What others say: Improving the rationality of fishing regulations

  • Wednesday, November 9, 2016 3:22pm
  • Opinion

For fishing communities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual publication about commercial landings makes great reading. As we’ve observed in the past, “Fisheries of the United States” is interesting here in much the same way crop reports are a topic of fascination for farmers.

Make no bones about it: Irrespective of decades of impressive economic diversification, the Lower Columbia and nearby places like Garibaldi, Newport, Willapa Bay and Westport, Washington, are fishing communities in essential cultural and monetary ways. Fishing dollars bounce around coastal towns and bolster the business climate in much the way fish fertilizer makes plants prosper.

Analysis of multiyear trends points out some disturbing news about the strength of commercial fisheries on the Lower Columbia. The 2015 edition of the annual fisheries compendium from the National Marine Fisheries Service (tinyurl.com/2015FishReport) finds Astoria-area landings at something of a low ebb.

With about 92 million pounds of landings, we were in 13th place nationwide in terms of volume in 2015. Reflecting the relatively low price of some local harvests — such as hake and sardines — we were in 27th place nationwide in the value of landings — about $38 million. In our vicinity, we were far behind Westport, Washington, in terms of value of the 2015 catch — Westport was 12th in the U.S. with a 2015 total of $65 million.

More important than annual “horse race” statistics between ports is how well fishing fleets succeed over time. In Astoria’s case, current trends are worrisome. Despite the superficial pleasure of remaining the mainland West Coast’s No. 1 fishing port by volume, other 2015 indicators exhibit a troubling descent from recent heights.

As recently as 2012, our percentage of the nationwide catch was 1.764 percent. From there, it slid to 1.6 percent in 2013, 1.3 in 2014 and 0.947 last year. Total poundage landed last year was the lowest since at least 2010. Landings were down 46 percent in 2015 since a recent peak in 2012. Last year’s catch also had the lowest value since 2010 and is 24 percent less than in 2013.

None of this means anyone locally is at fault, apart from the all-too typical situation in fishing in which booms are invariably followed by busts. An example of this is the sardine catch. Pacific sardines collapsed in 2015. The catch was 8.4 million pounds, down from 51.1 million in 2014 and a recent annual average of 131.65 million pounds. In may behoove us to harvest at a more moderate rate whenever they next rebound — though we are aware of the countervailing argument that sardines might just naturally be prone to big swings and fishermen should therefor go after them with gusto whenever they get a chance. It also is possible that our area’s fishing results were impacted by the mid-2013 Pacific Seafoods fire in Warrenton — overall local landings fell from 159 million in 2013 to 122 million in 2014. But this explanation isn’t likely to account for very much of the difference. Although Pacific Seafoods is an undeniably huge player in the industry, its personnel took quick and professional steps to move to temporary facilities immediately after the fire.

The largest worry in terms of fishing trends are the ways in which the northeast Pacific Ocean’s productivity was hammered from 2013 to 2015 by the ocean heatwave called the Blob, along with an associated surge in toxic algae. The Blob showed some initial signs of coming back to life this fall, but thankfully has now faded again. Scientists have little doubt it will return in coming years, adding to problems in a generally warmer and more acidic ocean by midcentury. These changes will become a permanent damper on a long-vital economic sector.

Our ailing ocean demands that we continue seeking economic diversification, while doing all we can to make sure fishing remains as viable as possible. For one thing, improving the rationality of regulations can enhance returns for fishing boats and improve the odds of meeting conservation goals. Faced with environmental threats to fishing like the Blob, we should do everything possible to eliminate man-made obstacles to the fishing economy, including the asinine ban on mainstem Columbia gillnet fishing.

Fishermen have more than enough problems without politicians adding to them.

— The Daily Astorian (Oregon),

Nov. 1

More in Opinion

Opinion: The buck stops at the top

Shared mistakes of Dunleavy and Biden.

A sign welcomes people to Kenai United Methodist Church on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
It’s time for a federal law against LGBTQ discrimination

When my wife and I decided to move to Alaska, we wondered if we would be welcome in our new neighborhood.

Terri Spigelmyer. (Photo provided)
Pay It Forward: Instilling volunteerism in the next generation

We hope to have instilled in our children empathy, cultural awareness, long-term planning and the selflessness of helping others

Hal Shepherd in an undated photo taken near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Hal Shepherd.)
Point of View: Election integrity or right-wing power grab?

Dr. King would be appalled at what is happening today

Nancy HIllstrand. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Trail Lakes is the sockeye salmon hero, not Tutka Bay

Tutka hatchery produces a pink salmon monoculture desecrating Kachemak Bay State Park and Critical Habitat Area as a feed lot

A map of Kachemak Bay State Park shows proposed land additions A, B and C in House Bill 52 and the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. (Map courtesy of Alaska State Parks)
Opinion: Rep. Vance’s bill is anti-fishermen

House Bill 52 burdens 98.5% of Cook Inlet fishermen.

A sign designates a vote center during the recent municipal election. The center offered a spot for voters to drop off ballots or fill a ballot out in person. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The failure of mail-in voting

The argument that mail-in balloting increases voter participation never impressed me

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Break the cycle of failure, debt in 2022

Today, all Americans are coerced, embarrassed or otherwise influenced into one of two old political parties

Charlie Franz.
Point of View: Election integrity is not anti-democratic

The federalization of elections by the Freedom to Vote Act infringes on the constitutional right of states to regulate elections.

Most Read