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

What's Ahead for Fisheries Policy

Air Date: Week of

Steve discusses the fate of the fishing industry with Douglas Hall, assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Government aid, although limited, should help the industry switch to other fish species or more plentiful reserves. But Hall says the United States Government is in no shape to provide the kind of overall coverage that Canada is providing to their own out-of-work fishermen.


CURWOOD: Years ago Federal laws based allowable fishing catches on what scientists deemed to be sustainable yields. But in 1976, the law was changed to allow economic and social factors to be considered as well. In other words, over-fishing was allowed if the alternative would put people out of work. The law also gave the fishing industry itself a strong voice in setting the legal limits. The 1976 law is up for reauthorization this year, and Douglas Hall, who is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, says the current standards need to be changed.

HALL: I think that there are occasions when we should take economic and social considerations into effect, but that should only be in terms of how quickly you phase in the regulations. In terms of the ongoing fishing effort, it should be low enough that we do not reduce the amount of the resource, and that is, that should be our objective in every fishery. And we should never allow fishing effort to exceed that level on an ongoing basis.

CURWOOD: The Commerce Department has allocated $2-1/2 million for New England communities hit by fishing restrictions. That's not very much compared to what's been offered to help the displaced loggers in the Pacific Northwest. What is this money going to be used for?

HALL: This money is really for planning grants and for some initial grants to fund some transition projects. To transition to under-utilized fisheries. We were considering several of the grants through the Economic Development Administration, for projects in some of these key fishing ports. That's only a small down payment on what is a very large problem.

CURWOOD: And will you go to the Congress and ask for the billions of dollars required here to take care of these displaced workers?

HALL: I think that what we're looking at is existing programs providing funds for transition for other industries. I don't think that right now, given the budget situation, that we can anticipate major new appropriations of funds for specific areas of the country where we have displaced workers.

CURWOOD: What about the Canadian approach? The Canadians have completely stopped the cod catch now around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. And they've bought out those fishermen for the next five years. Would that make sense for us in the Northeast? And for that matter, would it make sense for us in the Pacific Northwest, where the salmon fishery is under a lot of pressure?

HALL: The Canadian program costs approximately $1.7 billion. It is a very expensive proposition. We face a severe budget crisis. As we look around the country, we have a lot of competition for funding. And we have to be aware of what the budget realities are and what the demands are, and do the best that we can to meet these challenges. in the Northeast, they are not anxious to have direct payments made to them, but instead they would like to keep fishing and they're looking for help in transitioning into other fisheries.

CURWOOD: What about the Pacific Northwest?

HALL: In the Pacific Northwest there are different problems there. There's one group of salmon fishermen that are in the lower Columbia, and their fishery has been affected by the construction of eight dams in the Snake and Columbia Rivers. And the salmon recovery team for the three species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act has recommended that those fishermen be bought out, and that they be bought out by power revenues, because this is part of the mitigation for the impact that the power system has had on that ecosystem. There are other fisheries off of the Northwest: groundfish fisheries that are much healthier than off of the Northeast. It depends on the fishermen, which fishermen in the Northwest that you are referring to.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Doug Hall is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

HALL: I appreciate it.



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