‘CCA Blogs’ Articles
Just when you think federal fisheries management can’t get any more confusing, NOAA Fisheries pops out a solution to a problem that is truly baffling, especially when viewed against recent decisions to dramatically limit recreational catch in other regions. Last week, NOAA announced that fishermen will be allowed to catch up to 6,700 metric tons of Gulf of Maine cod in 2012. The statement from NOAA read:
NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council, which includes state officials and fishermen, worked with the fishing industry to identify flexibility within federal fisheries law that could both protect cod and provide sustained fishing opportunities. As a result, the quota for 2012 will be set at 6,700 metric tons, which is within the range recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council. Without this collaborative approach, the catch limit for this fishing year would have been set below 1,500 metric tons. This is the end result of collaborative work with the fishing industry to find a solution that prevented a much larger cut to the allowable catch for the 2012 fishing year.
The condensed version of the back story to this amazing turn of events includes an assessment in 2006 that showed Gulf of Maine cod were on the path to recovery, and everyone was happy. In 2011, a new assessment using new techniques showed quite the opposite, shocking everyone involved in the fishery. Based on the 2011 assessment, which was peer reviewed and accepted, the stock was and is in a serious decline. The fishery was looking at massive cuts in harvest, but with NOAA’s announcement last week, it appears that some mysterious “flexibility within federal fisheries law that could both protect cod and provide sustained fishing opportunities” allowed the New England Council to “salvage” a harvest for 2012 that is more than 300% greater than it was going to be otherwise.
Cod is the main reason Congress put hard deadlines and strict fishing limits into MSA in the first place, yet there is enough “flexibility” in the existing federal law to allow the posterfish for commercial excess to endure a 300% upward adjustment in the allowed harvest in spite of a year-old assessment that indicates it is borderline collapsed. On the other hand, NOAA Fisheries says its hands are tied regarding regulations on recreational fisheries like black sea bass in the South Atlantic and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, fisheries that are recovering so well that anglers are tripping over fish and being penalized for catching too many.
The flexibility to do what NOAA Fisheries did in New England for cod has existed since the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was reauthorized in 2006; NOAA Fisheries has simply refused to use that flexibility. Yet they chose to be “flexible” in a fishery which by all indications is in serious trouble, and stonewalled when asked to do the same in recreational fisheries that are in much better shape. Herein lies one of the great mysteries that has made the debates over what to do to address problems associated with MSA so frustrating. Solutions are there and can somehow be applied, even temporarily, to one of the most chronically mismanaged commercial fisheries in the entire country. But in the Gulf, where anglers have a two-snapper limit and an absurd 40-day season, all we have to work with are threats of further reductions and more draconian management measures because the stock has rebounded so wildly that we catch too many big snapper too fast.
And NOAA wonders why the recreational angling community has trust issues with federal management.
Posted in CCA Blogs, CCA Federal Fisheries, Magnuson-Stevens Act | No Comments »
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
The illusion continues for NOAA Fisheries.
Last year the agency boldly announced it had ended overfishing. This week, the agency proudly announced that annual catch limits are now in place for most federal fisheries. Wonderful news, if either proclamation had roots in fact or could possibly translate into any good result.
Unable to muster the science to manage to the very high threshold specified by the Magnuson Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries declared victory without even running the race. It ended overfishing and put a catch limit on every stock under management. On paper. And environmentalists cheered.
Recreational anglers are not cheering.
What will happen back in the real world now that the agency has claimed to have ended overfishing and put in annual catch limits without the science to adequately back it up? The rest of us will eventually have to pay the piper. The agency has built a house of cards and set catch limits that are not tethered to reality. When those limits are exceeded — and we are talking about limits on every single stock under management, the majority of which the agency knows nothing about — the agency will be sued. Sued relentlessly by environmental groups. With no tools to offer any other alternative, NOAA Fisheries will close stock after stock to comply with illusory catch limits. It is relatively easy to end overfishing and enforce catch limits if you simply don’t let anyone fish. And after every closure the environmentalists will cheer and commend the agency for its proactive stance. Won’t that make a good press release?
Real management is difficult and expensive, but infinitely more beneficial for the nation’s fisheries and the citizens who use and enjoy them. But functional management doesn’t seem to be the goal here. NOAA Fisheries has chosen the easier, but far more unpredictable path. By implementing everything from unfair catch shares to imaginary catch limits to archaic allocations, the agency has almost completely alienated its most valuable constituents — the anglers who actually use the nation’s marine resources and put back far more than they take out. Trust and partnership between the agency and the recreational community are at an all-time low. This community is counting the days until the Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization again. At this point it is hard not to believe the agency will eventually reap what it has sown, and that may not be a welcome outcome for the proper conservation of our marine resources.
