Forming Partnerships – Spotlight: US West Coast Fisheries

The U.S. fishing industry is as
dynamic, complex and at times,
as fragile as the ocean itself. Currently, fishermen are
tackling one of the biggest and
most basic challenges – how to generate income now and ensure that a healthy ecosystem is preserved for the
future. In the United States, some West
Coast fisheries faced with
closures and ever-evolving regulations,
have successfully developed technology to help them fish
sustainably, while others are
discovering new market niches. And with more information
available now than ever before, awareness of sustainable
seafood issues is growing and governments as well as
fishermen, scientists,
businesses, chefs and the public are forming
partnerships. I’ve been fishing my whole life
and it’s a hard way of life. Art Lorton captains his gill
net fishing vessel, the Bev A.
off the coast of California. The fishery is
highly regulated and operates between August and January. Permits are hard to come by,
and as a result, bycatch is minimal and the
fish stocks are currently doing
well. However, that hasn’t always
been the case. In the mid-1990s, with new
amendments to the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries
Service declared that gillnet
fishing off California and Oregon was an
unsustainable fishing method
because of interactions with several marine mammal
stocks, including beaked whales, sperm
whales, and short-finned pilot whales. Sustainability of bycatch is
evaluated as a fraction of the
population, we have a relatively simple
formula and for most species of dolphins
and whales it means that no more than 1% of the
population can be injured seriously or killed in
fisheries each year. Lawsuits from advocacy groups
further threatened closure of
the fishery. That’s when the Take Reduction
Team was created and conservationists,
government scientists, gear experts and fishermen
joined forces to tackle the
problem. I was on the take reduction
team since its conception and this West Coast sword fish
take reduction team did an outstanding job to
keep this fishery open it’s probably a model for just
about any other take reduction
team that’s been in the
country. We’ve made significant
changes, especially with these pingers…here I’ll grab
one. This particular fishery out of
San Diego was extremely
proactive in finding a way to resolve the issues they
had with the dolphin
interactions and they did a wonderful job on
it. These are acoustical devices. I
tie a knot in it. I pull it. And then I just seize it into
the lead-line. We really don’t know why
pingers work. There are two
main theories, one is that the pingers just alert the dolphins to the presence of something
new in the water and that makes them turn on all of their
sensory abilities I’ll install the pingers into
the floatline like this…
I have a hollow core floatline. The other main theory is that
pingers just produce a really
annoying sound. The scientists call this aversive
and it could be that the
dolphins just don’t like this sound and they just move
to get away from it. So you put your 40 pingers in
the net, that leaves your hands
free to put in lightsticks or if it’s rough
you don’t have to have you or
your crew getting into the net. Since putting on the Fumunda
pingers it’s very rare…it’s
an exception to have something
that is bycatch. During the experimental phase,
incidental capture of common
dolphins was reduced by almost ninety
percent. And with Dolphins spending much
of their time traveling in the
upper surface of the water column further
experiments revealed another
surprise. The fishermen who were fishing
with 6 fathom long extenders they were catching just as many
swordfish as the fishermen that were fishing
close to the surface but they
were catching fewer marine mammals. Even better results were
observed with the relatively
rare whale, the beaked whale where, based on observer data, to date they remain 100%
incident free. In fact the change was so
dramatic that we were able to
see that in fact it was working and we could end the
experiment a little bit early
and actually promulgate the regulations that
would make this part of the take reduction plan. Over the past 10-years the
numbers of seals and sea lion
interactions have slightly increased. One
explanation may be that the
pinger is not such a novel stimulus anymore. The other is
that these populations are
increasing each year off California and with it, the
competition for food has
increased. The number of seals and sea
lions caught is less than 1/10
of one percent of the population so it’s not a great
conservation concern. Nonetheless, we want to
eliminate as much of the
bycatch as possible. And there’s been a lot of work
done to try to create an
acoustic deterrent for seals and sea lions and
nobody’s done it yet because they’re very intelligent and
they habituate very very
rapidly. This has been a tremendous
success story, the fisheries
are still active and vital the populations are doing well
and the marine mammals are safe and
protected. If we hadn’t had people that
were willing to work together
to find a solution the team would have failed
completely. It all comes down to the
people. Pete DuPuy is a seasoned
longline fisherman and operates
his longline vessel the Ventura II out of Ventura
Harbor One of the reasons why I went
in to fishing is because it
wasn’t regulated at all and it was like they turned
around and said there is an industry that’s not
regulated and all of a sudden boom, the regulations have come
down hard. Like I carry a federal observer
on the boat and it’s been five years since
I’ve caught a turtle. That’s a long time – and no
birds and no mammals. And people don’t know this they
think we are just wiping these
animals out. Traveling 300 to 1,000 miles
each trip, he brings fresh
sustainably caught fish not only to wholesalers, but
also directly to the public at Ventura Harbor. It is the only U.S. longline
vessel operating on the west
coast. Pete has an extremely
interesting operation and as you can see it develops
quite a following. The only thing I can say is I
wish we had more Pete’s and I
wish we had more Ventura II’s in
this harbor. That’s because not only does
Pete provide himself, his crew
and their families with income, but the entire
harbor benefits from the influx
of people from throughout southern California
who come to buy his fish. The impact that that has is
that we have a fuel dock that
sells fuel to the fishermen, that also benefits. We employ
people to help offload the
