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Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Shifting gears
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Bluefin on the chew


A story that must be told
Remember back when making tuna "Dolphin-Safe" captured the hearts and minds of folks, from nature-hugger extremists to Main Street moms, kids and teachers? Well, the dolphin-safe supporters got it done. The results are in, and it looks like Nature lost. So did fishermen who hid out in their wheelhouses. They ran for the waves rather than work with people and avert an impending unfounded image crisis.

wherestheprotesting
WHERE'S THE PROTESTING NOW? What happened to dolphin safe? This tuna is being imported into our country while our American fishermen follow the laws of the sea. And we are said to be the bad guys.


Catalina Offshore fish monger and Uni-Goop purveyor, Tommy Gomes, started the conversation on Facebook, posting a picture of hundreds of mammals inside a foreign seiner's net. Then legendary marine life photojournalist, fish biologist, TV producer and host, Bill Boyce followed up with a detailed and personal account of his direct observations as to what happened — what he saw aboard those boats. This is a revealing must-read. Here's the conversation.


Tommy Gomes: "Where's the protesting now? What happened to dolphin-safe? This tuna is being imported into our country while our American fishermen follow the laws of the sea, and we are said to be the bad guys."


Bill Boyce: Having spent 12 years as a tuna seiner observer for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and made 23 trips on super seiners from 1982 to 1994 — having spent over 7 years of my life at sea with these hard-working fishermen, I can tell you firsthand they got (screwed) by the dolphin controversy.


They were badly beaten in the media campaign against them, which was formed by environmental groups that couldn't generate finances trying to save legitimate endangered species like snow leopards and white rhinos.


Instead, they found a much beloved mammal, hence dolphins, spread a false narrative about how hundreds of dolphins were dying in every set made on them. ALL B.S... The truth was 99.96 percent of the dolphins that were encircled were released alive unharmed.


But the fishermen finally got an ally to tell their story with a one-hour documentary telling their side... But telling it would cost money to produce it with big name personalities.


When the production company came to the tuna boat owners, they were all excited that they finally had their chance. But NONE OF THEM paid a penny of support for this production and once it was expertly produced, it could not afford to buy the air time that the environmental groups gladly paid for.


We are talking about tuna boat owners who had huge amounts of money and thought nothing of spending huge sums of money to impress their peers with cars, homes, horses, planes, etc.


Then, knowing the tuna industry was losing the public opinion war, the environmental groups teamed up with the canneries and made the "dolphin safe" policy.


This ensured them of selling consumers lower-cost skipjack in cans instead of large, high-priced premium yellowfin. The U.S. fleet was moved to the Western Pacific, and others sold their boats and got out of the business.


Sad story, but one that has a lesson to be learned. That is, when your message is being diluted and you’re losing money because of it, you may want to throw some investment into getting your side of the story out and maybe buy a new car after you’ve taken care of your own business future.


Tim Connelly asked the right question — what was the solution? How could seiners reassure the public the tuna they caught on dolphin are safe?


Boyce: Tim, the solution was retaining a 100-percent observer coverage on the international fleet, and allowing a HIGHLY REGULATED dolphin / tuna fishery. This would have curtailed the disastrous bycatch of sharks, whose populations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific have plummeted as a result – not to mention the bigeye tuna population collapse.


The minute the canneries came up with the dolphin-safe policy, the public thought they had saved the world. WRONG!


Having spent 1991 to 1994 on dolphin-safe trips where NO NETS were encircling dolphin to catch their fish, I saw the initiation of the current F.A.D. (fish aggregation device) fishery, where fisherman create floating objects which congregate fish (which seiners then net).


Unfortunately, this style of fishing is extremely deadly, in the bycatch of unmarketable species such as sharks — sharks whose fins, once captured, were then cut off for the Chinese shark-fin market, which paid extremely high prices.


Yet, after instituting this style of fishing and forcing the fishing industry to go into this type of pelagic purse seine fishery, those environmental groups never informed the public of the astronomical bycatch and killing of sharks, marlin, small tunas, dorado, wahoo, and other unmarketable species which in their life cycles often congregate around floating objects.


What we discovered at the IATTC was that the yellowfin tuna recruitment models of their population, as well as the bigeye tuna populations in the Eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, were being depleted because this dolphin-safe fishery was now targeting under-sized and sexually immature tunas, which had never spawned in their lifetimes.


Whereas, the larger mature yellowfin tuna which associated with those dolphin schools offshore, had already spawned many times in their lives and had contributed heavily to the population.


Thank you, Bill Boyce, for this illuminating exposé and your at-sea experience as a marine fisheries scientist. Once again a well-meaning public, persuaded by a bevy of short-sighted sensationalists looking for recognition, has simply pushed our environmental foot-print onto foreign lands. We are paying foreign fleets to do the dirty work in an even dirtier way.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


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