Greater fishermen input would improve outcome

Days at sea — and by extension the groundfish industry — are dwindling because regulators must comply with federal stock rebuilding mandates. Mind you, the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that regulators consider the socioeconomic impact upon harvesters and fishing communities when crafting management measures. However, that rarely impacts management decisions.

That suggests groundfishermen won’t gain any relief in the Framework 42 court battle that began Monday. But maybe there’s hope yet that fishermen will obtain greater input into fisheries management.

In California, a Portland, Ore.-based non-profit group called Ecotrust is using an innovative software tool called Open OceanMap to collect data from fishermen http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/State-using-new-tech-device-to-manage-fisheries-3181748.php about what they feel are the most important fishing grounds. Via laptop, harvesters can privately mark on a nautical map where the grounds are and rank which ones are most valuable.

The state will use the resulting maps the data will help create to guide environmental policy under California’s Marine Life Protection Act. The idea is to manage fishing grounds in a way that benefits fishermen as well as fish.

A cynic would say that platitude has been spouted before, and that when fishermen offer data, it’s often used against them. But Evan Fox, principal planner for the California Marine Life Protection Act initiative, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Ecotrust data is really important to help avoid to the extent we can possible socioeconomic impacts.”

Fishermen understandably may not be ready to hold hands with environmental groups and sing “Kumbaya.” But it’s refreshing to hear the words “socioeconomic impacts” coming from the conservation camp. If regulators and environmentalists really utilize fishermen’s considerable knowledge and truly recognize the impact management regulations have upon fishing communities, then maybe there’s hope of developing management plans that do indeed benefit fish and fishermen.

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