Look around Homer this week and you might have noticed big black-and-white portraits of hard working men and women. Unless you recognize the faces, there’s a subtlety to the art project, “Faces of Fishing,” that artist Lauryn Axelrod intended but you might not see. The images of commercial and charter fishermen share the same walls. As Axelrod said, “The idea is to suggest that the industry is larger than the fight over one fish. The issue is how to foster a more collaborate dialogue that is both about conservation and sustaining the fisheries.”
That’s an idea worth emulating as Homer and other communities debate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ proposed halibut Catch Sharing Plan.
The Homer City Council on Monday night recognized that in this community’s diverse maritime economy, city officials and representatives shouldn’t take sides in fish allocation disputes. At the meeting, council member Kevin Hogan noted this is official city policy. He cited the 2011 Homer Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, passed as a resolution last February, and a section that says, “The city of Homer should continue its unwritten policy of not taking sides in disputes between commercial and sport fishing interests, recognizing that both are vital to the Homer economy.”
Voting 4-2 against, the council rejected a resolution introduced by council member Bryan Zak that would have directed the city manager to ask NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to complete a current socio-economic study of the impact of the Catch Sharing Plan on the charter fleet and the tourist economy and use that study to readjust the Catch Sharing Plan allocation. In supporting his resolution, Zak argued that NOAA Fisheries should get better economic information before implementing the plan.
But as Hogan and other council members noted, though, the people who represent the city and all its economic interests sometimes have to step back from hard issues. Boats of all fisheries dock at the harbor. From the load-launch ramp to the Fish Dock, the harbor serves lots of people who work and play here. A city government can get involved in fish wars only if it wants to shove out one fishery over another.
All sides in the debate at Monday’s meeting showed what should be the Homer spirit: mutual respect for neighbors. People testified passionately and honestly, and all listened quietly. No one booed. No one jeered. No one got in fights or raised their voices.
Some fishermen spoke of the pain in hearing even a hint of divisiveness. “Do not get into this fight,” Todd Hoppe said. “You’ll divide the community more.”
We also liked what Ginny Espenshade said. The wife and mother of commercial fishermen who spoke of her friends who are charter fishermen, she said, “It’s a very complex issue. What I do understand is community. If we let this issue tear this community apart, it will.”
We hope that as Homer debates the Catch Sharing Plan, we remember those words, and we remember the unity shown by those faces looking at each other on town walls. We’re all in this together, neighbors and friends.
— Homer News, September 15