Commercial Fishermen Organize To Preserve Their Share
In Alaska it’s a campaign to give recreational fishermen priority access to salmon.
In Massachusetts it’s a petition to ban commercial harvesting of striped bass.
In Florida it’s a state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 1994, that bans the use of gillnets within eight miles of the coastline.
Now commercial fishing and seafood processing groups are mounting a counterstrike against efforts by some recreational fishing organizations to ban nets and reserve some species for sport fishing.
The hook? “Protecting consumers’ rights to seafood,” said Jim Fullilove of Camden, Maine, national coordinator of the newly formed group Seafood for America and a former editor of National Fisherman magazine.
“What about consumers who can’t afford to buy a boat and tackle or are disabled or don’t want to go fishing? They’re out of luck,” Fullilove said.
U.S. seafood consumption last year amounted to 3.9 billion pounds, or about 15 pounds of fish and shellfish a person.
Bankrolled initially by the National Fisheries Institute, a processor-dominated industry association, the Seafood for America campaign was organized May 15 and launched last week at Fish Expo Seattle.
Annual dues run $25 for fishboat crew members, $250 for owners of vessels 45 feet or less and $500 for owners of bigger boats.
Fullilove said 23 fishing groups had signed up as supporters at $1,000 a year, and coordinators have been named for all four West Coast states, six states on the East Coast and two on the Gulf Coast.
“Our membership drive is just beginning,” he said.
In a panel discussion at the trade show, Fullilove pressed crew members, skippers, boat owners, canners and packers to get on board.
Out of about 40 people in the room, less than a fifth of capacity, about a dozen said they were fishermen.
“There’s nobody here,” complained Ed Wojack, a fisherman from Lynnwood. “What’s the problem?”
“Fishermen are really slow to react unless it’s a crisis right at their door,” said panelist Jerry McCune, president of United Fishermen of Alaska.
Commercial fishing interests understand the need for closures when stocks are low, Fullilove said.
“If it’s harming the resource, if it’s damaging the fisheries, that’s really not our issue. That’s up to the (government) councils to make these decisions,” he said. “What Seafood America is about is that we have made mistakes as an industry, we haven’t been perfect, but let’s go from here.”
Along the East, West and Gulf coasts, Fullilove said, the industry is under siege:
In Washington state, voters rejected an initiative that would have virtually banned gillnets, but only after fishing interests spent $1 million to fight the measure last November. A similar battle ended the same way four years earlier in Oregon.
In Alaska, an initiative campaign to reserve as much as 5 percent of the state’s salmon catch for personal consumption was struck down by the state Supreme Court last month but could resurface in the legislature.
In Massachusetts, a petition to designate the striper as a game fish off-limits to commercial boats drew 5,000 signatures.
In Louisiana, a seafood promotion and marketing group survey found higher prices and shorter supplies of fish affected by gillnet restrictions.
Fullilove said most campaigns have been waged by sports fishing activists who use the word “conservation” in their group names.
“The anti-net and anti-commercial campaigns play upon the popular moral high ground of saving our resources,” Bornstein said.
“We want to draw the public and the fishing industry closer together by putting a more human face on the fishing industry,” he said.
“Our problem has been that commercial fishing takes place on the high seas, out of sight.”