As referenced in a previous column for TheOnlineFisherman.com, "Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida's 2nd Congressional District is what we at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) call a Fishing Champion," an independent voice in Washington who has "stood up for all fishermen along the Gulf of Mexico, recreational and commercial alike, while passionately representing coastal interests in the House Natural Resources Committee."
On October 9th at a rally in Panama City, recreational and commercial fishing groups united in keeping our public resources open and accessible to the American public (including RFA, Panama City Boatmen Association, Big Game Fishing Journal, Capt. Anderson's Marina and the Southern Kingfish Association) presented Southerland with an award for being a 'Fishing Champion.'
As a saltwater angler himself, Rep. Steve Southerland has actively fought in Congress to support a better balance of commerce and conservation in order to protect both the fish and the fishermen.
In recent billboards popping up around the district however, Rep. Southerland has been wrongly accused by zealots at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) of being an enemy of our oceans. What these groups actually mean to say is that Rep. Southerland is an enemy against their attempt to privatize our coastal resources. The radical environmental groups and their lackeys have spent the past five years trying to steal away vital coastal fish like red snapper and gag grouper from real fishermen to place them into the hands of private investors.
EDF'S Great Pretender
One of the more vocal and deceitful EDF lackeys is Capt. Jim Clements, a commercial fisherman from Carrabelle, FL and a member of the EDF-funded Gulf Fishermen's Association. In billboards purchased in Panama City, Apalachicola, Crawfordville, and Tallahassee attempting to discredit Rep. Southerland as being an "enemy of the ocean," Clements has already admitted to spending $7,500 under the alias of Captain Jim's Charters, Inc with a website of www.captainjimscharters.com.
The problem of course is that Clements is not a charter boat fisherman. According to state and federal records, while Clements submits an annual for profit corporate report as a charter business operating as Captain Jim's Charters in the state of Florida, Clements himself has no state or federal permits required to operate a charter recreational fishing business in the state. Clements doesn't have any permits to run a charter, and only recently did he create a website, one of the most critical items in running a successful charter operation in the 21st century as any real charter captain will tell you. The web domain and hosting itself has been managed by Tyler Media Group which secured the domain and built the website after September 27th.
Now, if you're looking for a charter trip in the Panhandle, Clements' website will be of no help. It simply links out to environmental lobbyist websites including Oceans Champions of California and the National Resource Defense Council of Philadelphia. Recent calls to Tyler Media asking to contact Capt. Jim to schedule a sportfishing charter were rebuffed, with Tyler noting that the captain is away on vacation and not able to be reached.
Real fishermen from the Keep Fishermen Fishing coalition (which hosted a national rally for fishing reform in March in DC) are combatting the phony, EDF-supported fishing ads in Florida's 2nd Congressional district with messages of their own praising Rep. Southerland's honesty, integrity, trust and purpose.
The commercial fishermen turned EDF activist turned recreational charter captain (one without the required permits) has been actively denigrating recreational anglers for years in the News Herald of Panama City. In 2008 for example, Clements openly promoted the individual fishing quota (IFQ) plan of resource ownership in an online publication, saying "There are some in the recreational sector who are attempting to derail our progress toward reducing overcapacity." Reducing overcapacity is another way of saying 'reducing fishing participation' which is what the catch share scheme would essentially do.
Of our recreational fishermen, Clements calls us "misguided" and "resentful" while presenting us with a direct message, "to the recreational sector, I say get your own house in order before you come over to ours." Given the fact that recreational and commercial fishermen share allocation of vitally food-fisheries like red snapper and gag grouper, most everyone in either industry realizes that we are all forced to live under the same roof anyway.
"Beware of anyone who is not a commercial fisherman who tries to influence your vote," Clements noted, while failing to describe his own manipulation of the public perception by pretending himself to be a recreational charter captain.
