Gone fishing

Almost two weeks ago I asked Elizabeth Warren what she knows about fishing, given that our current Senator has introduced a bill regarding catch limits. I jokingly prefaced the question by calling it a “gotcha” — a question about something ultra-local, something which would likely not be in her wheelhouse. Not that I know anything about catch restrictions or fishing stocks … but I asked because someone does, and it matters to someone.

Well … sounds like her answer didn’t quite pass the smell test to those in the know:

Warren fisheries comment draws questions:.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has warned that federal fishery regulations, biased to favor the “largest fishing operations” or “fishing factories,” can open the door to foreigners’ taking over and depleting stocks once again.

But it is a statement that left fishing industry executives and analysts scratching their heads — and government officials shaking theirs as well.

“It’s far fetched, so far fetched,” said Vito Giacalone, policy director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition.

Describing Warren’s comments as “pure and simple discrimination,” fishing industry journalist and consultant Nils Stolpe said, “The interviewee has fallen into the ‘good fishing vs. bad fishing trap that the anti-fishing groups have been so intent on making part of their mythology.”

I should say that I have no way of evaluating the bona fides of the individuals quoted. I do give credit to the reporter for the Gloucester Times for quoting Warren’s remarks to them without attribution, i.e. so that they would comment without bias.

You might call this a rookie mistake on Warren’s part. Or maybe not, based on some of the informed comments on the Gloucester Times’ site. This election will not turn on fishing policy. But it may well turn on which candidate is more fluent in local issues. For all that Elizabeth Warren has become a cause celebre unto herself based on her own set of issues, she does indeed need to become fluent in local issues. She has been tilling her own garden, and there are others — our local Congresspeople, and perhaps certain State Senators — who have been working much closer to the ground with Massachusetts interests. That’s not a criticism of her; it would be, if I felt that she hadn’t the curiosity, humility, or inclination to learn about such things.

Fortunately, I think she does possess those. The “Harvard elitist” thing won’t stick — it’s a stupid, mindless, desperate line of attack from our professional GOP, and easily refuted by her entire career of anti-elitism. But running for Senator – and indeed, being a Senator – will be a lot more than leading a cause — however worthy, however necessary. It will be about constituent service.


18 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Is this fair criticism?

    “I should say that I have no way of evaluating the bona fides of the individuals quoted.”

    That could have a bearing on the substance of their reply.

    Paired with “Not that I know anything about catch restrictions or fishing stocks” it sounds like we are in deep waters here, as it were.

    Personally, I am not in favor of rules that favor the “largest fishing operations” or “fishing factories,” or that can “open the door to foreigners’ taking over and depleting stocks once again.”

    So if Vito Giacalone or Nils Stolpe are actually trying to defend these practices, I’d be interested to hear their argument (I don’t think there is any way to know from the information provided).

    But uninformed people speculating about undefined issues doesn’t seem a hugely productive contribution to the political process. In fact, it sounds remarkably like a typical answer, usually delivered with furrowed brow and a look of concentration, by Scott Brown.

    • They don't try to defend ...

      international fishing operations coming in and depleting stocks. They say it doesn’t happen, b/c a.) we don’t have the fish, and b.) the law prevents it.

      I post this in the spirit of open-mindedness and learning. Yay.

  2. Comments on the Gloucester Times article mention looking to Alaska.

    I was able to google this:

    Since Japan imports half of Alaska’s seafood, foreign companies and individuals have naturally come to control a significant segment of the Alaska seafood processing industry. The Alaska Division of Commerce lists 335 companies involved in various phases of the fishing business (lawyers, sellers, fishers, factory trawlers, processors); 97 have some percentage of foreign ownership. Since passage of the Magnuson
    Fishery Conservation & Management Act in 1976 (extended U.S. jurisdiction to 200 miles from shore), directly-owned foreign fishing boats have been permitted in Alaska waters since 1988. Thus, only 3 percent of the total catch is by joint ventures between American vessels and foreign companies. However, at least 23 percent of shore-based plants and 66 percent of off-shore seafood processors (vessels) had some form of foreign ownership in 1989. Actual control is much greater since the foreign companies invest in the larger operations, and these produce a greater share of the total value of seafood production. Foreign companies also finance wholly U.S. – owned operations. Other countries owning off-shore plants include Norway, Denmark, Korea, England, and Russia.