The current and likely future situation is all the more regrettable when you consider that the Administration could have implemented the most turbulent provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in about 100 different ways — 99 of which would not have left scorched earth in their wake. As concerns mount over the strangling effects of over-regulation on the American economy, it is remarkable that the agency has elected to subject America’s anglers and all their economic potential to the singularly most restrictive interpretation of the law possible, never mind the consequences.
This Administration’s attitude towards fisheries management is strikingly similar to the one that gave the public Prohibition in the 1920s, and the results are likely to be the same. Prohibition, which made criminals out of ordinary citizens overnight, didn’t work because nobody wanted it to work except a small, hardcore group of extremists who didn’t drink alcohol. The country turned itself inside out, spent billions of dollars on a misguided campaign and took more than 10 years to correct its course. The current approach to federal fisheries management is on the same path.
Whether by choice or by circumstance, the agency has frittered away the good will of even the most reasonable of its constituents and has elected to hide behind an illusion of management. This is certainly not the agency the recreational community deserves or expects, nor is it one which contains the essentials of good management.
Tags: Annual catch limits, Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries
Posted in CCA Blogs, Magnuson-Stevens Act | No Comments »
Pew misinformation campaign reaches new low
by Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
In what has become a veritable campaign of misinformation, Pew Environment Group issued yet another statement in support of setting annual catch limits on marine fisheries species without the benefit of science-based assessments. Taking the campaign to a new level, Pew is now revising history to make its points:
“Holly Binns, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Southeast Fish Conservation Campaign, issued the following statement [Aug. 8] in response to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s 8 to 5 vote to approve plans to prevent overfishing that protect dozens of species by setting science-based catch limits.
“‘The council has taken a forward-looking approach that allows managers to set scientifically sound fishing limits now before species suffer population declines. This proactive strategy is necessary to avoid what happened with South Atlantic red snapper, which is in such severe trouble that a fishing moratorium was needed in 2010 to save the species.’
“‘This plan will help avert steeper restrictions in the future, setting a course towards restoring a healthy, balanced ocean ecosystem. It is like visiting the doctor for preventive care, rather than waiting until you end up in the emergency room.’”
There are so many misstatements of fact in that statement, it is hard to know where to begin. For starters, there is nothing “scientifically sound” about setting catch limits without the benefit of a stock assessment. Those catch limits are going to be set by SWAG — scientific wild-ass guess – which doesn’t necessarily bother an environmentalist but does strike a nerve with anglers and others who actually use America’s public resources.
Second, the South Atlantic red snapper crisis came about precisely because NOAA Fisheries neglected to do a stock assessment for decades — the exact course of action Pew is advocating now for all marine fisheries. In a sense, the Council managed that fishery by SWAG and got it horribly wrong, so wrong that when they finally did do an assessment, they almost had to close the bottom of the entire South Atlantic to fix it. And ironically, if I recall correctly, Pew was very much in favor of that closure.
Third, as exemplified by South Atlantic red snapper, nothing about setting limits based on SWAGs is going to prevent managers from having to enact steeper restrictions in the future when and if an assessment finally shows them how radically wrong those limits are. And, in the most gaping fault with Pew’s logic, once the catch limits are set without an assessment, there is no motivation for managers to spend the money and resources to actually examine the state of the stock with an assessment. Red snapper became a crisis after the stock assessment. If they had never done an assessment — and NOAA Fisheries has shown a systemic reluctance to expend resources on assessments in recreational fisheries — red snapper would still be heading merrily down the drain, and no one would be the wiser.
Pew likes to say that managing this way is “preventative” medicine, and it’s better than ending up in the emergency room. In reality, they are advocating exactly the opposite. They are advocating that you never visit the doctor, never run any tests, never draw blood or have an x-ray. And by time you realize there is a problem, you go straight to the morgue.
That is no way to manage a fishery.
There are rational ways to manage wildlife resources that are employed all over this country. Anglers are seeking the same for marine species, no more, no less. But we are not going to get there by revising history and distorting reality.
