At the intersection of marine conservation and social, economic, environmental and food justice

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fleet Diversity Needed to Recover the Fish

By Fisherman Ed Snell, guest blogger
Portland, ME
NAMA Board Member

Note: This letter was addressed to New England fisheries decision-makers regarding Amendment 18 to the groundfish plan. We encourage everyone to join Ed by submitting your own comments in support of fleet diversity. Click here to learn how.

Dear New England Fisheries Management Council,

I am writing to support Amendment 18 and urge the Council to develop protections for fleet diversity.

As a young commercial fisherman and a person who grew up in New England, I'm proud of our region's tradition of independence and support for individual rights. I'm also encouraged by the opportunities provided by the region's natural resources. Stories of the 'Good Old Days' of commercial groundfishing in the Gulf of Maine are a painful reminder of such opportunity, wasted. Imagine the fish resource of yesterday coupled with the marketing networks of today - local food movement, charter boats, restaurants, fish markets, boatyards, chandleries - small businesses thriving as a direct result of careful and effective management - an economy celebrating conservation with its success.

The realization of this vision depends directly on the leadership and political courage of today's fisheries managers. Courage is required to overcome the influence of a few self interested players who defend their stake by blocking solutions to the problems and hindering a more meaningful recovery of groundfish in the Gulf of Maine.

We know how it all went wrong; over fishing, destructive gear, failure to protect spawning fish and spawning areas - these are the mistakes that contributed to today's relatively low abundance. I'm not interested in repeating these mistakes. I'm interested in creating and seizing the moment where it all starts to go right. Amendment 18 can be that moment. Fleet diversity measures provide opportunity to those who want to transcend the status quo and hold a stake in the successful future of sustainable groundfishing.

Today, small scale, more sustainable fishing operations are challenged by the fact that their fishery is increasingly less affordable. To begin with, the way quota was distributed was unfair and not in the interest of sustainability; those who historically caught the most fish, in other words, those most responsible for depleted fish stocks, were rewarded with the most quota.

When too few people control the right to fish, they are able to manipulate the cost of quota leasing to a point where those who own permits with significant quota, and lease to other fishermen, are the only ones who can make money. This modern form of marine sharecropping is a losing proposition. The everyday challenges that smaller scale fishermen face - high fuel prices, inconsistent fish prices, weather, etc. are increasingly compounded by the artificially high price of quota. Quota costs are continuing to rise because of speculative hoarding and trading of unfairly distributed fishing rights. In the same way that there are laws preventing businesses from forming monopolies, the amount of quota that a single person can control should be limited too. For this reason I strongly support quota accumulation caps.

Map by NOAA and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Higher fuel prices and the removal of trip limits have concentrated much of the fishing effort of the largest offshore boats in relatively small areas. This is detrimental as much research suggests that groups of fish that spawn together also travel together. Thus even when not technically spawning, that entire spawning population is vulnerable to the same extreme and lasting depletion we've seen in areas of coastal down east Maine. These sub populations' loyalty to their spawning grounds makes the sort of concentrated effort on Stellwagen Bank akin to blocking a salmon river with a gill net. In order to remedy this systematic depletion of inshore fish, we must separate the fishery into an inshore and an offshore fishery. Smaller boats lack mobility and as a result these fishermen have a vested interest in their specific fishing grounds. This vested interest lends itself to the sort of area and ecosystem based management that leads to meaningful and effective regulations matching the scale of fishing to the scale of the ecosystem.

To date, fisheries managers have ignored the impact of fisheries on one another. Recovering fish stocks that are starved by mid-water trawlers and plagued by dogfish predation will not recover in the ways that they could and should. It's essential that scientists and fisheries managers better understand and acknowledge the interaction of different fisheries and establish inter-fishery goals that are achieved through thoughtful and meaningful regulation in order to better facilitate the recovery of the ecosystem as a whole.

Today we are faced with a clear choice: Do we want to be the folks who stood by while the largest boats concentrated their fishing in small inshore areas and forced out the most sustainable and traditional operations out of business? Or, do we want to be the folks who stood up for independent fishermen - for small businesses that, as a result of what those who favor consolidation call "inefficiencies', generate the most prosperity for the most people per pound of fish harvested? We have the opportunity to bring common sense back into the realm of fisheries management, to foster a meaningful recovery of groundfish, and to return to the 'Good Old Days'. This is our moment, this is when we take the positive and meaningful steps toward rebuilding the 'Good Old Days'.

