You can see it every time you go on a fishing website, read the outdoor column in the local newspaper, or whenever you try to go fishing. The regulations are more draconian, the seasons are shorter, the bag limits even more constrained and more new areas are closed to fishing altogether. If you didn’t think that was possible just a few short years ago you cannot deny the reality of what is occurring before your very eyes, we are losing our right to fish and the pace has been accelerating since the Obama administration put the darling of the environmental left in charge of NOAA Fisheries. The question is, are you going to sit on the sidelines and let it happen or are you ready to become an angler-activist and fight for what you love? If you want to get involved and you have time and talents you can bring to the fight please keep reading because the RFA needs you and many more anglers like you.
Hunters and gun owners realized a long time ago just how fragile even those rights granted to every American in the Constitution can be. The Second Amendment—the right to keep and bear arms—is constantly under assault. You see it all the time; some anti-gun group goads a politician into proposing laws that infringe upon the rights and freedoms of law abiding Americans and someone has to fight them in the courts and in the hall of Congress. One grassroots organization took up the cause to protect our Second Amendment rights and has been a tireless watchdog for many years. Along the way the National Rifle Association became one of the most respected and effective political action organizations in the world and the great part about it is the NRA isn’t representing some industry or special interest looking for government grants and feeding at the government trough, they represent “We the People.”
The Recreational Fishing Alliance was formed in much the same way, as a grassroots political action organization to protect saltwater fishermen’s interests and the right to fish for “We the People.” Initially, the RFA worked on and won numerous legislative and regulatory battles to ensure the sustainability of the stocks of fish we like to catch and they continue to do that today. Working to maintain sustainable fisheries is one of the three legs of the organization’s unambiguous mission statement, the same mission statement that was one of the founding documents of the organization fifteen years ago. But today the fight is different and, if you’ve been paying attention, it is one that the RFA predicted would occur more than ten years ago with the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The changes made to the law then included some very important and beneficial charges to NOAA Fisheries, but it also contained a few that, if pushed, had the potential to lead to restrictions on recreational fishing that were unnecessary and systemic in nature.
In 2006, the reauthorization process began again and this time there was a full court press by the environmental NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to include regulatory requirements that would be impossible to implement in an even handed manner with the current level of scientific data available to work with. RFA’s staff and lobbyists worked tirelessly to have some of the language stripped from the bill and to maintain a degree of flexibility for fishery managers so they could make difficult decisions while taking into consideration weaknesses or gaps in the available science. Unfortunately, not enough recreational anglers got involved to avoid the inevitable and even worse other recreational fishing based conservation groups and industry organizations either promoted the questionable regulatory language or stood idly by while it was ramrodded through Congress without so much as a vote by the Senators and Congressman. It was passed using a process called unanimous consent, which amounts to nothing more than a Congressional rubber stamp on a bill of critical importance to commercial and recreational fishing and coastal economies. The sorry part is most of our representatives didn’t even bother to read the bill never mind try to understand its implications. It turned out to be one of the slickest jobs of usurping the legislative process ever pulled off and the environmental left, with help from some recreational fishing allies, get all the credit.
Now, the MSA chickens have come home to roost, as predicted by RFA fisheries and legal experts in 2006! As a result, today we are fighting to preserve our right to fish on a daily basis and we have been hard pressed to head off much of the unnecessary, agenda driven closures that keep coming like rain in the spring. The main reason is because there is no flexibility left in the regulatory process, something Eric Schwaab, the Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, testified to just last week before Congress. When asked about any flexibility in the management process that might be used to try and reduce the socioeconomic impacts here’s what he said.
“The flexibility in our view and understanding of the law ends at the point at which we have a reasonable expectation of ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks in accordance with the timelines that are established in the act,” Schwaab answered.
In other words, there is no flexibility which is exactly what RFA railed against during the reauthorization process telling everyone who would listen that the legislation as written, which combined hard stock rebuilding deadlines with the imposition of catch limits and accountability measures, would have a profoundly negative impact on recreational fishing while doing little to improve conservation. RFA’s executive director, Jim Donofrio, realized at the time that the current level of data collection and scientific stock assessment methodology simply could not provide the accuracy required and, even if it could, the closer the rebuilding process got to a hard rebuilding deadline the more draconian the cuts would have to be to meet the arbitrary deadline. So we have emergency closures of entire fisheries, ridiculously truncated seasons or complete closures of fisheries to public access happening with ever increasing rapidity. Anglers like you are fed up, businesses that cater to fishermen are shutting their doors, party and charter vessels remain tied to the dock for months on end and unable to pay their bills, and entire coastal communities are nearing the brink as tourism and the income and taxes it generates crash.