Tags: Annual catch limits, Magnuson-Stevens Act, South Atlantic red snapper
Posted in CCA Blogs, Magnuson-Stevens Act | 2 Comments »
There you go again…
By Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
It is more of the same from the Pew Environment Group. The message below making the rounds in DC has all the hallmarks of the environmental community’s overall approach to marine resource management. If you believe a hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess is good enough to manage our nation’s marine fisheries, then I guess you don’t mind sending messages to Congress that leave out critical pieces of information either.
The message below urges Congress to oppose much-needed adjustments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and laments the losses to the commercial fishing sector due to overfishing. Pew doesn’t seem so concerned about losses to the recreational sector due to overfishing, but that isn’t a surprise.
Overfishing costs all businesses in this arena money over the value potentially available if the stock was recovered. However, the proposed legislation, H.R. 2304, doesn’t change the fact that management is going to continue recovering those stocks.
H.R. 2304 is not trying to alter rebuilding schedules. Far from it. Annual catch limits for overfished stocks have already been set. H.R. 2304 only asks that managers not be forced to destroy fisheries based on bad science and weaken conservation by dropping fish out of fishery management plans just to comply with a statutory deadline.
Environmentalist groups like to pretend they are only ones who don’t like overfishing. They’re not. Everyone agrees that overfishing is horrible and that it costs us money, reducing the economic viability and sustainability of our coastal communities Everyone wants stocks recovered quickly. But not everyone is willing to be rational about it.
New report shows fishermen in the Southeast losing millions due to chronic overfishing
Dear Senator ——————–,
I am writing to let you know about a new report released by the Pew Environment Group showing that commercial fishermen in the Southeast region who targeted depleted ocean fish populations such as gag grouper and red snapper lost $15.2 million in 2009. These losses were the direct result of decades of overfishing – catching fish faster than they can reproduce. Congress recognized the costly toll of overfishing when it strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) with bipartisan requirements to establish science-based annual catch limits to end overfishing and rebuild U.S. ocean fish populations. The Pew Environment Group respectfully requests you to reject efforts to undermine these requirements so that we can restore our nation’s fish populations to healthy levels and put those dollars back in fishermen’s wallets.
The Hidden Cost of Overfishing to Commercial Fishermen, a report produced by the non-profit organization Ecotrust for the Pew Environment Group, analyzes the impact of chronic overfishing by calculating the revenue lost in 2009 by commercial fishermen in three regions with the highest levels of overfishing. We hope you will consider these findings and continue Congress’ bipartisan tradition of support for the MSA.
If you or your staff have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 202-552-2065 or email@example.com. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Lee R. Crockett
Director, Federal Fisheries Policy
Posted in CCA Blogs, Magnuson-Stevens Act | No Comments »
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
No one has ever accused the federal fisheries management process of being too transparent. It is a Byzantine world of statistics, biology and, the murkiest ingredient of all, politics. It is a process that often yields confounding results.
Some of the most perplexing results ever seen in this arena are on the horizon, as the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NOAA Fisheries to set annual catch limits on every stock of fish under management by Dec. 31, 2011. The agency is a long, long way from having science on all those stocks, meaning that it is preparing to set a slew of catch limits based on what amounts to a SWAG – a scientific wild ass guess.
The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs acknowledged that the situation is ludicrous. It held an oversight hearing this week entitled, “NOAA’s Fishery Science: Is the Lack of Basic Science Costing Jobs?” which is a very telling label for a hearing. Loosely translated, it means that legislators realize that managing public resources by SWAG has real-world ramifications and, to their credit, they attempted to find what most of us involved in fisheries management are seeking: Clarity. A straight answer. Common sense.
The Committee asked a diverse group of individuals to share their views and assess the impact of NOAA Fisheries’ distinct lack of science on the vast majority of stocks it manages. It was a unique opportunity. Congress was listening. It was a chance for parties to set the record straight and work toward a solution, and that doesn’t come along very often. But just when you thought the water was clearing, the tide kicked up more mud.
During the hearing, an outgoing member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, George Geiger, referred to himself as a leader of Coastal Conservation Association as he attacked HR 2304, the Fishery Science Improvement Act, in his testimony. HR 2304 is a bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) that, among other provisions, states that if the agency has not assessed a stock of fish in the last five years and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, the agency is not required to set an annual catch limit.
CCA and the other leading marine conservation organizations in the country have thrown their support behind Rep. Wittman’s bill as a common-sense remedy to NOAA Fisheries ongoing science shortcomings. The bill is opposed, however, by most of the environmental community, which insists that a hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess is somehow good enough to manage our marine resources. No other wildlife resource management agency operates that way, but damn the consequences and full speed ahead for marine resources, these groups say.
