Exchanging Fish for Cash
Congressman Steve Southerland (R-FL) is a fishing champion. Because this angling representative from Florida's 2nd Congressional District has fought openly and honestly in his first congressional term to protect the rights of all of his coastal constituents, it has made him an enemy of special interests.

You see, Rep. Southerland, responding to feedback from fishermen and local businesses along the Gulf of Mexico, brought a congressional committee (House Natural Resources Committee) directly to Panama City, FL in August to meet personally with coastal fishermen for a first-hand look at how federal law is impacting a local community.

Tim Scalise

Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) member Tim Scalise shows off a dinner size red snapper taken along the South Atlantic Coast. RFA members like Tim do not want to see red snapper stocks privatized in the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic reef fish complex, and have been asking legislators to ignore the lobbying efforts of PEW/EDF who are trying to take more of the red snapper fishery away from the public through catch shares.

What the Committee has discovered is that our federal fisheries law is broken. The reason it's broken is because of heavy lobbying in the U.S. Congress by non-profit groups like Pew Charitable Trusts, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Oceans Champions, the same groups which are attacking Rep. Southerland for daring to include the public in any public debate.

Yes, Rep. Southerland and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) came to Florida, defied the million-dollar green machine and pointed out the obvious – a broken federal law is wrecking havoc on coastal fishing communities, and some well-heeled attack dogs with money to burn are happy about it.

Enviro's Start the Fire

It didn't have to be this way. At the time that Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson) was being reviewed in the House of Representatives during the reauthorization debate of 2006, one particular version authored by Rep. Richard Pombo (then Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee) would've helped reintroduce some critically important socioeconomic management flexibility into the federal fisheries law.

Problem was that the groups organized by Pew and EDF heavily influenced the Senate into supporting legislation which included more restrictive measures, including setting of hard, steadfast limits on total annual catch limits without any leeway for discussion or debate, coupled with rigid and arbitrary deadlines. In part due to Chairman Pombo's insistence about including more management flexibility in the law, environmentalists led an all out assault on the Congressman in his home district (CA-10) leading to his defeat in the 2006 election.

One of the leading political action organizations that rallied grassroots activists against Rep. Pombo in the polls was the 501(C)4 political action committee (PAC) known as Oceans Champions. Just like in 2006, common sense discussion and debate in the most bipartisan Committee in the entire Congress has raised the ire of Pew, EDF and Oceans Champions, those who would prefer that fishermen be cut out of the debate, thereby allowing the U.S. Senate to pass powerful laws by unanimous consent.

As a point of record, Pew and EDF are the funding groups; they're the 501(C)3 'tax deductible' heavyweights with all the cash to throw around. According to federal tax records, Pew had assets totaling more than $752 million in 2010, while EDF boasted more than $151 million for the same year. Combined, these financial titans of the environmental industry have doled out untold millions towards efforts to control U.S. fishermen through whatever means necessary, including lobbying efforts to reauthorize Magnuson through the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate in late 2006.

Fanning the Flames with Cash

With newer, more draconian restrictions inserted into the federal fisheries law, Pew and EDF have spent the past 6 years ensuring that no legislative attempts to fix the federal law were moved through Congress, instead offering their very own fix in the form of regulatory controls at the regional fisheries council. The Pew/EDF methodology for 'fixing' the problem that they actually 'broke' to begin with is probably best summed up in the words of spokespersons, Tom Lalley and Lee Crockett in a 2010 article for the DC-based newspaper Roll Call.

Following the first of two national fishermen's rallies in Washington DC, Lalley told Roll Call "these fishermen are wound up like a top. They're angry. They're fearful." According to Lalley, instead of doing anything that would provide fishermen more opportunity to catch fish, the government should instead focus on an approach favored by his organization (EDF) called catch shares which gives specific quota to individual fishermen allowing them to buy, sell and trade shares amongst one another.

Krebs

Commercial fishermen David Krebs (center) tries unsuccessfully to convince Congressman Steve Southerland (R-FL) that cap and trade fisheries policies will work to the benefit of Gulf fishermen. The owner of five commercial fishing boats, Krebs serves on the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Limited-Access Privilege Program Advisory Panel and the King Mackerel Individual Fishing Quota Advisory Panel, and is also President of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance. Photo by Gary Caputi.

In the same article, Crocket explains how his organization (Pew) has been active in shaping the new policy and its implementation, explaining how Pew has funded advocacy groups including the Marine Fish Conservation Network and the Ocean Conservancy to lobby for the policy.

