Mark Zaccaria on How the Federal Government is Killing the Fishing Industy in Rhode Island and Elsewhere
Second District Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria doesn’t think that it makes sense to ask a fisherman to go out to sea and come back with less than a full haul…
If you’re about to go buy a $7,000 or $8,000 load of diesel fuel, but are only allowed to catch some small amount of the total amount of fish you’re actually capable of catching, then you’re in big trouble.Yet, as he points out, that is exactly what our Federal government does…
The fishing catch is based on the number of pounds of a particular type of fish, and the numbers are low enough so that they are well below a boatfull.So what would Mr. Zaccaria do differently, if he were elected to Congress…
We should devise a new way of doing that that’s consistent with the way the fishing industry really works. Rather than say let’s take this boat out, but you can only catch 3 fish – with a boat capable of hauling tens of thousands of pounds – what we need to say is that when you do go out, knock yourself out. We’ll limit the number of times you can go out, and on an annual basis limit the catch, rather than in a given week.As to the priority he believes this issue should be given by Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation…
I’d be jumping up and down about the fact that we’re killing an industry that contributes mightily to our economy, which means we’re going to export that industry to others who are not going to do it as well as we do while, at the same time, not doing a good job of doing our stated goal, making fisheries sustainable forever. We’re screwing everything up.For the full detail on the type of thinking that Mr. Zaccaria believes needs to be brought to Congress on this issue, continue below the fold…
Anchor Rising: You believe that your opponent is completely missing the boat on the issue of fisheries, the Federal government is very much out-of-whack, compared to what it should be doing, and that there are changes that need to be made…
Second District Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria: There are a number of things going on. Let me describe the problem that I see, and why I think it’s important to the people, and why as far as I can figure out, why we aren’t doing anything better.
We have a situation based on a 1976 law that was put through by a Senator named Warren Magnuson from Washington State. Senator Magnuson’s name is still associated with some of the restrictions on commercial fishing catch.
The 1976 law did a number of things, like expanding the U.S territorial waters for fishing out to 200 miles. Overall, what it tried to do, which was a very good thing, was try to make commercial fisheries sustainable. It tried to apply science to the question of which fish do we have a lot of and should try to catch, and which fish do we not have a lot of, so we shouldn’t try to catch. The result is a set of restrictions on the commercial catch that are based on 1976 technology and science and that are slowed down even further by the bureaucracy that’s involved.
We have a Bureau of Marine Fisheries that is charged by this law with doing the basic science of determining what the fish populations are. The problem is that because of the layers of review and, dare I say, bureaucracy that has to go into it, by the time that a determination can be made, several generations of new fishes could have been born and taken to the school. It’s just too slow.
The other problem that we have is that the fishing catch is based on the number of pounds of a particular type of fish, and the numbers are low enough so that they are well below a boatfull. The net result is that you can only land a catch of a certain amount, and fishermen have to throw rest back. They throw it back dead. It’s not an ecological disaster, it’s earth to earth, dust to dust, but it’s still not the best use of the resource of fish. So, they kill an awful lot of fish that never get counted in the quota because they’re not landed.
The current law is terrible from the point of a small business planner. If you’re about to go buy a $7,000 or $8,000 load of diesel fuel, but only allowed to catch some small amount of the total amount of fish you’re actually capable of catching, then you’re in big trouble.
There are a number of things we can do to revisit the idea of this law and make the fisheries really sustainable, while giving small business people like fishermen some way to plan. We could restrict the number of days at sea, but allow fishermen to land whatever they catch from a full day’s work, as long as it fits into the boat. The fishermen will be able to choose when those days are, based on what they know about the movements of the fish, so they can pick the fish they want to go catch.
This will impact the fishing industry, obviously, but also upstream if you will, the seafood industry and the restaurant industry.
Now this is one of those things that is absolutely a matter of passion down at the docks if you go down to Point Judith and start talking to the folks down there. But if you get people who don’t have jobs directly related to that industry, they don’t know what you’re talking about. You have to have somebody in government who’s willing to do the research to figure out what the right thing to do is and then what we need is a rule change in this game.
I’m proposing a couple of different things. I’m thinking in general terms here — I haven’t got into the real nitty-gritty of creating legislation, I have to get elected first before that can be done. But just take a look at the basic science of where the fish are and how many of them there are. It’s being done already by a number of different organizations. It’s being done by non-governmental organizations whose primary goal is conservation of some sort. The World Wildlife Fund is the group that I think probably has the best fisheries program, though I might be proved wrong here. The Sierra Club and the Audubon society have programs – the list goes on. These are all large international organizations that have respectable, reputable scientists working for them, and they work a lot faster than the government does, because their goals are different. Their goals are about the fish.
As well trained as dedicated individually as our government scientists are, they have to work on the fiscal year. They have to work on the resource allocation that the Federal government does and, as a result, it changes the way they do things. So rather than have them do the basic science, let’s have them do the oversight. Let’s have them do their careful and reasoned investigations of the NGOs who actually do the basic science to double-check and be the umpire.
