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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 29, 1994

Air Date: April 29, 1994


Reforming United States Fishing Laws / Jennifer Ludden

Jennifer Ludden of member station WBUR reports on proposals for reform of Federal fishing laws in the face of dwindling US fish stocks. The Magnusen Act of 1977 protected US waters from overfishing by foreign vessels, but now domestic fishing has nearly wiped out many commercial stocks. Politicians and scientists are trying to balance protection of the fish against the needs of fishing communities, but at least one of the two may ultimately lose out. (07:53)

Sustainable Industries

Host Steve Curwood talks with author Hazel Henderson about the problems of industries dependent on diminishing resources, such as fishing and logging. Henderson says governments need to encourage the transition away from "sunset industries" by phasing out subsidies and imposing taxes on the use of nonrenewable resources. (05:07)

Sea Lions Versus Steelhead Trout / Terry Fitzpatrick

Terry Fitzpatrick reports from Seattle on a provision in the newly rewritten Marine Mammal Protection Act which allows the killing of marine mammals if they threaten the survival of another species. The measure grew out of a competition between fishermen and sea lions over a declining population of steelhead trout, which are easy prey for sea lions at a dam in Puget Sound. (07:32)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Amy Eddings, Catalina Reyes, Ansel Martinez, Jennifer Ludden, Terry Fitzpatrick
GUEST: Hazel Henderson

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

US fisheries are collapsing under the strain of too much fishing, and as a result Congress is considering changing the way we manage our fish stocks.

MOTT: They have a privilege in fishing. They don't have a right to fish in the oceans; it's a public resource owned by you and me just as much as anybody that's out there fishing for that resource.

CURWOOD: Also, in Washington state, a dam has pitted hungry sea lions against a dwindling run of steelhead trout. Now Congress says wildlife managers can kill sea lions in order to protect the fish.

BENNETT: But I'm not here to profess that we should go in and, you know, annihilate large numbers of sea lions. All I want to do is prevent this fishery from going into extinction.

CURWOOD: That and more coming up this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. For the first time, pesticides would be screened for their effects on hormonal systems under legislation filed by the Clinton Administration. New evidence suggests that some pesticides disrupt immune and reproductive systems by mimicking or interfering with estrogen and other hormones. The new screening plan is part of a sweeping revision of pesticide laws. It would approve pesticides only if they are proven safe for all consumers.

Planners of the upcoming conference on population and development in Cairo have ended their negotiations without an agreement on abortion, but the UN still hopes for common ground on the divisive issue with the Vatican and conservative countries. Amy Eddings reports from New York.

EDDINGS: Both sides are willing to negotiate a compromise before September's conference. UN officials say this may mean excluding abortion from sections of the agenda that deal with family planning and reproductive rights. But the UN is determined to talk about unsafe abortion as a health hazard. Officials say unsafe abortions cause the deaths of about 250,000 women around the world every year. The Vatican may fight this proposal. Delegates say there's little distinction between supporting safe access to abortion and supporting abortion itself. But if negotiations go smoothly, the Vatican may decide to abstain from voting on this section of the agenda in Cairo. During the New York meeting, Vatican delegates took this approach when condoms were discussed as a means of AIDS prevention. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

NUNLEY: The European Union may help Ukraine build 2 new nuclear power plants if Ukraine closes 2 reactors still operating at Chernobyl. The tentative offer followed Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk's criticism of the West for calling for the shutdown of the remaining Chernobyl reactors without offering help to replace the lost electricity. The exchange came at a meeting marking the eighth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Thirty-three utilities have joined a study of a privately-owned storage site for spent nuclear fuel on the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. From KUMN in Albuquerque, Catalina Reyes reports.

REYES: The agreement came out of talks held with nuclear power operators earlier this year, sponsored by the Mescaleros and the Minnesota Power Company. The 33 utilities have contributed $5,000 each toward a feasibility study. Since a permanent Federal waste storage site won't be open for at least 15 years, the companies are worried that they'll have to shut down the reactors when they run out of storage space at their plants. The Mescaleros had been seeking an economic boost by applying to host a temporary Federal waste site, but Congress canceled funding for that program. The tribe says with private utility funding, they can build a storage site by 2002 for an estimated $74 million. But with New Mexico's Congressional delegation and the state strongly opposed, some observers doubt the effort will get very far. For Living on Earth, this is Catalina Reyes.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. US carbon dioxide emissions were higher in 1993 than ever before, and that could be bad news for the government's already controversial plan to limit greenhouse gases. A report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says cheaper fuel and a healthier economy drove CO2 emissions up 2-1/2 percent last year. The group says that means the Clinton Administration may have to toughen its climate change program. Energy Department officials say the jump may just be temporary. They want to take a longer view before changing course.