Mr. Geiger seems to believe that too, but strangely decided to cloud his affiliations and repeatedly referenced his leadership role in CCA Florida, giving Congress the impression that he was speaking for CCA despite his letter of resignation from CCA almost two years ago.
It wasn’t a passing reference – he mentioned it more than a few times in his written testimony and in his oral testimony. But he never mentioned his abrupt departure from CCA. To what purpose? To create clarity? No, if that was the case he would have articulated the philosophical differences that caused him to leave the organization in October of 2009.
No one in CCA asked Mr. Geiger to testify on our behalf. Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, carried the message for CCA as well as for American Sportfishing Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and The Billfish Foundation.
It remains unclear who Mr. Geiger was representing. We know it wasn’t CCA – Jeff Angers was doing that. Was it Pew? His testimony certainly aligns with their opinion on the bill. Has Pew’s credibility dropped so low that it has to rely on someone who is apparently not connected with them, in this case an ex-member of CCA, in order to have its testimony presented? Why can’t Pew represent itself at a hearing?
It appears that while anglers are calling for clarity, some other groups are content to play a shell game. Whatever game was being played, it was hard to listen to Mr. Geiger or read his testimony without concluding that he was suggesting that he represented CCA. That kind of obfuscation is similar to the questionable tactics employed by environmental groups that have also attacked HR 2304 in dramatic fashion.
The Ocean Conservancy essentially labeled supporters of the bill – which has more than two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors and the support of the 300-member-strong Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus – as pro-extinction. The Natural Resources Defense Council breathlessly said HR 2304 would “gut the nation’s fisheries law.”
A bill that requires a stock assessment to set an annual catch limit for a stock of fish stands to gut the nation’s fisheries law? Gut?!
Rhetoric like that muddies every discussion on federal fisheries management.
The Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs is to be commended for its efforts to seek solutions for NOAA Fisheries’ inability to implement the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act the way Congress envisioned in 2006. Unfortunately, at a time when everyone – Congress, anglers, commercial fishermen, the Councils, NOAA – sees the need to address those problems, there are still some who find it better to muddy the water than seek the truth.
Posted in CCA Blogs | No Comments »
Sector Separation – It’s OK to Throw Bad Ideas Away
by Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
Linus Pauling was an American chemist, biochemist, peace activist, author and educator. He was one of the most influential chemists in history and one of only four individuals to have won more than one Nobel Prize.
As far as I know, though, he never worked in fisheries management. He might not have liked to fish and possibly may not have even liked to eat fish. However, given his famous saying about ideas, we could certainly use him on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council today.
“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas,” Pauling once said, “and throw the bad ones away.”
What Linus saw so clearly has apparently proven to be a tough concept for most of the Gulf Council to grasp. It’s good to have ideas. Big problems need lots of ideas to solve. Put them all on the table – poke them, prod them, sift through them. But when they turn out to be bad ideas, throw them out and be done with them, for goodness’ sake.
Someone should have thrown out the idea of sector separation long ago, but instead the idea seems to be a classic case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
Sector separation is the proposal to formally split existing and future recreational sector allocations of harvest into separate private boat and charter / for-hire / headboat sector portions. This approach has been pushed by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is also advocating catch shares for the for-hire and headboat sectors.
Times are tough for charter/for-hire and headboat operators in the Gulf of Mexico. No one disputes that. Times are tough all over. But somehow, a small, vocal minority of operators has convinced the Gulf Council that they need extra help. They figured their lives would be a lot easier if someone would literally give them some of the recreational quota of red snapper and allow them to be one of the very few segments in America today with some stability in their businesses. The Council apparently feels the need to do something to help them.
In reality, every entity from the federal government to your local vegetable stand craves a little stability in their business right now. I bet all of the state wildlife management agencies that are seeing their budgets slashed and burned would love to see some stability and guaranteed revenue streams as well.
It’s a nice gig for the operators, if they can get it. But does the chance to play favorites for a few operators justify the Council striking off on such a radical and wildly unpopular idea that makes no sense at any level?
It makes no economic sense for anyone but a handful of fortunate operators. By catering to a very small segment of the Gulf reef fish fishery, the Council is apparently willing to shortchange the private boat angling sector that is many times larger and far more economically vibrant – see Table 1 below.
