Fisheries in the fray

While NMFS Director Chris Oliver assured the audience at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle this fall that the Trump administration is supportive of his fishing friendly agenda, threats to fishery habitat and fishing grounds loom large under the new regime at EPA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

In 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reopened the door for Pebble Ltd. to push through a mining plan that would threaten the headwaters of the world’s largest wild salmon run.

Then on Dec. 1, Pruitt announced that modern mining practices along with state and federal statutes adequately address the risks of operating hard-rock mines (like Pebble). EPA no longer requires mining companies to set aside funds to clean up their own messes. Asking more from the mining companies “would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy,” Pruitt said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the EPA spent more than a billion dollars cleaning up abandoned hard-rock mining and processing sites across the country over the five-year period from 2010-14.

Is it asking too much of mining companies to require them to provide collateral for an inherently risky business? I think this is how we ended up with a subprime mortgage disaster. “No collateral? No problem! We don’t want to make it too hard for you.” That model has a history of failure on a grand scale. Even a small leak of toxic byproduct can have devastating long-term effects that ripple far beyond financial hardship.

I’m all for relaxing some minor regulations that prevent small businesses from competing with the big cats. By all means, let’s do what we can to level the playing field for self-driven Americans to make their own way.

Mining is a very lucrative (and large-scale) business. If it weren’t, who would take on the risks of environmental damage and worker safety? I don’t think we’re asking too much to make sure large mining companies can cut checks to clean up their own inevitable messes.

Meanwhile, as we go to press, we are waiting to hear about the Trump administration’s proposal to increase oil and gas drilling off the East Coast and in the Arctic seas.

The pending Astro (Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore) Act would give the Interior Secretary (Ryan Zinke at press time) the authority to hold lease auctions on tracts that fall outside of the Obama-era drilling plan. That plan made 6 percent of the outer continental shelf available for lease to oil and gas companies. The Astro Act would bypass that plan as well as due process and public oversight of offshore leasing. It would also combine the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which was created in response to departmental failures when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated Gulf of Mexico fisheries (and tourism).

But the economics of offshore drilling may keep investments at bay regardless of availability — for now. The 2008 record of $147 a barrel is small in the rearview. The five-year average price per barrel has hovered around $60. Prices go up only as inventory decreases, which is hardly incentive to drill, baby, drill.

Meanwhile, wild fish continues to rise in value, along with utilization, fuel efficiency, bycatch reduction and advances in processing. In short, you’re killing it.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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