"Finger Pointing"
A perspective on Who Caused the Decline In Fish Stocks

Some Say:
"It makes no sense to try to point fingers here and there. Focusing on who did what to the abalone and groundfish and who gets what is left of the groundfish is not going to rebuild the stocks."
We often refer to the importance of history as our guide to the future, then choose to avoid discussing it when it makes us uncomfortable. At the Oct 20,1999 meeting with the California Fish and Game Commission the representative for the TRAWL fleet stood up and chastised those who would cast blame for the depletion of the offshore rockfish stocks, while urging us all to join together to rebuild the stocks rather than "point fingers". It has been my observation that commonly (not always) those who urge us not to "point fingers" are those most responsible for the depletion, have the upper hand in a fishery, or have little to lose during the allocation process. My own opinion is that by examining "who did what" to fish stocks, we can at least hope to avoid making the same mistakes with the restored stocks. For instance, if we succeed in rebuilding a stock, then proceed to pulverize them the same way we did before what have we gained? By examining "who did what" we are not blaming or seeking revenge (although many of us do use the opportunity to vent), rather we are trying establish the fishery conditions which may have disproportionately contributed to a stock's demise. I agree that "pointing fingers" will not rebuild stocks, but understanding relative impacts of various sectors/gears is an important step in designing a restored and sustainable fishery. Perhaps some of the fishing techniques, gears or behaviors have less impact than others. It seems to me that an important part of management is establishing the causative factors in stock declines, including the impacts different fishing technologies and human activities have on stocks. This seems fundamental to being able to manage effectively. Some would say we really aren't managing the fish (they're not domesticated and the ocean does what it wants), we are managing the people.

That said, it is my observation that fishery scientists are fairly comfortable blaming fishing in general as an important factor in many stock declines, but somewhat reluctance to investigate the roles different fishing gears, techniques or motives have had on fish populations. Perhaps scientists don't want to be perceived as choosing sides. Not surprisingly I have found few studies addressing impacts different gears/techniques have on fish populations. In the absence of science, abundant room is provided for fishers to point at one another and exclaim "he did it". Meanwhile, many scientists remain on the sidelines saying, "You all did it, now please don't fight." I hope fishery scientists undertake studies to assess various user impacts, or cite references if they are already available. In addition to helping to design a more sustainable fishery, understanding fishing impacts might provide us with the basis for a rational allocation system, which unfortunately is the flip side of stock rebuilding. Despite all the talk about the need for consensus, tolerance and cooperation, history tells us that when resources become scarce, humans do not get along. True for fishers when we run out of fish, true for scientists when we run out of grants, true for Californians when we run out of water. It seems to be in our nature. So to prevent us from leaping for each others throats, please continue to summarize, whenever possible, what factors (including various fishing techniques) have influenced a particular fish's abundance or scarcity. If there are no good studies out there (that you know of) to help us in our discussions, let us know that too. In the absence of scientific studies, we will be left with our personal observations, which on a personal level are very convincing.

-Mike Malone