Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Friday, 21 September 2012
I have a 2-year-old. I spend a lot of time asking him to use better manners and ask for things in a nice way instead of whining. When he whines, I tell him I can't understand him.
Today I have the same message for Oceana.
The group's response to a NOAA bycatch report on East Coast fisheries is terribly unproductive (except that it might help bring in some donations). It is, in effect, a lot of whining with no proposed solutions to the problem.
No one dislikes bycatch more than fishermen do. And if Oceana would go out and talk to U.S. fishermen about it instead of reading a spreadsheet and immediately damning a wide swath of the industry and its managers, the group might have had a more productive, practical reaction.
Many of the fishermen in East Coast fisheries are struggling to make their boat payments. They can't leap on the latest gear, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the time cost in training their crew to use it.
That's not an excuse not to make efforts to design, test and release new gear. We should all be setting our sites on gear improvements. But the big problem in bycatch reduction is not the attitudes of fishermen or the blind eye of management. It's the time and cost it requires to create the best gear that reduces bycatch while sustaining the catch of target species. It can take years to improve the gear for one fishery.
As a non-governmental environmental group, Oceana has far more flexibility than the government has to react to dire situations.
So Oceana, what is your plan? Continue to vilify fishermen? Or will you come to the table and make strides to make a valuable, tangible change that can keep boats in the water, workers on the docks and decks, and fresh, local, wild food on America's tables?
Northeast fishermen have been working with researchers, scientists, environmental organizations and many other groups to make improvements to gear. What the industry needs is help to move that process forward. What it does not need is more groups pounding them because they're easy targets.
"U.S. fishermen have the tools to fish within their limits, but fishery managers need to ensure that those limits account for every fish, because every fish counts," said Gib Brogan, Oceana's Northeast representative.
I agree that every fish counts — or ought to. However, it's laughable to suggest that fishermen have all the tools they need. That presumes bycatch is only a problem because fishermen don't care.
Bycatch is never going to be 100 percent avoidable. What we can do is commit to working toward the best possible outcomes by improving gear and making that gear and the training to use it accessible to fishermen everywhere.
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