March 23, 2010
By Brett Tolley
Cody crawls around on the living room floor while my brother and I talk fish. We express our various frustrations, worries, and disappoints with the New England fisheries. We gab over what the future of fishing will hold. I look over at my 6-month old nephew on the floor and wonder if one day he will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my brother, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather as a small-scale commercial fisherman. If you ask most fishermen I know they say Cody won't have a chance. My brother agrees.
Like Cody I grew up absorbing countless hours of family fish talk. Most often the conversations revolved around the pitfalls of fisheries management. The National Marine Fisheries Service (more commonly known as NMFS) was likened to a four-letter word cautiously avoided at the dinner table. I was therefore curious to attend my first series of Council meetings and see for myself what all the hype was about.
"Often fisheries management is accused of trying to fly the airplane while simultaneously trying to build the engine", said the NOAA government staff person to the Council at one of my first meetings. A rumble of bitter chuckles filled the room. The analogy stuck with me and I sat there wondering, if fisheries management is flying a plane while simultaneously building its engine, who is paying attention to the plane's destination? In fact, nobody is. The plane could be heading east or it could be heading west. The Council could be heading toward privatizing the ocean or it could be heading toward community-based management. The Council operates with no common Vision and it's been doing business that way since 1976.
At January 2010's meeting after 34 years of visionless management, the Council acknowledged its need for a Vision. The need for a vision comes at a critical time of change for New England fisheries as we move into a new management system called Catch Shares. The airplane is charting new territory and if the destination is not carefully plotted the heading could spell disaster for many New England fishing communities. The time to adopt a Vision is now.
The good news for the Council is that the New England community has already created a common and consensus based Fleet Vision. Over a two-year process nearly 300 stakeholders from across New England participated in regional meetings, interviews, surveys, and round table discussions to create what is called the Fleet Vision Project.
The Fleet Vision Project represents the thoughts and ideas from commercial fishermen of various gear types, boat sizes, and locations, recreational fishermen, consumers, scientists, fisheries managers, shoreside industry businesses, government officials, fishing family members, outdoor writers, non-profit groups and a host of others. The following sentence summarizes the results of their work and represents the most authentic voice of the New England Community.
"A diverse, economically viable, environmentally sustainable fleet that is managed through a participatory governance structure."
Diversity, Economic Viability, Environmental Sustainability and Governance; these are the coordinates the New England community has relayed to the plane. This is the direction we want the Council to take. If the Council chooses to ignore this vision and the plane continues on without a heading, the heritage of many shoreside communities along with the ecology of our ocean and livelihoods of fishing families will continue on in serious jeopardy.
Now is the time to urge the Council to adopt the Fleet Vision Project outcomes and we need YOU to get active. Please visit the NAMA website to sign onto the "Vision Pledge" and show your support.
NAMA along with the Fish Locally Collaborative was invited to deliver a presentation to the Fisheries Council at the upcoming April meeting and we need your support. Help put the Council on a heading towards fleet diversity, economic viability, environmental sustainability and participatory governance. Management with a vision could mean a future for children like Cody and the next generation of our New England fishing fleet.
My brother and I wrap up our fish talk as Cody bounces on my knee. My brother wishes anything but a fishing life for his son. He jokes that Cody will not be allowed at the fish pier and most certainly not allowed onto any boats. Like my fishermen fathers they see the writing on the wall and it spells out struggle and continual loss for future small-scale fishermen. The future is precarious and I wonder if management will go another 34 years without a vision. Cody turns his head and vomits on my lap. This confirms my inclination that it's most certainly time for a change!