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‘CCA Gulf of Mexico’ Articles

Gulf of Mexico fisheries and marine resource conservation issues.

Congress weighs in on Gulf Council’s sector separation scheme

Sportsmen’s Caucus urges Council to step back from unpopular catch shares, sector separation

WASHINGTON, DC – In yet another sign of discontent over federal management of the nation’s marine fisheries, co-chairmen of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) have sent a letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council expressing the concerns of its membership over the concepts of catch share programs and sector separation. The bipartisan CSC is one of the largest and most effective caucuses in the US Congress with more than 300 members representing almost all 50 states.

“As leaders of the Caucus, we are writing to report that continued consideration and promotion of the management concepts known as sector separation and catch shares by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are causing concern among our members,”  CSC co-chairmen Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) state in the letter. “More specifically, we have serious concerns about the current proposal to further subdivide the recreational fishing allocation by awarding the charter boats with their own guaranteed allocation.”

The CSC goes on to question the process the Gulf Council is using to develop and implement sector separation and catch share programs, and points out that the Council first needs better scientific data, additional economic evaluations and demographic studies to assess how mixed used fisheries would best be reallocated.

“Even if such reallocation issues were analyzed and modified, taking a portion of the allocation from the recreational sector for the proposed charter boat sector has the potential to decrease the funding available for state fisheries management,” the CSC states. “The members of the Caucus are well acquainted with the successes of state-based conservation, which is almost entirely guided and funded by sportsmen and the money they spend on fishing and hunting. The sportsmen’s ethic of stewardship is at the heart of the American System of Conservation Funding and is built, in part, on the foundation of individual anglers’ recreational fishing activities.”

The letter from the CSC is yet another unequivocal message from elected officials to federal fishery managers in opposition to sector separation and catch share programs. In 2009, four Gulf state governors wrote a letter stating their opposition to catch shares and Congress has passed amendments cutting funding for such programs.

“We hope the members of the Gulf Council are listening because the message from Governors, Congressmen, and the recreational angling community is quite clear – privatizing public wildlife resources through sector separation and catch shares is the wrong direction,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association’s National Government Relations Committee. “If the Council and NOAA Fisheries continue to ignore this message, then that should be interpreted as yet more evidence that the federal management system is broken and Congress should engage to either rein in a federal agency that has lost its way or explore a completely new paradigm for managing the nation’s marine resources.” To see the full letter from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, click HERE.

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Twenty Congressmen join call for moratorium on rig removals

Efforts to save marine habitat gain support from across the country

WASHINGTON, DC – A letter from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar calling for a moratorium on rig removals due to the federal government’s Idle Iron policy will carry the signatures of 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, an impressive bi-partisan display of concern for marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.

“As leaders and members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, we are concerned that the Idle Iron guidance issued by the Department of Interior in October of 2010 is having an adverse impact on critical marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico,” states the letter, signed by Representatives from 10 states. “We request that your Department enact a temporary moratorium on the removal of structures related to that Directive until a stakeholder process can be developed to determine both the best methods to properly dismantle rigs that have cause to be removed, and to protect those structures that are shown to harbor thriving marine ecosystems.”

In response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive which resulted in a policy that will ultimately force removal of any rigs, platforms or associated structures from non-producing wells.  Coastal Conservation Association and other groups have argued that the structures are the basis for thriving ecosystems that sustain an immense diversity of life, and have called for a thorough evaluation process to be developed before any removal decisions are made. CCA worked with CSC and with Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) on this most recent call for a moratorium on the Idle Iron policy to develop that process. Rep. Palazzo presented the concerns of the recreational angling community at a briefing hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation in June where he also invited fellow members of the Caucus to sign onto the letter to Secretary Salazar.

“Sportsmen know the value of habitat. We know how hard it is to create it and we know how easy it is to lose it,” said Rep. Palazzo. “We cannot sit idly by while marine habitat in the Gulf is destroyed by a policy that clearly needs more consideration. The Idle Iron issue may seem complex, but at the end of the day we would be wise to protect these habitats.”

The letter from the CSC is the latest in a string of efforts that CCA has worked on and supported to derail the Policy, including the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed in 2011 by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Palazzo; language implementing strict review and reporting requirements on removals in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012; the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s decision to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and letters from both Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to Secretary Salazar urging him to reconsider the policy. In June, a coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups called for a halt to the Idle Iron policy in a letter to Secretary Salazar, citing the irreparable damage it stands to inflict on an extensive range of marine fisheries and ecosystems. Additionally, the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council, an 18-member committee established to provide input to the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on recreational boating and fishing issues and aquatic resource conservation issues, sent a letter to Secretary Salazar calling for a two-year moratorium on rig removals.

