Archive for June, 2012

Jun 13 2012

Senate panel hearing set for Magnuson reform

By Richard Gaines | Staff Writer

As he promised the gathering at a national fishermen’s rally in March, U.S. Charles Schumer, D-N,Y., has secured a commitment for the Senate Commerce Committee to hold oversight hearings this fall on problems with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The announcement from the New York senator came last week, after he gained the commitment of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Mark Begich of Alaska.

In a statement, Schumer said he hoped the hearings “will give a national voice” to concerns “about faulty science and excessively strict quotas that are decimating the industry.”

U.S. Sen. John Kerry is the senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. He has proposed his own legislation, to restore a dedicated funding source for fisheries research and development from seafood import quotas, but also has acknowledged the need to make changes to Magnuson.

Also supporting Magnunson reform is Sen. Scott Brown.

In April, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee, where the reform movement is stronger, began drafting “a comprehensive” change to Magnuson, the overriding fisheries management law, in an attempt to ensure that NOAA makes “informed decisions based on sufficient scientific information,” Chairman Doc Hastings told the Times.

The presidential election and the Democratic control of the Senate all but insures that no substantive action on a rewrite of Magnuson will occur before the expiration of the 112th Congress.

House passage of a Magnuson reform bill is considered the highest goal for this year of industry leaders who organized the rally last March and have been pressing to write flexibility into Magnuson.

Read the full article on the Gloucester Times
Jun 12 2012

Sardine population growing significantly




Guest Commentary

Reading the recent opinion piece on this page by Oceana, one might think that sardines should be placed on the endangered species list. But in reality, this important fishery is doing just fine thanks to existing precautions.

The Oceana commentary, “Sardine population on verge of crash,” bases some of its allegations on a report by two National Marine Fisheries Service scientists. Yet Oceana fails to mention that those scientists deliberately omitted the most recent stock assessment and failed to submit their paper for internal review. That paper and its conclusions were later repudiated by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The fact is, sardine abundance trended significantly upward in 2011 and that led to the increase in sardine harvest quota in 2012.

California’s wetfish industry — named for the fish that were canned wet from the sea — is under attack by extremist groups like Oceana who claim overfishing is occurring. That allegation is false; fishermen have long recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both people and fish.

Historically, sardines exhibited dynamic swings of a million tons up or down during the first decade of decline. We may be entering another such period, given the 30-year cycle of the stock. But the issue is scale. Sardine management policy is complicated because fishery managers now recognize these dynamics.

The sardines’ visionary harvest policy sets annual quotas far lower than the maximum sustainable catch allowed in most fisheries, and subtracts 150,000 metric tons from the population estimate, allowing for forage and uncertainty. According to the 2011 sardine stock assessment, the coast-wide harvest rate including Canada and Mexico was less than 15 percent of the biomass — decidedly NOT overfishing.

This precaution has been recognized by a host of respected scientists, including the “Little Fish, Big Impact” report referenced by Oceana. Another Oceana omission is found in Appendix E of that report:

“In the California Current only 2 percent of the annual production of forage fishes (including fished and unfished stocks) is taken by fishermen and 98 percent of the production goes to the other fishes, birds and marine mammals,” notes Richard Parrish, one of the most knowledgeable scientists on the west coast.

Oceana also asserts that fishermen have exceeded the squid quota. While it’s true that the total biomass of squid is unknown and likely unknowable (market squid range from Baja California to Alaska), the overfishing allegation is also decidedly false.

Squid are another dynamic stock that live, spawn and die in less than a year. The squid resource is actively managed by California with many precautionary regulations, including both weekend closures and marine reserves that have closed more than 30 percent of traditional squid fishing grounds.

Scientists know the squid’s abundance is driven primarily by environmental cycles like the highly productive cold-water conditions experienced in 2010-11. These boom years for squid fishing happen only once in a decade.

California’s historic wetfish fisheries are the backbone of our state’s fishing economy. In 2010, the wetfish complex — sardine, anchovy, mackerel, market squid — comprised more than 80 percent of the volume of all commercial fishery landings statewide, and 44 percent of dockside value.

The wetfish industry remains the lifeblood of Monterey’s fishing community, representing an even higher volume and value of all commercial landings.

The city of Monterey recognizes our precautionary fishery management and supports this historic industry. The City is working alongside California wetfish leaders, reputable environmental organizations, and respected scientists to recommend forage policy guidelines for the Fish and Game Commission.