    Some processors which are U.S. subsidiaries of foreign owners sell to their owners at deflated market prices giving rise to IRC section 482 transfer-pricing issues. A Japanese company may break-even or lose money on its processing subsidiary, thereby avoiding U.S. taxation, but make money when a related company sells the product in Japan at a profit. The tax dollars benefit Japan.

  3. Well this one should be a softball, then - the Dangerous Bank of America self-deal on derivatives

    Here is a link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_XtXhiekQk&feature=youtu.be

    Now, why is it dangerous for Bank of America to sell deriviatives from a subsidiary to its banking unit – and we are talking the phoney-baloney type of derivative that I am thinking Elizabeth Warren understands, and that it would be a nice comeback to hear why this deal is a ripoff putting both share holders and account holders at risk. the press is being awful silent about this black hole, me thinks. Go for it, EW – it is your area of expertise (I am told).

  4. I don't see the problem

    She said she wasn’t an expert on the issue and was schooling up on it. That others disagreed with what she said beyond that, not acknowledging the context that she herself gave about her lack of expertise, makes these people seem like hacks to me. I don’t think they should be treated with any seriousness beyond that without verifying that they’re not some lobbyists of corporate masters or anything like that.

    RyansTake   @   Fri 28 Oct 12:19 AM
  5. What we have here, is a failur to discriminate...

    Describing Warren’s comments as “pure and simple discrimination,” fishing industry journalist and consultant Nils Stolpe said, “The interviewee has fallen into the ‘good fishing vs. bad fishing trap that the anti-fishing groups have been so intent on making part of their mythology.”

    In the context of a question about regulation, E Warren discusses the tension between small fishing operations and big fishing operations, some of which come from Norway and Iceland, and relates that discussion to the wider subtleties of regulation in America.

    Then, she is castigated for ‘discrimination’ and for not understanding international law, etc, in the clear conflation that ALL large fishing operations come only from Norway and Iceland. The issue of foreign fleets is entirely separate from the issue of big v small.

    However, two questions leap instantly to mind, to be followed (I’m sure) with alacrity by others…

    A) Are the fishing fleets of Norway and Iceland US companies or subsidiaries of US companies?

    2) The accusation by Nils Stolpe ( “The interviewee has fallen into the ‘good fishing vs. bad fishing trap that the anti-fishing groups have been so intent on making part of their mythology.”) seems to indicate both a pre-existing struggle along very much the lines E Warren delineates and a clear demogoguing of the issue by Mr. Stolpe. What are we to make of E Warrens discussion in the light of an implicit admission that it fits a narrative that pre-dates E Warrens involvement in the issue?

    • Exactly

      Assignment for the BMG hive mind. I’ve done some. Assess:

      1. Richard Gaines Staff Writer for the Gloucester Times.

      2. Vito Giacalone, policy director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, and

      Interview here.

      3. Fishing industry journalist and consultant Nils Stolpe:

      Nils Stolpe is the primary architect, author, photographer, graphic designer and maintainence man for this site. He has worked for, in and around various aspects of the seafood industry for almost three decades, including a stint managing a large experimental aquaculture facility and another cobbling together a fisheries/aquaculture development program for a state agency. He has spent the past ten years as an independent consultant involved in various aspects of the fishing industry, has been Executive Director of several commercial fishing industry trade groups and has served in an advisory capacity on a number of regional and New Jersey boards, committees, etc.
      Complimenting his work with the commercial fishing community, and in fact arguing that the two can’t be logically separated, Stolpe maintains as closely as possible his ties with that part of the environmental community that deals with coastal and ocean issues. He organized and co-chaired the first technical workshop addressing the potential impacts of intensive recreational boating activity on estuarine productivity that was held at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution several years ago and is still engaged in follow-up activities (for more on this potentially critical issue that is still for the most part ignored, see the NJ FishNet addressing it or visit Earth Island Institute’s Bluewater Network website).

