In 2010, Jeff Barger, regional fisheries project coordinator for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), told the Tampa Bay Times "we need better records, more accountability," adding that with regard to the recreational data collection efforts by NOAA Fisheries, "the data is horrible and it is costing us fishing days."
The "us" that he's referring to presumably would be the entire recreational fishing industry, but as we've learned over the years, "us" is actually a group of hand-selected, EDF-funded fishermen's organizations like the Gulf Shareholders Alliance, who would prefer to have their own share of the recreational fish stock.
RFA members were well represented at the recent Florida congressional field hearings, with invited witness Capt. Tom Adams testifying on behalf of local anglers, here alongside fellow RFA members Capt. Vic Tyson, Aaron Scholten and Suellen Clark. Photo by Gary Caputi.
To grab hold of ownership of the public's fish stocks, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance (Alliance) and their partners at the newly formed Charter Fishermen's Association of Corpus Christi, TX are hoping to divide the recreational community into two parts, one being private anglers and the other a wholly separate charter/party boat fishermen's category. Once divided into halves, these particular business owners are hoping to secure ownership of their own individual quota, which would be done through allocation of fish stocks through catch shares and individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) had been accepting public comment over the past several months to implement a sector separation plan for red snapper fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico; such a plan would be the first step towards catch shares for Gulf of Mexico red snapper, a privatization scheme which would effectively cap the number of participants in the fishery by offering up individual shares of fish to buy, sell or trade.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Whether you fish for fun or for profit, the only way to fish for red snapper under this scheme is if you held a personal share of fish, which one conservation organization explained could be done through fish tags allocated to members of the recreational community.
"The Alliance is in a unique position to help integrate recreational fishing into IFQ management, recruiting for-hire charter captains who seek the benefits of IFQs for their sector," the Walker Foundation explains in their published project report called Safeguarding Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish through Market-based Management. "With generous support from the Walker Foundation, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance was created in May 2008 to work cooperatively with regulators, environmentalists, universities, and coastal communities to protect the interests of fishermen and to help individual fishing quota (IFQ) fisheries in the Gulf become an economic and conservation success."
In 2010 alone, Walker Foundation contributed approximately $50,000 to EDF, another $50,000 to the Nature Conservancy, towards those organizations' economic buyout of public resources. "EDF is working to bring all Gulf reef fish under IFQ management by 2012, and to integrate management for the commercial and recreational sectors," the Walker Foundation further explains in their project report which goes on to explain how the charitable foundation spent a total $1.6 million in 2009 on this particular project.
In addition to Walker, the heirs to the WalMart fortune as well have also gotten in on the ocean takeover movement, contributing well over $36 million in the past year alone directly to Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund and EDF specifically for implementation of marine reserves and catch share programs through the Walton Foundation.
SECTOR SEPARATION EFFORT STALLS, FOR NOW
While the environmental movement's money keeps piling up in the effort to take over and shut down public resources, the public comment in opposition has been deafening. So much so that instead of taking action on plans to divide the recreational sector into the haves and have-nots at the most recent Gulf Council meeting in New Orleans, the state representatives on the council opted to do nothing. A vote had been anticipated during the August 20-24 Gulf Council hearing, but no council members opted to make the motion to take a vote. While many anglers are cheering this as good news, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) feels this is what you call a bittersweet victory.
The problem with a no vote was that sector separation goals towards the privatization of the entire Gulf of Mexico reef fish complex are not going away. Because of the outpouring of public opposition and the present makeup of the Gulf Council, sector separation and recreational IFQ opponents believe that had a vote been taken, the issue would've failed thereby rendering the plan dead in the water. As one insider explained, the debate was tabled because it would not have passed.
True, there will be no discussion of sector separation today, but that's not to say that groups like EDF and Walker are done trying. In the next six months, what anglers may or may not see is an active push behind the scenes by the environmental organizations to have their friends from both the Alliance and the Charter Fishermen's Association getting appointed by NOAA Fisheries to take a seat at the Gulf Council.
True, delay is better than passing, but tabling a discussion that would've surely failed is simply kicking the can down the road a spell, in hopes that a new slated of Gulf Council appointees in 2013 or 2014 can secure a successful vote. As a friend of mine who, a congressional staffer told me, "this is bad government any way you slice it."
So what's the answer to rapidly diminishing red snapper seasons and bag limits? Honestly, it's a pretty easy one, very common-sense – however, it will take an Act of Congress (which is about one rung below and Act of God) to fix the problems with our coastal fisheries.
