The Soapbox Update: The Sausage Grinder is Underway by Bob Rees October 5th, 2017

The Sausage Grinder is Underway

Lobbyists often refer to the making of legislation as “sausage making.” How appropriate, given the start of our fall hunting seasons. Add a little pork shoulder here, beef fat there, and you have a palatable product fit for any finicky eater anywhere.

I may be going out on a limb here, but it actually appears as if Congress is making some sausage, finally. With so many other distractions in our nation, I’m not sure what will actually get over the finish line, but there was a series of fisheries related bills heard in September, most of them not making any biological, ecological or economic sense however.

It’s hard to consider any bill viable if its intention is to roll back the historic successes we’ve had under the current version of the Magnuson Stevens Act. Well, that’s what the Modern Fish Act, HR 200, and the Red Snapper Act’s intention is, and it just won’t fly with those that want a future for our fisheries.

Thankfully, there’s a more sensible option out there. Representative Huffman (CA) has put together an option that respects our past successes, and truly looks ahead for the future of our fishermen, and our resource. Huffman’s bill should bring bi-partisan support that successfully updates an already successful law. Call me biased, but given our history of working waterfront success, and cannery row collapses on the West Coast, I think a Pacific Ocean perspective is a winning perspective.

Given the current divisiveness in our country, and the history of across-the-aisle support Magnuson Stevens legislation has enjoyed over the decades, we really can’t stand for anything else other than Democratic and Republican support for such an important piece of legislation. Our fish and wildlife resources are often one of the rare treasures that both parties understand we need more of. Given how other countries have managed theirs, we are already a leader in fisheries conservation, and we’re now reaping the rewards of our successful fishery laws.

For us in the Pacific Northwest, it’s been a fun few years. We’ve enjoyed incredible salmon returns, excellent tuna catches (maybe not this year), unparalleled crabbing and the halibut and bottomfishing has been inspirational. Keep in mind that Oregonians have been harvesting these resources for almost two centuries, and despite explosive population growth and a human footprint that has changed our landscape beyond recognition, we still have an incredible resource that feeds our communities and economies.

There’s been very few fishery resources that haven’t hit rock bottom, mostly due to a lack of knowledge of the needs of these resources to sustain their populations over time. And the resources that have rebounded the best are the ones we’ve kept our hands off of, letting nature just take its course. Halibut, bottomfish, an array of forage fish species and of course salmon have all been down in the dumps over our short history of exploiting these stocks. I recognize that boom and bust cycles have been happening since the beginning of time, as referenced in the above hyperlink on sardine and anchovy populations, but no one in their right mind can deny the effect humans have had on our fishery resources. Intense management of these resources is a necessary element if we wish to continue to utilize these fisheries to benefit our communities.

Ana Hernandez from Quepos, Costa Rica poses with her 24-pound Tillamook Chinook caught just outside of the jaws. 10/4/17

Now is not the time to enact rollbacks for bipartisan supported fishery laws that have withstood the test of time. Despite the lack of cohesiveness in Congress, the folks credited with building and sustaining our working waterfronts deserve sound management measures that will enable these rural communities to continue to thrive. That’s particularly important as we’re just now starting to see the downturn in productivity coming off of some fairly spectacular years.

As I’ve written before, and anyone that’s been paying attention to your creel and the news, mediocrity seems to be a thing of the past. It’s pretty fun when all things swing our way; ocean productivity is up, snow pack is robust, fishing is excellent. It’s not so fun when hurricane after hurricane batters the East Coast, a warm water blob overcomes a large portion of our seafood’s feeding grounds and blanket restrictions get placed on one robust fisheries because there’s like 1,600 wild steelhead returning to the upper Columbia basin in 2017. Extremes are the new reality, and who’s really ready for that?

Congress must navigate this MSA reauthorization with a vision for the future. It’s hard enough managing fisheries for our current needs, and under more predictable and historical weather patterns. No one expects any law to meet the needs of all our people, that’s why they call it “reauthorization.” Updates are necessary, but we learn from our past mistakes, take the good and make it better, and hope that our maneuvers will meet the needs of our resources for future generations of fishers to enjoy. Ignorance used to be a valid excuse, but we know too much now. Let’s work towards a bi-partisan solution to a good law and get it through Congress to keep our waterfronts working. Thank you representative Huffman for giving us that chance.