Saturday, May 06, 2006

Letter to PFMC re: Labor Day charter shutdown

Edward Johnston 1540 N. Nye St. Toledo, OR 97391 541-336-1233

Sept. 18,2005

Dear Pacific Fishery Management Council members:

I want to inform you about efforts by myself and others from the Oregon Coast on behalf of reforms in fisheries management that I hope you will review and consider for future policy discussions and adoption. It is now just over one year since ODFW closed the Oregon groundfish sport, charter and subsistence groundfish fisheries for the 2004 Labor Day holiday.

It was, I believe, a serious mistake, and It caused grievous economic harm all across the Oregon Coast. Since then, ODFW has made reforms--ones that /, and many others across the coast, urged on them. The reforms I urged took the form of two bills that I placed into the Oregon legislative hopper that year. SB 803 sought to protect working families whose fishing is part of how they make ends meet--subsistence fishing. It stated that if ODFW ever found it necessary to close a major holiday fishery again, it would have to exempt the subsistence fishery, so as to protect our practical and constitutional right (as in right to "life" as well as "liberty") to feed our families. There were families that had to close their businesses, lost their homes and property, or suffered the breaking apart of their families as a result of the ODFW decision.

SB 805 sought to make sure that that ODFW would never again find it necessary to make such a surprise closure. It mandated real-time data, on-line for all regulated groundfish fisheries. ODFW opposed both bills, but did implement the later idea--urged on them not only by me but by people all up and down the Oregon Coast, including several hundred who signed my petition supporting SB 803 and 805 and urging penalties on ODFW for the economic hurt they, in our view, needlessly inflicted on Oregon. Beyond that, I urge you to consider a concept embodied in legislation I urged Senator Smith to submit to Congress.

There are numerous ideas floating around Congress that would gut our fisheries conservation law; what I propose does not do that. However, it does add some common sense to what we saw on Labor Day 2004 is a clearly well-intentioned but out-of-control rule--the rule that compelled, ODFW stated at the time, it to close the Labor Day groundfish Holiday fishery. What I urge you, now, to consider, is support for legislation, or, if you can do it yourself, a rule change that would allow an exception to the rule .that forced the Labor Day 2004 closure. The idea is very simple; it would exempt from closure any fishery where the closure would result in (a) economic harm that is "serious" and (b)"significantly disproportionate" to any ecological good that is expected to come from the closure. Support for the idea of SB 803--exempting subsistence fishing from any future sport closure--is not radical; it supports our working men and women and their kids, and the exemption it would create is so minimal, compared to the volume of charter fishing, or even greater, commercial fishing, that it will have a minimal ecological effect, if even that. Finally, the events in Louisiana suggest one more change. If and when the Northwest coast is hit by a tsunami and earthquake, people will need every source of food they can get.

The Oregon Coast will be, we all know, cut off from aid for days or weeks, since a major quake would also devastate the Willamette Valley. Under those conditions--if and when that occurs--the law should be prepared, and have in place an exemption allowing people to pursue subsistence fishing--not charter nor commercial but subsistence--to help feed themselves and their families. Further, we have seen people in New Orleans being told by law enforcement that they could not fish because of the dangers of polluted and unhealthy fish. While those fish there are now surely polluted and unhealthy, eating them is probably better than starving. An exemption of the sort proposed here should therefore include a blanket override of any claim to close the fishing by law enforcement for claimed health reasons during the duration of the emergency. People are smart enough to know if they (or their kids) are hungry enough to risk catching and eating polluted fish. Perhaps these exceptions could be tied to a state or federal disaster declaration. It would not last, we hope, too long. But it could save a lot of lives when many lives will be hanging by a thread. All this is not unreasonable. It is not "radical." It is not anti-environmental; if anything, by forestalling the onslaught in Congress against fisheries conservation in general, it may be some of the best environmental legislation possible in these times. I urge you to consider reviewing the concept and, if you support it, communicating that to NOAA Fisheries and Congress.

Edward Johnston

Description of two bills I put into the legislature in 2005

Dear Friends:

I have two bills in the state legislature, SB 803 and SB 805.

SB 803 would ensure that if ODFW ever again deems it necessary to shut down sport and charter groundfish fishing, it would still have to let fishing occur from bays, jetties and shores, so that people who fish to feed their families can continue doing so even during the closure. My other bill, SB 805, would make it less likely ODFW will ever do such a closure again (if the firestorm after this September's closure did not do that already). It requires ODFW to put on its website real-time data showing how close to catch quota each of the groundfish species is during the course of each year's season.

It is true that SB 805 only mandates doing what ODFW, pressed by hundreds of fishers and their families and friends up and down the coast, demanded in the aftermath of the Labor Day sport/charter/subsistence closure. But that is no reason not to make it mandatory that ODFW continue to provide that data each season, year in, year out. Since the agency is already doing what the bill mandates, it cannot be said that meeting the terms of the bill would be impossible or even a hardship for ODFW. Why not make sure that what is now a good thing the agency has started voluntarily doing is mandated to be done in the future?

