Photo: Waterfront in Eureka, California, By JP Smith via Wikipedia
Commercial fishermen have been a part of communities and economies since humans learned how to catch fish. This has not changed throughout time: the men and women who produce seafood are members of a community (perhaps even yours!) and contribute to the local and global economies. Today, however, our fishing communities need support.
While the fishing industry was once booming, today’s community-based fishermen are “have-nots.” Perhaps a fisherman does not have the right permit to participate in a fishery and can’t affordably acquire one. Perhaps she lives and operates in a port town that lost infrastructure. If a port cannot maintain safe access to fisheries due to costly dredging or the loss of an icehouse, the fishermen are sunk. While fishing communities have always contributed to the larger seafood community, at this point we need the larger political community’s help.
The challenges are numerous, but collectively we can solve them! Through simple approaches to fishery management that respect and preserve a diversified seafood industry, we can bring fishermen back into their communities and provide much needed support.
My fishing community of Eureka, California is suffering. Silting has caused shoaling at the entrance to Humboldt Bay and created a hazardous bar. Maintenance dredging in our marinas is way overdue and has not been addressed because of funding issues and an onerous permitting process. Furthermore, our port lost its ice plant. Without an ice plant, a fleet of fishing vessels has no way to return to shore with chilled, high quality, and safe seafood.
Eureka was lucky; the city government and a local seafood processor partnered up to get another ice plant running. The cold storage facility, unfortunately, has yet to be replaced. But broader economic forces have also rocked our waterfront, changing it in so many ways. The introduction of the individual fishing quota (IFQ) program turned Eureka from “Trawler Town,” producing a substantial amount of the west coast’s groundfish, to a groundfish ghost town. The groundfish stocks did need some additional protection, but the IFQ and buyback programs that were introduced as a result have left local fishermen in danger.
All these challenges, and more, can and should be given serious consideration in the ongoing Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization conversation. Sometimes it feels like our voices have been lost in the fisheries management process. The existing community aspects of the Magnuson-Stevens Act must be brought to the forefront so that small-boat fishermen like my colleagues and me can be involved in the conversation.
Port towns on all coasts need to go to their elected representatives and let them know what is not working in their regions. Make your representatives earn your vote by doing what is needed to strengthen your port. We have the ability to provide safe, fresh, quality seafood to global and local seafood markets, and we must be enabled to do so by the process.
Eureka’s working waterfront works, and it keeps the rest of our beautiful coastal town working. But it needs support in order to thrive.