Catching ideas in Ilwaco about fishing's future

U.S. Sen. Patty Murry, center, became the third recipient Saturday of the Lower Columbia River Crab Fishermen's Association's Black Hat Award, recognizing her work on behalf of the Dungeness crab industry. Previous award recipients U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, left, and retired state Sen. Sid Snyder, second from left, shared the limelight at Saturday's fisheries conference at Ilwaco High School. Port of Chinook Commissioner Les Clark and Manager Dan Todd thanked Murry for her tremendous help in obtaining dredging for the port. BRUCE PETERSON photo

ILWACO - The state of Pacific Ocean fisheries and their impact on the small coastal communities that rely on them drew about 100 people to a "State of the Fisheries 2004" conference Saturday at Ilwaco High School.

Twenty speakers discussed topics ranging from improved weather forecasting to marketing the state's catch.

Moderator and Port of Ilwaco Manager Mack Funk outlined four goals for the conference - healthy fish, access to healthy fish, private and public infrastructure and diverse fish marketing.

"We need strong advocacy to defend these goals," he said.

Funk introduced three local women - Jackie Prest, Mildred Malchow and Lorraine Cadwell - who, he said, "worked relentlessly to help Sen. Warren Magnuson understand the 200-mile boundary in the late 1960s and improved fishing for our communities and the entire nation."

Dave Colpo of the Pacific States Marine Fish Commission lauded pre-season crab price negotiations that occurred in Oregon this year for the first time.

"Fishers and processors got together before the season," he said. "It makes perfect sense."

And, Colpo said, fishing by-catches were being factored into the decision process. Through a vessel monitoring system, fishing boats must have an observer on board to check on catches. Fishery management is a big issue, Colpo said.

"There are no longer port samplers in California," he said. "Everyone will suffer."

The huge contribution Washington state fishers make to the economy was outlined by Steve Harbell of Sea Grant, the second speaker on the afternoon's program. Seventy million pounds are harvested in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties annually, he said, with crab the dominant species. That translates to $90 million in personal income in the two counties.

"It's critical to sustain these fisheries," he said.

A panel made up of Port of Peninsula manager Howard Teague; Kurt Englund, of Englund Marine; and Jim Bergeron, a Port of Astoria commissioner, next discussed improving public and private infrastructure to support fishing communities.

"We need continuing congressional support to maintain funding and continue dredging at the ports of Chinook and Ilwaco," Teague said.

He showed photos of his port in Nahcotta with dredges and a buoy high and dry at low tide.

"The Chinook Channel originally was a mile long, 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep," Teague said. "The worst case was August of 2003 when it was a mile long by only 25 feet wide and 6 feet deep. We want and need it back to its original dimension and maintained as such."

"All businesses are linked in small communities," Englund said. "We need to keep the commercial fishing fleet healthy."

Englund is the third generation of his family to operate Englund Marine, stores that supply fishermen, with eight locations on the coast, one in Portland and one in Phoenix, Ariz., employing 70 people.

"Fishing is our backbone," he said.

Englund praised the success of the boat yard and haul-out facility at the Port of Ilwaco.

"We're seeing people from the metropolitan areas coming there for the service," he said. "We need support and protection from the government to ensure the fisheries stay healthy."

Noting that ships no longer unload at the Port of Astoria, Bergeron said the facility is looking into alternative industries for the area.

"Fishing was in the lap of the port for many years," he said. "But the port didn't serve fishers well, except for mooring. So we decided to concentrate on serving the fishing industry."

He said a travel lift will be ready at the port by June 1 as well as a boat yard, primarily for recreational fishers, and the freezing capacity is expected to be expanded this year.

Next, Diane Moody of Shorebank Enterprise Pacific discussed value-added product development and marketing of seafood products. She said she had attended conference of farmers and fishers in Knoxville, Tenn., recently where similar concerns were voiced - making ends meet, competing with other countries, moving value-added processing from urban to rural areas, insufficient infrastructure to seize opportunities and distribution channels forcing producers and harvesters into two camps - big retailers like Costco or small niche companies.

