Letter to PFMC re: Labor Day charter shutdown
Edward Johnston 1540 N. Nye St. Toledo, OR 97391 541-336-1233
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.