NOAA’s own economic studies show that for the period 2009 to 2032, private boat recreational anglers will contribute $9.1 billion of the value in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp and reef fish fisheries, followed by the commercial shrimp fishery at $1.6 billion, and the recreational for-hire fishery at just $0.83 billion.
It shouldn’t make any sense to state wildlife management agencies. Given the limited recreational allocation, the only way the idea works at all is if managers take fish and fishing days away from private boat anglers and give them to a few private businesses. Private boat anglers supply the vast majority of license fees that support state fisheries programs. Charter/for-hire vessels supply a much smaller percentage of revenues. It is very likely a move to separate the recreational sector will create challenges for state fisheries directors by influencing the growth in the number of licensed anglers and fishing opportunities in their states.
The issue of sector separation and catch shares for the recreational angling sector has drawn opposition from governors, Congress and recreational anglers. And yet, the Gulf Council members continue to toy with the idea like a puzzle they can’t quite fit together.
Linus Pauling, where are you when we need you?
Before the Council lets sector separation whither into existence against the will of everyone but a few operators, it should first heed calls to reallocate fisheries according to modern factors like economic, social and conservation criteria, rather than outdated catch history. There is a very good likelihood that reallocating red snapper would solve many of the problems faced by operators without creating so many new ones.
Today’s Gulf red snapper allocation is 51 percent commercial/49 percent recreational. Before the Gulf Council turns the recreational sector inside out and upside down for the benefit of a few charter/for-hire and headboat operators, it would seem wise to first determine what happens if they changed the allocation to something more reflective of current reality. Maybe something that would encourage growth in the sector that is the greatest economic engine in this fishery.
Now that’s a good idea.
If those same operators are still struggling a few years from now under the new allocation, then perhaps you reallocate again or perhaps you throw some other ideas on the table and sift through those.
But take it from a guy who won two Nobel Prizes – don’t forget to throw the bad ideas away.
Tags: Catch Shares, EDF, sector separation
Posted in CCA Blogs, CCA Gulf of Mexico | 1 Comment »
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the allocations for bluefin tuna among U.S. fisheries for 2012. The agency allocated the full quota of 957 metric tons that was given to the U.S. by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the international body that governs bluefin tunas and tuna-like species.
The traditional rod and reel commercial sector was given the largest portion of the U.S. quota with 435 metric tons, followed by the recreational sector with 182 metric tons. Allocations of the other sectors were: purse seine/large nets – 172 metric tons; longline, 61 metric tons; harpoon, 36 metric tons; traps 1 metric ton and a reserve of 70.6 metric tons. The reserve is set aside to account for dead discards and scientific research.
This allocation decision was set against the backdrop of two significant issues surrounding the bluefin tuna fishery. Earlier this year, the NOAA declined to protect the western Atlantic population of bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act, despite a decline in catch from a 1964 peak of 18,671 metric tons to just over 1,900 metric tons in 2009. Coastal Conservation Association did not support the ESA listing for bluefin tuna for a variety of reasons, but the efforts to have the species listed reflect the high degree of uncertainty that continues to surround the health and future of the bluefin tuna fishery.
Also earlier this year, NOAA grappled with how to adjust quotas to account for 160 metric tons of dead discards in the U.S. Longline Category. The 160 metric tons of dead tuna thrown back by the longliners is more than the entire longline allotment for 2012. The agency did not require the longliners alone to “pay back” their enormous waste of dead bluefin tuna, despite the profusion of new ‘accountability measures’ that will require such from numerous recreational fisheries. Instead, NOAA opened a public comment period for input from stakeholders on how to subtract the longliners’ overage from every other category, including the Angling Category.
Coastal Conservation Association stated its adamant opposition to any proposal to reduce quota from the Angling Category, as well as from other categories, in order to accommodate dead discards in the Longline Category. We believe that the commercial longliners, who are solely responsible for such discards, should be held responsible for the consequences of their actions.
Yet, although the Longline Category produced 100 percent of the “excess” discards (i.e., discards that cannot be set off against unused 2010 quota), NOAA’s proposed rule required that only 8 percent of such discards will be subtracted from the Longline Category’s quota, with the other categories being required to subsidize the remainder.
CCA believed that was a wholly inadequate response to the indiscriminate waste of 160 metric tons of a fish that was on the verge of being listed as an endangered species.