A rare, inch-wide Colorado butterfly may be doomed to extinction, and scientists say they may not even try to save it. From Denver, Ansel Martinez reports.

MARTINEZ: The Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly was discovered in 1978 by biologists working in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado. The species was probably left behind on mountain tops when glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age. Researchers say it has been threatened by livestock grazing in mountain meadows, butterfly collectors, and a warming climate. But there is no clear consensus on how to save it, and researchers say that might not even be possible. Biologists argue time and money may be better spent on preservation efforts elsewhere. The hands-off attitude has stirred debate in the conservation field. Some advocates fear letting the Uncompahgre butterfly die out may set a bad precedent for other species. For Living on Earth, I'm Ansel Martinez in Denver.

NUNLEY: Finally, Reuters News Service reports that the owners of scores of polluting factories have threatened to tear down India's Taj Mahal if an order to shut them down is carried out. Toxic emissions from thousands of factors are corroding the 16th century marble monument. Two hundred twelve businesses were ordered to shut down after failing to install pollution controls. A former government minister who supports the owners was quoted as saying the Taj Mahal could meet the same fate as a Muslim mosque destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Reforming United States Fishing Laws

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the 1970s, fish stocks off US shores were in trouble. Foreign fleets and their giant factory boats came as close as 12 miles from land, scooping up huge amounts of fish, and threatening the health of both the stocks and the domestic fishing industry. So in 1977, the US, like many other countries, pushed its offshore claim out to 200 miles, and established new rules to manage fish for the benefit of its own fishermen. Within just a few years, many stocks had rebounded, but soon a domestic fishing boom again brought some fisheries to the brink of collapse. Today, in places like George's Bank off New England, many fish are just about commercially extinct, and conservationists are blaming the very law which was meant to protect them. They want Congress to change the whole approach to management, but the industry says some proposals could destroy fishing communities. From member station WBUR in Boston, Jennifer Ludden reports.

(Screeching gulls by the seaside)

LUDDEN: It's here in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and other New England fishing ports that the collapse of the region's fishing industry is most evident. Dozens of boats have left the industry in recent years. Those that remain must work harder and longer to catch the dwindling stocks of haddock, cod, and flounder. The fish species here are among the most depleted in the country, but some say New England is simply the most glaring example of how the general system for managing US fisheries has failed. That system is laid out in the 1977 Magnussen Fishery and Conservation Act. The law takes a decentralized approach to fisheries management. Regulatory and enforcement power is vested largely in 8 regional councils staffed by fishermen, boat owners, and processors. And access to the industry is virtually unlimited. Anyone willing to buy the equipment and put in long hours can fish. Brian Gorman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the law was written specifically to protect the independence of fishing communities.

GORMAN: Part of the worry of the framers of the Magnussen Act was of a paternalistic Federal Government that would impose some kind of universal system. I think just in terms of fairness, a lot of fishery managers felt that access ought to be open to all fishermen, just as part of a democratic process.

LUDDEN: Much of this philosophy is now being rethought. The regional councils, for example, have been accused of promoting the short-term interests of fishing communities at the expense of the long-term health of fish stocks. Massachusetts Congressman Gary Studds chairs the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. He helped draft the original Magnussen Act, and will play a major role in any overhaul of the law. He says the idea of giving decision-making power to the industry was well-intentioned, but flawed.

STUDDS: Today I suspect, almost 20 years later, one would not do it that way, if for no other reason than that we would be, have the usual jaundiced eye look at us and say my gosh, you've got people, in many cases in the Council, who have a vested personal interest in a particular fishery, responsible for regulating it. That you not only permit, you mandate a conflict of interest, and that would be unthinkable.

LUDDEN: Studds says the new law should base decisions less on their social impact on communities and more on what scientists say the resource can sustain.

STUDDS: The scientists have been crying for some time and have not really been listened to and their warnings have not been heeded and respected. I think the role of good science has got to be strengthened and increased.

