Archive for May, 2012
By Richen Brame
Coastal Conservation Association
Atlantic Fisheries Director
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Technical Committee (TC) and Stock Assessment Committee (SAC) process is supposed to be a simple one that allows the members, who come from state agencies, federal agencies and academia, to do the technical work necessary to manage marine fisheries. One primary object of this process is to allow only qualified, independent scientists to populate the committees, who can be expected to produce results that are not biased towards any one sector or another. Such scientists insulated from the grind of fishery politics are the very engine on which marine fisheries management runs.
The Commissioners may be the drivers, but the TC and SAC folks provide the horsepower. This process can quickly fall apart if it appears that someone with an agenda is sitting on the committee. Earlier this week, I witnessed just such an event, perhaps the most egregious I’ve seen in attending TC and SAC meetings for 13 years.
To set the scene, the Menhaden Stock Assessment Subcommittee and Technical Committee met to determine what information will go into an assessment update, essentially the data from 2009-2011 which was collected since the last benchmark assessment. As is well known, menhaden are undergoing overfishing and the Board recently set new fishing mortality reference points that are more conservative than the old reference points. To end overfishing, the Board is currently developing Amendment 2 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic menhaden, which will reduce menhaden harvest for all harvesters.
As is also well known, this will be the first time the menhaden reduction industry – Omega Protein in Reedville, Virginia – will have to operate under a quota and will have to limit its harvest to end overfishing.
It was no surprise, then, that Omega Protein hired two pre-eminent stock assessment scientists to represent them at the TC and SAC meeting. Many groups, including Coastal Conservation Association, had representatives there to observe the proceedings. But the Omega representatives went a step further and interacted freely with the Committee. One of them spoke more than any member of the stock assessment committee. At one point, he essentially led the discussion on what sensitivity analyses were appropriate for the assessment.
This type of interaction is out of bounds, and it casts doubt on the validity of these proceedings. It threatens to make a mockery of the process and transport it back to the dark days when reduction industry representatives controlled both the Menhaden Management Board and the Technical Committee.
The two scientists hired by Omega are some of the best-known stock assessment experts in the world, and their opinions should be available to the SAC and TC, but in a controlled fashion that is fair to all. What the Omega representatives contributed at that meeting may very well have been useful or valuable, but the manner in which they presented it was entirely inappropriate, and tainted the legitimacy of the meeting. Regardless of what they said, the appearance of impropriety cannot be avoided. As paid representatives of Omega Protein, they are at that meeting for one purpose and one purpose only – to represent Omega’s interests. Would they bother to attend such a meeting if the stock was not undergoing overfishing and Omega was not faced with reductions in harvest for the first time in its history?
I think not.
The ASMFC currently has guidelines on public participation under development, but those will not be approved until October. The Committee Chair and staff person are there to facilitate discussion, not referee who gets to speak and who doesn’t. In the meantime, conservationists are left to wonder about a process that appears tainted. As has happened in the past with this highly political fishery, it appears that the ASMFC is allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. Again.
Conservationists and recreational anglers have come too far in our efforts to protect a critical forage base to let these machinations go unchallenged. The ASMFC must rein in Omega Protein and not allow it to gain control of the menhaden management process. Its failure to do so risks destroying any trust the public has in its ability to manage our marine resources.
Tags: Amendment 2, ASMFC, menhaden
Posted in CCA Atlantic States | No Comments »
CCA applauds Texas Congressman’s strong opposition to misguided Idle Iron directive
In the latest display of opposition to an unpopular federal directive, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) is calling for the Department of Interior to reconsider its Idle Iron policy that stands to dismantle critical marine habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. The Idle Iron directive, issued by the Department in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, orders non-producing oil and gas rigs and other structures in offshore waters to be removed within five years of the issuance of the directive.
“I believe this directive is merely a knee-jerk reaction to the Gulf oil spill and creates more problems than it solves,” Farenthold says in the letter to Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department. “While legislative and scientific efforts are being made to preserve these valuable habitats, rigs are being pulled up left and right, leaving no time for finding a way to salvage these ecosystems. Instead of pre-emptively removing the rigs, the Department of Interior, specifically the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, should work to quicken the approval of these rigs for artificial reefing purposes and allow for additional time to determine a safe and environmentally sound method to reef these structures in place.”
Farenthold’s letter follows a similar letter from Texas Gov. Rick Perry as well as a recent decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to begin an amendment to have rigs and related structures declared Essential Fish Habitat. Marine conservationists are working to generate a groundswell of opposition to the Department’s directive and save what is generally regarded as the largest artificial reef system in the world.
“We are encouraged by Congressman Farenthold’s letter and grateful that he has stepped up to oppose this destructive policy,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA National. “Anglers know how important those structures are to marine life, and the fight to keep those rigs in place as artificial reefs is a critical issue to our members.”
Click HERE to see a copy of Farenthold’s letter, and be sure to check out the CCA Rigs to Reefs page for more information.
Tags: artificial reefs, Essential Fish Habitat, Idle Iron
Posted in CCA Gulf of Mexico | No Comments »
As the debate winds down on whether Gulf states will be consistent with federal regulations for the 2012 red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico – 40-days (tops) and a two-fish bag limit – it once again brings the conversation around to what seems to be the best solution of all: “Why don’t we just extend state waters out to 30 miles or 100 miles or 200 miles for fisheries management and be done with it?”
Implicit in that statement is acknowledgement of NOAA Fisheries deep-rooted problems in federal fisheries management and a belief in the states’ ability to do it better. It is a concept that is hard to argue with if you’re a recreational angler. Consider that after decades of effort by NOAA Fisheries, participants in the red snapper fishery are being rewarded with a 40-day season (tops) and two-fish bag limit. That is about as bad as it has ever been, and that is with a fishery that by all accounts is recovering wildly. The current situation merely confirms that NOAA Fisheries may not be any better at managing success than it was at managing failure. After all, it took a couple of lawsuits and an Act of God (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005) to finally turn the red snapper fishery around, and yet federal managers had to make the rounds in 2012 to beg the Gulf states to be content with a 40-day season and a two-fish bag limit.
In a blog earlier this year, we said that trust in federal fisheries management was at an all-time low, which was based in part on developments exactly like this. Thirty years of federal futility have brought us to this point with red snapper, where we have state agencies grappling with a devil’s choice of staying consistent with wholly unsatisfactory federal regulations or going inconsistent and bringing on a raft of different problems. After all the time, money, effort and stress over this fishery, there is still no good answer for the states. It’s like being asked if you want to have your leg amputated or your arm.
Inconsistency creates all kinds of negatives – from enforcement to conservation, and it definitely bites charter boats and other federally permitted boats. However, states staying consistent for recreational anglers means staying on board a ship that is slowly sinking with no lifeboats in sight. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
What an awful position for the state fish and wildlife agencies to be in, through no fault of their own. One would hope that the federal government will grasp the take-home message from the states that seriously considered non-compliance this year – fix this fishery, once and for all. Come up with something that makes sense for the resource and sense for recreational anglers. Do it now – not in five more years or ten more years or twenty more years. Now.
Failing that, here’s an idea – why don’t we extend state waters out for fishery management purposes and be done with it?
Tags: non-compliance, red snapper
Posted in CCA Federal Fisheries, CCA Gulf of Mexico | No Comments »