In CCA’s view, the only truly viable way to substantially reduce dead bluefin discards in the longline fishery is to impose time and area closures. We requested that, in the short term, NOAA not implement the proposed rule with respect to quota adjustment, and instead implement time and area closures designed to reduce dead discards in the longline fishery by not less than 65 metric tons. In the longer term, we asked that NOAA implement such time and area closures on the longline fishery to fully implement the mandate of National Standard 9, which requires that bycatch not just be reduced, but reduced to the full extent practicable.
Our comments were ignored, as were the comments of countless other angling organizations and those of other, less destructive bluefin tuna harvesting categories. With its announcement of the 2012 allocations, NOAA has decided that everyone will pay for the sins of the longlining sector.
NOAA’s decision is just the latest bizarre twist in the long history of bluefin tuna management, one that has been checkered with Band-aids and half-measures and greed. By allowing the Longline Category to continue its operations unencumbered by any additional regulation that might reduce the tons of dead, discarded, nearly endangered bluefin tuna, the old Bureau of Commercial Fisheries has signaled that it is business as usual.
If logical requests to curtail the use of the most indiscriminate commercial gear in the ocean with targeted time and area closures are ignored, then perhaps it is time to acknowledge that the agency is simply incapable of responsibly managing this particular fishery. Perhaps it is time for other participants in this fishery to consider a larger vision, such as simply removing longline gear from the management regime altogether through a buyout program or similar efforts.
In sports, substances and gear that give an individual player an unfair advantage over other players are labeled a threat to the integrity of the game and outlawed. Players who insist on using the offending gear are banned from the league. In the world of fisheries management, no consideration is given to the integrity of the league as a whole. Indeed, players using the most offensive gear in the game are coddled and protected at the expense of the other participants.
With its most recent announcement on bluefin quotas, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries has not left many choices on the table. Banning commercial longliners from the league may be the only option left.
Tags: Bluefin Tuna, ICCAT, longlines
Posted in Bluefin Tuna, CCA Blogs | No Comments »
Time to Shed a Little Light
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
Fishermen are notorious for having a little trouble with the truth. Whether it’s adding a few pounds to the fish you caught last week or misdirecting a buddy away from your favorite spot or calling in sick on a beautiful day with a green tide, anglers can bend the truth when they need to.
It’s all part of the game.
Unfortunately, the truth in fisheries management often gets bent and twisted until it is an unrecognizable, smoking heap of wreckage, and that is the subject of a very good column in the May 2011 issue of SaltWater Sportsman Magazine entitled, “The Great Conspiracy Theory.” Rip Cunningham traces the origins of the great catch share conspiracy theory and offers a blunt assessment: “The true conspiracy may be the effort of a few in the shadows to maintain the status quo by creating a perceived conspiracy,” he writes. “The most insidious conspiracy of all may be the effort to invent one where none exists.”
We’ve had to do our share of debunking myths about catch shares as well, and published an article called “Caught Up in Catch Shares” back in February to tell our side of the tale once and for all. Rip’s analysis is right on the mark.
The thing about conspiracies is that you never really know who is behind them or what their motives are. To be functional and effective, organizations can’t be overly concerned with that end of the equation, though. You can chase shadows and whispers all day long and accomplish exactly nothing. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “”It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.”
If you want to know about an organization, look at the work it is actually doing on issues that matter to you.
If you care about the impact of destructive fishing gear like longlines, trawls and gillnets, CCA has game fish legislation in play right now in the North Carolina General Assembly, has launched a net-ban effort in the Pacific Northwest, is pushing to end longlining in the Gulf of Mexico, and is leading the charge against rampant poaching of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay.
If you care about habitat, CCA’s Building Conservation Habitat Program will pour $1.5 million into marsh and reef restoration and creation over the next three years. In the inaugural project of this national program, four acres of artificial reef are set to splash down in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay in the next few weeks. The habitat projects undertaken over the last year by individual CCA state chapters are too numerous to mention here, but cover everything from oyster recycling to seagrass planting to ghost crab trap removal programs.
If you care about enforcement and research, CCA state chapters have donated hundreds of thousands dollars of equipment to state wildlife enforcement agencies. CCA is also working to defeat short-sighted efforts in New York and New Jersey to roll back saltwater recreational saltwater licenses that will de-fund those state management agencies and open the door to commercial abuses and neglect of marine resources. CCA North Carolina is fighting the commercial industry to secure a Joint Enforcement Agreement to secure federal funding that will allow state officers to enforce federal law. And CCA Texas funded $700,000 for a marine larviculture laboratory to study recreational fish species for hatchery programs in partnership with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.