LUDDEN: To do that, environmentalists are urging that regional fishery councils be required to include scientists. They argue that fish are not a bounty to exploit, but a limited, in some cases endangered, resource. Bill Mott of the Marine Fish Conservation Network points out that fish are one of the few resources essentially free for the taking. He advocates a charge on fishing boats similar to a stumpage fee for logging on Federal land, or grazing fees for cattle ranchers. The money would then be spent on conservation programs.

MOTT: They have a privilege in fishing, they don't have a right to fish in the oceans; it's a public resource. It's owned by you and me, just as much as anybody that's out there fishing for that resource. And we need to make sure that we conserve that fishery resource for the future.

LUDDEN: Perhaps the most controversial proposed change to the Magnussen Act is to restrict, for the first time, access to the sea. During the 1970s easy Federal credit led to an explosion in the number of boats, just as fish-catching technology rapidly advanced. Today, lawmakers say there are simply too many boats and they're too efficient. Regulators have responded by limiting the time boats can go out, yet most boats are still allowed to catch as much as they can during that time. Reformers say this approach has failed to protect stocks. They advocate instead limiting the total number of boats in the water and the amount of fish they can catch. Rod Fujita of the Environmental Defense Fund says boats should be given quotas equaling a percentage of each year's total catch. He says the quotas could be traded or sold, and this would encourage boat owners to conserve.

FUJITA: Because they hold X or Y percent of the total allowable catch, they know that if the total allowable catch goes up as a result of prudent management, conservation, habitat restoration, whatever it takes to make the fish population grow and prosper, their share increases and therefore the value of their share increases as well. So they become stakeholders.

LUDDEN: These ideas are widely opposed in the fishing industry. Douglas Marshall, who heads the New England Fishery Management Council, fears that if scientists are allowed to set catch limits, the stocks may rebound, but fishing communities may not.

MARSHALL: I'd think you'd see the scientists clamp down on the whole process to the point where maybe, over some 5 or 10 years, you'd have a much better balance in the ocean in terms of the abundance of species, and the variety and all that sort of thing. But I think in the meantime you'd see almost everybody in the fishery go out of business.

LUDDEN: Marshall and others also worry that quotas will change the traditional character of the industry. They predict that large corporations would buy up quotas, squeezing out smaller boats. Tony Verga of the Gloucester Fisheries Commission says quotas would also take away fishermen's independence.

VERGA: I don't think that's the entrepreneurial way of life. If you've got an idea, you promote your idea; and if you're better at it, then you're entitled to more benefits that go along with it.

LUDDEN: Environmentalists insist caps on quotas ownership could prevent corporations from taking over the business, and they point out that no fishing community can thrive without healthy fish stocks. Lawmakers are now working on amendments to the Magnussen Fishery Act. A final version is expected to be passed by the end of the year. But even a revised management plan is unlikely to solve the fisheries crisis. Other steps may be needed. Many lawmakers want the government to buy out boats. Retraining programs are already planned in New England. In all this, lawmakers have so far tread a delicate path between ensuring the health of fishing communities and the health of fish stocks. In the end, Congress may have to admit it can't do both. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Do you think saltwater fishermen should pay for the right to fish? Call us toll free on our listener line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or write Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Sustainable Industries

CURWOOD: As we've just heard, the fishing industry is an extractive enterprise that's up against its limits. But it's not the only business facing this kind of challenge. Loggers, for example, are running out of virgin forest. In her new book, Paradigms in Progress: Live Beyond Economics, development analyst Hazel Henderson calls for a shift from an economy that consumes resources to one that recycles them. She says subsidies to displace fishermen and loggers should be only stopgap measures.

HENDERSON: I think inasmuch as it gives them and those industries breathing space to either shift to more sustainable modes of organizing or to give the people an opportunity to get retrained, there's some justification for it. But on the other hand, wherever we have industries which are based on resources that are just basically declining, like fisheries all around the world, these industries are going to have to be restructured, and people are going to have to find other ways of making a living. And it's very hard, but eventually it's going to lead to a revolution in the way we provide for ourselves, and, you know, we're just having to face up to this now.

CURWOOD: What about the overall problem of the commons? That is, a resource that we all own publicly? When there's plenty of it there's not much of a problem, but as its supply begins to dwindle, it creates an incentive for one person to beat out the other to get a little bit of what's left. Now, this seems to be, to be part of the major problem with the fisheries. What kind of economic policies should our government use to deal with shrinking resources of common property?

