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Fisheries need clear policies

Oregon editors say

Outreach efforts by federal managers are fine, but not enough

The Daily Astorian

Can't we all just get along? was the basic message brought to the Lower Columbia earlier this month by chief federal fisheries official Bill Hogarth.

NOAA Fisheries, the agency charged with ensuring there are enough fish to go around now and into the indefinite future, has embarked on a commendable outreach program. The agency head has made a series of personal visits to places like this with large fishing fleets and economic stakes in federal fisheries management.

The relationship between NOAA Fisheries, formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service, and local fishermen has been rather testy. Some of this is only to be expected in interactions between a regulatory agency and an industry having an increasingly difficult time making money.

Actions like restrictions on groundfish harvests in the traditional fishing ground have ramped up local animosity. There is widespread belief among fishermen, a belief we share, that poorly written rules and an inadequately funded monitoring program account for much wasted fish and effort. The shortcomings long predate the current presidential administration.

— The Bush administration and Congress both focus largely on license buy-backs, a mechanism for decreasing the intensity of pressure on fish stocks, while compensating boat and license owners for investments partially based on federal decisions. This, too, has some merit.

But as we have noted in the past, buy-backs help the local community only to the extent that license holders choose to reinvest their money in other types of businesses. Buy-backs do nothing for crews thrown out of work, processors cut off from raw material, and the many nonrelated businesses that rely on fishing dollars being respent on other goods and services.

What is needed, both immediately and in the long run, are intelligent and well-supported federal policies that provide high-quality information on fish stocks. This knowledge must be used to rebuild genuinely depleted stocks and manage all fisheries so they are sustainable over the long-term.

Vital in this effort are laws and treaties that control large American and foreign corporations which plunder the oceans outside U.S. control. Our planet has one vast interconnected ocean, all pieces of which need to be looked after. The free-for-all must stop.

We can and must all get along. But this will take leadership that is willing to take bold and necessary steps, not just friendly public relations efforts.