If you are concerned about the potential negative impacts of catch shares, CCA is the only recreational fishing group in the country that is engaged in a lawsuit over catch shares against both the federal government and the Environmental Defense Fund.
And if you care about absurd fishing regulations, like the recently announced 48-day season for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, CCA is pursuing a strategy for reallocation at every level of federal management in an effort to have fisheries allocated based on current economic, social and conservation criteria rather than outdated past catch history.
There are many challenges in fisheries management, and unfortunately one of them is, as Rip says, the efforts of a few in the shadows to maintain the status quo by spreading mistruths. The next time a hazy shadow on a fishing chatroom whispers something that sounds outrageous, be sure to ask them where their group stands on things that matter to you, like game fish status, fishing licenses, destructive fishing gear, habitat restoration and resource conservation.
Nothing makes a hazy shadow go away like a little sunlight.
Posted in CCA Blogs | 8 Comments »
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
A half-dozen years ago, I went fishing in Florida with a family friend who had moved to the Naples area. He reminded me the day before the trip to get a fishing license, warning that we could count on being stopped by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers at least twice during our outing.
I was slightly stunned. I had been stopped quite a few times over the years in Texas and asked to produce a license. I’d had game wardens go through my ice chest to count and measure fish. All the paperwork was in order and the fish always measured up, so it wasn’t a bad experience. On the contrary, game wardens are interesting folks to talk to. They always have great stories.
However, those visits weren’t anything as reliable or predictable as my friend was describing in Florida. I asked him what made him think we’d get stopped more than once during a one-day trip.
“We have a lot to protect here,” he said simply.
We got stopped three times the next day. By a different officer each time.
It is easy to see why Florida is regarded as the sportfishing capital of the world. When the nets came out of the water in 1994, the State of Florida made a commitment to creating a world-class recreational fishing destination. Total revenue for all marine recreational fishing license sales was more than $29 million in 2008, and it translates into a bulldog enforcement effort, complete with high-tech poaching stings and penalties that should scare an illegal netter out of state.
The results of that commitment are easy to see – Florida is a remarkable place to fish, and it is immensely gratifying to know that it is being carefully conserved and protected by the investment made by anglers with their license purchases. The same commitment has been made in places like Louisiana and Texas, and folks there can tell plenty of before-and-after stories about the difference it has made in their fisheries.
In these economic times, though, all states are cutting budgets, and fish and wildlife enforcement agencies are prime targets. Unfortunately, two recent examples of lawlessness and greed in our bays and oceans should serve as a warning that anglers should remain vigilant and committed to being the watchdogs for our marine resources.
In Maryland, an apparent army of outlaw commercial gill netters couldn’t wait for the season to begin to slaughter tons of striped bass, using nets that are not legal in any season. In North Carolina, recreational anglers recorded images of dead, wasted stripers turned out of commercial nets. Trawlers in North Carolina were allowed to keep 50 striped bass, ostensibly as “bycatch.” However, with rockfish getting $3 a pound, the bycatch fishery became a directed fishery, and trawlers dragged nets through any school of bass they could find. The biggest 50 fish stayed in the boat, the rest went over the side dead.
Recreational anglers in both states are frustrated beyond words. They have put their money into licenses and rightfully expect to have better enforcement, to see better laws and attitudes, and to have their states take better care of the resources and better care of their recreational angling communities. It was exactly the same in Louisiana, Texas and Florida when they acted to outlaw gill nets, fund better enforcement, and establish game fish status for important recreational species. North Carolina anglers invested about $5.5 million in recreational saltwater licenses in 2010 while Maryland generated $4.3 million from saltwater license sales in 2009. They deserve better, and they are pounding on doors at the capital to get it.
You have to wonder, then, exactly what message is being delivered in New Jersey, which recently chose to adopt a “free” recreational saltwater license. Or in New York, where there is an effort underway to repeal the saltwater license. Proponents of the “free” license in New Jersey claimed a victory against what they saw as an unfair tax. Some advocates even claim the “free” license will enhance tourism by luring in anglers with the promise of “free” fishing.
A local fishing group led the effort to implement a “free” license and is on record stating that federal funds should be used to foster and protect New Jersey fisheries. It is an interesting premise to rely on the federal government to fund the state’s marine resource management when local fishermen decide they don’t want to. It is also curious to rely on dollars from the federal government when not many recreational anglers are currently happy with how the federal government manages fisheries in federal waters.