Our recommendations integrate the protections now afforded these forage stocks by both the state and federal management — and are based on best-available science, rather than innuendo, deception and politics.

Diane Pleschner-Steele is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Read the full article online on the Monterey Herald.

Jun 9 2012

Fosmark: Ocean Policy Respite Is Step in Right Direction

By Kathy Fosmark
Special to Roll Call

Recent House passage of an amendment providing for a pause in implementation of the new National Ocean Policy is a welcome development for those seeking to maintain and enhance the productivity of our nation’s marine and inland areas.

This action was supported by groups as varied as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Fisheries Institute and the National Ocean Policy Coalition, among many others.

Because it is being implemented by executive order rather than statute, the policy has not been subject to the scrutiny that accompanies the legislative process. In turn, significant questions about this initiative, and its potential effects on citizens, businesses and existing laws and processes, have still not been adequately addressed.

For example, how will regional fishery management councils effectively carry out their responsibilities under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act when the National Ocean Policy requires federal implementation of potentially inconsistent regional zoning plans developed by regional planning bodies?

In addition, the National Ocean Council has disclosed that federal agencies have been directed to prioritize the National Ocean Policy in their budgets and asked how existing resources can be repurposed. With resources already scarce, how will this affect the continuation and improvement of existing authorized activities such as fishery stock assessments that directly affect recreational anglers and commercial fishermen across the country as well as the communities they support?

Concerns about potentially repurposing funds across the federal government in support of an initiative that has not been authorized by Congress are underscored by recent headlines surrounding the disclosure that tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds were reprogrammed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration without Congressional notification.

Ocean Conservancy’s May 24 Roll Call op-ed referred to a “gross overreaction” among those who support a time-out and suggested that concerns about prohibitions on fishing activity are unfounded. Concerns about the potential for the policy to lead to new and unnecessary marine access and use restrictions, however, are real and based in part on past experience.

Read the full article on Roll Call

Jun 8 2012

The 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the U.S.

By Travers Korch |

Paper cuts are the worst. That is, until you put things in perspective and realize that for many of us, our jobs require very little actual physical danger. From the relatively exotic to the seemingly mundane, certain occupations carry an underlying danger that can reach up to 116 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent figures, there were 4,547 fatal occupational injuries in 2010, or four fewer than reported in 2009. The majority of these injuries occur in a handful of sectors representing the most dangerous ways to earn a living in the country.

But for the rest of us, we all know that getting a paper cut right where your finger bends is still pretty terrible.

Job: Fishing


Risk factors: The producers of “Deadliest Catch” don’t need to create much artificial drama, as fishers and fishing workers have — on average — the most dangerous jobs in the country. Malfunctioning gear, inclement weather and transportation incidents all factor into the fact that this profession has the country’s highest fatality rate, a distinction it has held since 1992.


Fatality rate: 116 per 100,000 workers; 29 total

Average annual salary: $25,590

Job: Logging workers



Risk factors: Total logging fatalities in the U.S. increased from 36 in 2009 to 59 in 2010, with more than half of the incidents resulting from being struck by an object. Dangers abound when you spend most of your days outside with heavy machinery, frequently bad weather and occasional high altitudes.


Fatality rate: 91.9 per 100,000 workers; 59 total

Average annual salary: $32,870

Job: Aircraft pilots and flight engineers



Risk factors: Though pilots are often financially compensated for the inherent dangers and responsibilities of their jobs, no amount of money can change the fact that it’s a long way down. It’s no surprise transportation accidents, including crashes, were a leading factor in the rate.


Fatality rate: 70.6 per 100,000 workers; 78 total

Average annual salary: $118,070 for airline pilots and $76,050 for commercial pilots


Job: Farmers and ranchers



Risk factors: Working the land may be one of the oldest professions, but new efficient technology has done little to make the job any safer. Long hours and close, consistent contact with heavy machinery and equipment represent the bulk of injuries and fatalities on the job, which is largely represented by transportation incidents.


Fatality rate: 41.4 per 100,000 workers; 300 total

Average annual salary: $60,750


Job: Mining


Risk factors: Heavy machinery, close quarters and explosive materials all play into mining’s high fatality rate, which took into account the 2010 incidents of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Mining machine operators have an even higher rate, at 38.7 per 100,000 workers, or 23 fatalities in total.


