Fight Ocean Acidification: Yes on WA Initiative 1631

This commentary appears in the October 2018 issue of Pacific Fishing magazine

By Matt Marinkovich

In the mid-1980s, when I started seining with my dad for Fraser River sockeye, the Puget Sound fishery was already declining. But lately the consequences of a fraying marine food web are spreading far beyond the fishing fleet.  Living in Friday Harbor, I have a front row seat.

That’s why I will vote for Washington’s Initiative 1631 in November. This ballot measure will deeply reduce the biggest source of pollution that degrades our waters: carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and gas.

I’ve experienced some of the harm first hand. Local salmon stocks kept dwindling, so like many fishermen I migrated north. Now I fish in Bristol Bay, while back home whale watch boats and yachts have replaced fish boats in the harbor.  Now they are worried too.

The endangered southern resident Orca whales aren’t getting enough fish to sustain themselves. These whales haven’t successfully raised a calf in over three years.

Is anyone surprised? Our resident orcas eat almost exclusively Chinook salmon. Just since I was a teenager, catch and escapement of these fish have dropped by more than half.  Chinook in Puget Sound are down to about 10% of historic levels.

Scientists say the young Chinook themselves may be starving, especially when they first enter the Sound. November’s ballot measure offers a chance to tackle what might be the biggest problem —while we still can.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels mixes into the water and acidifies Puget Sound. Scientists at the UW Labs in Friday Harbor have measured CO2-driven acidification at extremes that most marine waters aren’t expected to see for generations. It is dissolving the shells of tiny floating snails called pteropods, a major prey for young salmon. High CO2 and warm waters are fueling toxic algae that displace nutritious plankton eaten by salmon.  Toxic algae are also forcing harvest closures in Dungeness crab and shellfish beds. Scientists say the impacts will keep getting worse until we confront the root cause.

Not every attempt to  “cure” this problem deserves support from fishermen. Initiative 1631 does. It is a powerful and affordable tool to slash the underlying CO2 emissions.

Fishermen and tribal leaders intervened to improve this ballot measure, so resource-dependent coastal people get a fair shake. The Working Group on Seafood and Energy, the only fisheries trade association focusing on carbon emissions, endorsed the initiative and provided a lot of information for this article.

The measure will achieve deep emission cuts at low costs. It will also help fishermen and others afford to do their part, instead of just sticking them with a bigger fuel bill. This initiative will impose a modest “carbon price” on most fuels. Then it uses the money to fix the problem—investing it to help ordinary people boost fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and adapt.

This is a much stronger, fairer approach than the “carbon tax” (and mis-targeted revenue giveaway) that Washington voters rejected in 2016. I-1631’s “price and invest” approach provides funding that communities and businesses can use to build solutions that also benefit local industries. The money can build cold storages in coastal communities to eliminate trucking fish hundreds of miles to facilities in urban centers; retrofit vessels and vehicles to make them more fuel-efficient; and protect carbon-storing forested watersheds to ensure stable water supplies and draw down carbon.

Fishermen and tribes insisted on strong measures to ensure carbon revenues won’t be diverted and squandered. Now the initiative includes multiple layers of accountability, starting with the mechanism for collecting revenue: it’s a fee, not a tax. Legally, that means the money can only be spent to reduce emissions or to help people adapt to the impacts.

Marine fuels are exempt from the extra carbon price, so fishermen won’t pay a dime more at the fuel dock. Other fuels will be charged $15 per ton of carbon (around 14 cents a gallon of gas or diesel). That price rises at $2 (per ton) a year, with the proceeds invested in solutions. The price stops rising in 2035 if the state is hitting its emission targets, which it should, since most of the money will go directly into emission reductions.

This fee-based policy makes way more sense than the “carbon tax” voters rejected in 2016. This time, the initiative won’t give away money for tax breaks for big business and unfocused “rebates” to low-income people. Instead, I-1631 dedicates the revenue to actually fix the problem— isn’t that where the money should go?

Washington isn’t going it alone. Dozens of countries (including China) and state and local governments that represent about half the world economy have already enacted similar “price-and-invest” policies. That’s the kind of teamwork it takes to make a difference.

