California captain wary of NGO investment

The following letter from California skipper-owner Rob Seitz was published in National Fisherman’s March 2017 issue.


I am writing this letter to clear up some glaring half-truths, and no-truths, about the Nature Conservancy’s role in the California groundfish fishery from National Fisherman’s article “Scratch shares” in the July 2016 issue. You see, it was my boat on the cover of that issue (F/V South Bay, Morro Bay, Calif.),and under normal circumstances I would be very proud to have that distinction (it’s kinda like getting on the cover of Rolling Stone for a rock band!). But due to some of the content of the article, I am ashamed to have my fishing operation associated with the Nature Conservancy and what they have perpetrated on the California groundfish fishery.

I actually drank the Kool-Aid for a while and participated in their program for nearly five years. But after I became aware of their methods and goals, I could not continue in good conscience and still be able to consider myself a real fisherman. Claims of helping fishermen comply with the fishery’s added expense and complication are exaggerated.

The groundfish disaster was manufactured by one-sided science promoted by ENGO PR machines. The proof is the fact that all the species of fish that are/were considered “overfished” have rebuilt at a rate of five times faster than what they were telling us back in 2000, when the fishery was declared a disaster. It has been determined that some species never had reached overfished levels, as in the case of widow rockfish, canary rockfish, lingcod and Petrale sole. Once the fishery was demonized and devalued by the PR machine, it was easy for TNC to swoop in and buy up permits and boats at a fraction of their true value from fishermen nearing retirement age having to come to grips with the fact that their life’s investment was now worth very little.

When the fishery went IFQ in 2011 and the fishing history from the permits TNC purchased became quota, an accumulation cap was put in place to keep a single entity from controlling too much of the quota/resource. TNC was over the cap and required to divest, that is why they formed the Community Fishing Associations to divest the quota to. However, in a back-door attempt to retain control over the quota, each CFA has in its bylaws a clause that mandates all constraining species be allocated to the California Groundfish Collective, an entity that TNC controls.

In other words, TNC is holding the constraining species quota hostage to retain control over the target species quota and force membership in the California Groundfish Collective. This is one of the reasons the landings in the fishery are so poor. Fishermen see membership in the collective as an added complication and expense to an already complicated, expensive fishery, so they choose to participate in other fisheries rather than join.

The so-called information-sharing app developed by TNC, eCatch, never worked correctly the entire five years I was involved with the California Groundfish Collective. This app is another example of a story TNC sells to donors, but in truth has only benefited those being paid to work on it. This is one of the primary reasons I had to quit the collective. I could no longer allow myself to be paraded in front of donors to help TNC sell a lie. Especially when I am required to have 100 percent observer coverage that I pay for to ensure the data I provide is accurate and truthful, yet TNC, an entity largely responsible for putting my fishery in this position, is held to a much lower standard of truth.

Information sharing has been taking place between fishermen on their own for decades, using the much more reliable VHF radio instead of eCatch. The collective issues annual reports claiming a better bycatch record than that of the fleet as a whole, but in truth the report is just an artfully constructed comparison of apples to oranges. The collective’s record, if looked at as a harvest ratio of target species to constraining species, comparing trawlers to trawlers, falls below that of the rest of the fleet.

Over the course of the last 16 years, fishermen in my fishery have been forced to make significant sacrifices: over half our fishing grounds have been closed; we are required to pay for 100 percent observer coverage; 8 percent of our gross goes to pay for management fees. We have had to endure vast uncertainties and expense in our livelihoods, and our fishery has been demonized based on inaccurate, one-sided science.

The California Groundfish Collective holds constraining species quota hostage to force membership. The Community Fishing Associations provide access to quota, but after jumping through all the hoops to get it, the cost is over market rate. It is all just a story being sold to donors, foundations and the council.

I have been a West Coast Groundfish trawler for 25 years. In that time, as a result of this manufactured disaster, I have come to have an intimate understanding of the term accountability. Accountability, the way I’ve come to understand it, means I will be held accountable for all of my fishing decisions, even the bad ones, even to the point of bankruptcy.

I and the other fishermen in this fishery have done an admirable job of rising to this challenge. I am of the opinion that accountability should be a two-way street. It is time for the ENGOs to take responsibility for the crime they have perpetrated on this fishery and its participants. What TNC has done in California is wrong, and they should not be allowed to own quota, not be trusted to meddle in fishery management, and if they keep telling stories like this one they should be required to have observers, too!

