In a popular trilogy of young-adult fiction novels that were turned into an equally popular movie series, a dystopian future America is split into districts, each of which supplies a particular commodity to the Capitol district, which rules with an iron fist.
Spoiler alert: the districts rebel and pool their resources to bring down the ruling elite in the Capitol.
We have written in the past about the problems different fisheries or gear types encounter, as environmental groups, recreational equipment lobbyists or activist legislators attempt to devalue the commercial product in favor of sport harvest, or no harvest.
For example, Cook Inlet setnetters have so far succeeded in their efforts to keep the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance Inc. from banning commercial setnets from traditional fishing grounds to make way for more anglers.
Columbia River gillnetters have been less successful, but continue to fight the misguided efforts by the respective Oregon and Washington commissions to kick non-tribal commercial fishermen off the River.
Some fishermen are involved in a decades-long battle with their “clients” the processors, as we’ve seen in Bristol Bay, where prices are set only after the product has been harvested and delivered.
The recent crab tie-up on the West Coast of California, Oregon and Washington (see From the Fleet, on page 28 of this issue) signifies a dramatic change in the status quo.
On Monday, December 26, a large West Coast fishing industry conglomerate instructed its subsidiary, Pacific Choice Seafood in Eureka, California to reduce the price paid to fishermen for Dungeness crabs from $3.00 per pound to $2.75 per pound. This attempt to lower the ex-vessel price for crabs was scheduled to take place upon the opening of District 7 (Point Arena to Humboldt Bay) on California’s Northern Coast. Many fishermen believe that Pacific Group picked what was perceived as the weak link in West Coast fishing communities as a way of causing cascading price reductions in all West Coast ports that are fishing crabs north of San Francisco. Other companies buying Dungeness crab were taken by surprise by the move.
Fishermen directly affected by the price drop tied up their boats, refusing to fish for less than the previously agreed on price of $3.00 per pound. That in itself is notable, as these fishermen, faced with a sure reduction or a possible total loss, chose to fight for their price.
More notable is the solidarity exhibited by the fishermen up and down the coast, from Morro Bay, California, through Oregon and north to Westport, Washington, who risked their own livelihoods in protest of their brothers in District 7. On January 4th, tribal fishermen from Washington State joined the crab fleet “tie-up” as well, marking another notable milestone.
Last month’s principled actions by the West Coast crab harvesters shows how a united front can often overcome the odds, and might set the stage for more solidarity among fishermen.
May the odds be ever in your favor.
chris philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org