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Coos County Commissioner addresses government
buyout of coastal fleets--will this help their economy?

by Coos County Commissioner John Griffith

November 2, 2003
 

The buyback is necessary because the groundfish fleet is "overcapitalized" compared with the allowable catch, which is set by the federal government.
 
It does not affect salmon fishing, the issue facing the Klamath Basin situation. These are boats that participate in fisheries that have no connection to freshwater inputs to the ocean. They are deep-dwelling, full-salinity fish species.
 
Under the terms of the buyback, the boats cannot be refitted to pursue another fishery such as salmon or crab. If they could, it would constitute an effort shift to fisheries that are already completely capitalized with catcher capacity.
 
The big concerns are what shall those who sell do to make a living, and what will happen to those who chose not to sell.
 
In theory, those who remain in the business could make decent livings again if the allowable catch remains the same. The fear is that the government will continue to slice the allowable catch, as it has every year since the early 1990s, and starve out those who remain.
 
It's a huge concern. The greens keep pushing for marine reserves and threatening or actually filing litigation to reduce the allowable catch. It is unrealistic to think they will stop simply because catcher capacity has been reduced by about half.
 
Currently, most of the fishing grounds have been so reduced that we have de-facto marine reserves across much of the ocean where our people used to fish. Will the government relax that closure and other restrictions? Doubtful, and a big concern to those who remain in the fishery.
 
A concern to coastal counties and towns, too, is what do our young people do? They used to work in the woods or mills, and that's gone now. They used to fish, and most of that's gone now. Some ranched or farmed, which is still here but less viable than before. With only half as many trawl boats, usually crewed by three men, those jobs are gone. There's still salmon fishing, but the number of boats in that fishery has gone from the thousands to a few hundred coast wide.
 
School enrollment in my county has dropped by a few thousand in the past half-dozen years because family-aged couples had to move away to find work. Reduction of capital assets -- fishing boats, logging companies, mills -- translates to reduction of jobs for family heads and downward spiral for school enrollment and our entire economy. Support industries close, such as net makers, gear sales companies, grocery stores, etc., and the job market shrinks more. With only half the number of boats in the groundfish fishery, they'll buy only half as many nets, spools of wire rope, groceries, etc.
 
We cannot expect retirees and tourists to pick up the slack. There is not enough jobs in those sectors to employ our children, some of whom cannot be expected to become doctors, nurses, stockbrokers or waiters.
 
Oregon used to need fishermen, loggers and mill workers. It has chosen instead to import the products those domestic industry sectors used to create from countries that do not care or cannot afford to care about the environment. The consumers of those products either do not know about the shift, or do not care, despite the concern those in urban areas profess to have for "the environment."
 
As we saw in the state's income-tax paid general fund, by Oregon's complicit closing or allowing the federal government to close Oregon's traditional industries and shifting attention to a dot-com type economic growth, which any financial consultant will tell you is a volatile investment sector to begin with, when the state and national economies hit rough spots, there is fewer or none sectors to help plane out the economic dips.
 
Oregon as a state has done nothing to correct the attack on its traditional industries. It does not fight litigation brought by the attackers. It does not join counties and producers who do. It fights them instead. The last governor who even dared to try to insert balance was Neil Goldschmidt. I am withholding judgment of our current governor in this category. He still might come to the aid of Oregonians who work in places and industries that gave our state its identity. If voters strike down the tax increase brought by the last legislature, and if our state's economy continues to plunge, as anticipated by many, the state might finally do something to defend against the attacks. Or it could continue to lean toward the primarily urban voting block that does not know how the products they blithely purchase are actually created and brought to market.
 
Am I glad about the buy back? Lets say I'm hopeful. I know some of the people who sold, and some who didn't. Those of us in the affected communities naturally wish the best for all of them, that those who sold can invest their money in businesses that can prosper here, and those who remain can return to making a decent living. But unless our state begins to defend itself instead of leaving it up to producers who have less money and power to defend themselves, the future does not look good.
 
John Griffith
Coos County commissioner
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