Killer whales and fishermen share a common interest in making sure the ocean can continue to support the fish we hunt.  We need a strong, fair policy that will cut emissions. We need a policy like Washington’s I-1631.

Matt Marinkovich grew up fishing sockeye salmon on Puget Sound, fishes Bristol Bay today, and runs Matt’s Fresh Fish, selling direct to consumers and restaurants. He is an active advocate for a healthy Salish Sea.

Note: this op-ed was written with help from GOH Executive Director Brad Warren

Acidification & Climate: Carbon price-and-invest measure on WA ballot

On November 6th, Washington state will vote on Initiative 1631, a measure to curtail carbon emissions that drive ocean acidification and climate change

The initiative would put a fee on most fossil fuels purchased in the state and invest the proceeds to help people increase fuel efficiency, build clean energy supplies, and adapt to impacts. The price would start at $15 per metric ton of carbon emitted, which equates to roughly 13 cents per gallon of gas, or 15 cents for diesel. The price would rise at $2 per ton annually until the state is on track to hit its emission-reduction targets.

Fuel for fishing vessels will not be charged this fee. The initiative exempts marine fuels from the new carbon price, along with agricultural and aviation fuels.

However, vessel owners, vehicle owners, and seafood companies would be among groups qualified to apply for funding from the pooled carbon revenues — for example to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions through equipment retrofits.

Washington tribes and fishing community representatives negotiated successfully for a number of changes in the ballot measure last winter. They secured the provision to invest in fuel-efficiency in vessels and vehicles, along with other changes that allow resource-dependent communities to benefit from investments of carbon revenues. The aim of these investments is to help recipients afford to “become the solution.”

If the measure is approved, Washington would join dozens of nations and states worldwide that have enacted similar policies to price carbon emissions and invest the proceeds to increase energy efficiency and accelerate the transition to a cleaner economy.

Initiative 1631 has been endorsed by the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, an association representing fishermen, shellfish growers and fishery-dependent community leaders on energy and carbon policy.

Working Group members Terry Williams of Tulalip Tribes, Larry Soriano of Alaska Ship Supply, and Scott Coughlin; with GOH Deputy Director Julia Sanders

The Working Group actively opposed a 2016 initiative in Washington to price carbon without investing in solutions, saying that approach would be costly and ineffective.

The group believes that revenues raised to tackle carbon emissions should be used for that purpose. They contend that merely relying on higher fuel prices to do the job is a recipe for failure and causes unnecessary economic harm to businesses and people —like fishermen, among others —who must burn fuel to earn a living.

The senior advisor to the Working Group is Brad Warren, Executive Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center and its Global Ocean Health program. The program focuses on helping fishery-dependent people confront the root causes and the marine consequences of carbon pollution and other waste streams. It was formed by GOH at the behest of seafood industry leaders who wanted a better understanding of climate change consequences and solutions, and a forum to voice their concerns.

Email Brad directly at brad@globaloceanhealth.org. Visit and like the Working Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seafoodandenergy/.

No on I-732, a weak, costly distraction from the real work of cutting carbon emissions

This op-ed by Pete Knutson and Hing Ng (from the November 2016 edition of Pacific Fishing) reflects the analysis of the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, Global Ocean Health, and other organizations that worked with us to assess carbon policies around the world and determine which ones are strong enough to protect healthy seas and fisheries (and which ones fall short). After months of careful evaluation, the Working Group determined that a revenue neutral carbon tax proposed in Washington state would be weak, costly, and would obstruct better policies.  The Working Group formally voted to oppose Initiative 732, a Washington state ballot measure, and to advocate stronger measures instead.

By Pete Knutson and Hing Ng

Knutson family 2011We’ve been fishing and direct marketing our salmon since before Ronald Reagan stripped the solar panels off the White House roof. In those days, the roaring two-cycle 6-71 in our old gillnetter was still considered clean and efficient enough to power a working boat. We fought to prevent oil spills and to protect salmon habitat, and not long ago we switched most of our production from air freight to freezer barges to reduce costs and carbon pollution. But until recently, hardly anyone understood how heavily our family business – and the seafood industry as a whole – depends on protecting oceans and rivers from the rising consequences of pollution from burning fossil fuels.