In another recent anti-angler blast, Clements again turned to the News Herald of Panama City to criticize those of us in the recreational fishing community who stand opposed to private resource allocation and sector separation schemes pushed through EDF, charging us with "misleading the public" According to Clements' agenda-driven rhetoric, the federal government and private entities are not pushing for catch shares in the recreational community, and again calls anglers 'liars' for fighting both the sector separation and IFQ program for red snapper.
NOAA'S Catch Share Plan for Anglers
For those who care to read the NOAA Catch Share Policy as Clements suggests, just type "NOAA Catch Shares Recreational" into your favorite Internet search engine to read more about the new federal policy. The other side of the story is quoted word-for-word below and comes directly from that policy document.
While NOAA itself "does not advocate the use of individual private angler catch shares," the government agency in its very next breath adds the caveat, "however, NOAA will support Councils in the identification and application of innovative management measures that both promote individual angler fishing access and foster sustainable fisheries."
As further described, such "management measures" could very well include individual fish tags, which NOAA explains "there are a few examples where a limited number of tags for individual fish have been allocated to anglers on a per capita or lottery basis. Historically these tagging programs have been used where the resources were limited and a strict constraint on landings was required. NOAA will continue to work with Councils who have expressed interest in adopting such tag programs."
In other words, while NOAA has distanced itself from actually supporting individual catch shares for anglers, the government agency has in fact approved policy which would support Councils who vote to incorporate individual fishing quotas through a fish tag program allocated to the general public via lottery or auction. Considering that NOAA and the Secretary of Commerce get the ultimate say in who gets appointed to sit on these Councils, individual private anglers are thankful to have elected officials like Rep. Steve Southerland fighting to protect our individual rights against appointees directing policy.
RFA member Paul Durham of Georgia proudly shows off a 22-pound snapper caught in the South Atlantic, where the red snapper season has only been open a handful of days during the past 2 years, a mind-boggling fact considering the importance of red snapper to the recreational fishing community.
That runs counter to Clements' publicized comments that "catch shares are strictly for the commercial fishery," or that catch shares "should not be used in the recreational sector, and no one is advocating that." The actual NOAA Catch Share Policy created with the help of EDF clearly states, "NOAA supports the design and development of catch share programs for the recreational charter and head boat sector as appropriate." Those who understand what the recreational fishing industry is all about - particularly local businesses who rely on open access fishing opportunities in the charter and head boat fishery - can clearly see this for what it is.
By allowing Councils to divide our recreational sector into two or more very distinct and different components, (A) the charter and for hire sector and (B) private anglers, NOAA Fisheries is essentially supporting the redistribution of stock allocation through personal ownership of the resource. Once the recreational fishing community is divided into 'professional' and 'private' sectors, angler access will diminish even further as the resource is privatized into the hands of a few. (This of course is why groups like the RFA are supporting Governor Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, in part to overturn the current NOAA administration hand-selected by President Obama to run roughshod over our sector starting in early 2009. Mission accomplished Mr. President!)
In the first paragraph of NOAA's Catch Share Policy as it pertains specifically to "recreational anglers," the government has determined on its own that "successful recreational angling experience is not as dependent on harvest," explaining how "many anglers participate on the expectation of a catch and continue to fish without realizing a positive catch on every trip, and some anglers release the fish they do catch." Whatever think tank or vision quest that this theory came from – the concept that anglers don't really care whether we have a red snapper to take home for dinner so long as we're out on the water – is proof in point that the NOAA Catch Share Policy is a flawed document.
The Enviro's Congressional Campaign
Local Gulf fishermen in the Panama City region of course don't have to be told about the effort by outside interests to buy off the election there; the attempted takeover of Gulf fisheries has been underway for some time, led by the efforts of radical anti-angler organizations like EDF and their EDF Action Fund. As spotlighted in earlier pieces here at the OnlineFisherman.com, EDF and the EDF Action Fund have invested more than $750,000 in just the past 3 years on establishing their own fishing organizations like the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Gulf Fishermen's Association and South Atlantic Fishermen's Association in an effort to fool the public (and those who serve the public) into thinking that their way of managing fisheries was in the public interests.