Fatality rate: 19.9 per 100,000 workers; 172 total

Average annual salary: $37,230 to $89,440

Read the rest of the article on

Jun 7 2012

Oceans Plan Meets Wave of GOP Resistance


  Congressional Quarterly Weekly – IN FOCUS

June 4, 2012 – Page 1137

  By Lauren Gardner | Staff Writer

Some lawmakers predict the new ocean policy will inevitably lead to new strict regulations on offshore drilling, wind power, commercial and recreational fishing, and boating.
On its face, the Obama administration’s plan to begin implementing its National Ocean Policy looks like something even the president’s most ardent opponents might like. The objective sounds innocuous enough safeguard the oceans and Great Lakes while encouraging sustainable development of offshore resources. The plan aims to achieve that goal by coordinating the many federal agencies that enforce the 140 laws affecting the oceans, coastlines and Great Lakes and by streamlining the process for granting various permits.ut President Obama’s critics in Congress are suspicious about the plan — and are aggressively moving to block it.

House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, fears the blueprint will usher in ocean “zoning.” Texas Republican Bill Flores succeeded in attaching a rider to the fiscal 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that would bar any expenditures to implement the ocean policy, and Hastings vows to press for similar language in every spending bill that comes to the House floor.


The opposition reflects concerns by many of the industries that make a living in the coastal waters — including oil and natural gas producers, commercial fishermen and seafood processors, boat owners and operators, shippers, and sports fishermen. An industry-backed group called the National Ocean Policy Coalition backs efforts to delay the policy through appropriations riders, saying that “further policy development and implementation should be suspended until Congress, user groups, and the public have been fully engaged and all potential impacts have been assessed and are understood.”


Critics worry that the administration will pay for its initiative by siphoning money from programs that lawmakers intended to fund, and they complain that the White House is moving forward without congressional authorization. Some lawmakers predict the plan, which is expected to be put in final form this summer, will inevitably lead to new regulations that further burden business activities including offshore drilling, wind power, commercial and recreational fishing, deep-sea fish farming, and boating.


Spearheading support for an ocean policy are environmental groups such as Oceana, the Ocean Conservancy and the Pew Environmental Group — a roster that invites the suspicions of industry groups.


Even the co-chairmen of the Senate Oceans Caucus are divided. Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse calls the proposal a “very pro-business and very sensible means for rationally sorting out conflicting uses in a really important resource.” But Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski says flatly: “I don’t like it.”


“They’ve got an idea that sounds nice on paper, establishes all kinds of different programs,” she says. “And again, we’ve had no sense of funding or real direction.”

 Read the rest of the article on
Jun 1 2012

Q&A: Eat that fish! When Overfishing is Also Sustainable

Ray Hilborn, Professor of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and Co-Author of Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know

Written By Christie Nicholson 

Contributing Editor at SmartPlanet


Many of us think that if a fish species is overfished we probably should be wary about choosing it at the supermarket or on the restaurant menu. But the opposite may be true. Our boycotting of some overfished species may be hurting us and the American fish industry, not the fish.


This counterintuitive opinion is laid out by Ray Hilborn, professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, and co-author of Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know.


Hilborn holds that the public, food retailers, NGOs and congress have misunderstood what defines a sustainable fishery. In fact overfishing and sustainable can, oddly enough, go together.


SmartPlanet caught up with Hilborn in Seattle, WA to get a better understanding of this paradox and why he thinks a fish boycott doesn’t make sense.


SmartPlanet: What are red listed fish?

Ray Hilborn: Red lists are advice that a number of NGOs provide on what species of fish one should avoid eating.

SP: And Whole Foods stopped selling such fish based on these red lists?

RH: Yes Whole Foods made a commitment to not sell any food that’s on the red list of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Oceans Institute.

SP: And other stores and restaurants have done similar things?

RH: Yes red lists are widely used.

SP: What are the criteria for red-listed fish?

RH: The three criteria that most NGOs use. One is status with respect to overfishing. The second is concerns about bycatch. So if you have a fishery that is catching a significant number of turtles, or sharks, or other species they’ll often get red-listed. Finally there are concerns about the environmental impacts of fishing, particularly concerns about trawl nets, or nets that touch the bottom and change bottom habitat.

SP: But you have made the point recently that if a species is overfished it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be sustainable. And this seems counterintuitive. People might say well red lists sound more like the right thing to do.

RH: There’s an enormous lack of understanding about what sustainability really is. Essentially sustainability has nothing to do with the abundance of the fish and much more about the management system. So if you’re managing it in a way where if it gets to low abundance you’ll reduce catches and let it rebuild. That’s clearly sustainable.

