I tell my friends that one of the best things about living in Astoria is the great seafood.
What makes it great is not just what’s for dinner. Our character is provided by ports and piers. We all benefit from the generations of Astorians who came before us to make their livelihood from the land and water — those are the jobs that built our community.
Coming from generations of miners and ranchers and marrying into a family of loggers, I share the sense of history and pride that comes with working in natural resources. Nowhere will you find a stronger shared sense of stewardship of the earth’s gifts than from the people who make their living from them.
So when I attended the Clatsop Commercial Fisheries tour recently, it was with great curiosity about these people who make their living from the sea. There’s a sense of romance, adventure and danger in fishing lore that belies the fact that it’s just damn hard work.
And getting harder. The regulatory challenges facing natural resource-based industries today have come about because of overharvesting in past generations, a time when the sea’s bounty seemed infinite. Current practices use historic, scientific, climactic and hands-on observation to understand each fishery.
The scientists, fishermen and processors represented at the fisheries tour, organized by OSU Extension, are working together to be responsible stewards of our oceans, in hopes that good practices can both create sustainability and offset the need for costly increased regulation.
Limits for each species
Amanda Gladics, assistant professor of the OSU Coastal Fisheries Extension in Clatsop County and tour organizer, explained the groundfishing challenges to me this way: “In 2011, the fleet moved to a system called ‘Catch Shares’ or Individual Fishing/Tradable Quotas (IFQs or ITQs). The idea here is that each fishermen has a limit for each species based on their historical catch records, and is accountable for everything they catch going forward. To provide oversight for that accountability, vessels have to carry a fisheries observer on every trip — a biologist who keeps track of everything the vessel catches.
“If a vessel catches more of a species than they have quota for, they have to lease that quota from another fisherman, sometimes at great cost. If they can’t find anyone to lease it from, they might have to just tie up and stop fishing for that season. That is sometimes called a ‘lightning strike’ within the industry — a single trawl tow that catches most of the entire fleet’s allocation of a rare species. It’s almost impossible for that vessel to lease enough quota to cover that kind of event.”
One of the ways to reduce the chances of such an event is through innovative trawl net design. To the uninitiated, (that would be me) a net looks like a net. It’s spooled into the sea, and when it’s reeled back in on the boat it’s full of fish.
But to Kevin Dunn, who makes his living trawl fishing and has a passion for science-based, artful net design, each net is crafted specifically for the species it is to catch, with trapdoors and escape hatches for the unwanted sea life likely to be swimming with them. The weights that drag the net bottom down, the floats that pull the top of the sock open, and the passageways of red and blue squares tied off with turquoise ropes look more like a tike’s climbing gym than a well-made piece of industrial equipment.
The squares are carefully crafted and aligned based on the catch that should pass through the net maze and the bycatch that shouldn’t. Four-inch or six-inch square? The nets are crafted, then tested to make sure that the size fits the fishery, releasing the bycatch to the sea.
The goal is to reduce the catch of non-fished species. The idea of reducing bycatch is to minimize killing fish you don’t want to catch while keeping those that you do.
As Gladics said, “That’s why there is so much motivation for building more selective trawl nets. If (fishermen) can catch the fish they want, and avoid the rare fish, then they will be able to harvest closer to the amount they are now allowed to catch.”
The result? Fewer inadvertent kills, more fish in the ocean and better selective fisheries. The hope? Demonstrated best practices that may offset expensive regulatory compliance.
What does it mean for you and me? If fishermen don’t have to tie up their boats mid-season, they continue to provide jobs, buy fuel and parts, and bring in fish to processors, who are also able to provide jobs and buy supplies. Those dollars continue to roll through our communities as employees buy groceries, clothes, housing and … newspapers.
Since I’m still six months new to Astoria, I learn something new about this place and the people who live here every day. The fisheries tour was a great crash course in the issues that face one of the biggest segments of our economy. Oh, and did I mention that the Oregon Trawl Commission donated rockfish for lunch? Great seafood.
What do you think I need to learn about the North Coast? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kari Borgen is publisher of The Daily Astorian.