Rob Seitz

F/V South Bay

Morro Bay, Calif.

About the author

NF Staff
  • Mark Hamerdinger

    Nice article Rob and truthful. I had a close friend in Fort Bragg working as deckhand a few years ago and they tied up the boat for most that first year due to the complexities of the regulations.

    Nov. 12, 2012
    Statement of Mark Hamerdinger
    F/V Black Mariah & F/V Calyspo
    Attn: Coastal Commission
    Loss of fishing income
    After PG&E seismic imaging ship “Pacific Star” arrived off of the coast of Morro Bay, unannounced and started running over fisherman’s gear, I noticed all of my black cod traps were gone. Just the week prior to it arriving, I had tried to find out when it needed to be moved. None of the fishermen knew that the ship would be here.
    With my traps gone, I was out of business without an income. My deckhand was also out of business. Without a job now, and no way to pay rent, both of us had to move to cut expenses. My cat also needed to find a new home.
    The money that was to come into the U.S. from foreign sales of the fish did not come into the country. The owner of the dock where I unload my fish did not earn any money, nor his workers. The truck driver who gets paid for delivering my fish to the fish processor did not earn that money, nor the owner of the fish processing plant or its workers. Again the truck driver who was to drive my fish to the airport didn’t get paid. The airliner or ship and its workers did not get paid. The fish auction house and its workers in Japan did not get paid. The auction house buyer could not buy those fish. His truck driver could not get paid for trucking those fish. The supermarket could not sell those fish or their workers sales people or cashiers get paid for selling them. And lets not forget all of the accounting services. The fuel dock didn’t get their money.
    I almost forgot: I did not get paid
    In an economy such as that which exist in the U.S. I imagine that finding good tenants that can continue to pay the rent and care for the apartment is questionable.
    Without a job boat slip rent will be in arrears until I start to generate an income again. Of course, I can get more fishing gear and go back to work, but investing in fishing on the eve of PG&E seismic (correction— in the midst of PG&E seismic testing) seems like a poor investment.
    Regardless of how, why, where my fishing gear is gone, What PG&E plans and has done has influenced my decision of not replacing my gear, and is in my mind responsible for influencing that decision. It does not matter if my decision is right or wrong thinking.
    I hear a lot about fishermen having very poor catches since PG&E seismic imaging and vibrational science started. Yes, fish counts have fallen drastically. Dead dolphins, whales, starving birds. More now than ever before. I wonder why? Apparently there were prior seismic acoustical ships before the “Pacific Star”. I wondered about those bright lights all night long for months on end in the same area every night out in deep water. Huh. Fish count was down during those months also. Huh
    PG&E says sound can’t hurt fish nor will cause fishermen or the communities much damage. Apparently, my not having a job or any income matters to them. I wonder if your property devalues or if you fall, they will care? Perhaps I’m the only one who will be effected or maybe an escalating effect will ripple through the economy as an earthquake or tsunami travels with devastation everywhere it goes.
    With such little regard for us ants, I couldn’t even imagine PG&E paying anyone back for the trouble they cause. And of course any damages that ripple through the economy would be denied by PG&E as well as all entities that are hoping and pushing for this to pass.
    The Coastal Commission has the decision now. Create good Karma or Create bad Karma. The future is now in your hands.

    With best wishes to you all,

    Mark Hamerdinger

  • Mark Hamerdinger

    Rob Seitz shared National Fisherman’s post.
    8 hrs ·

    National Fisherman
    10 hrs ·
    “I am of the opinion that accountability should be a two-way street. It is time for the ENGOs to take responsibility for the crime they have perpetrated on this fishery and its participants.”

    Latest in our Viewpoints section from California groundfish trawler Rob Seitz.