The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance in turn doled out $48,000 in the 2011 calendar year to help create a new organization called the Charter Fishermen's Association; the fact that EDF would fund a fishing organization based on ownership of commercial fish shares, which in turn would create its own recreational fishing organization, has sent up red flags throughout the state of Florida.
It has since been revealed that the Director of the Charter Fishermen's Association, failed tech stock investor Michael Miglini, also takes a $40,000 salary from the organization, while he's also become one of the biggest owners and resellers of red snapper stock in the Gulf of Mexico. According to some commercial fishing representatives, Miglini and his companies are "essentially the people with red snapper allocation. If you would like to go catch and sell red snapper from the Gulf you call them, everyone does."
Some smalltime commercial captains masquerading as charter and headboat captains are trying to influence the outcome of the 2nd congressional district outcome to the detriment of for hire captains in the Gulf and the individual anglers who fish the party boat rails.
According to private emails associated with a potential inspector general's review of the Gulf fisheries issues surrounding sector separation plans and EDF's financing of various pseudo fishing organizations, one commercial fisherman described Miglini's business entity, Great Sage, Inc, as "a private company whose primary function is leasing red snapper to the Gulf's fishermen. I have heard they own hundreds of thousands of shares."
As Capt. Tom Hilton puts it, "Miglini is in actuality a commercial fish broker masquerading as a recreational charter captain representing, as a Board Member, a 'recreational charter fisherman's association' that is in reality an extension of an extreme anti-fishing environmental corporation that wants to privatize our public trust resource - our fish."
It has been pointed out by some members of both the recreational and commercial fishing community that Miglini's own comments before the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in October of 2011 may have broken federal law in terms of full disclosure and honesty. In testifying on record before the Gulf council, Miglini, speaking on behalf of the Charter Fishermen's Association, said his organization "was formed by a group of captains who each wrote a check out of their own personal or charter business accounts and pooled our resources to get organized and engage more effectively in this council process."
The actual IRS forms for the Charter Fishermen's Association indicate that $48,000 was given by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance, an EDF shell group of IFQ owners and investors, specifically to create the upstart organization.
United Share Croppers' Attack on Fishermen
Miglini and Clements are on a tear in the Gulf of Mexico to defame and discredit anyone who would dare stand in their way of taking full ownership of the fish stocks for their own purposes. They have the full backing of environmental organizations based in New York City, Philadelphia and Southern California in working to corrupt the political system, and their goal of course is to remove any legislative champion for open public access to a natural public resource.
Needless to say, the recreational fishing community, including individual anglers, for-hire captains, bait and tackle store owners, boat dealers and the thousands of businesses which rely on open access fishing opportunities, Congressman Steve Southerland has been our 'fishing champion' for cutting through the bureaucratic rhetoric in order to see both sides of the story, and for helping stop this hostile corporate takeover of our natural public resources.
Major Alan Lamarche, who many anglers know from his work as Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement for the Florida Game and Fish Commission, probably said it best in his letter to The Times of Apalachicola and Carrabelle, saying "Representative Steve Southerland is a sport fisherman and he is the best friend every fishermen has ever had in Congress. Capt. Jim Clements is a commercial fisherman who doesn't like sharing the Gulf fisheries with us Sports."
"The fact that PETA and 'Ocean Lovers' and other 'Preservationist' organizations with 'feel good names' give our congressman a bad report card makes Representative Southerland deserving of a Blue Ribbon in my book," Major Lamarche added.
Mine too Major! A blue ribbon and a framed certificate honoring Steve Southerland as a Fishing Champion!
Soon enough, the Halloween hi-jinks with sharecroppers masquerading as fishermen and radical environmental groups 'tricking and treating' their way through the Panhandle will be over, and for fishermen's sake, let's hope Rep. Southerland gets the vote again and continues to champion the cause of Florida anglers everywhere!
Join RFA today, and together let's fight for your right to fish!