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(Note - The authors here both represent LARGE fishing interests (corporations) which don't always coincide with small fishing interests (owner-operated) which is my background and where my interests lay. However they make good points that have much in common with small interests and I offer the paper for your consideration. GHL)
Gosta: I note your comments which indicate I represent large fishing interests. The boats are large, about 200 feet, fish far from home and carry crews of about 18. Most of the U.S. tuna fleet is made up of owner- operators, families in the business for generations, Portuguese and Italians who settled Point Loma at the turn of the century. Many families were involved in whaling at some point. Although virtually everyone owns the boats under the protection of a corporation, generally the corporation is owned and controlled by a family. As the fleet declined over the last five years, StarKist has bought up the boats. SK is now the biggest owner in the fleet (having the most boats -- about 7 or 8 out of about 35 or 40).
I am unsure as to the makeup of the fleet Rich Ruais represents but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar.
(Note- Her perception of "owner-operator" and "large interests" is far different from mine. All a matter of where you stand. I'm talking about 40' to 90' with a crew of 2 or 3, one of which is the owner) making essentially day trips. In terms of dollar value of fish landed, her interests probably gross 10 to 100 times as much value as the boats I'm talking about. )
After spending many millions of dollars over several decades in a quest to "save the Earth," well-funded foundations are now working to save the oceans. Comparing tuna to tigers and calling fish "ocean wildlife," the "endangered seas" campaign was unveiled with negative comments on the state of the oceans. True in some instances, wildly off the mark in others, general statements of fisheries collapse engender fear in the reader and are designed to develop support for greater global regulation of fisheries. Although most fishermen recognize the need for timely and holistic aquatic resource management, there are, nevertheless, opportunities for fisheries to augment world food supplies through improved management and development of underutilized resources. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's 1995 report on the State of World Fisheries, 76 percent of world fish stocks are presently fished at or lower than the level of sustainability with 24 percent of world fish stocks categorized as overexploited from human intervention or depleted by natural causes. The general trend in abundance of fish is positive due to better regulation of fisheries by regional and international management regimes.
But misinformation about fisheries appear in fundraising letters, opinion pieces and even on T-shirts. "Some types of tuna are...headed toward commercial extinction" and "Bigeye tuna are overfished, and yellowfin are now being fished to their limits...". Present in all the world's tropical oceans, bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks experience variations in numbers due to oceanographic and climatic changes in addition to the impact of fishermen. In some fisheries, too many fish are harvested too young and in other fisheries, too many fish are harvested too old. Simple changes in fishing effort would allow greater yields, greatly increasing the harvest from the same number of fish. So, the questions beg to be answered: Which bigeye and yellowfin stocks? Where? During what time frame?
All the world's large pelagic fish are being consumed to some extent by human and non-human predators: It is a fish-eat-fish world. But although tunas are "top of the chain" predators, comparing tunas to tigers in other respects is flirting with the absurd. Tigers, as mammals, reproduce at a few percentage points annually. Tunas, more akin to butterflies from the point of view of reproduction, can sustain takes by people of 40 percent or more annually without any impact on the stocks. One giant tuna, for example, produces millions of eggs several times a year. As long as fish managers control the fishery well, the fish are protected from harm whether they are chased by 500 men in 500 inefficient boats or 50 men in five efficient boats. There are equal examples of management successes and failures in artisanal fisheries and high-tech, industrial operations.
Some sportfishermen argue that since there are more of them, their activities should take precedence over the smaller number of commercial fishermen. Ignoring the hundreds of millions of U.S. consumers dependent on commercial fishermen, this argument makes one wonder if an abundance of weekend gardeners means society no longer needs farmers?
A crisis-style fundraising piece wails "there won't be any fish left for recreational fishermen like you and me -- and our kids and grandkids," that commercial fishermen are on "industrial search and destroy missions" to "strip mine nearly every living thing in the sea." A T-shirt distributed through a sportfishing magazine on the east coast shrieks "stop the slaughter" of yellowfin tuna and calls for a ban on purse seines (commercial nets) to catch yellowfin. Purse seines are highly efficient, taking tons of tuna in one haul, but a comparison of the tonnage of this stock of yellowfin reveals that the weekend fishermen are hauling in thousands of tons of yellowfin annually while the purse seine fleet catches a fraction of this. A T-shirt with a cattle barge of tourists tossing hundreds of lines over the side could more truthfully wail "stop the slaughter." But even that would miss the mark since it is not unusual for well-managed yellowfin stocks to yield hundreds of thousands of tons of tuna annually for human consumption.
The exploitation of conflicts between recreational and professional fishermen is a red herring. All uses are commercial and decisions must be made on science and what is best for the oceans and society, not who is yelling louder or delivering the most votes that week.
The "poster" fish for the "save the ocean wildlife" campaign, the western Atlantic bluefin tuna, is protected by a 2,200 metric ton quota set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). An example of the "precautionary" approach in action, ICCAT set this quota low due to the lack of scientific information on this desirable stock of fish. The quota is expected to yield a 50 percent increase in the spawning biomass by the year 2003.
Tales of wildly high prices for bluefin are used daily to "prove" that bluefin will be fished to extinction. Although Atlantic bluefin catches have fluctuated in volume and by management area over the last thirty years, the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea have produced approximately 20 to 36,000 tons of bluefin annually from 1963 through 1994. Conservative quotas on the western Atlantic fishing grounds protect the fish while the high price is a plus for fishermen, managers and the economy since fewer fish need to be caught to support a U.S. fishermen's family while feeding people and reducing our trade deficit with Japan. Whether fishermen sell 1,000 fish for $1.00 each or one fish for $1,000, it's all the same amount at the end of the day. Fish suppliers have, however, reacted sensibly to the strong demand by "ranching" the tunas, capturing the live fish, penning and fattening it before final processing of the product, resulting in more meat per fish. So instead of high prices causing a collapse of a fishery, the tight management of the catch has stimulated a response from the private sector. Bluefin may repeat the salmon story of abundant and inexpensive farm-raised salmon reducing the global market price. More salmon fishermen are out of work because of too many fish rather than because of too few.
In making decisions to limit freedom in fishing, fishing communities participate in long and lengthy discussions involving councils, scientists and governments. Each action generates a reaction and so these diverse management bodies cooperate on decision-making in order to best protect highly migratory fish regularly traveling thousands of miles across oceans. It is vital that concerned citizens become educated about fisheries issues, participate in existing management structures and avoid being used as pawns by "save the seas" crisis mongers crying wolf. Fishermen fear liberties lost to global green overlords acting on ignorance as much as fisheries collapses due to human error or nature's whims.
Teresa Platt of The Fishermen's Coalition (619-575-4664, firstname.lastname@example.org) works to educate the public about the importance of responsible fishing in providing food to the global village. Rich Ruais is director of East Coast Tuna Association (603-898-8862) representing fishermen utilizing rod and reels, harpoons and nets to fish for giant Atlantic bluefin tuna and other tunas. He is a member of the U.S. ICCAT Advisory Committee which recommends highly migratory species policies and objectives to NOAA/NMFS and the U.S. Delegation to ICCAT.
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