AN ACT OF CONGRESS
At the root of the issue is a broken federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson), which was reauthorized by unanimous consent in the Senate in late 2006. Since the reauthorization was signed into law in 2007, fisheries populations throughout the country have been continue to rebound, yet access by coastal fishermen has been rapidly eroding.
Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries declared that red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico were no longer overfished, and overfishing was no longer occurring, yet still the overly restrictive definitions written into the federal fisheries law requires deeper cuts each every season.
The 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson also mandated that NOAA Fisheries overhaul the recreational data collection program by a required date of January 1, 2009. Thus far, this effort has not been achieved by NOAA Fisheries, evidenced by EDF's own admission that "the data is horrible." Regrettably, other more onerous restrictions on the recreational community as a whole including rigid annual catch limits and accountability measures have already been incorporated by regional fisheries councils like the Gulf Council, while NOAA Fisheries continues to drag its feet on their own scientific responsibilities.
Without an act of legislation put forth by Congress, the ongoing imbalance between rapidly rebuilding fish stocks and declining angler access will continue...the carrot that environmental groups continue to dangle before our eyes is the sector separation and catch share fix, though this fix would only reward the elite while destroying open access for the many.
RFA'S ENVIRO COUNTER-PUNCH
Capt. Tom Adams of Mexico Beach Charters is also chairman of the RFA's Forgotten Coast chapter (RFA-FC). Capt. Adams gave up two days on the water to make the drive from Mexico Beach to New Orleans to deliver his stern opposition to the sector separation plan. After learning that the discussion would not be held and the vote to oppose the privatization scheme would not be cast, he made the 3-1/2-hour drive back to the Forgotten Coast in time to testify at a Congressional field hearing on Saturday, August 25th to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee on behalf of Gulf anglers' right to fish.
As Capt. Adams said as a congressionally invited witness, the reason for the problem to begin with is the fact that environmentalists lobbied successfully to get Congress to pass a broken federal fisheries law back in 2006, explaining it's the "same groups who pushed us into this corner by supporting the reauthorization of Magnuson back in 2006 with all the rigid new definitions, requirements and arbitrary deadlines," to begin with.
Capt. Tom Adams of Mexico Beach Charters and Chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance's Forgotten Coast Chapter (RFA-FC) testifies before the House Natural Resources Committee during an August 25th field hearing in Panama City, FL. Photo by Gary Caputi.
"The new sector separation schemes and 'individual catch shares' for Gulf of Mexico fisheries is not an answer, it's an agenda, and it will forever change the face of our local community in a way that is not at all what's good for Florida fishermen," Adams said, explaining to the House Natural Resources Committee that the answer to the problems in the Gulf is legislation to incorporate some limited management flexibility when dealing with rebuilding deadlines, improved science and data collection, and the need to protect both fish and fishermen by striking "a proper balance between commerce and conservation."
"I am pleased that today's field hearing provided an opportunity for our fishermen to have their voices heard by their government," said Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) on August 25th. The Congressman from Florida's second congressional district spearheaded efforts to bring the House committee field hearing to Panama City, FL, and has proven himself to be a champion for Gulf fishermen.
"As an avid angler myself, I share serious concerns about a Magnuson-Stevens law that is broken," Rep. Southerland said, adding "for the sake of our fishermen, as well as the operators of marinas, hotels, restaurants, and small businesses who rely on their continued success, Congress must commit to making the law more workable and responsive to the needs of our coastal communities."
As EDF's Barger told the Tampa Bay Times two years ago, "You just can't keep cutting the number of days people can fish. That is no way to run a business." No it's not Mr. Barger, but you can't break a federal fisheries law on purpose in order to ramrod an agenda for reducing overall fishing participation either.
The federal fisheries law is broken, and until the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate can come together to put forth a sensible, bipartisan approach to fisheries management which protects both the fish and the fishermen, EDF and their well-funded lackeys are going to continue to try jamming that carrot down throats.
Click HERE to read RFA's official position regarding sector separation schemes and catch shares co-authored by RFA executive director Jim Donofrio and RFA-FC chairman Capt. Tom Adams (delivered to the Gulf Council as a matter of official record on August 2, 2012.)
Click HERE to read Capt. Adams' testimony on behalf of RFA members in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the United States.
Jim Hutchinson, Jr. is Managing Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), a political action organization founded in 1996 specifically to "safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation's saltwater fisheries." If you're a member of organization claiming to protect your right to fish, yet that organization does not have the words fish, fisherman, angler or rights in their mission statement, then that's obviously not what they do! For more information about becoming a card-carrying member of the RFA, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit www.joinrfa.org.