I had the honor of being in the press pool for the presidential fisheries roundtable last Friday. When the conversation came around to the input from industry reps, there seemed be some confusion about whether the removal of commercial fishing restrictions in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument was going to benefit the people at the table.
With the exception of Jon Williams, who fishes red crab traps in the monument area, that's not why they were there. The truth is, most of the panelists have never and would never fish in the monument area. Even if this declaration weren't destined to be tied up in court, the oversight of this habitat area would revert back to the New England Fishery Management Council, which implemented protections in 2002 and extended them in 2015.
The panelists' support was not based on their personal vested interest in fishing that area. Rather, it was a philosophical objection to the process of declaring marine monuments. So what's all the fuss, anyway?
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the power to declare monuments on lands owned or controlled by the federal government.
The use of the act in marine environments is different because ALL of our ocean rights are controlled by government — state governments out to three miles and federal government from three to 200 miles. U.S. citizens cannot own water unless we own all the land surrounding and under that water. Otherwise, we can only own *access* to water.
Imagine if your entire business occurred on government grounds, none of it privately owned. What if your ability to operate your business depended on the government's approval every step of the way, innovation limited by the slow-moving wheels of government?
This is how the fishing industry is run. Fishermen cannot use or even test a new gear type unless it is tested and approved by the government. And yet the industry lacks the safety net of government funds to support industry-specific research. (This is what Saltonstall-Kennedy grants are supposed to do, but they are typically funneled away from industry needs and priorities.)
Now imagine you were operating your businesses within the bounds of government regulations, actively participating in the public process that develops those regulations. Then one day, all business conducted in your sector was eliminated at the discretion of the president, bypassing public or stakeholder input.
I have seen a stat in some press coverage that the Atlantic monument area is so small (which is true, and the president misrepresented that fact) and that only 1 percent of our oceans are protected. So who could possibly complain about that?
One percent seems inconsequential until you realize that only about 5 percent of the world's oceans are fishable grounds. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right gear to catch the right fish. That's why they call it fishing, not catching. If the 1 percent you shut down is carved from that 5 percent, you're effectively walling off 20 to 25 percent of the world's access to fishing.
A few years ago, a mapping project was used to show that more than 55 percent of the global oceans were being fished commercially, but the data included the areas covered in transit. Fishermen often travel many miles to reach the relatively small areas where they set their gear. It would be like saying I do business in every state, country or ocean I fly over on the way to an event.
When the transit areas were accounted for, the data showed the world's fleets were fishing in just 4 percent of the ocean.
Even more to the point, in this country, more than 40 percent of our marine waters are protected in some form, largely by the fishery management council process.
This is what our fishermen are fighting for. They just want the process to be public. They are not asking to be allowed to fish however they want, wherever they want. They just want a chance to speak up for their industry, to have the process of marine protections be public, documented and accounted for. They do not oppose environmental protections. They ask only that those protections be part of the public regulatory process.
Fishermen face many and constant threats to their access to marine resources. They own nothing if their access is taken away. It is a significant risk that they take in order to provide a critical link between our nation's wild seafood supply and American families ever more in need of domestic food resources.