The North Pacific Management Council’s Ecosystem Committee has a dizzying task before it. Rapid climate change has accelerated the need for a system of fisheries management that is less nearsighted.
The committee’s job is to advise the council on how to manage the fisheries of the North Pacific as a whole, in the context of careening environmental complexities. Rather than focusing on one species at a time, managers somehow need to figure out how to take into account everything, everywhere, all at once.
To this end, the Ecosystem Committee is recommending a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that would be used to “amend the management objectives, policies and procedures in all federal fisheries managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Halibut Act for fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands.”
The first question you may ask is: “What is a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement?” Well, an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, is a federally required mandate for all kinds of projects or programs that might have significant environmental impacts — whether a mine, a road across the prairie, or a fisheries management system. An EIS is simply the best scientific guess, in the form of a five-pound report, about what those impacts might be. A programmatic EIS provides a wider context.
There are two types of Environmental Impact Statements — programmatic and project level. The second fits inside the first like a Russian doll. A project level, or site specific EIS would, for instance, focus on a particular dam project, whereas a programmatic EIS would take into account the entire river drainage system in its analysis.
A Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is meant to encompass a large geographical area, and/or long timeframe, allowing planners to better understand interactions among entangled elements, such as Fishery Management Plans.
So, it makes sense that the Council’s Ecosystem Committee would be keen for a North Pacific-wide PEIS. A wide scope of vision over a long time frame is what ecosystem management is all about. But a PEIS for the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands combined is a bodaciously big bite.
Scores of Fishery Management Plans need to be stitched together in light of the latest climate projections and taking into account a wildly shifting food web full of junk-food plankton and jellyfish gobbling chum salmon. We might be talking about a 20-pound report here.
And it could have been bigger. After a “broad discussion,” the Ecosystem Committee could not come to consensus on whether to include the Arctic in the PEIS.
The latest Ecosystem Committee report acknowledges “the benefits of including the Arctic (Fish Management Plan) in this programmatic analysis include developing a consistent management policy with robustness to climate change across all Council-managed regions; providing efficiency by including the Arctic in this process now rather than needing to revisit the management policy in the future; and extending engagement opportunities to communities and peoples not currently involved in the Council process.”
In other words, it’s all one big ecosystem anyway, so why draw a line across the Arctic and pretend it’s not connected? Plus, residents of the Arctic need a voice in the process, which a PEIS would afford them.
Why did they not include the Arctic? The report cites “analytical and workload complexity in that the Arctic region is uniquely different from other Council regions as it does not currently allow commercial fisheries, and that including it in the analysis could cause confusion if it were interpreted as an indication that the Council is considering opening the Arctic to commercial fishing.
“Public comments, both written and oral, were mixed for including the Arctic but did document substantial concern about the potential for an analysis to lead to opening the Arctic for fishing.”
So, they give two reasons the Arctic was left out. Fishery Management Plans require years of research and analysis, which pile up into a bunch of data. They do not have big handy bags of data for the Arctic portion of the PEIS because there are no fisheries there. It would take more work to build one from scratch.
It is surprising that the other reason they give is political. They are afraid that any analysis at all would be seen as a signal that they are planning to open the Arctic up to commercial fisheries. Big, smoke belching steel boats plying the Arctic Basin with wide-mouthed trawl nets and thousands of steel pots is a horrifying image to many ecologists who see the Arctic as among the last places unspoiled by the stain of commercial fishing.
Notwithstanding that fishery management policy should never bow to perception politics, the idea of a permanently pristine Arctic is a naïve one. It’s easy to forget that while the south pole is a rocky continent, the north pole is a sea. A wide, inviting basin, in fact. Even now, as the ice cap melts and ocean currents warm and change directions, an ocean exodus is occurring.
Whether refugee snow crab, opportunistic codfish or migrating flatfish, the Arctic Ocean will be repopulating in the coming years. You can bet the Russians and Canadians will be ready. We should be, too.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.