While the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is continuing to pressure federal legislators to help fix a fatally flawed federal fisheries law, coastal fishermen in every state have been taking to message boards, club meetings and newspaper columns to blast away at fisheries managers for not listening to the angling community with regard to flawed science.
“There’s a huge disconnect between what fishermen see on the water each day and what the federal fisheries service folks are actually telling us is out there,” said RFA Executive Director, Jim Donofrio. “They say our observations are purely anecdotal, while their information allegedly comes from the best available science. Our regional council members end up as the messengers of doom, the troopers on an open highway writing court mandated tickets for exceeding a far too conservative speed limit.”
Donofrio said appointed members of the eight regional fisheries management councils in the United States today are essentially enforcing the very laws given to them by legislators. “Even the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is saying the same thing, they’re simply fulfilling the requirements set by the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which is why we need to get the U.S. Senate and Congress to intervene on behalf of our coastal fishing communities by fixing this broken law,” Donofrio said.
In a recent opinion piece run in the Panama City News Herald, Capt. Bob Zales, II said the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Science & Statistical Committee (SSC) was recently presented information to consider adding the 1 million pounds of recreational red snapper quota not harvested in 2010 to the 2011 quota in order to provide some relief for fishermen this season. However, Zales said that because of the way the request was framed by NMFS and because the presentation was not provided in a timely fashion, the SSC recommended that this season’s allowable catch not be changed until future 2012 assessments are conducted.
“In private discussions with most of the current members of the SSC members, I can tell you they are all extremely frustrated with the process. They have been delegated much responsibility by the recent reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act, yet they have no real data to consider to be able to make responsible recommendations,” Capt. Zales said.
A charter fishing captain from Panama City, FL and president of the National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO), Zales is also a member of the RFA’s national board of directors and was recently nominated to serve on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. In his opinion piece, Zales said current data shows that there could be up to 2 million pounds added to the annual catch limits for red snapper in 2011 without impacting the rebuilding plan, yet the SSC made a much more conservative recommendation which will only lead to more economic pain for the Gulf fishing community.
“Some of our concerns when the Magnuson-Stevens Act was up for reauthorization prior to 2007 are now being realized. We expressed these concerns to our legislators, yet the SSC was given the power to set ABCs. We knew the data was not adequate and we knew that the process of providing data was flawed,” Zales noted in the News Herald.
From the Gulf around the southernmost tip of Florida and up the coast to Georgia and South Carolina, fishermen are growing increasingly frustrated by closures stemming from lack of management flexibility within the fisheries management process. According to Capt. Mark Brown, a charter captain and RFA Board member in South Carolina, it’s not just a red snapper problem either.
“One other thing I am experiencing here in Charleston, SC and hearing from other fishermen up and down the east coast in the South Atlantic region is that the black sea bass this year are so large and abundant that they can’t get a bait down to the bottom through them to try and catch a grouper or for that matter any other species,” Brown said recently. “The black sea bass have become a nuisance.”
Capt. Brown noted that on one particular trip in May in search of grouper, the charter had to manage their way through 250 black sea bass ranging from 2 to 4 pounds apiece, along with three dozen 8- to 15-pound red snapper. “It has gotten to the point it’s ridiculous. I am documenting these releases and taking pictures of them,” he said. Brown referenced a video shot by diver Rod Harding as a perfect example of the lapse between onwater observations and statistical analysis.
“Fishery management needs to work with fishermen not against them,” Brown added.
When the Magnuson Act was reauthorized by Congress back in 2006 with strict new statutory definitions, RFA began lobbying extensively to fix some of the faulty language. “In those first few months of 2007, there were only a handful of federal legislators who were willing to get back in and open up that law for further review, but that tide seems to have turned,” said Donofrio. “When Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) first introduced the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act, most thought there some small fishing problem in New Jersey and New York. Now legislators are realizing it’s a huge problem impacting nearly all of our coastal fisheries, and jobs are being lost because of it.”
Donofrio said the House version boasted support by 33 bipartisan coastal cosponsors at the end of the last congressional session, while the Senate bill has been reintroduced (S632) with new support. “We’re happy to see that Scott Brown (R-MA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have also joined the fight for Magnuson reform in the Senate,” Donofrio said, while also praising senate cosponsors Richard Burr (R-NC), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kay Hagan (R-NC).
Donofrio added that Congressman Jon Runyan (R-NJ) quickly entered the fisheries fray as freshman member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introducing another Magnuson reform bill (HR1646) which also boasts the co-sponsored support of representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Billy Long (R-MO) and John Mica (R-FL).
“Yes, the science needs to be improved, but the Magnuson Act must be reformed in this session or our fishermen are going to be kept at the dock while more of our coastal businesses are shuttered forever,” Donofrio said.
Added Zales in the Panama City News Herald: “Too many people and communities are being adversely affected and jobs are being lost simply because the law is too inflexible to allow the system to compensate for inadequate data.”
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