Have you had enough of it? Do you want to see a return to common sense conservation and reasonable access to rebuilding and rebuilt fisheries? I hope so because getting participation from the fishing public to help us change the law and get back on course will require a lot more of you to get involved and that has never been easy. Recreational fishermen are an independent lot.
Part of the problem is unlike gun control the worry isn’t that some government enforcement agency is going to take away our fishing rods and impound our boats. No, it’s much more insidious than that. They are going to continue to chip away at our ability to go fishing a little at a time reducing where we can fish and what we are allowed to fish for. When they are done the hope is they will have chipped away enough to make most of us go home and hang up our fishing rods for good! It’s called “effort reduction” taken to the extreme. The plan has accelerated dramatically under the current administration and with the former executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund running NOAA Fisheries. But some involved in the current fight in Congress and the courts are convinced it is going to get even worse. They feel that with the political handwriting on the wall and the realization that the current President will not be re-elected there is even greater urgency to enact as many new regulations as possible before the top bureaucrats at NOAA and the Department of Commerce are all tossed out of their jobs in another two years and this is not good news.
The problems we face today are unprecedented and the adversary pushing the agenda is politically savvy, extremely well financed, and cares not how much economic devastation it reaps in achieving its goals. When they are done there might be more fish in the sea, but there will be damned few of us left to fish for them. It’s right there in front of your face and there is only one organization that is really working to stop it by standing up to the powerful NGOs that are pulling the strings in both Congress and in federal court and that is the RFA. That is the reason why the RFA is promoted by the Southern Kingfish Association and why SKA managing partner Jack Holmes has become one of the board of directors. During the entire Magnuson debate the RFA was on the money with its observations and dire predictions. Since the reauthorization all the problems their staff warned about have been coming to fruition. But the RFA has done much more, they have the right legislation in place to correct the problems and a strong core group of Congressmen and Senators behind it. A competing bill being supported by the usual suspects who helped bring us the current crisis simply does not address the problems of flexibility that have to be corrected and will not provide the relief necessary. But the only way the RFA can succeed and continue to press for our right to fish is with your support and participation. So how can you become an angler-activist?
To start with if you are not a member of the Recreational Fishing Alliance join NOW! Go to http://www.joinrfa.org and sign up. Like any political action organization the RFA lives or dies by its membership and funding and SKA members have been joining in large numbers recently, but not large enough. Every new member represents a voting citizen and increases the volume and the power of the message the RFA brings to politicians in Washington and in coastal state houses around the country. Every new member contributes to the funds necessary to do the job with their annual dues and many of them are far more generous providing additional donations throughout the year.
The RFA state chapter organization is growing with active chapters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas and a new chapter being formed in Georgia. These are not social organizations that have fancy fund raising dinners and outings. They are volunteer staffed groups of dedicated fishermen who are fighting within their states to protect the right to fish for all citizens. The pressure they can generate on state legislators and governors will help drive the effort to fix many of the problems at the source in Washington. All the chapters are in need of volunteers, especially volunteers with special skills, professionals who can bring their experience in business management, law, communications, organizing, and fund raising to the chapters to help them establish greater political awareness and access to decision makers at the state level. Chapters work closely with RFA national headquarters in an organized and well orchestrated campaign to push back against the preservationist agenda.
The RFA-Florida chapter is currently working with national headquarters and is spearheading major legal challenges currently underway in federal court against NOAA Fisheries. Attorney and RFA member Dave Heil has filed suits that challenge the red snapper closures in the Gulf and more recently filed a second suit challenging the area closures off the South Atlantic states. These are huge undertakings that require funding and additional volunteer help from other like-minded attorneys and paralegals. You know the problems and these court challenges are an important step in the process.
If you would like to become an active participant in one of the state chapters contact the RFA office at 888-JOIN RFA and Jim Hutchinson, RFA managing director, will put you in touch with the people in your area. The time to fight is now because if we do not we very well might not be fishing tomorrow.
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