An interview with Don Hansen, Part 2: Memories of management
Getting into fishery management was interesting. From the second meeting on, I was there, until now. So I’ve been with fishery management for a long, long time. [Those first Council meetings] were different! Believe me, they were different. You sat around a table and the guy with the loudest point, or the squeakiest wheel, got the attention. We had Charlie Fullerton for chairman. He was a California Fish and Game and he went to NMFS – he was the head of the SW Region for NMFS – and then he retired.
I wound up with MAFAC (Marine Area Fisheries Advisory Committee). I did 9 years on MAFAC, seven years as chairman. I got to travel all over the United States. And then I got the IATTC (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission) job, as a commissioner, and got to travel around the world on the tuna issues. So I’ve been doing this for a long time.
I was on the GAP for many years until I got on the Council. All that time on the GAP, when I was chairman, the idea of the MSA [Magnuson-Stevens Act] was so fishermen and industry had a voice.
The MSA was truly a deal to get industry involved – people couldn’t go to D.C. like they do now. In the very beginning they didn’t, couldn’t. So that’s when the Council process was set up to do.
I spent, I don’t know how many months in Portland, Oregon every week [when] we were working on the first groundfish stuff. We worked out of a hotel there in downtown Portland for – oh, God, forever, trying to get that done. Pete Leipzig and myself and four or five other guys and the attorney. Nobody had cell phones then, that was way before any of that stuff. Doug Ancona was the attorney for us. At the end of the day he’d come back and say “you can’t do any of that!” So we’d have to start all over again.
When MSA started we were basically doing salmon 98% percent of the time and a little bit of groundfish. And that was it. Now we have habitat, we have HMS, we have CPS, you name it. We only had salmon for a long, long time. Now we’ve got so dang many things going on I don’t know how you guys keep track of what’s going on.
There were a lot of characters in those days. And I had some characters in the GAP all the years I ran that – industry is all that’s in there, and you get some characters in there. One of the roughest guys we had in there was in one of the first joint venture fisheries. He fished joint venture with the Russians. He got paid off in rubles… He was quite a character. I think any fishery that started up, he was involved. He would come to the GAP meetings, and he was on oxygen at the time. He had the tubes up his nose, and he’d reach down and pull out a cigarette. And I said, “Hey, you’re gonna blow the whole room up in here.” And he said “I’ll do whatever I want to do,” and he showed me his gun at the same time. He packed a gun. He was wild, wild west.
[People used to compromise more.] We don’t see that any more. People get a position, they hold it, and they don’t get off it. Nothing gets done on a lot of things. Everybody used to compromise. You can get things done if you all work together. You can’t get things done if the other guy won’t move an inch.
I got stuck on the Klamath Fishery Management Council when I was chair of the Council. That was a learning curve I never wanted to learn. They did NOT move there. We sat there for days at a time, just trying to get half a percent out of somebody, and nobody’s gonna give. But that’s no different than being on the tuna commission. ’Cause you have to reach a consensus. It’s all consensus. And whatever we come up with, nobody else wants anyway. I was in Guatemala for a week for an IATTC meeting up in the mountains – beautiful place, but China would not sit at the table with Chinese Taipei there. They don’t recognize Chinese Taipei as a country. So we sat there a whole week, trying to figure out how it was gonna get – nothing got done. We just came home.
My years as chairman of MAFAC, that was interesting, working with Rollie Schmitten. Rollie sent me to the Gulf Council, the North Pacific Council, Hawaii. I got to see how all the Councils operate. And it was really, really eye opening. I think this is the best-run council in the whole bunch, the Pacific Council. It was interesting getting to go around and see how they all operate. And then go back and tell the people back east how it works.
Council makes recommendations on Executive Order 13921: Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth
On May 7, the President signed Executive Order 13921, Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth. The Order focuses on the importance of seafood; combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; removing regulatory burdens; and streamlining aquaculture permitting. It implements the Port State Measures agreement and other measures to combat IUU fishing, and makes NOAA the lead on certain aquaculture projects.