HENDERSON: Well, basically, you do have to turn to some kind of, of government regulation. And I think at the moment, we sort of, after the Cold War we suddenly have this idea, you know, that the market is going to be able to solve all our problems. Well it isn't, and it never did. And every economy in the world is a mixture of markets and regulations, and I think that we have to realize that when resources get over-used, you can't use the straight competitive model. You have to have a set of rules. We need to introduce pollution taxes, taxes on waste, taxes on taking out, extracting virgin materials, taxes on planned obsolescence, you know, throw-away cameras and lighters and that kind of thing. And what studies show in Europe is that if we shifted the base of our taxation to these kinds of taxes, we could then concomitantly lower income taxes.

CURWOOD: Now, the people who are engaged in fishing and mining and timber say if too many fees are imposed, that activity won't be profitable. How do you respond to that?

HENDERSON: Well that's true, and all it's doing is reflecting reality. In other words, these are sunset kinds of activities. And there's a whole new industrial sector and plenty of new companies which actually are small companies that are creating more jobs than are being lost in these old sunset industries. But of course, the people involved have to be helped through those transitions from the old jobs that are dying to the new jobs that are growing.

CURWOOD: I want you to look at the fishing industries future. What do you think the fishing business will be like in the future, in the new economy that you are projecting?

HENDERSON: Well I suppose most fishing will be farmed. That just as we went in agriculture from being hunters and gatherers to planting the crops, the fishery industry, I think, will change from hunting fish in the oceans to growing fish in environmentally appropriate ways.

CURWOOD: Are you pessimistic or optimistic about our ability to make good use of our remaining resources?

HENDERSON: Well I think on balance I'm optimistic, because human beings are learning very rapidly about all of these things, and we're sharing information. But we don't have a very long time to turn the ship around. And where we have become confused is that the growth of the GNP became kind of the goal instead of just the means to achieve the goal. But the goal, of course, is human development. And most of the statisticians in the world, statistical offices, are now refiguring their national accounting systems so that they will subtract from the Gross National Product these hidden costs of depleting resources, and some of these new indicators can help us to re-target ourselves within nature's limits.

CURWOOD: Well thank you so much for taking this time with us.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Hazel Henderson is a development policy analyst. Her book is called Paradigms and Progress: Life Beyond Economics.

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(Music up and under)

Sea Lions Versus Steelhead Trout

CURWOOD: Congress has just changed the rules protecting seals, sea lions, whales, and other marine mammals. The revised Marine Mammal Protection Act generally tightens the laws prohibiting fishermen and others from killing them. But it creates a specific loophole which allows the killing of seals and sea lions that threaten the survival of other species. This provision grew out of an unusual situation near Seattle, in which a dam has altered the natural balance between sea lions and the fish they eat. Terry Fitzpatrick reports.

(Sea lion calls)

FITZPATRICK: At a warehouse inside the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, biologist are branding and tagging a 700-lb. California sea lion. He's the season's first catch in a desperate effort to keep sea lions from wiping out this region's steelhead trout.

(Sea lion)

FITZPATRICK: The sea lion will be released in the ocean 200 miles away, and he'll swim back to Seattle in just a couple of weeks. But that's 2 weeks that he won't be eating fish at the Ballard Locks and Dam.


FITZPATRICK: The Ballard facility was built to aid navigation between Puget Sound and the inland waters of Lake Washington. It's 20 feet high and 400 feet across, completely blocking the route fish take on their way to spawn. To make it upstream, steelhead trout have to find a special fish ladder, a passageway only 12 inches wide. Biologist Pat Gearin of the Fisheries Service.

GEARIN: I call this area a killing zone because the sea lions really have the fish cornered in here. They've got them trapped very unlike a natural river system, where you might have escape cover and things like that. So the sea lions definitely have an advantage in here over the fish. A school of fish will come in, they have to find this very small entrance to the fish ladder, they mill around in here, sort of adjust from the saltwater environment to the freshwater. They'll linger around and the sea lions will corner them and sweep them around and just start hammering them in here.

FITZPATRICK: In the past few years, Gearin has captured about 45 sea lions, and moved some of them as far south as California. But trapping sea lions hasn't stopped them from eating up to 60% of the steelhead trying to get past the dam. So next year, Gearin may be using a rifle instead of a cage. The newly rewritten Marine Mammal Protection Act allows the killing of sea lions and seals if they threaten the survival of another species.

