Well, I had this column all written out in my head and then last Thursday occurred to put a real wrinkle on everything. What was supposed to be a pretty straight-forward presentation by yours truly to the Port of Anacortes Commission turned into the Q & A from hell when my portion ended. And I never saw it coming.
For the sake of some scene setting, I’ve long appreciated my partnership with the Port of Anacortes, Anacortes Chamber, and their mayor, Mayor Laurie Gere. When I needed support of the Marine Tourism Bill as a pro-boating lobbyist for the Northwest Marine Trades Association (NMTA), these three were the first to sign up. When this bill needed a nudge from their state representative, the Anacortes Chamber Executive Director Stephanie Hamilton fired off a text during a legislative hearing. Letters, calls, and in-person visits from this community all added to the essential ingredients to get this measure included in the final 2015 legislative budget.
As is customary, the new director of their port invited me to brief their commissioners on the state of recreational boating, marine trades, and next legislative session at their December Port Commission Meeting. “Heck yeah,” I thought. Visiting vibrant seafaring towns to shout from the rooftops of local governments about all the momentum marine trades have with career and technical education, a proactive legislative agenda, and other “fun facts” is one of my favorite activities. Okay, there is normally a podium in a windowless, sparsely attended meeting room, but it doesn’t take much to get me excited about boating.
And wow, was the presentation going just gangbusters. For 20 minutes, I was reeling them in with the latest in boat sales numbers. Did you know that we are leading the nation in boat sales by percentage increases? That’s okay, they didn’t either. I spoke about the need for all of us to work together in an ecosystem to support and collaborate on issues of shared concern, like modernizing the commercial fishing fleet and finding young people to go into marine trades.
Just like any rollercoaster, as soon as you put your guard down is when the trouble starts. “It looks like I’ve left time for some Q & A,” I said as I folded up my notes.
“I’ve got a question. I see your organization as the enemy,” said Port Commissioner Joe Verdoes. Whew, did someone turn up the heat? The commissioner went on to say that he has a Ph.D. in third-world economies and from his perspective there are two ways to grow an economy: agriculture and fishing. He went on to call our friends at the Coast Conservation Association “the mafia.” As I discovered during his questioning, he’s a commercial fisherman and was not happy that the commercials lost out to the recreational shrimpers in 2012.
Yikes. I was prepared to address a lot of different aspects of the state’s $4 billion boating industry, but, “Why do you collude with the mafia?” was not part of my prep. I tried to quell his unease that we were not the enemy and that the recreational boating industry has gone out of its way to support commercial fishing interests.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t done. He wanted me to know that the 28,000 recreational fishing careers and vocations are just “clerical jobs.” I had enough by that point. When he was finished, I said, “Well it sounds like we should keep talking.”
Naturally on the drive home, I had a bunch of responses lined up for him, like, “Did you listen to my presentation?” Recreational boating businesses are all about collaborating with marine interests regardless of the sector. By happenstance, the Resurrection Derby was holding their kickoff party up the street at that exact time. I wondered what his constituents would think about what their elected official was saying about their contributions to society. I don’t remember hearing about many clerical positions paying $75,000 as an average wage as the marine trades occupations do.
As Dale Carnegie liked to say, “Don’t get into arguments. No one has ever won one.” I heeded his advice that night, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not more fired up than ever to speak out when there’s such a disregard for the men and women who make up the marine trades. That’s not to mention (probably not a news flash) that our state has moved away from an “extraction-based economy” like commercial fishing. Over 225,000 Washingtonians own a recreational shrimping or crabbing license. I’m not going to apologize that I see expanded recreational-fishing opportunities as a positive development.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this line of “questioning” firsthand, but it was a good reminder of how much zero-sum fish politics can hit home. I certainly respect the commercial fishing way of life, but it would be nice if elected officials who resort to name calling remember just how much we do for conservation and economics.