The Order requests that each Council submit a prioritized list of actions by November 2 to reduce burdens on domestic fishing and to increase production within sustainable fisheries. The Pacific Council’s list, determined in September, includes modifying the non-trawl rockfish conservation areas by reducing the areas, adjusting troll incidental landing limits, and allowing use of midwater jig gear; and increasing utilization in the whiting mothership sector. The Council will also request that the Secretary of Commerce work with the Department of Interior to modify U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules to reclassify sea urchins and squid as shellfish.
Additionally, the Council identified several crucial funding needs: ongoing survey work needed for groundfish and coastal pelagic species stock assessments, increased funding for creel surveys and biological sampling of ocean salmon fisheries, and funding for electronic monitoring.
The Order calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (working with other agencies) to propose nationwide permits for finfish aquaculture, seaweed aquaculture, and combined aquaculture (finfish and seaweed) projects; and calls for Federal agencies including Councils to identify at least two “Aquaculture Opportunity Areas” (AOAs) that are suitable for commercial aquaculture every year for five years. A programmatic environmental impact statement will then identify suitable species, gear, and reporting requirements for those locations. Public input will be solicited at several points during the process.
Diane Windham of NOAA’s Aquaculture Program briefed the Habitat Committee on the selection of two AOAs in Federal waters. These areas are described as areas having high potential for commercial aquaculture. NOAA selected Southern California and the Gulf of Mexico for further evaluation based on existing spatial information and industry interests. Specific locations and spatial configurations will be determined through public processes involving stakeholders and government bodies.
The Council will request NMFS conduct an essential fish habitat consultation on the AOAs early in the process, as part of the programmatic environmental impact statement, and will emphasize the importance of communication and coordination between Federal and state processes in regard to AOAs. Part of the consideration AOAs should include is a review of fishing regulations and fishery patterns with respect to siting aquaculture projects. Any public comment periods on AOA, specific proposed sites, or environmental review documents should include dates that overlap a scheduled meeting of the Pacific Council.
Crab trap thieves await trial
NEWPORT, Ore.—Two men caught setting stolen crab traps in Cape Falcon Marine Reserve of the North Oregon coast await trial following a joint effort of citizen reporting and solid detective work.
Bob Browning has fished Oregon waters all his life. He started fishing off the Garibaldi dock with his family when he was five years old. When he saw a strange object bobbing on the ocean surface, he pointed it out to his client, Dr. Sarah Henkel. Henkel, a researcher with the Oregon State University Marine Program, was collecting data for her latest project: The feeding ecology of Dungeness crab in a reef area. She had hired Browning and The Lady Lee on April 3, 2019 to take her out to the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve for the research project.
Henkel squinted to get a better look. It wasn’t a bird. Even through binoculars, neither the researcher nor the boat captain could identify the small black thing bobbing on the water’s surface. It definitely didn’t look like the bright orange and white surface buoys that marked her research beacons. Browning steered The Lady Lee in for a closer look.
Browning reached down and pulled at the object. It was a black bait bag, about the size of his fist. Inside were two pieces of foam to keep it afloat. But when he tried to pick it up, there was resistance. And a long cord. Browning threaded the rope through his hydraulic lift and started the motor. When a crab pot broke the surface of the water, they knew there was trouble. The line continued. Another crab pot rose from the depths. They reached for their phones to report it.
Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Todd Thompson was on shift that day and took the call. He instructed them to pull the string of crab pots and bring them to the dock. The nearly invisible float marked a string of 19 pots, all with crabs in them. Even in areas where crabbing is legal, each pot must have a surface marker. But these were secretly placed in the center of the 12-square mile marine reserve, where commercial fishing is strictly prohibited.
Trooper Jim O’Connor was surprised when he saw the string of crab pots on the dock that afternoon. And for good reason. Commercial crabbers generally paint all their pots the same color. These pots were a variety of colors.
“It looked like a rainbow of crab pots sitting on the dock,” he said, “They were all different colors.”
