2014 Year in Review
It’s been a productive year for this great American industry. Near-record runs of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay followed the record pink salmon runs in Alaska last year. Bristol Bay salmon fishermen also won a critical battle in the fight over Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine. East Coast bluefin fishermen scored a victory at ICCAT after years of successful conservation.
Oyster farmers won on a smaller scale with the right to raise oysters under a Virginia agriculture law. Western Pacific island fishermen scored a major victory when President Obama listened to the concerns of fishermen and fishery managers and agreed to scale back his proposed marine monument. And yet, the fights over fishing gear rage on across the country. — Jessica Hathaway
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By Kirk Moore
Gear conflicts and net ban debates flared anew in 2014, from an emotionally charged campaign against the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery to a gathering showdown over king salmon at Alaska’s Cook Inlet. There was even an attempt by some Florida commercial fishermen to overturn their state’s 20-year-old gillnet ban, which has been a template for similar campaigns by recreational and environmental adversaries in other states.
California netters escaped state legislators’ attempt to ban drift gillnets, but a month later in June the Pacific Fishery Management Council moved to set hard bycatch limits for marine mammals and turtles that could shut down the fishery starting in 2016.
In 2013 NOAA promised to shut down gillnetters if any sperm whales were killed. Groups including Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity sought permanent closure, arguing the fishery is not worth its bycatch losses.
West Coast gillnetters carry vessel monitoring systems, but the council is looking at having observers on each trip as well.
Only about 14 fishermen remain in the fishery, and most of them went to Sacramento in the spring to explain their position to lawmakers, said Mike Conroy of West Coast Fisheries Consultants, who helped their lobbying effort.
“Once we were able to present them with verifiable facts, we were able to turn that argument,” Conroy said. Still, “everyone’s operating under the assumption the state will try to legislate gillnets away.” The issue has been a moneymaker for net-ban advocates, Conroy noted. “They got (actor Leonardo) DiCaprio to donate $3 million.”
In the meantime, “there’s going to be some deep-set buoy gear being tested, and some longline gear” for California swordfish, Conroy said. “The guys who are applying to do the longline gear… have been very successful in Hawaii.”
The Alaskan battle over Kenai River salmon was playing out in political and courtroom arenas, as a state judge shot down state officials’ attempt to block a statewide ballot question on shutting down the setnet fishery for... » Read the full article in our APRIL issue.