You can have fish that are overfished for decades but still be sustainable. As long as their numbers are not going down they are sustainable. Some of it is “overfished” with reference to the production of long-term maximum yield. It doesn’t imply declining and it doesn’t imply threat of extinction.

SP: And even if it falls into this latter category that you just described it should be safe for consumers to eat?

RH: So long as it’s in a management system like the U.S. where when stocks get to low abundance we dramatically reduce catches, and the evidence is they then rebuild. Then yes, those stocks are perfectly sustainable.

SP: What about this issue of bycatch?

RH: OK, so the NGOs will say, “Oh this stock is not sustainable because there is bycatch of sharks.” Well the stock is sustainable. Every form of food production has negative impacts on other species. And that’s where there’s an enormous double standard applied to fish.

For instance, I guarantee you there’s a big environmental impact of buying soybeans that come from cutting down rainforest. There’s a much higher standard applied to fisheries than almost anything else we eat.

SP: What goes into creating a sustainable fishery?

RH: The first thing is you have to monitor the trend in the stock. You have to have a  system based in good science, that says this stock is going down. Then your management actions have to respond to the trend.

SP: What about foreign fish? Which ones can we eat?

RH: Much of the fish of the world do not qualify as sustainable because we just don’t know what’s happening in other countries like Africa or Asia. Now, very few fish from those markets makes their way to the U.S. market. But some of the Atlantic cod populations in Europe are still fished much too hard. But the big propulsions in Europe are actually quite sustainable. Much of the cod that make it to the U.S. are coming from Iceland or Norway where the stocks are in good shape.

SP: But how do you tell the difference if it’s cod coming from an overfished area?

RH: Well, that is a major problem. But if it’s Marine Stewardship Council certified you can be pretty sure that it’s what it claims to be. Personally, I tend to buy a pretty narrow range of fish that come from my region, like salmon, halibut, and black cod. And pretty much all of those are MSC certified.

SP: You mention that the boycott on sustainably caught fish does nothing for conservation.

RH: You can boycott this all you want, it’s not going to affect what’s caught. Because for these overfished stocks enormous effort is being taken to catch as little as possible and it’s not the consumer market that drives the amount of catch. Those fish are going to be caught and they’re going to be sold because there are a lot of markets in the world that don’t care about classification and red lists, essentially all of Asia, which is the world’s biggest seafood consuming market.

The places that consumer boycotts might have an effect is for fish like bluefin tuna or swordfish.

SP: Well if boycotting makes no difference, is there a negative side to boycotting?

RH: My real target is to tell retailers and the NGOs, “Look, let’s get more reasonable about what we mean by sustainability.”

SP: And we need to get more reasonable about the definition of “sustainability” because there are real economic dangers to the fishing industry? Or is it because of something else?

RH: Yes, that’s certainly one of the issues. Let’s not punish these fishermen who have paid a very high price to rebuild these stocks. Let’s let them sell what they’re currently catching.

SP: So it seems the word “overfished” is also more nuanced?

RH: Well I think Congress had this very naïve view that somehow you could manage every stock separately and if cod is depleted, at low abundance well we stop fishing it, but they don’t appreciate the cost of all the other species that we could not catch because we can’t catch those species without also catching some cod as bycatch.

Now, there’s a lot of work going on to try to solve that problem. But I it’s important to convince people that we will always have some overfished stocks. And if we continue with our current U.S. statement that ‘no stock shall be overfished’ we’re going to have to give up a lot of food production. We’re certainly doing that now.

SP: You’ve also argued that fish is a food we need?

RH: If we don’t catch certain fish with trawl nets, and let’s say it’s twenty million tons, then that food is going to be made up some other way. And what’s the environmental cost of the other ways of producing the food? My initial calculations suggest that it is quite a bit higher. We should always be saying, “Well if we don’t eat this, where else is the food going to come from, and what’s the environmental cost of that?”

SP: So you ultimately feel that the marketing of these red lists has gotten to the point where it’s lost rational sense?

RH: Yes. I’m pretty convinced that seafood production is more sustainable than growing corn in Iowa or wheat in Kansas. Because growing corn in Iowa forces us to lose topsoil every year. In another 200 years the topsoil will be be largely gone. Is that sustainable?

SP: So your feeling is that disappearing fish from the store shelves is going to force us to lose food and presumably money?

RH: Yes, and to eat more livestock or chicken now.

Check out the article on the SmartPlanet blog.