“We are grateful to all the elected officials who share our concern for this marine habitat and are willing to fight against arbitrarily dismantling the largest artificial reef system in the world,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA. “The entire issue of platform removals needs a much more thorough review given the incredible habitat at stake. Political leaders and experts from across the spectrum have voiced serious concerns about the impacts of the Idle Iron directive and are demanding a more reasoned process to evaluate these structures.”

For a copy of the CSC letter click HERE, and to learn more about the issue of these artificial reefs and their impact on the marine environment visit the CCA Rigs to Reefs page.

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Rep. Palazzo calls for moratorium on rig removals

CCA applauds Mississippi congressman’s efforts to halt destruction of marine habitat

WASHINGTON, DC – At a breakfast briefing hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation this morning, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) presented the concerns of the recreational angling community over the Department of Interior’s controversial Idle Iron directive and closed by inviting fellow Congressmen to sign onto a letter requesting a moratorium on rig removals.

“A temporary moratorium on rig removals related to the Idle Iron Policy is needed to evaluate those structures and keep as many as safely possible in the water,” he said. “That iron wasn’t put there to become habitat, but that’s what it has become, and it certainly is not ‘idle.’ It is an irreplaceable, living asset that should be protected. And as a sportsman from a Gulf state, I feel an obligation to protect that habitat.”

Coastal Conservation Association worked with Rep. Palazzo on the call for a moratorium on the Idle Iron policy and pledged to engage its membership to encourage their elected officials to add their signatures to the letter.

“Rep. Palazzo clearly appreciates the value of those structures as artificial habitat and understands the concerns of the recreational angling community,” said Pat Murray, CCA president. “His call for a moratorium is the latest in a growing chorus of concerns from other elected officials, marine scientists and other state and federal agencies. It is time for the Department of Interior to heed those concerns and take a more precautionary approach to these structures.”

In a misguided response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing wells be plugged and any associated structures removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Since then, CCA has worked on and supported a number of actions to derail the Policy, including the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Palazzo; language implementing strict review and reporting requirements on removals in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012; the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s decision to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and letters from both Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to reconsider the policy.

Earlier this month, a coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups also called for a halt to Idle Iron policy in a letter to Secretary Salazar, citing the irreparable damage it stands to inflict on an extensive range of marine fisheries and ecosystems. Additionally, this week the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council, an 18-member committee established to provide input to the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on recreational boating and fishing issues, and aquatic resource conservation issues, sent a letter to Secretary Salazar calling for a two-year moratorium on rig removals.

“These towers of metal covered in coral are inactive for years, sometimes decades.  They are a far cry from active rigs engaged in drilling operations in thousands of feet of water,” said Rep. Palazzo. “Rigs and platforms across the Gulf have come and gone over the years, but the Idle Iron Policy proposes to clear-cut that vast forest of structure. The Idle Iron issue may seem complex, but at the end of the day we would be wise to protect these habitats.”

Visit the CCA Rigs to Reefs page to learn more about the issue of these artificial reefs and their impact on the marine environment.

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Economic studies make convincing case for reallocation

Mountain of evidence points to allocation increases for recreational anglers in the Gulf

With the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council set to review allocations for Gulf red snapper and grouper during its meeting this week in Tampa, Coastal Conservation Association has presented a summary of 19 studies going back to 2000 that show the economic benefits of shifting a greater portion of the allocation of these two species to the recreational sector. All of the studies, conducted by private, academic and government scientists, have been presented to the Gulf Council previously and the Council has chosen to take no affirmative action.

“We’re not talking about one or two studies, we’re talking about an overwhelming body of work spanning  more than a decade by some of the most respected  economists in fisheries management,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The best available economic science clearly supports increasing the recreational allocation. It is difficult to understand why NOAA Fisheries has not acted on these studies before now to produce the best possible outcome for the economies of the Gulf states and for the nation.”

CCA supports basing allocations on modern economic and demographic criteria that reflect current and future realities for these fisheries rather than outdated catch histories. Management schemes that give away public resources through measures such as sector separation and catch shares lock-in outdated allocations to individual businesses, making those resources subsequently unavailable to respond to economic and demographic changes.

“We urge NOAA Fisheries to use the considerable economic information it has in hand to increase opportunities for the entire recreational sector, comprised of hundreds of thousands of anglers,” said Brewer. “Recreational angling is an economic engine that should be enhanced during these tough economic times that are impacting every sector of our society.  These 19 studies indicate that a relatively simple allocation shift would immediately produce economic benefits to anglers and the businesses that depend on them.”

CCA supplied the summary of economic data to Gulf Council members and NOAA staff in a letter to Council Chairman Robert Gill. CCA urged the Council to act on the information and look objectively towards maximizing the benefits generated for the entire nation by these valuable marine resources.