      As an observer of and participant in the fisheries management process since the Magnuson Act (the initial designation of what has become the Sustainable Fisheries Act), his view of the system in place today is “There isn’t anything wrong with fisheries management today that adequate data, good science and objective participants couldn’t fix. If the system is distorted by focused political pressure – and we’re seeing more of that every year – the commercial fishermen, the fisheries resources and, ultimately, the seafood consumers and a large part of the US economy all loose out.”

      He feels strongly about “catch share

      • a rose by any other name...

        He feels strongly about “catch share“

        From what I can glean on the internets, “catch share” is the resource use version of ‘cap and trade’ (as opposed to the waste disposal version used in pollution, ahm, markets…) The previous system, ‘days at sea’ limited fishing to both a season and a duration. ‘Catch share’ allows a fisherman to spend as much time asea, in any season, so long as they do not exceed a specific count per year. They are also allowed to buy other fishermens allocations.

        It’s main affect upon the industry, so far, seems to have been consolidation: the most successful fishermen under the new system seems to have been those who quickly bought up allocations from other fishermen: immediately getting larger. Lots of the other fishermen then go out of business. Scott Browns law triggers a scrapping of the system if a specific number (by percent…) of fishing jobs are lost in a given year.

        From 10,000 feet away, the system looks like it is poorly thought out: for instance, though the total number of fish is capped at a per-year basis, what if a particularly large fishing concern buys up all the allocations and collects exactly that many fish in one month? I don’t even know if that’s possible, but the point is that the underlying assumptions to the systems seems to rest on a large number of smaller boats fishing rather than a smaller number of large boats. What’s that going to do to the fisheries stock?

        Also, if there are rules on the sale/purchase of allocations, they don’t seemed to be adequately tied to market prices, else why would the fishermen who sell them go out of business? Surely the sale of the allocations plus the savings from not shipping for a year ought to be profitable enough to justify the system, otherwise why sell your allocation? Either they are not being allocated fairly to begin with or the pricing structure on the trades is inadequate (or both). A significant enough prior debt might explain one or two instance, but if that many fisherman were that deep in dept to begin with, then the problem is bigger.

        If it is a straight up ‘cap and trade’ system than these problems might be addressed with either trade auction or some sort of clearing-house for allocation trades that can either stop trades when consolidation gets out of hand or slow trades with an escalating premium on trades above a certain number. WIthout doing any math, I’m merely guessing at the existence of a ‘sweet spot’ on the number of boats, allocations and fish stocks…

        But, in any event, it looks awfully close to what E Warren was talking about: regulations that favor the large fishing boats (factories). Whether they were deliberately written to favor large concerns is debatable, but the actual outcome is the consolidation of fishing to the larger operations.

  6. Another local issue is the whole "stopping influence in the medical products industry"

    These companies represent a huge number of particularly well paying jobs locally, so it’s hard to ignore their opinion.

    As well as when these people have a platform in local to make their case, and we’re inclined to listen. In general we would not put much stock in fish except that it’s here. Unfortunately it’s regulated federally.
    On the fish issue I think in the 90′s the story was that fishing boats increased, and stocks were going down dramtically. Then the story was that there was no fish. I frankly can’t tell what’s right here as my brain hasn’t room to understand this issue completely.

    In the late 80′s I went on a fishing trip off Gloucester and you pretty much dropped a line in the water and pulled out a good sized cod. Sad that is gone.

  7. Well if *we* can't figure this out...

    … then are we to expect Warren to hit a line drive her first time up on the issue? Perhaps yes. We progressives place a very high value on policy wonkery, after all. Glib superficial platitudes don’t fly with us.

    Yet regardless of who Warren’s critics are, or what the issue is, Charley’s point is still dead-on: Warren absolutely must bone up on the minutiae of local issues. It is the most valuable currency in retail politics for any politician who’s not a born charismatic gabber in the Bill Clinton mold. Keep the broad message simple with a strong emotional appeal, but be ready to show that you have a sense of what’s going on in local communities. You don’t have to have everyone agree with you, but you have to show that you know what you’re talking about — and that you care. This is especially important in parts of MA that are not going to have positive associations with the phrase “Harvard Law professor.” If she can out-hustle Brown and corner the market on feeling fed up with the status quo, she’ll win. But she’s got to do both.