(Sea lion colony)

FITZPATRICK: When the Ballard dam was built there were no California sea lions near Seattle. Back then, they were the ones near extinction because they were hunted for fur and blubber. But sea lions have prospered since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was originally passed in 1972, and they're returning to their migratory range. Now, Pat Gearin says, just as the steelhead begin to spawn, about 50 sea lions arrive to spend the winter near Seattle and the Ballard Dam.

GEARIN: It wasn't intended, when it was built 40-50 years ago, to pass fish through a gauntlet of sea lions. You can't point the finger and point all the blame at the sea lions. It's human-created, and I think there's probably in the end going to be some human solutions that we can come up with to solve the problem.

FITZPATRICK: And the problems facing steelhead trout go beyond the Ballard Dam. Upstream, logging and urban growth have damaged the delicate pools where steelhead spawn.

(Flowing stream)

FITZPATRICK: Jay Bennett of the group Trout Unlimited used to fish for steelhead along this stretch of the Cedar River in suburban Seattle. But no longer. The fish are gone.

BENNETT: Many of the problems we have in northwest rivers and streams, particularly in the populated areas here in western Washington, are as a result of habitat degradation. There's no question about that. And of course, what - one of the goals of my organization is to, is to improve the habitat.

FITZPATRICK: But habitat restoration is a long-term goal, and Bennett says it will be meaningless if the few remaining fish get eaten by sea lions at the dam. So Bennett began a lobbying campaign in Congress for extraordinary measures to save the fish and the region's sport fishing.

BENNETT: It's part of our culture, I think, here in the US, to fish. To sports fish, for recreational fishing.

FITZPATRICK: Even if that means killing sea lions so there are fish there to catch?

BENNETT: Well, yes in this case, probably. That's what I mean. But I'm not here to, to profess that we should go in and, and you know, annihilate large numbers of sea lions. All I want to do is prevent this fishery from going into extinction.

FITZPATRICK: The situation has created a dilemma for environmentalists. Some groups have joined the fishermen and support killing sea lions as a temporary measure until steelhead habitat can be restored. But others, like Christina Mourmorini of Greenpeace oppose lethal measures here at the dam.

MOURMORINI: I think we're looking at a very complex situation in a very simplistic manner, a very reductionist manner. We're assuming that nature is sort of this machine where input equals output. You reduce predation and these fish will come back. And I think given the amount of pressures and impacts on the fish species and on the entire system, that's a huge assumption.

FITZPATRICK: Mourmorini suggests redesigning the fish passage at the dam and curbing timber harvests and urban sprawl upstream. She's worried that the short-term solution of killing sea lions will become the only solution. In fact, proposals to improve the fish ladder and restore fish habitat have largely been lost in the sea lion controversy. Mourmorini also worries about the precedent that killing sea lions would set.

MOURMORINI: By putting in place this ability to kill marine mammals, kill nuisance animals, we're really opening a door that we don't know when will ever be shut again. This will become the standard operating procedure that can be applied in all regions, in all cases, in all scenarios, and I think the long-term implications of it are very severe.

(Clicking sounds)

FITZPATRICK: The Fisheries Service is also worried about the long-term implications of killing sea lions. So biologists are trying all sorts of non-lethal ways to keep them away from the steelhead trout. this network of underwater speakers is designed to scare the sea lions. They've also tried shooting the sea lions with rubber-tipped arrows or chasing them with firecrackers. None of these methods seems to work, so Pat Gearin of the Fisheries Service says it may come down to killing them.

GEARIN: I don't really want to see animals killed. I think in some instances it's necessary; I don't think these animals are sacred cows that can be put on a higher level than other species, and I think at some point you have to empower the management agencies with some authority to be able to take care of instances like this.

(Sea lion colony)

FITZPATRICK: This year's steelhead run is almost over, and the sea lions will soon be moving south to California, so none will be killed this year. The showdown will likely come next December, when the trout once again begin their perilous return from the sea. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry Fitzpatrick in Seattle.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our director is Debra Stavro, And our production team includes Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Jessika Bella Mura, Eve Stewart, and engineers Laurie Azaria, Karen Given, and Bill Haslem. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the National Science Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Support also comes from the NPR News and Information Fund.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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