Video: Aboard the Rita B with Ed Snell

Thank you Ed for sharing your comments. We encourage everyone who, like Ed believes fleet diversity matters to recovering the fish, to submit your own comments as part of a public comment period. Click HERE for help on e-mailing comments. Every comment counts!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fleet Diversity Equals Fairness

By Farmer Stephen Bartlett, guest blogger 
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
Ag Missions
Davenport, NY

Note: This letter was addressed to New England fisheries decision-makers regarding Amendment 18 to the groundfish plan. We encourage everyone to join Stephen by submitting your own comments in support of fleet diversity. Click here to learn how.

To the New England Fisheries Management Council,

I oppose the no-action alternative option under A18 because it would lead to a loss of diversity in the fleet. This is a problem for many reasons but the most obvious one is fairness and equality of opportunity. People lose their jobs when unfair restrictions or an uneven playing field is imposed in their area of livelihood. Fishing should be a job that is done profitably by as many small scale fisherfolk as possible.

Loss of fleet diversity affects me because "loss of fleet diversity" is really a code for exclusion and concentration of the industry into fewer hands. Such economic inequality impacts on everyone. I have faith that organized small scale fisherfolk have the knowledge and motivation to protect their fisheries and not overfish them. Having the industry concentrated into fewer hands actually threatens rather than protects fisheries. As someone who loves to eat fish, this is also a threat to me and my family. Will my grandchildren have healthy, wild fish to eat? Possibly not if the industry continues to favor the large scale over the small scale, and massive overfishing continues.

Solutions for the Council to explore should include: mechanisms to keep offshore boats offshore, quota set-aside programs, incentives for owner-operator fishermen, policies that ensure quota is fished by actual fishermen and not used solely as an investment tool, dis-incentives for fishermen who lease out 100% of their quota, leasing and permit trading rules that prevent consolidation into the larger fishing operations, and accumulation caps somewhere between 2-5%.

Stephen Bartlett
Davenport, NY

Thank you Stephen for sharing your comments. We encourage everyone who, like Stephen, believes fleet diversity can help bring more fairness into the fishery, to submit your own comments as part of a public comment period that ends March 1. Click HERE for help on e-mailing comments. Every comment counts!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fleet Diversity Matters to Local Food Systems

By Environmental Justice Consultant Anne D. Burt, guest blogger
Maine Council of Churches

Note: This letter was addressed to New England fisheries 
decision-makers regarding Amendment 18 to the groundfish plan. 
We encourage everyone to join Andy by submitting your own 
comments in support of fleet diversity. Click here to learn how.

To the New England Fisheries Management Council,

I am writing to oppose the no-action alternative for Amendment 18 and urge the Council to consider every reasonable alternative in order to protect fleet diversity.

For more than a decade the Maine Council of Churches has engaged congregations in environmental and economic justice projects that are designed to foster sustainable and resilient local communities. For the past six years that work has involved linking congregations to their local foods system, initially connecting the local congregations with nearby farms and farmers, and more recently with their neighbor fishermen. I would like to share a few stories about why fleet diversity is important to our local communities that are working to reclaim and revitalize their working waterfront and fishing traditions as they rebuild local markets for fresh-caught seafood and commit to more sustainable ways of fishing and eating.

In the winter of 2007, when fuel prices were out of sight and the Midcoast Fishermen's Association's (MFA) small groundfish fleet had tied up, despite there being plenty of local shrimp to harvest, some of the fishermen approached a Rockland congregation about becoming a Community Supported Fishery site. The congregation had a history of working with local farmers, having bought into Hatchet Cove Farm's Community-Supported Agriculture farm in its infancy and watched the number of shares bought by church members grow from 15 the first year to now over 200.

The church felt deep concerns about their community's working waterfront heritage and the alarming reports of declining fish stocks, a degrading ocean environment, and, as a result, disappearing small fishing fleets up and down the coast. So when MFA approached the church and said fishermen would need to sell church members 100 pounds of shrimp/week (10 shares at 10 pounds/share) to make the project viable, some members of the church stepped forward, timidly at first, and promised to meet the MFA requirement. Together they launched Maine's first CSF, which has grown to include whole groundfish, cut and filleted fish, and more. MFA members showed the church members, mostly neophytes when it came to cleaning fish and shrimp, how to process the seafood, store it, and even cook it! MFA, meanwhile, has opened a new fish processing plant in Port Clyde, and helped to meet Maine communities' appetite for locally caught fresh seafood by establishing several other similar sites in nearby communities. First Universalist members are deeply grateful for the fresh fish and seafood that comes to their doorstep every Sunday during the fishing seasons.

