And trawling boats, too. It’s no joke. The Nature Conservancy has turned its attention – at least partway – from buying up wildlands, and is now buying up fishing boats and fishing rights (listen to NPR). The environmental group worked with 5 of 6 trawling operations in Morro Bay, Calif., to pay the fishermen a fair price for their trawling permits and, in some cases, the trawl boats themselves. Each fisherman walked away from the table with at least several hundred thousand dollars, according to the AP.
TNC was making a conscious effort not to be heavy handed about their environmentalism, leading to an amicable negotiation. Some of the fishermen sounded grudgingly appreciative, if not quite fuzzy, about the deal (i.e., “They didn’t come in here saying they hate fishermen.”)
Of course, some of the fishermen are likely to turn around their TNC checks and just buy bigger boats. But that’s fine with the Green Ones. As long as they’re not dragging voluminous weighted nets across ancient rockfish and deep-sea corals, TNC is happy. They’re even keeping open the option of leasing the permits back to the fishermen, should less damaging trawling equipment become available.
All this has been well covered in the press already. Everyone ran the AP story, it seems: Contra Costa Times, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, salon.com. The mighty Half Moon Bay (Calif.) newspaper even did its own reporting, since that town’s half-dozen trawlers may be next on TNC’s shopping list.
The deal sounds pretty good for TNC. But it’s pretty good for the fishermen, too. In fact, world events are starting to converge to finally make it sound like a good time to get out of the fishing business. No, it doesn’t have to do with a belated realization that the world’s wild fish stocks are limited. It’s gas. Cheap gas. Specifically, the end of it.
Dragging a hundred tons (or so) of trawl net and fish across Morro Bay puts the hurt on your gas mileage. Fishing was never a hugely profitable business, and when fuel prices double in three years the costs start to stop making sense. Either people start paying a lot more for fish and chips, or fishermen start fishing less, and staying closer to shore. An Irish paper recently reported that a standard 66-foot trawler now runs up a fuel bill of 18,000 Euros per month. That’s a lot of cod. In Japan, sushi stores facing an 84 percent jump in the cost of tuna are feeling the squeeze, too. No matter what your supplier charges you for food, you cannot double the price of a hunk of sushi and keep the seats filled in your restaurant.
Me, I’m just glad to see environmentalists and resource extractors agreeing to agree on something for a change. If it means less ahi and more edamame, so be it. We all have to do our part.