Divisiveness Should Not Have a Role in Commercial Fisheries

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

On January 15th, an underwater volcano erupted near the Tonga islands in the Pacific Ocean.  This eruption sent tsunami waves around the world that day, closing beaches, flooding marinas and activating emergency plans in California.

A four-foot spike in water levels was observed in Port San Luis, Calif., while Arena Cove, Calif., reported a 3.5-foot jump. Crescent City, Calif., got a 2.7-foot spike, and a tsunami of 2.8 feet was seen in King Cove, Alaska.

At the time of this writing, the amount and extent of damage done to Tonga remains unknown. We share our thoughts and prayers to those impacted. All fishermen should take this opportunity to review your emergency plans and consider drafting a tsunami plan. Different West Coast ports are likely to be impacted in different ways.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines divisive as “creating disunity or dissension.” And unless you’ve been stuck on a boat for the last decade or so, you know that divisiveness is prevalent in today’s society. It bears noting, however, that not all division is bad. Divisiveness can also result in meaningful debates which can move forward certain thoughts and/or ideas.

I am seeing a growing trend in commercial fisheries where we divide ourselves into groups based upon specific attributes. Whether it be vessel size, gear type utilized, home port, market you choose to serve, etc. Personally, I have made a concerted effort to avoid bashing one segment of our industry in order to benefit another. That was not always the case.

When I submitted my first column after taking over as Executive Director of PCFFA, I confessed that I got my start working on sportfishing charter vessels in Southern California.  Whether we were fishing yellowtail, bluefin tuna or calico bass, I had my preferences in terms of bait, lure and speed of retrieval. Preferences probably understates it. I was sure that if you weren’t using pink Ande line, or a Tady 45 (with an offset balance), or a Christy II with a live squid pinned on, you probably were not going to be as successful as those who were.

Of course, in hindsight, it was less about the line color (or manufacturer), less about the lure, and less about the bait choice; and more about talent, skill and patience. I will also confess to being less than open then to discussing the whys of my choices and the subtle things I looked for when deciding where to cast if I was going to throw a line.

Younger me was a much different person. One who thought catching more fish mattered or catching the bigger fish mattered. That carried forward to my commercial fishing days. If someone caught more than me, regardless of the value of what I caught, I was upset.

Toward the end of my commercial fishing tenure, however, I had an epiphany: it really should not matter what everyone else did.  If I was happy with my effort and the decisions I made, that is what mattered. You cannot be in two places at the same time; and if a friend did well in some other place, good for them. I guess you could say I began to see the bigger picture and that success for our fisheries is measured beyond what the individual fishermen, individual vessel, individual port caught. Those were simpler times.

In our recent articles, we have striven to inform you of the number of outside influences which may have impacts on our future abilities to provide a source of healthy, sustainably harvested, domestic protein to America’s seafood consumers. Whether we are talking about offshore renewable energy, aquaculture (both land-based and offshore), supply chain issues, newly proposed sanctuaries, “30 x 30” initiatives at both the federal and state levels, increasing pressures to modify existing gear type in response to bycatch and/or entanglements, etc. Some of these will impact different gear types in different ways; but each represents a possible threat to our future operations.

We must not lose sight of the fact that all of our fisheries, in some ways, are dependent on the others. Infrastructure, which supports our operations, serves a diversity of vessels, gear types and products. Businesses which support us, and are dependent upon our activities, rely upon a diversity of vessels, gear types and products.  For example, offloaders, marine mechanics, fuel docks, buyers and processors, tackle shops, marine hardware stores, etc.

Trollers may or may not like seiners or long-liners.  Trap fishermen may or may not like trawlers. Gill netters may or may not like divers or rod-and-reel fishermen. I am not here to suggest that you have to like everyone. What I do suggest, however, is that we do not disparage one another.

Floating offshore wind facilities, for example, will likely impact all of the aforementioned gear types equally. To quote from Aesop’s The Four Oxen and the Lion, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

It is possible to promote your fishery and/or your gear type without having to disparage another’s fishery or gear type. Let’s not forget that. 

Mike Conroy is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), and its sister organization, Institute for Fisheries Resources. He can be reached at his email address: mike@ifrfish.org or by cell phone: (415) 638-9730.