Fall 2003

Plundering the Pacific

Part 1: The CATS
Who Run
the Fishhouse

Imagine the CEO of Weyerhaeuser appointed to run the national forests. As part of the deal, he gets to keep his old job. Federal law wouldn't allow it, of course. It's a simple conflict of interest. But when it comes to the folks who regulate ocean fishing, conflicts of interest are not only permissible, they're a regular part of the game. Full story.

Western Pacific council pushes plan to quash historic coral reserve. Council puts corals, spiny lobster and rare monk seal at risk so a few can profit. Full story.

They took millions of lobsters, and monk seal pups starved to death. Graphic (large file).

Science Friction. Industry resists Pew Commission’s call for change. Full story.

Marine mammals killed by Pacific fisheries. Graphic (large file).

How to speak “fisheries”. Full story.



Part 2: The Rockfish Files.

Documents show the Pacific Fishery Management Council ignored scientific advice as it let the bottom dwellers crash. Full story.

These stocks are down. Hundreds of tons of imperiled rockfish are killed and wasted as bycatch each year in West Coast fisheries. Graphic (large file).

Private ownership of a public resource? The IFQ debate. Full story.


Part 3: Essential Coral Gardens

North Pacific council rejects plan to protect coral and sponge, though the plan meant
little reduction in commercial fishing. Full story.

Protecting our Undersea Yellowstones. Scientists find marine reserves build bigger fish and produce more young. Full story.

From Baja to Bering. Exploring coral and sponge secrets along the West Coast and Alaska. Graphic (large file).



Net effects: A conservation map of the North Pacific. Graphic (very large file).



Fixing our Failed Fisheries.

What you can do for the Pacific Ocean.


More information:

North Pacific Ocean Conservation Directory.


Poachers R Us
A follow up article from Dec. 31, 2003, in the Honolulu Weekly









2003 Cascadia Times


Plundering the Pacific



Private ownership of a public resource? The IFQ debate rages

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is set to divvy up its groundfish fishery, one of the most valuable fisheries on the West Coast. They have set up a committee composed of eight trawlers, three representatives from the seafood processing industry, and one representative each from tribes and an environmental group. Missing from the list is a representative from the public, even the though the public owns the resource.


The Cascadia Times Fall 2003 issue, "Plundering the Pacific," investigates the decline of the North Pacfic Ocean and its wildlife in the wake of decades of industrial scale fishing.

The 24-page print edition contains numerous graphics and full-color photographs that richly illustrate this report. Please support Cascadia Times with your subscription or by making a donation. Thank you!

Reprints are available for $5 each. For reprint information, please contact us at cascadia@spiritone.com.

While the committee's charge is to identify alternatives to reduce capacity, the committee is primarily concerned with setting up individual fishing quotas, known in fisheries management as an “IFQ system”, that will give individual fishers a percentage of the catch in perpetuity.

Seafood processor reps on the council are pushing for quotas for their industry, despite concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Justice that such quotas, known as “processor quotas,” would potentially violate antitrust law. A recent DOJ memo said processor quotas could be anticompetitive and probably illegal. It said reduced competition could bring reduced prices for catches and higher prices for consumers.

Giving fishers a percentage of the catch would end the dangerous and often wasteful “derby-style” competitive race for fish. But processors, which face no such danger in their job, are simply clamoring for protection from current and future competitors. Recent mergers and consolidation within the processing industry have already reduced competition. For example, the since 1983 the Pacific Group has expanded from one processing and one distribution facility to nearly 20 operating units after acquiring processing and distribution companies in Mukilteo, Seattle, Spokane, Bellevue and Westport, Wash.; Sacramento, Fresno and Eureka, Calif.; Warrenton, Depoe Bay, Salem, Garibaldi, Portland, Newport, Bay City, Charleston and Warrenton, Ore., and Nikiski, Alaska.

From 1996 until 2002, Congress placed a moratorium on IFQs because of concerns with the impact of such systems on both fishermen and the marine environment. Congress commissioned an exhaustive study of IFQ systems by the National Research Council. Its

1999 study, “Sharing the Fish,” found both benefits and risks of IFQ systems and recommended a number safeguards that could advance conservation without disadvantage to fishermen and fishing communities.

With the moratorium expiring, in September 2003 the Pacific council decided to develop such a system. Critics say the permanent allocation to the groundfish fleet could be “a huge giveaway” that would fail to protect fish and ocean ecosystems while setting an important precedent of turning over a publicly owned resource to private interests.

The council's plan could lead to further consolidation in the industry. It would not prevent one corporation from buying quota shares owned by others. Rather than spreading the wealth of the ocean to family fishermen and fishing communities already hard hit by drastically reduced fish populations, consolidation could concentrate this wealth into the hands of a few.

What would the public get in exchange? Probably nothing. There is nothing in the law, for example, to ensure that depleted fish populations like bocaccio will be returned to healthy levels.

Pending legislation in the House and Senate would set put into place critical safeguards to prevent overconsolidation, ensure conservation benefits and prevent what is currently a privilege (fishing) from becoming a compensable property right. House Bill 2621 requires limits on the number of shares any person or business can control. It requires that

IFQ systems and shareholders be reviewed for conservation benefits every seven years and decisions on whether to renew the system or quota shares be based on the outcome of those reviews. Finally, it establishes a national IFQ review panel, consisting of individuals knowledgeable about fisheries management who would review IFQ systems.

In addition, each fishery management council must establish and maintain an individual fishing quota review committee. n