Many opportunities are available, Moody said, including the "buy local" movement providing community-defined, ready-to-serve products for people with no time to cook; brand identity; and natural and gourmet markets such as Wild Oats.

Moody said she attended a natural products expo recently.

"Five years ago there were no seafood vendors," she said. "This year there were five and the booths were crowded with people seeking healthy and safe food. This is a great opportunity. People aren't aware of seafood from this area."

She said the industry can "ride on the coattails of others" by using strategies to increase the products' value such as focusing on providing resources for change, going after U.S. Department of Agriculture grants, finding emerging buyers who want to provide more opportunities and fisher-chef connections.

"There are lots of opportunities," Moody said. "We need to coordinate to keep the wind behind us and our sails strong."

The local crab fishery is nationally recognized and has a "small but mighty" impact, said Columbia River Crab Fishermens Association board member Dwight Eager.

"One thing that stands out," he said, "is that management policies help sustain fishing communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration needs to protect species such as Dungeness crab. But our foremost challenge is the tribal sharing issue. It's a loaded cannon to our head."

Eager displayed a map showing that more than 70 percent of coastal fisheries in Washington are affected by agreements with treaty tribes which can claim up to 50 percent of harvestable crab.

"We have negotiated with the tribes to date for them to take less," he said, "but it has a significant impact."

With overlapping tribes on the coast - the Makah, Hoh, Quinault and Quillayute - "There could be a horrible bloodletting financially," he said.

"There's a lot of hope for the crab fishery," Eager said. "It could be a strong fishery in the future, if we get the management part right."

Discussion turned briefly to recently published reports of excessive levels of mercury in tuna. "There's a lot of misinformation out there," Moody said. "There needs to be a consumer information campaign with brand identification."

Peter Huhtala, senior policy director for the Pacific Marine Conservation Council, discussed the U.S. Committee on Ocean Policy and amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens re-authorization.

"It's still a challenge to implement," he said, "but it's still sound."

Huhtala also discussed individual fishing quotas (IFQs) now under consideration in Congress. "They should enact basic and sensible quotas to maintain fisheries," he said. "It's an alternate system of managing fisheries."

But Dale Beasley, chairman of CRCFA, had another take on IFQs. "Just say no," he said. "Fish belong to everyone. IFQs make them a private resource. The majority of fishers say 'no.' IFQs are something to gain at public expense. CRCFA stands for equal opportunity and access."

Brad Pettinger, administrator of the Oregon Troll Commission, said the "IFQ system succeeds. It's very flexible, reduces waste with few discard rates. Canada has been doing it for five years. Fishers can plan for a whole year and improve safety. There's 100 percent accountability and it rewards clean fishers."

Tony DeFalco, regional director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, based in Washington, D.C., outlined a new IFQ report which states the programs "Allow fishermen to catch a percentage of the total quota for a species of fish or shellfish in a defined area within a specific time. This privilege allows fisherman to catch their quota anytime during a fishing season." The program offers solutions to many problems facing fisheries, including "over-exploitation, poor market prices and unsafe conditions."

More information on IFQs is available on the MFCN Web site at www.conservefish.org.

Improved weather forecasting was the next topic on Saturday's agenda with Pat Corcoran of Oregon Sea Grant saying a new weather buoy is to be placed 60 miles off Tillamook Head which will combine with sophisticated atmospheric devices at the Astoria Airport and a new weather sensor at the tide gauge at Tongue Point. A wave-forecasting model also is in the works. This will be a big improvement in wind and wave forecasting with better storm warnings that will result in prevention of loss of life and property.

More information is available at www.csc.noaa.gov/csi.

Steve Todd, meteorologist in charge at the Portland National Weather Service office, said the agency is looking at expanding Doppler radar coverage in Willapa and Grays harbors.

"We're looking at where to place it once we can fund it," he said.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Richard Burke, who will leave in May as commander of Station Cape Disappointment, explained to the crowd the new duties of the Coast Guard as part of the Homeland Security Department. Personnel at Cape D have risen to 65 from 43 with law-enforcement training being provided. Congress has provided significant funding to enhance search and rescue capabilities, Burke said. "We do 530 rescues at Cape D each year, 20 percent commercial fishing vessels."