Video: A Leap of Faith: How one Maine Church turned shrimp into a big idea

Rockland is not an isolated community and that is not the only story. Over the past year Maine Council of Churches partnered with congregations in Kennebunk, Topsham, and Bar Harbor to study the changing ocean environment, fishing management, and what those on the land could do to preserve their local fishing communities and the ocean's flora and fauna. A four-week study called "Fishes and Loaves" concluded with a community dinner featuring local seafood. In all three communities, the participating faith communities and local fishermen are now pursuing next steps to establish CSF's that will benefit both local fishermen and local consumers. We will continue these local studies/suppers in other communities like York, Cumberland, Lincoln, and most recently Washington county where we can anticipate similar results.

We are confident because in February 2009, with Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, we conducted a survey of the public at our annual CSA/CSF fairs in 12 communities and had enthusiastic responses from the local attendees to increase the amount and diversity of seafood that they could purchase locally, including interest in getting CSFs off the ground. We believe, with our partners, that we can help to galvanize that interest into sustainable markets that would support small and diverse local fishing fleets in communities where they have traditionally thrived.

However, the growing support for locally caught seafood must be matched by policies that support a diverse and local fleet. Fleet consolidation and concentration of the rights to fish into fewer hands threatens our source of local seafood. These challenges require us to seek a bold new vision for caring for our food resources, their environment, and each other. We think that there is growing evidence that small, diverse and local food product (yes, how it was traditionally done) is the sensible approach. Small local farms and fleets, using methods that are least harmful to the ecosystems in which they produce food, can adapt more easily to fluctuations in climate and fish availability, and the relationships that have traditionally bonded us together as communities of farmers, fishermen, small businesses and churches can sustain us through the hard times.

Again, I urge you to please consider all available tools to protect fleet diversity.

Thank you,

Anne D. Burt

Thank you Andy for sharing your comments. We encourage everyone who, like Andy, believes fleet diversity really matters to healthy and safe local food systems, to submit your own comments as part of a public comment period that ends March 1. Click HERE for help on e-mailing comments. Every comment counts!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

By Marine Biologist Bob Steneck, guest blogger
University of Maine
School of Marine Sciences

Note: This letter was addressed to New England fisheries 
decision-makers regarding Amendment 18 to the groundfish plan. 
We encourage everyone to join Bob by submitting your own 
comments in support of fleet diversity. Click here to learn how.

Dear New England Fisheries Management Council,

I am a professor in the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences who has worked with numerous fisheries for nearly 30 years. I am very concerned about Amendment 18 because the no-action alternative will contribute to the loss of fleet diversity which is, in my opinion, one of the gravest problems facing the New England fleet and its fisheries.

When I served on the Fisheries Task Force that recommended Catch Shares, my primary concern was that it could result in consolidation (see more on consolidation). With consolidation, smaller owner operators are squeezed out. This segment of the fleet is most attuned to changes in fish stocks and has the capacity to fish most adaptively and sustainably.

Please do what you can to preserve fleet diversity. I think as part of that there should be quota accumulation limits. I think for the health of the fishing community and the community of fishes, you should work to prevent a heavy concentration of fishing effort around inshore areas. Where possible foster owner-operators and independently
owned business. It will also give new entrants into the fishery a chance of surviving.

Along with keeping the offshore boats offshore, it is a good idea to establish quota set-aside programs to reward sectors that meet specific benchmarks that promote fleet diversity. Fishermen should not be allowed to lease 100% of their quota. Leasing and permit trading should be constrained so the smaller fishing operators are not forced out. These actions are necessary because, in my opinion, the small boat subset of fisheries stakeholders is our best chance for improving and sustaining our inshore groundfish stocks.

Bob Steneck

Thank you Bob for sharing your comments. We encourage everyone who, like Bob, supports fleet diversity to submit your own comments as part of a public comment period that ends March 1. Click HERE for help on e-mailing comments. Every comment counts!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Recipe for Fleet Diversity

By Executive Chef Teddy Diggs, guest blogger
Home Port Restaurant

Note: This letter was addressed to New England fisheries decision-makers 
regarding Amendment 18 to the groundfish plan. We encourage everyone to join Teddy 
by submitting your own comments in support of fleet diversity. Click here to learn how.