fish, that’s payroll impact, we have
transportation factors, so it grows as it goes out to
the ultimate consumer. It’s an interesting business I
don’t think it’s much different
than any other business really. It’s a lot of work
but if you like it, this is one
of the rewarding things this market, and I like
it. And I like what we’re doing. Nobody else is doing it. It’s
kind of fun doing something
nobody else is doing. It looks great. Look at that
guy. No bones, no skin, just market
cut… With a reputation of providing
a quality product, and a
mailing list with more than 4,000 names, consumers are
willing to travel long distances to buy the fresh
fish. We know that they go out
between the coast here and
Hawaii so we appreciate knowing where our fish is
coming from and that we can
talk to the guys and know that we are getting fresh good
quality fresh fish. We’ve got an awful lot, we’ve
got, uh, about $80 worth. It’s the best we can find
around. Well, there’s no better way to
get fish. It beats Whole Foods
that’s for sure. But despite the market’s
popularity, public knowledge
and awareness of the seafood and issues surrounding
sustainable fishing, remains
complicated and confusing. Sustainable. Define that for
me. In-sanable? What is it called? I’m not very familiar with the
term sustainable fishing. In
fact, it’s the first time I’ve
heard of it. When you’re doing something
with a longline or giant nets you’re going to occasionally
catch things that were not your targeted
species. Unfortunately, my understanding
is that a lot of that bycatch
doesn’t survive. I don’t know what sustainable
means. Is it very like, uh,
economically or, uh,
ecologically conscious or what? What is it? I’m not sure. One thing about this whole
issue about sustainable seafood it is not an simple thing to
answer. It really isn’t. Andrew Spurgin and Christian
Graves are members of Cooks
Confab – a consortium of San Diego
premier chefs who incorporate
sustainable seafood into their
menus and educate their customers on
sustainable seafood issues. The way that we do things for
America is you kinda have a hot
button it’s like a flock of seagulls everybody
flocks to this fish, to that
fish – it kinda takes our side to showcase all those
things that aren’t as cool, to make them cool and
then people will appreciate it
a little bit more. The catalyst for me starting to
get into this is when I
stumbled across a figure that said that 70% of all
seafood is eaten in a
restaurant… …70%! So, in a way a
chef is gatekeeper. He or she can
make a decision as to what they
put on a plate. How do I assure that what I’m
serving and what my colleagues
are serving are sustainable? Well, I think
first and foremost is trust. Servers need to understand it
in the restaurants, chefs need
to understand it for purchasing and buying
power. Sustainability is an
all-encompassing thing. It’s got to be good for
everybody. It’s got to be good for the
consumer, it’s got to be good for the
chef, it’s got to be good for the
fishermen. The fish we eat today may have
been caught by a foreign
coastal fishery – or even farmed. They may have been
caught in one country and then
processed in another. With the industry’s globalization
as well as
unregulated and pirate fishing in international waters,
U.S. fisheries and the
ecosystem are constantly being
challenged. But the United States continues
to be a leader in scientific
research and the development of sustainable
fisheries and a healthy
ecosystem, with impacts extending beyond U.S. waters. In 2001, after the discovery
that one the most endangered
creatures – the leatherback sea turtle, foraged
off the coast of California,
Oregon and Washington, the National Marine
Fisheries Service implemented a
large time and area closure to drift gillnet
fishing off central and
northern California, in order to protect it. It’s trans-Pacific migration
back to natal beaches in
Indonesia, where it mates and reproduces, is still
however through deadly
unregulated international
waters. The thing is your foreign
vessels which we, the majority
of our fish is where we consume it, they don’t have any
regulations and we have to
compete against boats that don’t have these
regulations and that’s hard on
the fishermen, the local fishermen. They don’t have to use the
pingers, they don’t have to observe
turtle catch or anything else. In the U.S. we have the cleanest
fisheries in terms of bycatch
anywhere in the world. We have the strictest
regulations, we do not want to
put our fishermen out of business and put them at
a competitive disadvantage to foreign fisheries. Consumers should prefer to buy
fisheries products that are
caught by U.S. fisheries because they have
some assurance that the marine
mammals and turtles and other elements of
the ecosystem are protected as
well as the fish stocks. There is a demand for tuna or
for swordfish, some economic
studies are raising questions about unintended
consequences. The demand is
still there, you import swordfish from other foreign
places – other than the carbon
footprint of doing that there is also the issue
that these fisheries are largely unregulated. So in
the end you’re killing more turtles – and it’s
the same turtles that are
foraging in California waters that then migrate across
international waters and to other sides of the
Pacific and get caught in these less
regulated fisheries to then
import that product into the U.S. In 2008 NOAA introduced the
Swordfish and Leatherback Use
of Temperate Habitat (SLUTH) initiative,
that promotes a closer working
relationship between all parties to better
understand interactions between
the swordfish industry and leatherback turtle populations. Fishermen have the skills,
knowledge and expertise on a
lot of these things, and scientists like myself and
others, in our agency, we’re
turtle scientists, we need those partnerships to make
our science work and them relevant to the issues
of management. With the recognition that
barriers must be overcome in
order to improve effective management and
sustainable fishing, there comes a sense of optimism
within the industry. My son’s fishing with me now.
He’s 16-years old, he comes on
my boat every year and fishes the whole summer.
He loves it…he’s good at it.
And the way we fish he’ll be doing it with his
life. That’s what I hope I’ll pass
down to him. It’s a renewable resource and
it can be there forever if it’s
managed properly. Not like oil, once it pumped
out the ground it’s gone. This can be here forever if we
take care of it.

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