Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ocean conservation: you can't get there from here

You can't get there from here. We need real conservation to save our oceans, and so far we're not getting real conservation. Some big changes are needed.

The water taxi from downtown to Boston airport was a good time to ponder the lessons from the best practices in US fisheries workshop. A perfect afternoon with a warm breeze and a nice city harbor view. It looks ok, so long as you don't look too deep. Just like US fisheries.

Boston Harbor is a fitting metaphor for best practices in US fisheries. Things are better than they were, but there's a long ways to go. And sadly, to borrow a New England saying, "you can't get there from here." We have some broken approaches that need major overhauls before we can get to real conservation.

Much of the Best Practices workshop was focused on getting fishing interests to accept the very reasonable "best practices" that currently exist. That means setting The Good Depletion as a goal. Leaving a few fish in the water to spawn is better than many US fisheries, but it's not good enough as a conservation goal.

So long as we still have fishing interests controlling the management of US fisheries, we won't get to real conservation.

Conflict of interest is the heart of the problem. Boring story to anyone involved in fisheries, but it's amazing to anyone else.

Fisheries are managed by appointed Councils where fishing interests have a clear majority. The appointees get a nice federal salary for writing their own rules. The Councils are called "advisory" but Federal Government can only block their action if it's illegal. And not much is illegal. The Councils have what appears to be a unique exemption from conflict of interest law. The law simply does not apply. Conflict of interest is legal, and it's the normal way fisheries operate. Zowee, that's a nice gig if you can get it. Write the rules, and then go make money working under the rules that you wrote.

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