We have learned the hard way. In the last decade, it has become painfully obvious that emissions from coal, oil, and gas are already eroding Northwest fisheries, undercutting the future of both wild seafood and farmed shellfish.

We have no time to waste in confronting this gathering storm. That’s why we’re opposing Washington’s Initiative 732, which will be on ballots Nov. 8. Despite its good intentions, this “revenue neutral carbon tax” proposal is too weak to work, and it would obstruct better policies. As urgently as we need a carbon solution, we need it to be a real one. I-732 offers false hope.

It cannot cut emissions deeply enough to protect our waters, our harvests, and our climate.

Worse yet, Initiative I-732 would block the door to far more effective carbon policies that our state has a chance to adopt as soon as 2017. If you depend on healthy oceans, we urge you to vote this one down and work for stronger measures.

Carbon pollution does more than drive climate change, causing fish-killing hot spells in rivers and helping to crash Northwest salmon runs. It also acidifies seawater, undercuts planktonic foodwebs, clobbers larval shellfish, and increases both the growth and toxicity of poisonous algae blooms. Last winter, West Coast Dungeness crabbers lost most of their season because the fishery was shut down to protect consumers from a massive toxic algae bloom. That bloom also closed Washington’s razor clam fishery.

The Northwest is now viewed as the world’s “front line” in the struggle against acidification and other consequences of carbon pollution in the ocean.

We wish we could support I-732. Hundreds of volunteers worked hard to put it on the ballot. Unfortunately, this measure is fatally flawed. It would hoover up urgently needed funds from the proposed carbon tax and give away the money in tax breaks for business and the working poor.

It might even run deep into the red. Advocates of the measure contest this, but Washington’s Office of Financial Management estimated I-732 would dole out nearly $800 million more than it raises during its first six years (see tinyurl.com/j9awjfb).

Don’t get us wrong. Putting a price on carbon pollution is necessary. But giving away the money cripples the purpose of this initiative.

We can do far better by reinvesting the proceeds to grow a cleaner economy. Nine states from Maine to Maryland have slashed emissions from big power plants – far outperforming British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax – while accelerating job growth. How? They reinvest the money from a price on emissions to solve the carbon problem. The money from carbon pricing is pooled and invested in projects that help people afford to reduce pollution by burning less fuel, buying cleaner engines, insulating homes and buildings, upgrading inefficient cold storage and factory equipment, and switching to renewables and cleaner energy sources.

Initiative 732 can only drive up fuel prices. If that were a recipe for deep reductions in pollution, we might support this measure. It isn’t. Because I-732 fails to reinvest the money in energy solutions, it can deliver only a fraction of the emissions cuts required by existing Washington law.

A carbon price is too important to squander the proceeds.

Giving away the money in tax breaks also means I-732 would deny Washington the chance to join the growing network of states and nations (40 now and growing, with China climbing on board in 2017) that pool resources to combat the carbon problem. Washington would have nothing to contribute to the hat, so we would lose access to potential investments from other regions. We would be trying to “go it alone” against a global problem.

What about the extra money you would pay at the pump? Well, some of it would give Boeing yet another huge tax break.

We have real opportunities to solve the carbon problem. This measure isn’t one of them.

A sound policy would help finance projects that reduce emissions or bury carbon in soil and long-lasting products. Fishermen could benefit from investments to help drive down fuel consumption. That might even help our family replace our old 6-71, an inefficient but unstoppable diesel that first entered production in the 1930s.

It’s time for the seafood industry to champion stronger policies to protect healthy waters from carbon emissions. If you vote in Washington, vote no on I-732. Then put a shoulder to the wheel for real solutions.

How? Join the Working Group for Seafood and Energy (seafoodandenergy.org). It’s a forum for fishermen, growers, tribes, and fishery-dependent communities to pursue our shared goal of protecting fisheries and oceans from carbon emissions. This group helps us make a difference without eating up all our time. The Working Group was created at the request of industry and tribal leaders and is led by Brad Warren, a former editor of this magazine. To learn more about it, or participate, email info@globaloceanhealth.org.

Peter Knutson and Hing Ng run Seattle-based Loki Fish Co. with their sons, Jonah and Dylan.