We are more than grateful to be part of the relaunch of Fishermen’s News. While our voice is one of many, we believe we present a unique perspective and appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts, concerns and opinions with you. We look forward to diving deeper into specific issues in future articles; but today we briefly cover a diverse set of topics. Primarily because we had trouble deciding which of the following was most important.
First and foremost, we offer our sincere condolences to those of us who have lost friends, family members or other loved ones. COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, profound impacts of the America and the U.S. commercial fishing industry. From lost markets to cancelled surveys which inform stock assessments, the true impacts of COVID-19 will not be known for quite some time.
When beef, pork and poultry processing plants had to shutter as a result of the pandemic, U.S. fishermen continued to operate and ensure our food security. Last spring, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted and identified $300 million in relief for fisheries and aquaculture. By the time this article is published, the application process for the Western states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington) should be complete; and eligible recipients in some of those states will have received funds.
An additional $300 million was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act which was signed into law in early January; but no additional guidance has been offered regarding the allocation of those funds as of the time of this writing.
Marine Mammals and Trap Fisheries
Late last summer, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife implemented the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program in response to litigation over the state’s failure to secure in Incidental Take Permit for its commercial dungeness crab fishery. Due to elevated risks of entanglements, the opening of the California commercial dungeness crab fishery was delayed until Dec. 23. Lobster fisheries on the East Coast are being severely restricted to protect the endangered Northern Right Whale.
In February, legislation was introduced in the California Assembly which would require the use of ropeless fishing gear for all of the state’s trap fisheries – commercial and recreational. At the time of this writing, a hearing was scheduled for April 8th in the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. There is widespread opposition to this bill across all industry sectors.
West Coast Salmon Fisheries
In early March, commercial and recreational salmon harvesters from Washington to California learned they should expect reduced opportunity for the 2021 ocean salmon fisheries. While the final season structure will be decided in April, industry is prepared for what is likely coming.
Unless and until the Federal and State Governments take a closer look at freshwater policies which are diverting the life blood of our iconic salmon runs, the future of these runs remains in peril. Our last article in Fishermen’s News was entitled How California’s Big Ag “Water Grab” Would Put Salmon Fishermen Out of Work, and appears to be a premonition of what may come.
On his way out the door, then Interior Secretary Bernhardt gifted his former clients Westlands Water District relief from certain requirements of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. PCFFA and our allies are working to undo these gifts.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the historic agreement announced in November 2020 that will lead to the restoration of the Klamath River and its storied salmon runs – important to a great number of users, cultures and economies.
PCFFA is not only a Signatory Party to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) that the November agreement helps complete and move forward, but has also played a major role in pushing for removal of the four Klamath Dams, building on past PCFFA President Nat Bingham’s work to restore the Klamath River salmon runs since the mid-1980s.
Klamath Dam removal’s benefits for northern California and southern Oregon salmon fisheries and ports would be enormous, potentially doubling the current returns to the Klamath and greatly diminishing or eliminating “weak stock management” closures like we have seen in many recent years.
30 x 30
The thirty-by-thirty initiative is an effort to establish a goal of protecting 30% of the globe’s land and water by the year 2030. Legislation introduced last year in California to implement this version of 30 x 30 failed, in part because the term “protect” was ill-defined. In response, On Oct. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order 82-20.
Last October, the Ocean-Based Climate Solution Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Title II of the Act would have prohibited “any commercial extractive or destructive human activity in at least 30% of the ocean under United States jurisdiction by 2030.” The Act did not move in the last Congress. On Jan. 27, President Biden signed Executive Order Executive Order 14008.
Both executive orders have similar goals “conserving at least 30 percent” of lands and waters by 2030; but different approaches to implementing these goals. President Biden’s order specifically identifies fishermen as partners in the process in “identifying strategies that will encourage broad participation in the goal.” Gov. Newsom’s order identifies fishing organizations as parties with whom state agencies should engage.
Much work is to be done to ensure that U.S. fisheries, amongst the most well managed, are heard. Seafood harvested by our commercial fishermen is the only way a great majority of Americans are able to access the living marine resources off our coasts. Further hindering our abilities to provide a health source of sustainable wild-capture seafood will increase reliance on imported seafood – often harvested by nations with far less stringent management and a larger carbon footprint. It’s a lose-lose for the environment.
Offshore Developments – Aquaculture
Last May, President Trump signed Executive Order 13921 requiring the Secretary of Commerce to identify at least two geographic areas containing locations suitable for commercial aquaculture. On Aug. 20, NOAA identified federal waters off Southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico as the first Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs). Further actions in advancing aquaculture activities with AOAs are expected by the end of the summer.
In March, NOAA published a scoping report for the Pacific Ocean Aquafarms Environmental Impact Statement. Pacific Ocean Aquafarms proposes to construct, operate and maintain an offshore marine finfish aquaculture operation composed of submersible net pens in federal waters off San Diego, Calif., with an alternative location off Long Beach, Calif.
Offshore Developments – Offshore Wind
Of all the items listed here, this may be the most worrisome. The speed with which offshore wind is ramping up is to be noted. In December 2020, the developer of the Vineyard Project sought to temporarily withdraw its application under the guise of making some changes to reflect new turbines. The Secretary of the Interior then determined the application to be “formally withdrawn.”
Also in December, the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor issued a legal memorandum which states, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) “can only approve wind projects if they do not unreasonably interfere with fishing operations, that fishermen’s perspectives are what determine whether interference is unreasonable, that such interference is considered on a cumulative instead of project-specific level, and if in question they must err on the side of less interference rather than more.”
The new Administration has since revoked the withdrawn status of the Vineyard Project and announced they have completed the environmental analysis of the proposed Vineyard Wind offshore wind project.
On the West Coast, there are two pilot projects proposed in California state waters, and BOEM will likely announce wind energy areas off the California coast soon; and additional call areas off Oregon and California by the end of the year.
There is legislation introduced in both California and Oregon which establishes goals for offshore wind development in federal waters off each state. In California, it’s 10GW off the California coast by 2040, with an interim target of 3GW by 2030. In Oregon, it is 3GW of commercial scale floating offshore wind energy projects within the federal waters off the Oregon coast by 2030.
The above are just some of the challenges the commercial fishing industry is facing. As we move further into 2021, we hope to provide more details on the above items.
Mike Conroy is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and its sister organization, Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR), working out of their combined national office in San Francisco, CA. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (415)561-5080, or by postal mail at PCFFA, PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370. The PCFFA can also be found online at www.pcffa.org.