It’s not very often a fishing magazine comes in handy with a reading recommendation for children’s literature. But so it was in Lori French’s column (on p. 20 of our Summer 2016 North Pacific Focus) that describes the last California Dungeness season as a parallel to “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Lori’s observations of the disastrous effects of this long-term closure of a bread-and-butter fishery for many ports up the coast encourage us to ask the question: Are we prepared?

I don’t want to turn anyone into a Doomsday Prepper over this. But if there’s anyone who should be prepping for the results of dramatic climatic swings, it’s fishermen. What about the farmers, you say? Well, they have crop insurance. God love ’em.

What do fishermen have? Hopefully a savings, but is that really enough? Is it fair to leave them hanging out there like that? In the long run, of course, the Dungeness fleet could get some federal disaster relief, but that’s usually a long shot and a long game at that. Federal relief is not likely to recover the total expenses laid out to cover for a catastrophic loss, and what’s more, it seems like a haphazard approach to a sure problem.

As good as we’ve gotten at managing our wild stocks for sustainability, no amount of management can prevent or even predict the local repercussions of global shifts. So how do we protect our local economies from paying dearly for closures we can’t yet forecast?

First, the California crabbers and their families deserve some recognition for getting each other through this disastrous season. But at very least, I hope we can learn from this event the lesson that catastrophic and unpredictable things will happen and possibly with more frequency. This is exactly why fishermen should have some sort of federal safety net. I’m not necessarily advocating for a bag of cash to dip into in the lean times or the option for commercial fishermen to buy catch insurance. Rather, what if we gave fishing fleets some flexibility to do something else with their boats if and when the season taps out early or never gets off the ground? What if we gave them some flexibility regardless of disaster?

For starters, the federal government could agree to buy underutilized species to donate to food banks, nursing homes, Head Start programs. These species wouldn’t need to saddle federal or private programs with odd fillets. The government could contract seafood processors in slow seasons to convert the catch to value-added, easy to ship and store product forms.

You know what we certainly don’t have a glut of? Healthy food, especially in underserved communities. There are people in this country who can make things like this happen, if we can get them back to work. So I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying, please vote. Vote for local, state and federal candidates who are committed to working in government and making it work for us, not just setting out to shut it down.

We’ve seen enough shut-downs. It’s time to get back to work.

 

Read more from the summer 2016 North Pacific Focus

 

Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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