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CCA applauds Idle Iron language in Sportsmen’s Act

Legislation takes valuable step in protecting marine habitat

As a result of consistent pressure and engagement by Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and its partners, language that begins to address the critical issue of Gulf rig and platform removals has been included in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. Congressional Sportsman Caucus Chairs Senators Jon Tester (D-Mt) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill (S. 3240) this week.

“There is an immediate need to halt these removals and CCA is actively working to put a moratorium in place,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA National. “As part of that overall strategy, this legislation includes a new plan for the Department of Interior to send a report to Congress on how it is going to assess this critical habitat before indiscriminately ripping out these artificial reefs. Something has to be done to make the federal government realize it is making a horrible mistake destroying this valuable habitat.”

In a misguided response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs and platforms be plugged and any remaining structure removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Since then, CCA has worked on and supported a number of efforts to derail the negative impacts of the Idle Iron Policy, including the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Ms), the recent decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and letters of opposition from Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to the Department of Interior.  Earlier this week, CCA and a coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups called for a moratorium on the Idle Iron Policy in a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Inclusion of Idle Iron language in the Sportsmen’s Act is yet another step towards our goal and we are grateful to Senators Tester and Thune for including this section in the Sportsmen’s Package. It raises the visibility of an issue that is of great importance to recreational anglers,” said Murray.

Passage of the Sportsmen’s Act would require the Department of Interior (DOI) to coordinate with relevant federal and state agencies and accredited marine research institutes to assess the biodiversity and critical habitat present at platforms and related structures subject to removal, and assess the potential impacts of their removal. DOI would also have to develop a report on the potential impacts that the removal of those structures would have on the rebuilding plans for Gulf reef fish and habitat. Ultimately, the Secretary of Interior would also have to submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a final report that includes a description of public comments from regional stakeholders, including recreational anglers, divers, offshore oil and gas companies, marine biologists, and commercial fisherman, as well as options to mitigate potential adverse impacts on marine habitat associated with that removal.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 contains a number of other components beneficial to hunting and recreational fishing and shooting. In addition to the Idle Iron language, the Act also contains a section containing the Billfish Conservation Act and a section that specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Click HERE to see the complete Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 posted on the CCA Rigs to Reefs page.

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Recreational angling community calls for moratorium on rig removals

Urgency mounts over negative impacts of Idle Iron policy

A coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups is calling for a halt to the federal government’s destructive “Idle Iron” policy that threatens to dismantle what is regarded as the largest artificial reef system in the world. In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the coalition calls for a moratorium to prevent the Idle Iron Policy from inflicting irreparable damage on an extensive range of marine fisheries and ecosystems.

“Our groups respectfully request a two-year moratorium on the Idle Iron guidance until a stakeholder process can be developed to both determine the best methods to properly dismantle platforms  that are not serving as marine habitat and to protect those structures that are shown to harbor thriving marine ecosystems,” states the letter signed by Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, The Billfish Foundation, and the International Game Fish Association. “We offer our combined expertise and stand ready to be resources for your Department to develop more thoughtful methods to achieve our shared goal of protecting the marine environment while conserving these valuable artificial reefs.”

In a knee-jerk response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs and platforms be plugged and any remaining structure removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Anglers have grown increasingly frustrated over the increased pace of rig removals and the profound negative implications for marine fisheries and local coastal communities and businesses that rely on the fishing opportunities these structures provide.

“The entire issue of platform removals needs a much more thorough review given the incredible array of priceless marine habitat at stake,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA. “Political leaders and experts from across the spectrum have voiced serious concerns about the impacts of the Idle Iron directive and are demanding a more reasoned process to evaluate these structures.”

The coalition has been working to include the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La) into a sportsmen’s legislative package being crafted in the Senate. Opposition to the bill from the Department of Interior has made that road more difficult, but efforts are underway to insert language requiring a more thorough review and vetting process before any structures are removed as a result of the Idle Iron Policy. Also encouraging, in April of 2012, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). If artificial reefs are eventually designated as EFH, all federal agencies would then have to consult with NOAA Fisheries on federal actions that may adversely affect them. In the last two months, both Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) have written letters to Salazar urging him to reconsider the policy.

“The bottom line is that irreparable damage is being done now – once those structures are removed it is too late for the Department of Interior to determine it made a horrible mistake,” said Murray. “The only reasonable thing to do is call a time-out and take a more thoughtful, cautious approach before we lose any more habitat.”

Click HERE to see a copy of the groups’ letter posted on the CCA Rigs to Reefs page.

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Rep. Farenthold steps up for Gulf anglers

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.

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A Devil’s Choice for the States

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?

