Occupy the Ocean, Occupy the Delta

Posted on 18 November 2011

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By Dan Bacher

As the Occupy movement spreads throughout the nation and world, sustainable fishing communities, consumer groups and grassroots environmentalists have mobilized to stop the 1 percent from stealing ocean public trust resources from the 99 percent.

This week the U.S. Congress, in a backroom deal, shelved a vote on a critical bill that would have continued a recently instituted ban on a wasteful government program that gives large corporations control of the nation’s fishery resources, in effect privatizing the ocean's public trust resources.

The Obama regime is promoting a "catch shares" program for fisheries that, like the Wall Street bailouts, will concentrate money and natural resources in fewer hands. Corporate environmental NGOs promoting the catch shares fiasco are heavily funded by the Walton Family Foundation (WalMart) and other foundations that represent the 1 percent.

The ban has broad bi-partisan support. On November 3, nineteen Members of Congress from seven Eastern Seaboard states signed a letter urging Congress to not fund the Obama administration’s catch shares program.

Drafted by Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Commerce subcommittee, the letter asks that “language be included in the final FY 2012 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill to restrict the use of funds for development or approval of new 'catch share' programs for any fishery under the jurisdiction of the New England, Mid Atlantic or South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils.”

“The last thing the American government should be doing in these economic times is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to expand programs that will put even more Americans out of work,” the letter stated. “But that’s exactly what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is attempting to do by requesting $54 million in its FY 12 Budget to accelerate implementation of new fisheries catch share programs across the U.S.”

Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy organization, is one of the organizations leading the charge to ban catch shares. "In recent years the government has been ramping up spending of taxpayer dollars on catch share programs," according to Zach Corrigan, Fish Program Director of Food & Water Watch. "These programs divide up our nation’s fishery resources for exclusive use by the biggest and fastest fishing operations and then allow corporations and banks to buy and sell these 'shares' for profit."

"Catch shares turn the opportunity to go fishing into a commodity, requiring commercial fishermen to buy shares before being able to go fishing. As has happened with family farms on land, the added costs push smaller-scale fishermen out of business and consolidate the industry, paving the way for industrial fishing methods that can destroy sensitive ocean habitats," Corrigan noted.

Make your voice heard now!

Last April, amid national concern over wasteful government spending, Congress voted to defund catch shares for fiscal year 2011, according to Food & Water Watch. This week, Congress was expected to vote on extending this measure. On Tuesday, the amendment’s sponsors confirmed to Food & Water Watch that the amendment is dead after a deal was reached on Monday excluding it for fiscal year 2012 and denying it a vote.

“It’s shameful that Congress ignored the voices of thousands of fishermen and their allies by cutting a smoky backroom deal to deny a vote that would have continued to ban wasteful government spending on new catch shares programs in 2012,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch.  

Food & Water Watch is calling on members of Congress to add their names to the growing list of cosponsors of two new bills, introduced by New Jersey Representative Jon Runyan and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte. The bills create a safety valve for catch share programs, terminating them if they reduce local employment by 15 percent or more.

If you don't want what's happened to our housing, banking, health care and other industries to happen to our ocean, send a letter today!

Send your message by going to: http://action.foodandwaterwatch.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=8702

On a similar note, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (http://namanet.org) is circulating a graphic entitled, "Occupy the Ocean?" warning of the increasing consolidation of fisheries in the hands of a few.

"In 2010, 20% of vessels accounted for about 80% of the gross nominal revenues from groundfish sales in New England," the alliance states. "Diversity matters when it comes to who catches our fish, grows our food, banks our cars or keeps us healthy."

Privatization of the public trust and conservation is bad for fish, communities

The increasing corporate control of public resources that has occurred wherever "catch shares" have been introduced has devastated fish populations and fishing communities.

"The current focus of U.S. policy for managing our fisheries, called catch shares, is destroying the way of life of our nation’s fishermen and coastal communities," according to a groundbreaking Food & Water Watch event released in August. "This time-honored trade is being replaced by a privatized system that often leaves the future of our nation’s fish, one of our most precious natural resources, in the hands of a small number of larger operations, whose primary goal is often immediate profit rather than sustainable use and long-term conservation."

In California, the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private corporation, has funded the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. The MLPA Initiative, overseen by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests, creates so-called "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all other human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), was chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that oversaw the development of these questionable "marine protected areas" on the Southern California coast. She also served on the panels for the North Central and North Coast. Reheis-Boyd has lobbied for new oil rigs off the California coast and tar sands drilling in Canada - and is no friend of the environment.

Yet MLPA advocates refused to question or oppose the appointment by Schwarzenegger of a big oil lobbyist - and falsely claimed that the rigged process was "open, transparent and inclusive," while it was anything but. For more information, go to: http://redgreenandblue.org/2011/01/13/why-is-a-big-oil-lobbyist-in-charge-of-californias-marine-protection-program.

Occupy movement message spreads to the California Delta

Meanwhile, the same Obama administration that is promoting the catch shares program and the same Brown administration that has continued Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's MLPA Initiative are fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral canal to export more water from the California Delta to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies. Delta residents, family farmers, Indian Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, conservationists and environmental justice advocates are opposing the enormously expensive government boondoggle because it would likely lead to the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail and green sturgeon populations.

In a public meeting held by the Department of Fish and Game on November 8 regarding the Department's striped bass eradication proposal, Dawn Gulick, owner of Eddo's Harbor, echoed the theme of the Occupy Wall Street protests taking place throughout the country. Gulick said the water contractors, including Stewart Resnick, the politically connected Beverly Hills billionaire who has made tens of millions of dollars annually from buying and reselling water back to the state for a big profit, are waging "class war" against the people of the Delta.

"This is a class war and they're winning," she stated, followed by a person next to her shouting, "Occupy the Delta!" Others joined in shouting, "Occupy the Delta."

"It's our Delta. Big Money has big influence over our government and it's time to take our government back!" she continued as people in the crowd applauded.

After reading my article on the meeting, an editor of the San Francisco Chronicle decided to interview Gulick regarding the water contractors' war on the Delta.

“It’s the 1 percent coming after our water, our fish and our farms,” Gullick told the Chronicle. The real elephant in the room is pumping, not bass predation, she said. “The pelagic organisms decline the more water they pump from the delta.”

Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and one of the most outspoken opponents of the peripheral canal and state and federal plans to export even more water out of the Delta, urged support for the Occupy movement as the police were raiding the Occupy Oakland encampment Monday.

"All California people need to keep up with what is happening to the 99%! That is US, we are the 99%!" she emphasized.

Her Tribe is pushing for an innovative plan to restore native winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Lake Shasta with eggs provided by the Maori and New Zealand governments. Although extinct in their native habitat on the McCloud, the salmon are now thriving in the Rakaira and other rivers in New Zealand.

I believe it is time to "occupy the oceans," "occupy the Delta," and stand up for local communities and our oceans against the privatization of conservation and public trust resources. The 99 percent must rise up against the 1 percent that only care about their profits as they greenwash their privatization plans.


Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."