AR: So right now, the Federal government is employing scientists directly, to go count the fish?
MZ: It’s not quite the simple, obviously, but they are asked to determine and to offer an opinion of fish populations by species that are growing and declining. The object is fairly simple, really, you want to promote a catch among populations of fish that are growing, and especially, as happens more frequently than you might think, among populations that have grown dramatically, because they’ll tend to implode on themselves. They’ll consume all of the resources, so you want to fish some, to cull the herd or the school, if you will. And obviously, if you’re running low on species A, don’t fish it for a while so they can rebound. All of that is fairly straightforward.
It’s our response time that’s the problem. We are way too slow in determining what these species are and which ones we should fish and which ones we shouldn’t. Plus, the way we subdivide the proposed catch is arcane, at best. We should devise a new way of doing that that’s consistent with the way the fishing industry really works. Rather than say let’s take this boat out, but you can only catch 3 fish – with a boat capable of hauling tens of thousands of pounds – what we need to say is that when you do go out, knock yourself out. We’ll limit the number of times you can go out, and on an annual basis limit the catch, rather than in a given week. Telling fishermen that this week you can go out and catch 2 cod, that’s not a good way to build a business.
What this will do is promote efficient fishing and an efficient fishing industry with better science at a lower price. If we take a government agency and back it down from doing the basic science, to reviewing the basic science that somebody else is doing, it will ultimately take less human beings to do it, and to do it effectively.
If the government finds some problem with the way the non-governmental organization is doing the science, they can run up a red flag and the Congress or some other agency can come over and say let’s review this, but the problem that we have right now is that the government process for determining what the catch ought to be is cumbersome and once they finally do make that determination, the catch quotas that are put out are killing the fishing industry.
Do we want to outsource fishing along with all of the other things we outsource, because of bad regulations? I say no. I say fishing is an absolute traditional Rhode Island core industry – they call us the Ocean State for a reason — and we certainly should take the lead, join with other coastal communities and say let’s get this right.
Another interesting fact I’m told, though I haven’t independently verified, is that
when we extended the territorial limits of the United States to 200 miles, which was much farther than any other nation at the time had even contemplated going, we encompassed in the Northeast US and the Northwest US an enormous percentage of the most fertile fishing on earth. In the shallow seas of the Caribbean and around the Equator, they just don’t grow fish like we do in the Grand Banks. We are therefore doing the science and managing sustainable fisheries for a gigantic portion of the world, far more than the percentage of our population would indicate. It’s a pretty big resource that we are all of the sudden in charge of and that’s all the more reason, in my opinion, to do it right.
AR: Is your opponent anywhere on this issue?
MZ: I’m aware that Mr. Langevin has had the briefings and listened to the fishermen and should be aware, if he was listening, to the problems. What I don’t see coming from him anywhere at all is the kind of passion that I think this issue deserves. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe I’m misreading the guy. Maybe he’s really taciturn and is really passionate underneath — or maybe he’s been in Washington long enough so that he tries to do things the government way, or he’s been persuaded by the forces of bureaucracy, which are themselves self-sustaining by nature.
AR: Probably more self-sustaining than the fish.
MZ: If the bureaucracy was as interested in keeping the fish as well self-sustained as their own jobs, we’d have a wonderful world. The thing that I believe is that, given how much he has been involved with and immersed in the Federal Government way, Mr. Langevin may very well have a reflex at this point towards the government way.
He’s certainly not making the noise I’d make. I’d be jumping up and down about the fact that we’re killing an industry that contributes mightily to our economy, which means we’re going to export that industry to others who are not going to do it as well as we do while, at the same time, not doing a good job of doing our stated goal, making fisheries sustainable forever. We’re screwing everything up. Let’s see if we can do a little better than that. We’ve got real Rhode Island families that are twisting in the wind.
People in government talk about farming a lot. We should talk about fishing in the same way. It’s easy to overlook how complex it is. I don’t know what fish are down there, but the fishermen do. They go out in their boats and it’s not like the boat you’d go water-skiing behind. This is some serious, expensive equipment. In order to make the payments on it, in order to have it be sustainable as a tool for their business, they’ve got to use it.
Think of someone paying $6,000 or $7,000 for a tank of gas and going out and getting nothing. You can’t do that very often.
What we need to do is work together, to make everything more efficient. We can make the science more efficient and we can make the quotas more efficient, based on how the industry really works, rather than by saying there are this many fish out there, so divide by 2 and that’s what you can take. We need to find a way to match the catch to the boats, so that as a small business person, a fisherman can say when he does go out for something like a set number of days per year, he’ll pick the days based on what fish he thinks are running that day and how it matches to his equipment. That’s real planning, to help a small business.
Maybe we’ll even start to get over our fear of using any number that hasn’t been developed by someone other than by the Federal government.