What kind of management can proponents expect with a “free” license? Will the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game be able to fund a marine habitat program? Will it be able to build and maintain boat ramps? Will it be able to do research and data collection? Will it be able to find and stop poaching and other abuses? Will it deliver quality fisheries that lure in tourists? Will anglers there have any leverage to expect any of those things in the future? Is the effort to create “free” fishing in the Northeast likely to turn its sights on saltwater licenses in places where they have produced huge, positive results? Places like Texas, Florida or Louisiana?
Time will tell, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a very promising turn of events for recreational anglers or the marine resources of New Jersey. On the other hand, you could almost certainly fish there and not have to worry so much about getting stopped by a game warden. Maybe the trawlers, netters and poachers who have worn out their welcome in Maryland and North Carolina will find New Jersey a more hospitable place to do business as well.
Tags: fishing license, free fishing, recreational saltwater fishing license
Posted in CCA Blogs | 14 Comments »
By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
This week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council made the decision to eliminate catch share programs as a viable tool to manage fishermen in most fisheries in the South Atlantic. CCA supports this conclusion, made by the Council after reflecting on the appropriateness of catch shares for the fisheries typical of the South Atlantic.
CCA does not support top-down decision-making on the use of catch shares, and is increasingly concerned about the zeal displayed by this Administration to use this tool in virtually every fishery. The South Atlantic Council should be commended for moving against the tide that has been building for catch shares in federally managed fisheries.
The road to this point has not been simple. Coastal Conservation Association is among the many groups that have been opposed to catch shares, and we have invested a great deal of time and resources on many fronts to lessen the potential for negative impacts of such programs on the recreational angling community.
In September of 2009, CCA filed suit against the federal government against the Gulf grouper catch share program. The Environmental Defense Fund, one of the primary supporters of catch shares, later intervened on behalf of the federal government. The lawsuit, delayed greatly by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, is ongoing.
In October of 2009, CCA coordinated a joint letter from four Gulf state governors to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke expressing their concern over the negative impacts of catch shares on their recreational fisheries.
In April of 2010, CCA and a number of the leading groups representing marine resource conservation as well as the tackle and boat manufacturing community, engaged a number of prominent environmental groups that were promoting the use of catch shares in federal fisheries. The ultimate goal of that engagement was to make the case why catch shares are completely inappropriate for the recreational sector, and to lay out a set of parameters for their use in the commercial sector of mixed-use fisheries. The result was an “insurance policy” of sorts in the form of a letter that specified that before any catch share program could be put in place for the commercial sector, the fishery had to be reallocated using modern, forward-looking criteria, and the commercial shares had to be made available for transfer to the recreational sector.
Also in April of 2010, the Center for Coastal Conservation testified before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Oversight Hearing Committee on Natural Resources during a hearing on catch shares to express “….serious concerns about the potential impact of commercial catch shares on the recreational sector in mixed-use fisheries (in which there are both recreational and commercial components). Our organizations respectfully submit that the Draft Policy Catch Share Policy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under consideration lacks the necessary guidance to protect the recreational sector from adverse impacts associated with the implementation of a catch shares policy in mixed-use fisheries.”
In December of 2010, after a long period of engagement with groups including CCA, the American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the International Game Fish Association, NOAA released its Catch Share Policy. As a result of constant work by those groups, NOAA’s official Catch Shares Policy contains the following language, “NOAA…does not advocate the use of individual private angler catch shares.“
Earlier this week, CCA issued a call for its entire membership to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to support the Jones Amendment, which would prevent the use of $54 million earmarked for catch shares in NOAA’s FY2011 budget from being used for catch share programs in the Gulf of Mexico or on the East Coast. Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina filed the amendment, which passed the House of Representatives in late February. Though CCA was not involved in the creation of the amendment, we embraced it as a good vehicle to force NOAA to use scarce funds for more frequent stock assessments, development of fishery independent data and improved recreational catch data rather than highly controversial catch share programs.
The catch share issue has been a long-running saga, and while the action by the South Atlantic Council today is a huge step in the right direction, the issue is far from decided. Progress is being made on catch shares, but recreational anglers would be wise to stay engaged on all levels to keep it moving in the right direction.
Posted in CCA Blogs, CCA Federal Fisheries, CCA South Atlantic, Catch Shares | 1 Comment »