To the New England Fisheries Management Council,

Locally-caught seafood impacts my personal and professional life. I am writing to oppose the Council taking no action on Amendment 18 and encourage Council members to explore a variety of alternatives that can protect our regions diverse fleet as well as our marine ecology.

I am the executive chef at the Home Port restaurant in Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard. Through care, ability and hard work we are lucky enough to run a business that we believe should be the standard for how to operate a restaurant. Sustainability has become a tired buzz word that pertains to too many schools of thought. It is my view that sustainability extends well beyond the number of fish removed from the ocean. It includes how the fish are removed, who removes it, how the fish gets to consumers, and how well it feeds people, which ultimately is the purpose of fishing. To my point, sustainable fishing includes the fishermen and their communities. Purchasing locally-caught fish not only sustains a way of life but also helps to support (read: sustain) a particular family or community.

We, as chefs, should look at our ocean the same way. Purchasing sustainable sea life should extend to the benefit of fishermen and our harbor communities. With that sense we should buy sustainably, but with a deeper thought in mind. Are we purchasing, serving and eating sea life that is restorative in nature? Meaning how and where was my fish caught? For the every day consumer this is difficult. That is why we choose to serve specific species on our menu at the Home Port. We encourage our customers to ask the questions, where and how was my food caught, and why did you choose this particular fish over another one.

It has become a passion of mine to study fish populations and their resources in hope that my daughters' generation may see a resurgence of many fish species that are no longer available in the waters off Martha's Vineyard and elsewhere in the world.

Trends begin to influence the public. If a restaurant can make it a standard in their operation to support the local community, both with food and finance, and also support the re-growth of our damaged ocean ecosystem, we all would benefit. The word movement can be defined as "a series of actions taking place over a period of time working to foster a new standard." What we strive to do at the Home Port restaurant should be thought of as an effort that may enable growth and prosperity for the ocean and our community.

However, in order for us to achieve this standard we need regional policies that support a thriving diverse fleet where the people and method at which they harvest fish is factored into policy decisions and fleet diversity is protected.

Please do what you can to preserve fleet diversity. The Council should explore every option possible. This includes: supporting owner-operators, quota set-aside programs, limiting quota accumulation, preventing heavy concentration of fishing effort around inshore areas, considering new entrants, and leasing constraints that prevent smaller business operations from being forced out.

Thank you,
Teddy Diggs

Thank you Teddy for sharing your comments and thank you to the Home Port restaurant for supporting locally caught seafood and blazing a trail for others to follow. We encourage everyone who, like Teddy, cares about locally caught seafood to submit your own comments as part of a public comment period that ends March 1. Take a look at this page for guidelines. Every comment counts!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why I'm Fasting

By Niaz Dorry
NAMA's Coordinating Director

Last time I fasted for a political reason was in 1992. I was living in Chester, West Virginia; working with community advocates fighting the WTI Incinerator, the world’s largest toxic waste incinerator across the river in East Liverpool, Ohio. For 44 days the work, not food, is what fed my body. I know the experience was spiritually and physically significant for all 25 of us who took part. Personally, I was humbled by the experience and knowing so many of my heroes had endured much more grueling fasts and hunger strikes to bring an end to injustices around the world.

Twenty years later, I find myself moved to fast again. This time in support of the Fast for Fair Food campaign in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. The fast is to start on March 5, 2012.

Since 1993, the CIW has led an inspiring effort to end the injustices facing farmworkers working in grueling conditions, often literally as slaves, so we can have our favorite land based foods. Inadequate pay, living arrangements, and protections from the elements have made an already backbreaking work unbearable. CIW has successfully negotiated contracts with major food retailers and restaurants such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Bon App├ętit Management, Sodexo and even Amtrak that would commit them to only buy from farms who are paying their workers a fairer wage and providing them with humane working conditions. Most recently, after much negotiation, Trader Joe’s stepped up to the plate.

What does all this have to do with fisheries and fishermen? Our food system includes what we get from the ocean. Not only do we eat from the ocean directly, but we also eat marine animals indirectly when they are applied as fertilizer on our farms, fed to our farm animals as part of their feed or taken as supplements to our diets.