    Mark Hamerdinger Nov. 12, 2012
    Statement of Mark Hamerdinger
    F/V Black Mariah & F/V Calyspo
    Attn: Coastal Commission
    Loss of fishing income
    After PG&E seismic imaging ship “Pacific Star” arrived off of the coast of Morro Bay, unannounced and started running over fisherman’s gear, I noticed all of my black cod traps were gone. Just the week prior to it arriving, I had tried to find out when it needed to be moved. None of the fishermen knew that the ship would be here.
    With my traps gone, I was out of business without an income. My deckhand was also out of business. Without a job now, and no way to pay rent, both of us had to move to cut expenses. My cat also needed to find a new home.
    The money that was to come into the U.S. from foreign sales of the fish did not come into the country. The owner of the dock where I unload my fish did not earn any money, nor his workers. The truck driver who gets paid for delivering my fish to the fish processor did not earn that money, nor the owner of the fish processing plant or its workers. Again the truck driver who was to drive my fish to the airport didn’t get paid. The airliner or ship and its workers did not get paid. The fish auction house and its workers in Japan did not get paid. The auction house buyer could not buy those fish. His truck driver could not get paid for trucking those fish. The supermarket could not sell those fish or their workers sales people or cashiers get paid for selling them. And lets not forget all of the accounting services. The fuel dock didn’t get their money.
    I almost forgot: I did not get paid
    In an economy such as that which exist in the U.S. I imagine that finding good tenants that can continue to pay the rent and care for the apartment is questionable.
    Without a job boat slip rent will be in arrears until I start to generate an income again. Of course, I can get more fishing gear and go back to work, but investing in fishing on the eve of PG&E seismic (correction— in the midst of PG&E seismic testing) seems like a poor investment.
    Regardless of how, why, where my fishing gear is gone, What PG&E plans and has done has influenced my decision of not replacing my gear, and is in my mind responsible for influencing that decision. It does not matter if my decision is right or wrong thinking.
    I hear a lot about fishermen having very poor catches since PG&E seismic imaging and vibrational science started. Yes, fish counts have fallen drastically. Dead dolphins, whales, starving birds. More now than ever before. I wonder why? Apparently there were prior seismic acoustical ships before the “Pacific Star”. I wondered about those bright lights all night long for months on end in the same area every night out in deep water. Huh. Fish count was down during those months also. Huh
    PG&E says sound can’t hurt fish nor will cause fishermen or the communities much damage. Apparently, my not having a job or any income matters to them. I wonder if your property devalues or if you fall, they will care? Perhaps I’m the only one who will be effected or maybe an escalating effect will ripple through the economy as an earthquake or tsunami travels with devastation everywhere it goes.
    With such little regard for us ants, I couldn’t even imagine PG&E paying anyone back for the trouble they cause. And of course any damages that ripple through the economy would be denied by PG&E as well as all entities that are hoping and pushing for this to pass.
    The Coastal Commission has the decision now. Create good Karma or Create bad Karma. The future is now in your hands.

    With best wishes to you all,

    Mark Hamerdinger

  • Giuseppe pennisi

    My name is Giuseppe Pennisi and I am the owner of the fishing vessel pioneer. I experienced the same treatment as rob Seitz. The t n c people are criminals in slaying our American fisherman. They are a big part of the movement that buried our trawl fleet alive. NGO’s and paid government assassins deliberately destroying our industry with not a care about our families . They pick and choose laws to direct there evil upon the American fisherman. The NGO’s lurk behind there puppets and spew there vile carnage upon what once was a industry that contributed greatly to our country. The sword of our own government has pierced the heart of our American fisherman guided by the hands of thieves and liars. The freedoms that America once enjoyed by being able to go down to there local docks and buying fresh local fish are but a memory ,for the few that were lucky enough to experience it.

  • ghutch

    I would not say it is any different on the East Coast, what ever we do it is never enough to satisfy the ENGO’s.

  • Mark Hamerdinger

    Satellite Monitoring Stops Innocent Boat from Fishing
    Written by Mac McCarter

    On November 19, 2008, a Morro bay fisherman had a typical fishing experience of the twenty first century; he found that he could not use his small one person (with a maximum potential crew of two) fishing boat, the “Black Mariah”, to go sea urchin fishing or to go anywhere else because its mandated satellite tracking device had broken down. Legally, due to new regulations by the Department of Commerce’s regional fisheries management council, this boat cannot move until the device is sent somewhere and repaired. This fisherman is having difficulty finding where to send the device and when it is sent the Black Mariah will have to wait in port until it is returned. Meanwhile this tiny fishing operation to make a living is stalled. These devices are not presently required for sea urchin collection or for many other fisheries used by small diversifies catch-as-catch-can family boats including his. However, once a boat gets one of these ‘VMS’ (Vessel Monitoring Systems) installed, as a result of fishing a VMS monitored fishery, it creates a complex problem of notification and red tape and other complications to use the boat for anything without continuing to operate the VMS. After the cost of installation, fishers pay a monthly fee automatically charged to their credit card apparently forever to maintain the boat’s VMS system. These new burdens, particularly restrictions on moving the boat when the electronic devices don’t work, interfere with small fishing boats dependent on diversified fishing from making a living.

