From 4.29.08 opinion page
By Mike Zamboni
Fish & Politics
As a fisherman it is no surprise that the federal, state and local governments are running record deficits and our economy is on the brink of collapse. The regulatory environment in the U.S. and particularly California makes it virtually impossible as well as impractical for business to continue. Coupled with over-regulation, free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have thrown us into a global economy where we are required to compete with one hand tied behind our back.
While the fishing industry is likely hit harder by regulation than most non-resource dependent businesses, it’s a perfect example of why de-regulation is the only chance of saving our economy.
In the last couple of months I’ve attended about 30 meetings and spent hundreds of hours on the phone concerning proposed or pending regulations that adversely affect the fishing industry. That alone equates to about 30 days I should have been working, producing something and paying taxes on the income I generated. Instead of working and contributing to the economy I was driving to some distant meeting to combat some regulation allegedly designed to further protect some already protected fish stock.
The meetings ranged from three days in Sacramento to attempt to alter VMS (vessel monitoring system) requirements so they don’t sink my boat, to arguing with Redwood National and State Parks in Orick over what environmental harm would be caused to the park by having two “crew members” with me rather than one. Other topics included wave energy generation in our crab grounds, more MPA’s (Marine Protected Areas), no salmon season, moving the inside boundary of the RCA (rockfish conservation area ) into 120 feet and the creation of 5 new YRCA’s (Yelloweye Rockfish Conservation Areas) on the North Coast
And most recently I attended a meeting about further regulating the crab industry – not because there’s a resource issue with crabs, just because they ran out of other fisheries to regulate. That’s just to name a few, and due to time constraints and printing costs I won’t go into detail on all of them.
The issue of VMS was where I wasted most of my time. At the PFMC (Pacific Fishery Management Council) meeting I was allowed to address OLE (official law enforcement) about the problems faced by small or moored vessels with the VMS requirement. The VMS requires a permanent power source to run it that I have to provide. It’s about the equivalent of leaving the radio on in your car, even when your car is not running. The purpose of the VMS is so that NMFS (National Marine Fishery Service) can satellite track your fishing activities and make sure you’re not fishing in a closed area which encompasses about 85% of my fishing grounds. Of course, OLE had no solution for keeping my batteries charged with this thing drawing a quarter amp an hour and no shore power as is the case at Trinidad. So they suggested just turning it on and seeing what happens.
Well, I did and sure enough within a few days my battery went dead and now I can’t go fishing until I get it going again and I can’t get it going again until I go fishing and run the engine long enough to charge the battery. At least that gives me lots of time to write my column.
At the RNSP meeting they informed us that they were allocating four of the seventeen beach access commercial fishing permits to a different user group that already had an unlimited number of access permits. This of course would result in a reduced number of active fishermen that would in turn result in the amount of fish produced. In addition to reducing the number of permits they reinterpreted a clause limiting the number of passengers I could have in my pickup to one. It was previously enforced and made sense that the passenger referred to a non-commercially licensed passenger and we were allowed more than one commercially licensed “crew member” to assist in fishing. Well the change in interpretation now limits us to one commercially licensed “crew member” making us the only business in the U.S. that I’m aware of that’s only allowed one employee.
Of course, this was all done internally without a public NEPA/CEQA process as required by law when a regulatory change adversely impacts business. The end result of all this regulation is a reduction in the amount of surfish caught, which will likely ultimately result in the markets that depend on it turning to an overseas source and the fishery collapsing.
Even though all groundfish populations are increasing CDFG (California Department of Fish and Game) thinks it needs to close more water to further protect Yelloweye and Canary rockfish. Now remember Yelloweye and Canaries were completely closed about 7 years ago, quotas were cut on rockfish complexes by up to 95% to prevent bycatch of these two species, and 100% of Yelloweye and Canary habitat, the “shelf” from 3-10 miles offshore has been closed for about the same amount of time. Of course the result has been a huge increase in groundfish populations as proved by the latest round of stock assessments. But more fish means more regulation because last year there were so many Canaries and Yelloweyes that the spillover into Nearshore waters resulted in too many being caught, so now DFG needs to close more water. The most recent Canary assessment shows them being nearly rebuilt with huge allocation increases scheduled for next year. However, the future of Yelloweyes isn’t as good since they don’t have enough data, particularly harvest data, to get a good assessment and of course this is because we can’t fish for them or anywhere they live. At this point it looks like DFG will close an additional third of State waters (0-3 miles) to fishing by moving the inside line of the RCA into 20 fathoms. In addition they will be closing all the grounds from the shore west at Shelter Cove and Crescent City.
The Shelter Cove closure will likely result in a collapse of all the infrastructure at the Cove since salmon season is closed as well. So even if we do get a salmon season in the future, the campground, restaurants, fueling and launching facilities will be gone and I likely won’t be able to salmon troll there anymore.
All these regulations coupled with increased fuel costs, which are also largely attributable to environmental regulations, ultimately lead to increased costs for me to produce fish. These costs have to be passed on for business to stay afloat, but when local fish costs significantly more than NAFTA fish consumers are forced to choose between the local fish and walking home. The only hope for reversing this economic crisis is to quit regulating and revisiting the Free Trade Agreements so we’re competing on a level playing field. There really already is enough regulation to maintain sustainability of our resources! Since once again California is broke, the Governor has opted to cut teachers and my girlfriend received a “possibility of layoff” notice after 8 years in the district. I have a better solution for both improving the states economy and dealing with budget cuts – “fire a regulator not an educator.”