But whether we are paying fishermen a fair price, working conditions for fishworkers around the globe or whether the system that manages our food from the ocean from dock to plate is a fair one isn’t part of the conversation around sustainable, fair, safe and sovereign food system. Those responsible for managing our fisheries don’t take whether fishing is being done for the greater benefit to our food system in consideration. Department of Commerce praises those who catch the most amounts of fish with their annual reports naming the top 3 ports, but fails to address the fact that fair pay for smaller catches is probably better for the ocean.

So I’m fasting for the fish and the fishermen who bring our marine based foods to our plate. I know by continuing to make the connections and building solidarity with farmworkers and farmers we can make sure the community based fleet is paid a fair wage, is doing honorable work that saves our ocean, puts food on our table and sustains our coastal communities.

If you can, I hope you will consider joining me in this fast for a fair and just food system that includes our SEAfood.

You can show your support for community based fishing by taking part in a public process currently underway to amend fisheries policies. Public comments on the fleet diversity amendment 18 are due March 1st, and every comment counts. Please visit this link for more information.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The CODsolidation Emergency

By fisherman Michael Pratt, guest blogger

My name is Michael Pratt. I am a hook-fisherman from Green Harbor, MA. I would like to share a few major concerns that I have relating to how Catch Shares have already caused both harm to our local marine areas and an excessive amount of fleet consolidation.

Small inshore fishermen, like myself, are facing new problems since New England's Catch Share program began. One of the problems we face are the large 100 ft. plus boats working day and night in spots once made up of small day draggers in the 30-50 ft. range.

This problem allows boats that have historically fished other areas, and in some cases exploited those areas, to just lease their way into the Gulf of Maine and continue their unsustainable fishing practices. Click to read more about leasing

The area I have historically fished around Stellwagen Bank is now experiencing what I believe to be at least double the fishing effort that it can withstand.

Map by NOAA and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Without some immediate emergency intervention from National Marine Fisheries, it may be too late.

Even as we sit here today, a basically uncontrolled, unsustainable fishery is taking place on a resource that local fishermen have worked in vain for over a decade to restore.

One example of how consolidation is affecting this area are the fleet of large offshore boats who are allowed to come in and harvest so much of the local resource resulting in many small boat fishermen unable to catch their quota and instead opt to lease it out. Most of this quota then gets leased to the bigger boats. Click to read more about consolidation in the groundfish fishery

This strategy of attack and exploit the resource - and then buy out the struggling day boat, is quickly paving the road to a big boat only fishery.

The Massachusetts South Shore and especially Sector 10, due to such low quota allocations, cannot survive the effects of consolidation much longer.

One idea the Council needs to consider is dividing the Gulf of Maine cod population into eastern and western areas. This would effectively put big boat effort back where it belongs while allowing for a sustainable inshore fishery to continue on for small boat businesses.

To compliment this I believe it would be necessary to implement a baseline leasing restriction on Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod only. Such restrictions would prevent large vessels from buying up small vessels' quota and vice-versa, resulting in a diversified fleet.

This would also help eliminate the problems of the new fleet of small boats leasing their way into the Gulf of Maine fishery by trading quota with larger vessels.

With these restrictions in place, much of the burden soon to be caused from the new cod stock assessment could be lightened. Another benefit of these requirements would include helping new entrants in the small boat fishery by allowing for more affordable quota.

Currently, small boats relying on cod, cannot afford to purchase quota due to the fact that larger vessels landing several valuable species will pay a premium to ensure they have enough cod quota to harvest their other species.

This community has suffered and is suffering the most under current fisheries management plans. Any further consolidation will certainly be the end.

Fisherman Michael Pratt wrote the above piece as part of his testimony to the New England Fisheries Management Council for the Amendment 18 Scoping hearings. Ten scoping hearings took place around New England to gather public input on the proposed Amendment 18 which aims to deal with fleet diversity and concentration of quota ownership. Click to watch Michael's testimony. Also see fisherman Ron Borjeson and fisherman Alex Friedman offered similar testimony during two other A18 Scoping hearings.          

At NAMA we are working to ensure the ecological and social concerns of fishermen like Michael are addressed. We believe that if we care about the marine ecosystem, our coastal communities, and quality locally-caught food from the ocean, than Who Fishes Matters. Join us by taking any one of the following actions:

    Like us on Facebook.