The acronym MREP (pronounced M-Rep) is rather clever as this program basically trains attendees to be better marine representatives. The two, three-day workshops cover all aspects of fisheries management and begins with a comprehensive look at fisheries science. It includes presentations on data collection, stock assessment and modeling, internal verification and review, and collaborative research. The presenters were the folks that actually do the work. We listened to talks from leading scientists on oceanography, climate change, and socioeconomic considerations. This all provided a common background and prerequisite to the fisheries management workshop.
The management workshop covers the nuts and bolts of decision making. How the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) takes the science generated by NOAA Fisheries researchers and, through a series of public meetings, comes to a decision on marine issues. We even had a hands-on, mock PFMC meeting. Again, this was facilitated by the folks who actually do the work.
The MREP West workshop is a product of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and is supported by NOAA Fisheries, the Regional Fishery Management Councils, the Moore Foundation, and the Packard Foundation. The workshops began on the East Coast as a way to educate fishermen to be more effectively involved in fishery management decisions. The program soon spread to all regions of the United States. It is attended by anyone with a stake in marine fisheries. There is no cost to participants and all meals are provided. The discussion continues over dinner and drinks. This format fosters a nice relaxing atmosphere where there is plenty of opportunity to talk with agency scientists and council members.
One major take-away for me was the fact that the Moore Foundation and the Packard Foundation help fund this program. They have been viewed as anti-fishing organizations in the past, but their commitment to educating fishermen is commendable. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy are working with fishermen and NOAA researchers to develop innovative fishing gear to reduce bycatch. Their success shows what can be accomplished by working together. Check out this video (https://vimeo.com/200907637).
It was obvious that the majority of the work revolves around the commercial fishing industry. Recreational fishing is important to fishery managers, but it does not have near the same impact on fish stocks or the economy. There was little talk about commercial versus recreational fish quotas because the workshops were not meant to deal with real issues but were designed to follow the process of fisheries management decision making. It was pointed out over drinks that the recreational take is measured in numbers of fish and the commercial take is measured is metric tons of fish. It is difficult to find a common denominator and then assign an economic value to the common number. It was clear that a few specific fisheries, like Gulf red snapper and Pacific halibut, could use more work on allocations.
The term “over-fishing” has been used to describe the status of fish stocks that are in trouble even if the cause has nothing to do with fishing. This bothers a lot of fishermen and a search for a new word to describe stocks in trouble is underway. After all, fishermen only catch what they are allowed to catch and don’t generally “over fish.” If they do, it is called poaching. The words depleted, degraded, stressed, and endangered are examples of stock descriptions under consideration but the search continues to remove the negative stigma from “fishing.”
There was a lot of discussion on how to bring an issue to the PFMC and have some action taken. Just showing up to a meeting and providing public comment will not likely garner consideration. It is best to start with a local representative to the PFMC and then approach the appropriate sub-committee. If the issue is deemed worthy, they can bring it to the attention of the Council. The PFMC has an omnibus list that contains issues brought to the sub-committees and have not been considered.
My favorite part of the workshop was the people I met. There are some real characters in the fishery world. I met a recreational rep from Washington and two from the Oregon Coast. They are all interested in uniting to get a better allocation of Pacific halibut for all three states. Dave Croonquist, the Washington sport rep has some ideas on how to do that. He wrote a summary of the PFMC meeting that includes his comments and is very interesting (see page 18).
To learn more about the MREP West program and how to apply, visit their website:
Don’t forget the link to the PFMC. There is a ton of information available there.