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Florida Senators Call for Review of Park Closures

Nelson, Rubio join chorus of concerns over No-Fishing Zones in Biscayne National Park

In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Florida’s bi-partisan U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio urge the National Park Service to reconsider the proposed General Management Plan (GMP) for Biscayne National Park and to work cooperatively with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to maintain public access for anglers and boaters. The National Park Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the FWC in 2007 that specifically stated they would provide for recreational and commercial fishing opportunities for the angling public by seeking the least restrictive management actions necessary.

“But the measures proposed in the National Park Service plan represent the most extreme tools available for making fishery management modifications in Biscayne National Park, ignoring alternative ways to achieve the desired resource improvements without sacrificing the public’s ability to access and enjoy the park,” the letter to Sec. Salazar from U.S. Sens. Nelson and Rubio states.

The recently released GMP for Biscayne National Park includes a preferred alternative that would close roughly 10,500 acres of the Park’s most popular and productive shallow water reefs to recreational fishing, boating and other activities by designating these waters as a marine reserve. The most extreme alternative would close twice that much area.

On April 27, Karl “KC” Crook, a member of CCA Florida’s Dade County Chapter and owner of Crook & Crook Bait and Tackle, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands in a hearing entitled, “Access Denied: Turning Away Visitors to National Parks.”

“Biscayne National Park is a regional treasure. It deserves the proper attention and controlled use to sustain and protect the natural beauty and resources contained within the Park,” Crook said. “Anglers are willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of the resource, as long as they are confident that these sacrifices are based on strong science and a true desire to improve the health of the fisheries we enjoy. However, the closures being proposed in Biscayne National Park are not based on solid fisheries management and seem to place undue blame for any and all problems in the park on anglers and boaters.”

At the same hearing, Kenneth W. Wright, vice chairman of the Florida FWC, outlined his agency’s concerns over the development of the new General Management Plan for the Park.

“The new GMP proposes alternatives for management of the Park for the next 20 or more years,” he said. “The FWC has significant concerns with the management actions that are proposed in the GMP by the NPS, but are hopeful and guardedly optimistic that these concerns can be resolved through further coordination with the National Park Service.”

A coalition of boating and angling groups, including Coastal Conservation Association, the American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, has worked to find a reasonable compromise that will protect the Park’s marine resources, but not disconnect the Park from millions of America’s citizens.

“We are grateful that Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio are engaged on this effort and are seeking to have the National Park Service work cooperatively with the Florida FWC to maintain access in the park,” said Center for Coastal Conservation President Jeff Angers. “Conservationists across the country applaud them for standing up as stewards of our fisheries resources and our coastal communities.”

Click HERE to see a copy of the letter from U.S. Sens. Nelson and Rubio, HERE for a copy of Karl Crook’s testimony or HERE for Ken Wright’s testimony.

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Perry urges review of Idle Iron policy

CCA applauds Texas Governor’s call to protect Gulf rigs, artificial structure

AUSTIN, TX – In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Texas Governor Rick Perry is calling for a review of the federal government’s “Idle Iron” policy that threatens to dismantle what is regarded as the largest artificial reef system in the world. In the letter, Perry says that the policy, which 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, will have profound negative implications for marine fisheries and the local coastal communities and businesses that rely on the fishing opportunities that these structures provide in the Gulf.

“I understand the factors that may have influenced the decision to order the blanket removal of these structures in the aftermath of the tragic oil spill of 2010,” Perry states in the letter. “However, a more balanced, reasoned response is required in light of irrefutable evidence that these structures are the basis for thriving ecosystems that harbor and sustain an immense diversity of life above and below the waterline, including seabirds, fish, turtles, marine mammals and corals.”

“We are grateful to Gov. Perry for weighing in on this issue on behalf of recreational anglers, divers and everyone who cares for a vibrant marine environment,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “A more reasoned process is exactly what is needed to preserve these structures that form the basis of thriving marine ecosystems off Texas and all over the Gulf of Mexico.”

Perry’s letter is the latest effort to counter the federal government’s misguided removal policy. At its April meeting, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council moved to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). If artificial reefs are eventually designated as EFH, all federal agencies would then have to consult with NOAA Fisheries on federal actions that may adversely affect them. Additionally, Sen. David Vitter (R-La) and Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Ms) have filed legislation that would prevent rigs and other structures from being summarily removed from the Gulf of Mexico, and the issue continues to generate a high level of interest from other lawmakers.

“Gov. Perry has shown again that he is a true friend to Texas’ recreational anglers,” said Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas. “We greatly appreciate his leadership in elevating this important issue and standing up for the best interests of our fisheries and the coastal economies that depend on them.”

Click HERE to see a copy of Perry’s letter posted on the CCA Rigs to Reefs page.

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