By John Pappalardo
Since 2015, our Alliance has been joining hands with small-port fishing organizations around the country as part of a group that’s called, appropriately enough, the Fishing Communities Coalition.
This FCC is a cool endeavor. From Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, Maine to California, we now have a way to join forces, compare challenges, share successes, and celebrate common goals.
As that happens, we often turn our focus to Washington, DC, our common capital, where we take part in what they call “fly-ins.” We show up, talk a lot, drink a few beers, and fan out across Capitol Hill, visiting Congressmen and Senators, buttonholing staff, offering our shared perspectives on the most pressing issues confronting our fisheries.
The Magnuson-Stephens Act, the key piece of legislation that defines fishing policy, is being reauthorized. How do we influence that rewrite? Do they appreciate how important it is that accountable, science-based fishing policies prevail? Do they understand how the priorities of commercial fishermen vary from those of recreational fishermen? Do they see that impacts on our independent, historic small-boat fleet need to be considered?
There’s a big offshore aquaculture bill that’s “moving.” Who will benefit, who might be hurt? Are environmental issues around large-scale aquaculture being considered? How about access when big blocks of the ocean get turned over to private benefit? Will family-scale businesses nearer to shore, like those we know on the Cape, be protected?
There’s nothing like having “real people,” not paid lobbyists or Beltway professionals, show up in Congressional offices to talk about issues that affect their lives. Fishermen give up time, fly long distances, dodge metal detectors, sit around in lobbies waiting their turn. They put faces to issues. They explode stupid stereotypes about “fishermen.” They represent themselves.
That’s what FCC does, helping define common messages and then creating opportunities to speak truth to power.
Our most recent “fly-in” took place during the second week of December, and Stephanie Sykes joined the team. Stephanie just finished a good season on Captain Ron Braun’s boat, conching and catching black sea bass. She’s crewed on several boats in our fleet, gaining experience, a young woman working hard and thinking hard about what it means to be a fisherman, what that life might constitute.
She represented the Cape well, and in the spirit of FCC, you should hear that first-hand. Here’s a chunk of what Stephanie wrote soon after she came back home:
“It was invigorating to collaborate with fishermen and fishing advocates from across the country in D.C. Although we use different gear and fish for different species, we all face challenges common to small boat commercial fishermen.
“We can all identify with Portland Maine’s threat of losing the working waterfront, Alaska’s efforts to improve electronic monitoring, reallocation of quota from commercial to recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, California’s development of offshore wind turbines, and an overall ‘graying of the fleet’ — the challenge of bringing the younger generation into commercial fishing.
“The topic of young fishermen especially hits home for me as a 20-something rising in the industry. The group from Alaska displayed their impressive Fishermen’s Network website, which hosts resources for business, policy, catch marketing, training/work opportunities, as well as a fellowship program and storytelling. I hope we see the Young Fishermen’s Development Act passed so we can adopt similar programs in other fishing communities, and enhance existing programs to include training.
“In addition to being a great opportunity to collaborate, this trip provided the platform for fishermen to meet with Congressional offices to champion sustainable and science-based fisheries management.
“I, and I’m sure most fishermen, would prefer to be on the water in oil gear than poised at office tables in dress slacks. As Maine fisherman Alex Todd said, many of us feel like ‘a fish out of water’ in the political world of D.C.
“However, if big corporations, recreational fishermen, anti-sustainable fisheries management groups, proponents of massive offshore aquaculture, etc. all have seats at the table, we need a seat too. So we see how important it is to have a presence. Organizations like the Fishing Communities Coalition help our voices be heard.”
Thanks for the great perspective, Stephanie, and to our FCC partners for helping us make sure people working along the Potomac take saltwater perspectives, coast to coast, into account.
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)