    The VMS units are dependent on the 66 satellite IRIDIUM network which was originally launched from Vandenburg Air Force base, implying massive indirect cost to the taxpayer. However, due to various actions by the original American company and its associates (still in litigation) the satellite network was sold to a group initially consisting of 61% ownership by the Bin Laden family for a fraction of its initial cost. The present ownership is difficult to ascertain, but is confirmed to still have considerable Saudi ownership. The alleged cause of the transfer of ownership of the satellites company was due to the difficulty of selling the satellite phones. However, massive US military usage and the fact that all fishing boats will eventually be required to have VMS and to subscribe to this extensive satellite service has made it enormously profitable for these friends of the Saudi royal family.

    Other fishers are complaining that the VMS units frequently lose contact with their satellite system at sea whereupon the vessel is required by law to stop fishing and return, sometimes hundreds of miles, directly to port or face heavy fines. The units also make heavy electric demands which some small boats are not wired to support. Some of the boats affected are not as small, operated by two or occasionally three persons, but their problem is the same, an added, and, in this case possibly unworkable, requirement in the over regulated and capriciously regulated West Coast fishing industry. The fishing industry complains that over 20 years of mismanagement and ‘adaptive management’ (try it out and and change it later if it causes too much environmental damage or misery) by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council have damaged some fisheries and caused many skilled fishers to leave the industry after generations of fishing and go to work as laborers in order to support their families.

    The recent trend, perhaps part of what has brought us to the present economic crisis, is the struggle of the corporations to expand their markets and simplify their supply lines by destroying small business. The Council has little representation from small family boat operators whereas the well represented large buyers and processors who would prefer to see independent small boat operations eliminated are well represented. A few huge fishing vessels or mother ships that pay lower wages to employees promise bigger profits than does dealing with independent folks who struggle in heavy seas and terrible weather just to avoid what they see as slave-labor wage traps. A vessel which takes over a hundred times as much fish as the Black Mariah can afford VMS whereas small boats that cannot easily afford it each have to pay for a VMS and deal with downtimes when it does not work.

    Each year for many years Morro Bay has seen the abandonment of boats which originally cost their families tens of thousands of dollars, slowly paid off with their labor and more often than in any other industry, their lives. Many of these boats were built just a few years ago under a tax refund incentive program. The government now acknowledges that that was yet another management error and is attempting to reduce the fleet. Of course the smaller hook and line boats get regulated out of business first in favor of giant considerably more environmentally damaging trawlers and factory ships. Although Morro Bay has been one of the hardest hit ports, things are not much better elsewhere in the three coastal states, CA, OR, and WA, which have boats operating in the adjacent federal waters managed by the Council. Fishing corporations are enlisting naive environmentalist (in the name of cooperation) to unsuspectingly aid them in destroying small boats by using complex regulations like VMS requirements, and poorly thought out quota systems which create monopolies for big business. Little do the environmental groups realize the political and legal force the remaining giant corporations will be able to use to oppose even well thought out environmental regulation once a few bloated giant corporations in effect own all the fish in the sea.

  • Jim Greenfield

    It’s s shame more info from Alaska and its IFQ history and debacle wasn’t shared with lower 48 fishing fleet.The story and the disastrous effects it had on small family owned fishing boats and those permits would have shed a lot of light…pro.bably why it was targeted for media blackouts!Price fixing by the corporate fleets ,impossible fish openers, led to IFQ monopolization and large block acquisition of permits and quotas…buy back p!ans geared to remove the small owner-operators totally out of the equation..this all happened 1st in Alaska,starting 25 years ago.Halibut and then codfish led the way.I’ve worked from Article Alaska factory boats to 2 man sidehaulers out of Bodega Bay,Ca.and watched it happen,and nothing anyone could do stop it.Govt .regs .teamed with Corporate special interests,pretty powerful caca!

  • jimmywampum

    Right on, brother! Check out http://www.freeandcommon.com for more details on the crimes against humanity you describe

  • jimmywampum

    Another witness with the same testimony!

  • Giuseppe pennisi

    Our American fisherman are so few now. There is not much of a industry left .

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