I am here in picturesque Juneau, Alaska where the North Pacific Fishery Management Council discusses the fate of the Grand Canyons of the Sea. Thanks to actions taken by more than 100,000 people, I’m carrying the voices and concerns of more than just the interests of the fishing industry.
I am experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance, though. I am surrounded by the beauty of Juneau – white-capped mountains hemmed by dense green forests at the oceans edge cradle this little city with streets lined with colorful houses. But, the postcard beauty around me is clashing with the battle going on for the Canyons.
The fishing industry is working like a well-oiled machine, testifying they there is no need to rush into action to protect the Bering Sea Canyons; more research is needed they say before any move is made that might curb fishing activity. We think ten years and a lot of good science is enough to get the process started.
The last time we were able to get the canyons considered for protections was 2006. Then Council members decided no action was needed to protect the canyons because they didn’t know enough about them. Since then Greenpeace has led two expeditions down into the canyons using small research submarines. We brought back data for the scientists and rich videos filled with colorful life, vulnerable and awaiting protection – fish, crab, and octopus in their coral and sponge habitat.
It’s not surprising that the fishing industry – factory trawlers and long-liners – are pleading for no action, and more research. There is no crisis they say, so no need to act. Now, they are even willing to help pay for some of that expensive research, none of which was funded after the Council listed the canyons as a top research priority in 2006. This is a billion dollar fishery – for wish stick and imitation crab – and the people asking for delay and arguing against protecting the canyons are the ones profiting, some of them substantially, from the continued extraction of our shared natural resources.
Protecting the health of a complex ecosystem, one that we understand very little about, but that supports thriving fisheries is not about crisis management. We want fish and fishing for the future, sustainably. That’s why this week the Council will hear many other voices, including those of tribal communities who depend directly on a healthy Bering Sea, and major seafood businesses including Trader Joe’s and SuperValue telling them protections for the canyons are needed. People need to know the ecological price of their McDonald’s fish sandwich.
The NOAA scientist’s report on the canyons being reviewed at the meetings this week confirms that the canyons likely contain one third of the Bering Sea’s coral habitat, and it is at high risk of impact from fishing. We know that fishing gear can, in seconds, wipe away these fragile animals that take hundreds of years to grow into the complex structures that fish and crab use as habitat. If we want fish and fishing for the future we need to protect their habitat. It’s time to protect the Grand Canyons of the Sea. The question is which voices will the North Pacific Fishery Management Council choose to hear?
Stay tuned for an update on what the Council decides!