For more than a decade, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has been extremely vocal about the infusion of preservationist rhetoric and funding coming into the world of fisheries management. RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio lobbied extensively from 2004 to 2006 to defend the recreational fishing community against an onslaught of anti-fishing agenda, which began with the heavy-handed implementation of no take marine reserves off the California coast, continuing through the inclusion of ultra-restrictive measures included in the 2006 federal reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSRA).
“It’s no secret to any of our RFA members, or those folks on the ground who regularly attend the state and regional fisheries council meetings, that there’s a serious issue today with showroom environmentalists,” said Donofrio, who to this today continues to hammer back at the anti-fishing agenda. “These environmental business leaders have started lawsuits to ban tackle and close down our tuna and marlin fisheries, they’ve disregarded angler input in the setting of conservation zones in American waters, and they also helped rewrite our federal fisheries law to incorporate rigid limits on healthy, rebuilding stocks of fish.”
“Those who claim that these types of preservation organizations are friends to the recreational fishing community obviously have their heads mounted at the wrong end of their body,” Donofrio said.
A recent editorial in Salt Water Sportsman has recently showcased an remarkable divide within the recreational fishing community. “Conservation Editor Rip Cunningham tells readers there’s nothing to worry about, that there’s no such thing as an environmental conspiracy to wrangle control of our fisheries away from fishermen,” said RFA Managing Director Jim Hutchinson. “As vice-chair of the New England Fishery Management Council, you’d think that Mr. Cunningham would be more honest in his reporting, perhaps a little less reactionary.”
Hutchinson specifically points to organizations like the Alex C. Walker Educational and Charitable Foundation, a non-profit grant provider which supports what they call “ecological economics” and market-based solutions. Walker Foundation has been promoting catch shares as viable “cap-and-trade systems” for the U.S. economy, working closely behind the scenes on securing additional support for this privatization scheme. “We have been quietly working with several sectors to develop new business plans and sources of credit to increase their profitability…we are also working with additional sectors up and down the coast to help them develop profitable business plans and secure credit to maximize the benefits of fishing under catch shares,” the group says in their online literature.
RFA says that the Walker Foundation has been pretty brazen about its involvement in New England fisheries management and groups like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), noting “Fishery management in New England is now undergoing a fast paced evolution, fueled in part by the Obama Administration’s leadership on catch shares, which EDF helped nurture.” The foundation further noted that within two weeks of her confirmation in early 2009, the new head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, had convened environmental and industry leaders in Washington DC to discuss New England’s new groundfish rule and also made $16.7 million available to support the region’s transition to sectors, using the New England situation “to promote catch shares nationally.”
Lubchenco, the former/present Vice Chairman of trustees at the Board of EDF and a Director for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, played a leadership role in securing $35 million in combined FY09 and FY10 federal appropriations to help the groundfish industry transition to sectors, which Walker explained was dependent specifically on EDF staff playing key roles in broadening consensus support for her leadership. “We continue to coordinate closely with NGO, fishing industry and agency allies to work through priority issues critical to the successful implementation of sectors,” Walker said at their site.
According to Walker Foundation, “Prior to the June 2009 unanimous vote by the New England Fishery Management Council to adopt groundfish sectors, EDF staff and our allies generated dozens of pro-sector articles, op-eds and editorials. We coordinated meetings between British Columbia catch share experts and fishermen and fishery managers. We worked together to identify swing votes on the council and lobby for their support. In addition to the unanimous vote for sectors, the Council achieved lopsided consensus votes on every other key issue, including a groundfish allocation formula, catch monitoring, and the requirement that by 2012, every fisherman in this 400-year-old fishery will be required to fish under a hard TAC.”
The RFA said there are volumes of information like this which can be found online that shows clearly what kind of behind-the-scenes support has gone with regard to privatization schemes and conservation zones, whose aim to reduce overall fishing participation. Hutchinson pointed out that a fulltime EDF employee already sits on the New England Fishery Management Council alongside Cunningham, with another paid EDF advisor claiming to represent the recreational fishing community of Long Island.
“New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association, the United Boatmen, the New York Sportfishing Federation and the RFA have been in a very active fight to get that Council position in New York turned back over to our recreational fishing community, but EDF is getting major cover from enablers like Rip Cunningham,” Hutchinson said. “If these buttoned-up magazine publishers want to really learn how to keep our waters open and their customers fishing, they should join us at a few local fisheries meetings, and see what some of the actual fishermen are saying about the politics of fishing today.”
RFA members should make it a point to read the July/August edition of the Big Game Fishing Journal (http://www.biggamefishingjournal.com) to learn more about Cunningham and the other conspiracy theorists. “Capt. Len Belcaro does an amazing job of presenting the facts which expose this warped anti-business, anti-angler rhetoric,” Hutchinson said, adding “hardcore American fishermen really need to read this piece to get a full understanding of what’s going on out there in some of those fancy boardrooms while the rest of us are trying to put a fish or two in the box.”
Donofrio said he doesn’t believe it’s as much conspiracy by the anti-fishing advocates as it is complacency within the industry. “I’ve been working legislative channels for 15 years now, and I really can’t say what’s happened to that driving spirit which used to be so powerful in the industry,” Donofrio said. “The recreational fishing community is losing our voice on the management councils, we’ve had our scientific funding offloaded towards quota schemes at the federal government, and now our own industry is openly criticizing grassroots members who’ve been shut out of the process at the local level by preservationists, so yes it’s pretty frustrating.”
To download an Adobe PDF copy of Capt. Len Belcaro’s comprehensive expose,
The Great Conspiracy, Fact or Fiction,
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