After a short break for a seafood buffet, the conference continued with Harbell and Scott McMullen of Oregon Cable discussing how industries have worked together to find solutions to the problem of fishing boats and tow boats damaging underwater cables and those same boats losing gear snagged on the cables.

Harbell said Oregon Sea Grant set up an agreement more than 30 years ago to provide maps indicating where the tow lanes and fishing areas are located.

"It reduced gear loss," he said.

McMullen said with the laying of more and more cables, there was an impact.

"There was always bad blood," he said.

But five years ago an accord was reached to bury cable. The fishers help find cable routes and a gear-replacement fund was established. Now, he said, Oregon and Washington "lead the world in cable/fisher relations. There has been no damage to cables since the plan began."

Todd James of Salmon for All discussed the success of a salmon-rearing project in the Astoria area sponsored by Clatsop County, Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments and private fishers. He said 5 percent of the catch was donated by fishers at first and in 1993 the Bonneville Power Administration began contributing major funds to expand the effort.

"We now have a four-times-better survival rate," he said. "One hundred percent are harvested."

Brett Dumbauld, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Willapa Bay Field Station in Nahcotta, next discussed the impact of dredge material disposal on Dungeness crab.

"They're sucked up by dredges, they're buried and there's a 'souring' of the area," he said. Beasley and other crabbers have collected data from 2001-02 in Disposal area B, finding a lower catch at that disposal site.

"Is there a way to mitigate this?" Dumbauld asked. "It should be avoided in the first place," he said, "and compensation hasn't been looked at."

Matt VanEss of the Columbia River Estuary Task Force in Astoria, discussed beneficial uses of a coastal sand recovery system. "Dams and jetties have altered sand distribution over the years," he said. "There were 20 million cubic yards at the mouth of the river and on beaches, now there's zero. Two hundred small and 11 major dams reduced the flow of sediment since 1909. And, 295 million cubic yards of sediment has been removed from the Columbia River by the Corps of Engineers and other agencies. There's shoaling in the bays and major damage to the jetties."

There are sustainable uses for the dredge materials, VanEss said, including for construction and to feed eroding beaches, with no harm to resources or communities.

"We need to send a message to Congress and the Corps that it makes sense to address this issue now, rather than later."

Doris McKillip of the Corps of Engineers, filling in for Pacific County's Michael DeSimone, said 45,000 cubic yards were placed on Benson Beach in 2002.

"In 2003, there wasn't enough money for the beach nourishment project, but we did more studies on crab and fish and sediments as well as wave and current data. This year, we got more money from Congress and are in the process of placing a camera system at the North Head Lighthouse." She said eight digitized cameras are there now and "we'll be able to see what's happening out there."

The last speaker Saturday, Dr. Vladimir Shepsis of Coast and Harbors Engineering in Aberdeen gave a spirited presentation of wave action at the mouth of the Columbia River that included computer graphics of exactly where the waves meet the shore.

Noting that every dredge material disposal location has problems, Shepsis said he has the solution "by learning about natural forces." Again using graphics, he pointed out there's a deep hole in the existing navigation channel in the river. "I've found a natural rehandling area," he said, "where material is picked up and redistributed. It's a high-velocity area in the river and is getting deeper and deeper. It's a beast's belly and the beast needs to be fed. I propose this area as a disposal site. No money needs to be spent, it will save the Corps money so they can dredge at Chinook, Ilwaco and other places."

Shepsis displayed graphs showing that putting 2 million cubic yards in the "belly of the beast" wouldn't reach as high as the channel's depth. "If we put 7 million cubic yards there, it's still not up to the channel," he said. "There's absolutely unlimited capacity."

He added that Point Chehalis at Grays Harbor has been used in this way for 30 years.

"Why haven't we done this before?" Shepsis, who is from Russia, asked. "In my former country we would blame the Communist regime or the KGB. We can't do that here."

At the end of the conference, Beasley presented the "Black Hat Award" to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray for her work with spartina removal and deepening the Chinook Channel.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird also spoke during the presentation, saying "The good guys here wear black hats." Only three people have received the hats besides Murray - former Sen. Sid Snyder and Baird.

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