By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

With Friends Like These…


May 1, 2019

We have noted before in this space that environmental groups sometimes share the goals and interests of commercial fishermen. When the two groups’ goals coincide the enviros are happy to have your support, but when their goals diverge, environmental advocates will throw the commercial fisherman over the aft rail without a backward glance.

A fine example of this is the “settlement” between the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). The PCFFA, which represents crabbers, was not a defendant, but intervened in the lawsuit. See their explanation beginning on page 32 of this issue (May 2019 Fishermen's News).

The suit was brought by CBD against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Center for Biological Diversity v. Bonham) in federal court in San Francisco, claiming that a rise in whales being entangled in crab gear was a State violation of the Endangered Species Act. The suit sought to keep the State of California from permitting the use of traps, fishing line, buoys and other gear.

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Whale entanglements rose in 2015 and 2016, but then dropped considerably – by some accounts as much as 80 percent – between 2016 and 2017. The state says the spike in 2015 and 2016 corresponded with unprecedented changes in ocean conditions as the “warm water blob” increased ocean temperatures and changed the abundance and location of whales’ prey.

Ironically, these warm water conditions no longer exist. University of Washington Meteorologist Cliff Mass noted late last year that persistent storminess over the northeast Pacific had killed the blob that had led to most of the interactions between the whales and the fishing gear. Mass noted last month that, while 2013 to 2015 were dry years, 2017 was extremely wet, 2018 was near normal, and 2019 is “turning out to be a real soaker.”

So while the conditions that led to the entanglements no longer exist, the settlement negotiated by PCFFA saw the California Dungeness crab fishery shut down three weeks early this year, on April 15th. Starting next year, the fishery will close on April 1st. These early closures will be particularly hard on a fishery that has seen some tough seasons in the past couple of years.

While PCFFA and the environmental group were on opposite sides of this issue, in the past they have been staunch allies. For at least a decade the two organizations have been working together, filing suit after suit against private companies and government entities.

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• In 2009 PCFFA and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the Federal Bureau of Land Management Oregon timber management plan.

• In 2012 they collaborated in a lawsuit filed against the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) over its newly approved and updated regulations for suction dredging.

• In 2013 they joined forces on a petition challenging the Canadian government’s violations of its own Fisheries Act with regard to industrial aquaculture.

In 2015 they united to intervene in a lawsuit by mining interests alleging that the state law conflicts with federal laws passed in the 1800s.

• In 2016 PCFFA and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the FDA over its decision to grant a license to sell genetically-modified salmon. The following year they filed a notice of intent to sue the Oregon Department of Forestry for poor logging and road-use practices on the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.

• As recently as last June, the PCFFA and the Center for Biological Diversity sued Oregon State and district foresters for planning and authorizing logging and road-building and maintenance practices in the state forests.

PCFFA and CBD have a long history of working on the same side in the interest of fish and trees. It’s a shame they weren’t able to cooperate to protect the rights of the Pacific Coast commercial crabbers.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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