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On writing about commercial fishing

Nils E. Stolpe/FishNet USA

© 2021 Nils E. Stolpe

March 11, 2021

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Writings about commercial fishing can be divided into three fairly broad categories: reporting, analyzing and advocating.


There is a seeming plethora of websites, as well as a handful of print publications that do a reasonable job of reporting on what’s happening in the commercial fishing world. As a matter of fact, folks who subscribe to a number of magazines and newsletters are bound to see multiple rehashes or redistributions of the same press releases or other informational and/or self promoting materials from government organizations, non-government groups or private businesses. At times the bombardment of same-same rehashings of what are not much more than public notices of less than important information or events can seem relentless.


However, at least from an industry perspective there is a regrettable lack of analysis of what is being re­ported and what that means to actual real-world commercial fishermen. And an even greater-again from an industry perspective-lack of advocating for or against particular policies or actions that are /being re­ported. It’s generally a “well this is what’s happening (or this is what’s going to happen)” but not much-if anything-about any actual or possibly implications (except occasionally for the specific impacts on particular fisheries).


This is a fairly recent phenomenon. Even ten years ago the U.S. commercial fishing industry had lead­ers and advisors who had “grown up” in the industry, starting prior to or contemporaneously with the creation and passage of the Magnuson Act (which was subsequently renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act) in 1976. This connectivity and continuity was of great benefit when dealing with elected and appointed officials, the media, and with other fishing organiza­tions.


The Seafood Coalition” was a great start

(Until a few years ago the industry had a semi-official organization, The Seafood Coalition, with a membership of 100 or so industry trade groups which would take positions on various is­sues as they arose with the potential to negatively impact all or large parts of the domestic com­mercial fishing industry. At one point it’s members represented on the order of groups that har­vested/handled/processed 50 to 75% of the domestic seafood production. It was a quintessen­tial ad hoc organization; no budget, no fees, no bylaws, no officers and no staff. There were a few of us-I was one of the original organizers who would voluntarily take issues to the mem­bership, prepare comments and/or correspondence relating to those particular issue, solicit sig­natures from the members for the comments/correspondence and attend to their distribution. That, a list serve-for an annual fee of less than $100/year-and a list serve administrator (some guy named Stolpe) was all that was necessary It was fairly effective for a while and has yet to be replaced by anything that can even claim to ap­proach equivalent industry-wide representation.)


Unfortunately, this connectivity and continuity has been waning in recent years and it seems that, at least in my experience, the fish­eries are more balkanized now than they have ever been. While there has been an increasing need for industry-wide coordination and cooperation on any number of issues, there has also been a confounding dissolution of the hard-won alliances and understandings that we once had.


Considering the extensive sampling and record-keeping that the commercial fishing industry has been increasingly saddled with by the feds for decades, this is hard to credit. There has been an increasing governmental demand for geographically specific catch, landings and sales data. The zeal with which the feds pursue the collection of this data-at tremendous cost and inconvenience to the fishing industry-is in many in­stances approaching overwhelming. Unfortunately, in the same time frame the cost of commercial fish­ing, the out of pocket increases in acquiring, operating and licensing commercial fishing operations, have increased tremendously while in spite of “official” assurances that things keep getting better and better in the industry, the income in most of the commercial fisheries that I am familiar with definitely hasn’t.


Looking beyond the official statistics (that’s called research)


Consider the following quote from a NOAA/NMFS release from a little over a year ago that seems to be saying that everything is wonderful in the world of the domestic commercial fishing industry. This is probably the vision that is rapturously filling-along with sugar plums and angel wings-the dreams of the people at the federal agency that is responsible for managing our federal fisheries. It was duly reported as such by the print and elec­tronic media who are supposedly monitoring-and reporting on-that agency’s performance.


2018 a strong, successful year for U.S. fishermen and seafood sector

Annual NOAA report finds steady, sustainable trends in fish landings and values.

February 21, 2020 In 2018, U.S. fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds of fish valued at $5.6 bil­lion at ports around the nation—consistently high figures on par with recent years, which bring economic benefits up and down the seafood supply chain, according to an annual report re­leased today by NOAA Fisheries.

According to the Fisheries of the United States report, which is compiled by NOAA using data and analysis not immediately available at the same end of a fishing year, U.S. highest value species groups in 2018 included lobster ($684 million), crabs ($645 million), salmon ($598 mil­lion), scallops ($541 million), and shrimp ($496 million). Dutch Harbor in Alaska, and New Bedford in Massachusetts, continue to dominate the list of top ports driven by landings of pol­lock for Alaska (the nation’s largest commercial fishery) and top-valued sea scallops in Massa­chusetts.

"America's fishermen and seafood industries underpin our strong blue economy. Our fisheries are among the world's most sustainable and support thousands of jobs, provide billions of dol­lars in revenue, and provide protein-rich options to dinner tables," said U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. "Consumers can be confident that U.S. seafood represents the global gold standard in sustainability." (https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/2018-strong-successful-year-for-us-fishermen-and-seafood-sector).

Below is a partial listing-industry and otherwise-of the media outlets which resulted from a Google search of the first paragraph of the above release: “In 2018, U.S. fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds of fish valued at $5.6 billion at ports around the nation.”

· Saving Seafood https://www.savingseafood.org/news/economic-impact/