EDF hopes to work further with the Gullah/Geechee Nation to provide a voice for a culture striving to retain a way of life that gets them back to the way they were.

Nicole Smith is a 2009 – 2010 Oceans Program Fellow working to engage African-American fishermen in the U.S. southeast.

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