  8. She remains silent on LGBT issues too, even employment-related ones

    which could easily be meshed with her other economic/jobs rhetoric. The ongoing silence remains disappointing. I’m wary of any democrat from Massachusetts who doesn’t make clear their commitment to civil rights. It’s not like the right of transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay people to work, marry, find housing etc. without discrimination hasn’t been in MA and national news for years running.

  9. I would say just ask about LGBT issues when you have a chance.

    I strongly suspect she is on our side and I believe she HAS said she favors marriage equality. Given who she is and what she has done I don’t expect that to be the focus of her campaign or comments, but then I don’t think any of the candidates has made that a focus. Given how far we’ve come in this state I’d be inclined to assume that any Democrat seeking nomination for a statewide office is going to be favorable on these issues unless there is evidence to believe otherwise.

    • It's harder to ask than you might think

      The only way to contact the campaign is to drop them a post on their web page (mine was never answered) or show up to a volunteer night (hasn’t happened in my town yet), which presupposes you are already onboard and ready to work for the candidate. I am disappointed that she doesn’t seem to be doing any kind of listening tour or “get to know the candidate” tour through the state. Maybe she doesn’t need too, since everyone seems to assume like they did with Obama that she’s onboard with issues she’s never even mentioned. I’ve been disappointed by enough “liberals” and progressives” to know that you can never assume they’re LGBT-friendly.

  10. Is fishing a local issue of significance?

    Every issue is significant to the subset, but just how many fishermen are there? I tried to find out, but couldn’t find good numbers. What I did find, through BLS, is a 1998 article by Dino Drudi. It turns out that “fishing employment has declined from 59,000 in 1992 to 47,000 in 1996″ and that Massachusetts fishermen made up 8% of the fatalities 1992-1996.

    Now, in an effort to get some sort of numbers, I’m going to make some quick and dirty assumptions:
    1. 50,000 fishermen in tUSA
    2. 8% from MA

    That puts MA at about 4,000 fishermen, total. Out of 6,000,000 people. Less than 0.1%.

    I’m not saying that they aren’t important — we all are. I’m just suggesting that calling this a “local” issue seems strange if we’re only talking about less than 0.1% of the people in MA (about 0.2% of the jobs). It’s more local to MA than KS, but it strikes me as playing Brown’s smallball game.

    • Your definition is too narrow.

      Just looking at the number of guys going out on boats doesn’t accurately measure the impact of the fishing industry on MA’s economy. This article is from 2009:

      A new federal report shows that Massachusetts’ commercial fishing industry directly or indirectly supports an estimated 83,000 jobs in the state, generating the third-highest economic impact of any state. Massachusetts ranked below only California and Florida in terms of jobs supported by the industry and the estimated revenue directly or indirectly supported by the industry, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

      The agency estimates that the commercial fishing industry supported about $4.4 billion in revenue in Massachusetts. The report, which is the first of its kind by the federal agency, relies on data for fish landings from 1997 through 2006.

      • But they aren't the right KIND of jobs.

        I mean, it’s MENIAL work. With your HANDS.

        Not a DESIRABLE job like being an Essential State Worker in a casino!

        • navigator, engineer, meteorologist...

          [new] But they aren’t the right KIND of jobs.

          I mean, it’s MENIAL work. With your HANDS.

          …EMT, cook, refrigerator repair, biologist, businessman,

          These are a few of the skills necessary to be a successful fisherman. For sheer amount of variables requiring advanced decision making skills it’s one of the least menial out there…

  11. Fishing as an issue

    This is one issue where it seems that Republicans and Democrats alike compete to cast the fishermen as eternal victims. On the one hand, rules that gave incentives to seize property were very dubious. ON the other hand, why should we always believe the statements about allegedly plentiful supply of fish and allegedly overstrict rules on catch after the stock of many species was almost wiped out? It would also be interesting to hear what the other Democratic candidates–Warren has still not gained the nomination–have to say about fishing.

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