"Welding Fishheads in AK - Redo" 2003

I. The Occupy Movement is mostly an urban action so far.  That will change markedly come spring.  And the 1% are doing everything they can to pre-empt this.  One example is the growing move, pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to criminalize documentation of egregious practices at giant feedlot farms, slaughter houses, and – by extension – most kinds of 1%-owned agribusiness.  Ag Gag laws are being proposed around the country, most recently in Utah:

Utah is the latest state considering Ag Gag legislation that would make it illegal to take photos or videos on farms without the owners’ prior consent.

The bill, HB 187, would make “agricultural operation interference” a class A misdemeanor on the first offense and a third-degree felony on the second offense. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Mathis, who wants to do away with what he called “animal rights terrorists.”

“There are groups with the stated purpose to do away with animal agriculture, and that’s egregious ― that’s egregious to me,” Mathis told legislators this week. “The animal welfare movement has become an animal rights movement, and that’s wrong.

The same kinds of egregious legislation proposed or enacted related to corporate ranching and farming happens in the oceanic fishing industry.  Every day.  Somewhere.

Here in Alaska we’ve done a better job than most states or Canadian provinces at keeping the fisheries the state directly controls from being decimated.  Offshore, it has been an entirely different matter.  Increasingly, access to harvesting offshore bounties is being divided up between a smaller and smaller number of big players.

For instance, regarding a fishery the state controlled when I began commercially fishing here in 1973 – North Gulf and Copper River salmon – there are now more salmon coming into this area than there were 40 years ago.  Offshore, in 1973, there were North and South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Russian, East German and Polish trawlers prowling to within a few miles of the coast.  The U.S. based trawlers were far smaller than these very large factory ships, and the giants outnumbered us too.  Most large U.S. boats operating offshore were fishing halibut, King crab, shrimp or scallops.  The cod, pollack, ocean perch and other species were being scarfed up by foreigners.  Even then, the offshore biomass was decreasing.

With the advent of the 200-mile limit and creation of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-administered fishery councils, regulations, monitoring paradigms, tax codes and so-called “share” or “entry” programs were implemented that have one step at at time delivered this treasure over to the 1%  At the same time, of course, worldwide oceanic fish biomass has been reduced to shocking levels by practices even worse than those resulting from NOAA oversight.

I’ve been trying to follow a number of offshore fishery issues important to Alaska since I began my own blog, Progressive Alaska, in 2007.  I’ve failed to keep up, and that is irritating, as it is so important to us here, and things are going downhill for these fisheries so fast.

It has become increasingly obvious that the largely foreign-owned, Seattle-based offshore midwater trawl fleet is decimating halibut, King salmon and other stocks through out of control bycatch.  These vessels are poorly monitored overall, and probably waste far more than they report.  More than any other action, the bycatch waste is spinning off its effects to the commercial, sports and charter halibut fleets, and to Alaska Natives in villages along Western Alaska rivers.

The trawlers and their owners are so politically powerful that they are able to get bycatch monitoring or reduction tabled, ignored or even vilified every time the issue comes up, more dire than ever.  Alaska reporting on this by mainstream media has been spotty.  By far the most damning of bycatch crimes and negligence have been bloggers and small news outlets.  Blogger Wiglaf at the Tholepin wrote a week ago:

If you follow the proceedings of the faux judiciary-like process the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council uses in order to appear to be sufficiently respectful of its responsibilities to the fisheries it ‘manages,’ you can often see them telegraph their punches, and reassure their various supporters.  So it was this last meeting.  The movement to do nothing in regard to the criminal bycatch of high value species (among others) by the drag industry became clear when Chris Oliver made an (out of focus) YouTube video touting the Council’s concern over bycatch but weaseling about how much it was going to cost draggers.  Talking out of both sides of your mouth, Mr. Oliver, especially when it is put on video tape is never a good idea.  Crying about how cutting bycatch will cost the Kodiak draggers ten million dollars in lost revenues while not addressing the 4.4 million pounds of halibut waste at a current ex-vessel value of seven dollars a pound or 30 million dollars lost to the longliners, commercial charterers, sportsfishermen, and subsistence users is negligence, written large.  Little mention is made of the fact that some draggers are able to avoid much halibut bycatch and others are filthy fishers.   The Scientific and Statistical Committee finally spoke up chastising the Council process by admitting that making decisions affecting the health of the Gulf of Alaska based on, not just poor information as to observed catch, but purposefully gamed information, is a grave error.  Kudos to the SSC for having more courage than we expected them to have and by taking back some of the high ground to which the scientific community is supposed to adhere.

In his next article, Tholepin linked to this article on trawler bycatch at the Alaska Jounral of Commerce:

Less than a year after telling the public Gulf of Alaska halibut bycatch would be reduced in 2012, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has bowed to a variety of pressures from bureaucratic to biological, and cuts won’t take effect until at least 2014.

There are stories about how the 1% are running the show in offshore fisheries all over the planet.  They’ve raped many, many places, destroying coastal fishing cultures that had survived for thousands of years.  It is why we have Somali pirates on the level they now exist.  Most used to be coastal fishermen.  The fish are gone, raked up mostly by large factory ships.

II. Maybe we need an Occupy Fisheries movement.  There already is an Occupy the Oceans movement.  One of the people involved is blogger Dan Bacher:

As the Occupy movement spreads throughout the nation and world, sustainable fishing communities, consumer groups and grassroots environmentalists have mobilized to stop the 1 percent from stealing ocean public trust resources from the 99 percent.

This week the U.S. Congress is expected to vote on a critical bill that would continue a recently instituted ban on a wasteful government program that gives large corporations control of the nation’s fishery resources, in effect privatizing the ocean’s public trust resources.

The Obama regime is promoting a “catch shares” program for fisheries that, like the Wall Street bailouts, will concentrate money and natural resources in fewer hands. Corporate environmental NGOs promoting the catch shares fiasco are heavily funded by the Walton Family Foundation (WalMart) and other foundations that represent the 1 percent (http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/08/19/wal-marting-the-oceans).

The ban has broad bi-partisan support. On November 3, nineteen Members of Congress from seven Eastern Seaboard states signed a letter urging Congress to not fund the Obama administration’s catch shares program.

My friend John Enge has proposed the term “Occupy Fisheries.”

Occupy Fisheries is catching on in Alaska it seems. Family fishermen are speaking up in a way I haven’t seen in years. For certain these folks have been disenfranchised for shedding light on the plunder of Alaska’s fish resources by ‘the few,’ with help from the stacked government deck, including their own neighbors on important citizen committees. Oh, but the good news is that they ‘got theirs.’

I liked it so much, I created my first facebook group today – Occupy Fisheries:

Please join if you want to help share articles, blog posts or whatever about people around the planet trying to keep the oceans from being killed by overfishing, pollution and other stupidities or greed. Especially, please post links here to information about people making a real difference in regaining control of oceanic resources by real people.

I hope the group catches on.  Time is running out.