SB 805 will help make fishers--sport, charter and commercial--informed partners with ODFW in a new way. It will enable them, as they see the tonnage rising towards quota for this or that groundfish species, to shift their location and effort to other species--evening out the season's catch, avoiding possibly over-harvesting one species and, equally, avoiding possibly under-harvesting another. It is good for fishermen, good for their families, good for the economy, won't hurt the fish, and won't hurt ODFW. How many other bills show up that, have several winners and no losers? Please help us get it passed.

SB 803 would ensure that if there is another such closure--and we all hope there won't be--the poor and working men and women of Oregon and their children Will not find their ability to make ends meet and put food on the table has been lost in power politics. The subsistence fishing of groundfish represents a tiny fraction of the groundfish fisheries. It is nowhere near enough to significantly impact any species likely to be caught off a rock, dock or pier. Yet that tiny fraction can be the difference between food and hunger (and possibly, crimes to feed the children) for some of our fellow Oregonians. SB 803 is good for poor and working Oregonians. It will benefit those Oregonians who, like our forefathers in this wonderful land, truly know that food comes not from a supermarket, but from the land and the water of the Earth.. In a state distinguished by a nationally embarrassing level of hunger, SB 803 is, in its way, part of the answer to that problem.

Between them, 803 and 805 would create a valuable reform of the way we regulate our groundfish fisheries. They would make all fishers into partners with the regulators and conservationists in managing our groundfish and make sure the regulators keep the fishers up-to-date on what is happening in their fishery. The bills would avoid unnecessary hardship to our most vulnerable citizens. They would make our regulatory system work better. They create no losers, and make virtually all of us profitable winners.

Edward Johnston 541-336-1233

Request for legislation that became SB 803 and 805

TO: State Senator Gary George and the Senate Member5
FROM: Edward Johnston
DT: Dec. 19.2004

WHEREAS, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2004 decided that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife which it supervises will exempt sport and bay fishermen, many of whom are subsistence fishermen (i.e., use fishing to help make ends meet and put food on the family table), in the event ODFW ever again decides to close the sport and charter and subsistence groundfish fishing season early; and

WHEREAS, the closure of the sport-charter-subsistence ground fish fishing season four days before Labor Day in the 2004 season caused serious economic and emotional loss and hardship to many businesses, families and individuals and to the Oregon coastal economy in general. And

WHEREAS, the closure put undue burden and hardship specifically on poor and working families at\d individuals who depend on fishing at the coast) put away seafood for the winter and to make ends meet; and

WHEREAS, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department has stated that, in retrospect, that closure was a mistake; and

WHEREAS, the Commission and/or ODFW may at some point in the future wish to reverse the positions that: Commission and Department took (in December 2004 as stated above) in the aftermath of that September 2904 ground fish fishing in-season closure,


I am requesting state legislation, perhaps using the above WHEREAS clauses as its introduction, to ensure that the content of the decision of the December Commission becomes a part of Oregon Revised Statutes and not merely a part of the ODFW administrative rules. I request that such legislation explicitly state and exempt groundfish fishing from small personal vessels (one and two person vessels of a class or classes to be identified by a maximum length, to be determined by the legislature) from any future in-season ground fish fishing season closure, whether such closure be termed “adjustment,” “closure,” “in-season action” or otherwise in the future by ODFW.

Petition reduce harms of closure 2004

Note: This is the petition I used to start the movement to protect our rights to fish in our subsistence fishery. You can support us by emailing your agreement, or printing this and mailing it to me at 1540 N. Nye St., Toledo, OR 97391.


We, the undersigned:

1. Strongly protest the sudden and surprising announcement of the closure of' the Oregon coast groundfish sport, charter and public fishery only three days before the closure was to take effect, without notice or time for anybody affected to plan for the closure.

2. We oppose the closure itself, also, and especially on the Labor Day weekend, which along with July 4th is the most critical financial period for the Oregon coast economy;

3. Because of the refusal to give normal or adequate notice, and because of the sudden and undebated nature of the closure, and because of the extensive harm it has caused and will cause to the Oregon coast fishing economy and to the other industries and businesses that depend on the fishing economy, we demand:

That 30 percent of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife budget for this year be allocated in equal percentage to each and every business on the Oregon coast (the region being defined as everything west of the crest of the Coast Range Mountains) that was in business as of Sept. 1st, 2004; And the termination of the Fish Division head within ODFW and any and all other ODFW personnel who participated in the decision making that led to the Labor Day closure; Plus the return to any state residents of a share of their fishing license fees proportional to the part of the groundfish season that has been suddenly closed to the.

We left King George 225 years ago and we won’t allow the King’s Plunder to take over our lives again!