The Marine Fish Conservation Network has itself backtracked from any financial influence coming from EDF or Pew, but the fact is that that the network itself was started by Pew funding totaling well into the millions over the years. The Marine Fish Conservation Network claims to represent over 90 member organizations including recreational fishing groups, but in recent months the group's own website has been scrubbed of participation and advisory mentions, presumably in advance of the upcoming elections to insulate those who accept charitable funds but choose not to voice opinions.

Good Business for Bad Fishermen

As happened in 2006, Oceans Champions and its funding allies have once again set their sights on legislators on the House Natural Resources Committee who are in favor of reforming Magnuson to provide improved management flexibility to allow fish stocks to continue to grow while also granting coastal fishermen improved access to those coastal fisheries. Rather than focus attention on grassroots environmental advocates, the big green money machine has now focused on a new approach by paying a select group of fishermen to do their bidding.

Besides Marine Fish Conservation Network and Ocean Conservancy, Pew has doled out tens of millions of dollars over the years to other conservation organizations like Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Seaweb, and their own Pew Environment Group, not to mention EDF. EDF in turn has contributed greatly to groups like Marine Fish Conservation Network and Ocean Conservancy, but also includes new regional start-ups like the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Gulf Fishermen's Association and South Atlantic Fishermen's Association.

Southerland

Rep. Steve Southerland addresses the fishermen assembled near the U.S. Capitol on March 21, 2012 for the Keep Fishermen Fishing rally in Washington DC. The Republican congressman from Florida's 2nd Congressional District is a hardcore angler himself and staunch supporter of anglers' rights, though radical environmental groups who wish to control our coastal fisheries would like to see someone weaker and easier to manipulate in that seat. Photo by Gary Caputi

The latter three groups, made up of a relative handful of commercial and charter fishermen in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, have received a heavy dose of EDF funding, which itself has been funneled along from other foundation providers including Walker and Walton.

According to federal tax records for 2009 and 2010, EDF contributed more than $679,000 alone to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Gulf Fishermen's Association and South Atlantic Fishermen's Association. Another new start-up organization in 2011 was the Charter Fishermen's Association, which was awarded $48,000 by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance to begin operations. Many of the active board members on each of four organizations shares similar duties with the others, and the unique shared goal of each over the past 3 years has been to secure a cap and trade fisheries policy which would wrestle away coastal fish allocation from the public domain, putting individual fishing quotas and catch shares into private ownership.

The vast majority of private anglers, local business owners, and even commercial fishermen, have openly opposed efforts by the few to implement this privatization scheme designed to cap fishing participation by offering a public resource for private trade amongst users. The end of open access fishing in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico would lead to diminished access for the public, and a coastal sharecropping environment whereupon share owners wouldn't even have to fish – they could simply sell off 'shares' or 'fish tags' to the highest bidder or on the open market.

Bite Back at the Polls

Legislators who have stood up in vocal opposition to this private takeover attempt of public resource have been heavily supported by those who believe in open access to a public resource. Regrettably, a small group of pseudo venture capitalists masquerading as fishermen have been actively defaming and maligning those who would stand in their way of cornering the fisheries market; empowered by significant outside funding from EDF and others including both the Walton Foundation and the Walker Foundation,

EDF already has its own 501(C)4 PAC called the Environmental Defense Action Fund, a lobbying arm of its non-profit, non-lobbying EDF that boasted 2010 assets of more than $9 million. The EDF Action Fund also receives direct contributions from the parent group, and in turn has contributed another $79,000 to both the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and South Atlantic Fishermen's Association in the past year, turning political action and coastal sharecropping into quite the lucrative business for those captains willing to carry water for the big green money machine and whose organizations have received nearly a million dollars to keep active at the local level.

As such, EDF, Pew and Oceans Champions have continued to pressure the U.S. Senate to stymie any efforts by the House of Representatives to move sensible Magnuson reform legislation through Congress, while well-funded advocates on the ground are working to attack those elected officials who have had the courage enough to stand up and point out the problems with fisheries management today.

New environmental attack dogs like Mike Miglini, Gary Jarvis, Mike Jennings, Jim Clements, and Mike Colby have been let loose; these recipients of financial windfalls from Pew and EDF are running in packs, barking loudly and gnashing their teeth at those whom their masters have commanded be assailed.

Make no mistake, the intended victims of this vicious assault are true fishing champions, those like Rep. Steve Southerland, himself an angler and a coastal advocate who has dared to question the intentions of the big green machine and its minions.

The new attack dogs of the environmental movement are putting their mouths where the money's coming from, but now it's high time that they openly divulged the source, the true amount, and who it is that's commanding their dogged obedience.

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

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