Not only were the pots different colors, but they were set with a variety of bait styles—another deviation from commercial crabbers, who set all their traps the same way. Trooper O’Connor concluded that the pots were stolen property and began investigating recent reports of stolen crab pots. One by one commercial crabbers stopped by the OSP office to identify and claim their gear.
“All in all we had seven different commercial crabbers between Astoria and Newport whose stolen pots showed up in this string,” he said. “We found eight pots that had been stolen from the same person.”
Everyone thought that would be the end of it. The poacher and thief would surely never claim the pots, and likely not set gear in that area again. Still, Trooper O’Connor started tracking boats traveling in and near the marine reserve. He took notes and paid attention. Then he began an official investigation.
Marine reserves protect habitat from human influence and create a place for marine life to grow and mature, according to ODFW Marine Reserves Program Leader Cristen Don. With little fishing pressure, ecosystems have an opportunity to regenerate.
“Greater populations mean greater opportunities to encounter fish and other marine life on Oregon waters,” she said.
A break in the case
In May of 2019, Browning received a call from a buddy on another boat.
“You won’t believe what just happened,” he said to Browning, “I’m going through the marine reserve, and I ran over a line attached to two strings of crab pots!” Browning asked for the location. It matched where he and Dr. Henkel had been the month before.
Browning reacted quickly. “Don’t say another word,” he told his friend. “I’ll be right there. Don’t go anywhere and don’t tell anyone.”
Browning immediately called the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line. He reported what his friend found, then started his boat and headed out to the reserve. Senior Trooper Dave Herman, Trooper O’Connor and a member of the Coast Guard were close behind him aboard an OSP small boat.
When they arrived, O’Connor pulled up several crab pots. He removed a few legal-sized crabs from each, discreetly marked them, then placed them back in the pots. They lowered the traps back into the water, then headed back to shore. The trooper knew he was going to have a long night at the fish processing plant, waiting for the marked crabs to show up. If they showed up.
Several hours later, his patience paid off. The marked crabs came through the processing line, and they knew which boat had dropped them off. It was one of several O’Connor had been tracking around the marine reserve area.
Troopers served several search warrants on the suspect over the following months, which solidified the case. Eventually they tracked him back to the marine reserve.
In August 2020, a Clatsop County Grand Jury indicted Scott Edward Giles, 39, and Travis Richard Westerlund, 34, both of Astoria. Giles, captain of the fishing vessel The Baranof, faces 14 criminal charges including theft, criminal mischief, unlawful take, fishing prohibited methods and fishing prohibited area. The amount of stolen gear in his possession elevates his crimes to a level constituting felony theft. Westerlund, deckhand on The Baranof, faces 12 similar criminal charges.
ODFW Director Curt Melcher describes the operation as a success in preserving fish and marine habitat.
“We and our partners at OSP rely on information from non-enforcement personnel and this incident shows the important role that citizens play in our efforts to protect the resource,” he said. “Moreover, illegal fishing activity negatively impacts participants who are following the rules.”
O’Connor credits the OSU researcher and boat captain with solving this crime.
“We would never have found those crab pots. This is a perfect example of the public working with law enforcement to identify and report a crime,” he said.
Browning is quick to credit the state trooper.
“O’Connor is good at his job,” he said, “I wouldn’t want to be the guy he’s after!”
In September, Dr. Phil Levin was appointed to the vacant Washington position on the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Paul Dye; Glen Spain was appointed to the vacant Commercial Fishery position on the Habitat Committee formerly held by Noah Oppenheim; Amber Rhodes was appointed to the National Marine Fisheries Service West Coast Region position on the Highly Migratory Species Management Team formerly held by Lyle Enriquez; Michael Sawin was appointed to the Washington Charter Boat Operator position on the Salmon Advisory Subpanel formerly held by Butch Smith; and Dr. Fabio Caltabellotta was appointed to the vacant Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife position on the Scientific and Statistical Committee formerly held by Dr. David Sampson. Council Chair Marc Gorelnik replaced Phil Anderson on the Budget Committee, and appointed Corey Niles to the WDFW position on the Budget Committee and Phil Anderson to the Legislative Committee.