Walking In Tommy’s Shoes

by Rex Gressett, July 13, 2016

Monday night the Fort Bragg city council approved an interim harbor commissioner to replace Tommy DeAnconia who recently passed. Tommy was indeed a cultured cosmopolitan gentleman who worked incredibly hard and who was doubtless a pillar of the fishing industry. In the harbor he played many roles and wore many hats. He was an intrepid entrepreneur and he gave all of his creative drive and energy to Noyo harbor. He owned Tommy’s where fishing cognoscenti of the first rank have coffee. He owned the only dry docks, now someone else owns them. He owned a bumping marine hardware wonderland / nautical instrument / map and paint business. To say that he will be missed is a grave understatement

I personally disagreed with him on almost every issue pertaining to fishing and every policy and decision that came down he was on one side of and I was on the other. We were polar opposites politically and we both knew it. I was at first astonished by how utterly this rule held and later came to expect it.

I knew him and was his neighbor on the river for 15 years and in all of it he was unfailingly generous and gracious. For sure the passing of Tommy DeAnconia removes a powerful force for the supporters of profitable practices of harsh extractive fishing. But he himself was never harsh. Being civil and unpretentious and generally logical and somewhat informed and truly world traveled, he was powerful.

Truly Tommy was an influential force for the interests of the fishing community as they themselves see them. He sat on lots of boards. I know he was on the ground fish committee, which is very obscure and hugely influential in terms of overall biological restoration policy. He sat of course on the harbor commission where he and the rest have formed a bulwark against innovation and investment and improvement in the harbor in strong and unbendable favor of keeping control (and money) in a few local hands including the city’s. But in Tommy’s old school and almost old world way it looked gracious, like those local hands were the hands that mattered, Fort Bragg’s hands, our hands.

Tommy did not understand or choose not to see many obvious facts about the situation in fishing and ocean depletion, the mass die offs, the diminishment of nature which is upon us as a planet and which cannot be denied to have occurred massively and which have almost totally destroyed an immeasurable abundance of fish directly off our own coasts.

Tommy did not want to hear it. I think that Tommy, like the fishing community overall, was just burned out with being blamed. People observably deficient in the context of the problem were saying loudly that overfishing was the problem. The reaction to this was predictably defensive. Tommy said that the problem is not overfishing but over management. I think that both views are accurate. Disastrously the Department of Fish and Wildlife has been the driver of overfishing, while simultaneously strangling profits. A nice trick, but they manage it.

I don’t think that blaming overfishing means anything anymore. If Tommy could forgive me for bringing into any question at all an honorable, difficult dangerous and certainly noble way of life. I can forgive him and move on. But on condition that we restore the biological diversity and abundance of the ocean to what it was when our culture came here. That is to say to full biological abundance.

That was my beef with Tommy, that he would not see the loss of abundance. And he could not believe that it could happen again. I do believe it and tried to get him to see what full abundance could mean, strictly in terms of profitability if nothing else. He was content to take from the ocean and allow her to deteriorate. To diminish year after year. To lose species after species. And he unlike most folks really got to see that process of erosion first hand. And he got to see the local economy die off as the fishing community went broke. The great resource of money that the fish in the ocean have always been to the people of the city was lost and a mostly empty biological wasteland left behind. This is not totally true. There is some life and indeed some fishing, but it is largely true. It is hugely true. And yet Tommy with his vast capability for technical analysis and preparation and professionalism would not officially see or acknowledge what we were losing or even that we were losing anything. He stood instead for maintaining the existing balance of regulation and profit even though it was apparent that it could not last long. Preserve short-term profits. The rule of death.

Monday night the city council approved an interim Harbor Commission member to serve in Tommy's stead until October. The new guy is Mr. Forkner, president of the Salmon Trawlers Association. Mr. Forkner answered the questions of the commission but he did not have to work too hard. The council had each of them a list of questions that might have sounded pretty tough over the kitchen table when they were writing them with their wives, but when lobbed with sufficient softness were not threatening. Mr. Forkner apparently had no idea what was meant by any of the questions that he was asked and contented himself with a declaration that he was a commercial fisherman. .

In the end they passed his solitary application with kind appreciation for an easy job. This is how the city council likes them, there was only one choice.

They might have wondered why there were not more applicants? The answer is that the insiders control the inside and this is not something that they want to trifle with. One application was deemed quite sufficient. In Fort Bragg, dear reader, polished insiders are not going to be stupid enough to allow the city council to pick between two candidates. They might get confused. Technically, there were two candidates but the other guy did not show by arrangement and anyway we were assured in public discussion he was so much in agreement with Forkner in every detail that the city was actually getting his brain for free.

Since there was no choice, the questions were pointless and the decision was easy. The council had that fat satisfied look that comes from having made an identifiable voting constituency happy with no apparent adverse grumbling.

In his halting way Mr. Forkner made it clear that he too would be a strong defense for the interests of the city in the suppression and misuse of the harbor.

What would he do, they asked? Clean up, he said. There were things laying everywhere where they ought not be and not where they ought to be. He had seen a great many harbors he cautioned the council and knows where a thing should be. Yea his heart hath a great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

Here is short list of the things that the Harbor commission did not discuss with him.

The financial collapse of the local fishing industry. (Any ideas?)

The biological collapse of the ocean.

The protection of our super valuable wildlife in the Noyo River itself.

What about wave energy? When the PG&E pirates tried to steal our wave energy they declared theft impossible because of crappy infrastructure in the harbor. Any ideas about that?

What about the sewage treatment plant? Not in your area, I know. But the multiple fines for the discharge of raw sewage and the continuing extraction of urchins from the very same area does seem to be something that you would involve yourself in possibly.

What about the collapse of the salmon population? Any thoughts on that?

These questions and there are many many more, pertain to the harbor, no one else will ask them or act in the name of our locality. Our locality is presumed to be represented in the process of decision-making that occurs at the federal and state and local level. This is nature of the Harbor commission.

But within the commission's mandate itself there is a conflict. The harbor commission is responsible community leaders with an interest in the harbor whose members are charged with the business operation of the city's properties in the harbor. And are somewhat incongruously also charged with the health and prosperity of our harbor as a whole. These interests are not always the same.

The harbor commission traditionally brings balance to this sometimes-thorny problem by an unusual technique of both doing and appearing to do nothing at all. Protecting the boat basin cash cow both from competition from the legally open federal channel to the west, or from any incursion on the funds allocated to the harbor is the true job of the commission. The rest of the harbor can rot — and it is.

I wondered if Harbor commission meetings were going to be included in the new city program to provide video access to committee meetings? If so they are going to have to bring in girls because there is no other content. Typically the honest commissioners meet at town hall, approve the zero content of the last meeting, and go home. There is little deviation. In some situations a chronic lack of initiative and even evidence of life itself would be an organizational problem. To them it is a method.

Mr. Armitage, the top commissioner, told us, and Mr. Forkner affirmed, that he would fit right in with this system. He has no intention of doing anything to upset the balance of power so hard won and so precarious and so disastrous to itself and the city and to the world. He will walk in Tommy's shoes.

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