I Fish, I Vote!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

PRIORITIES FOR THE SALTWATER LOCAVORE: ‘RECREATIONAL’ SUSTAINABILITY & ACCESS

In a recent national essay, author Paul Greenberg called for the United States to become a ‘fishier’ and ‘healthier’ nation.  He goes on to cite a staggering fact, that the U.S. controls 2.8 billion acres of ocean, yet nearly 90 percent of commercial seafood consumed by Americans comes from abroad and a third of the fish caught by U.S. commercial fishermen is shipped overseas.

With so much national attention placed on commercial seafood – that which is caught and sold for market – it’s a shame that more emphasis isn’t placed on America’s recreational fishermen, those who fish for personal, no-sale consumption.

As Mr. Greenberg pointed out, there is a ‘locavore’ movement in this country with many Americans almost exclusively eating foods from their local foodshed and typically harvested within 100 miles of home.  Locavores believe in sustainable harvest and may grow their own vegetables, shop primarily in farmers markets, or even harvest their own fish and game. 

The American recreational fisherman or saltwater angler is the historical embodiment of the 21st century locavore.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, through its National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), is currently working on a National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy to help guide the agency’s future policy actions.  While the term “recreational fishing” may mean different things to different people, NMFS has mostly established that recreational fishing includes non-commercial fishermen who fish from shore or on private vessels; for-hire vessels like charter and head boats; the recreational fishing industries themselves including bait and tackle manufacturers and sellers; and those who fish for subsistence.

It is estimated that between 7 and 14 million Americans fish recreationally in marine waters each year; a more concrete number cannot be established because of inconsistencies with NMFS’ data collection deemed “fatally flawed” by the National Academy of Sciences over 8 years ago.  When Congress reauthorized the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2006, the law required NMFS to overhaul its system of gathering recreational fishing data by a time-certain deadline of January 1, 2009.  Five years later, that deadline still has not been met.

To think that less than 2% of imported seafood in this country is inspected and that as much as 30 percent is caught illegally is mind-boggling, and proves that more emphasis must be placed on U.S. recreational fishing and the need to fight for sustainable harvest by American citizens motivated by healthy, sustainable food options, which in turn drive socioeconomic benefits to our local communities. 

It may be true that some anglers fish purely for sport, even releasing 100% of what they catch.  But when considering Mr. Greenberg’s point that the average American consumes “a scant 15 pounds of seafood a year,” it can be safely assumed that the average American saltwater angler must consume two to three times that amount.  While some groups and individuals may look down on the consumptive angler as not sporting enough for their elite social clubs, it’s time that the average American saltwater angler is given his/her due respect in the federal fisheries discussion regarding sustainable harvest.

Our nation’s federal fisheries law is up for reauthorization in Congress.  To truly reorient ourselves toward the sea as many feel we must, more emphasis must be placed at both the local and federal level on protecting our recreational fishermen and all those citizens who fall under its federal definition.  Too much of the national spotlight in recent years has been shined on the ongoing battle between environmental organizations and commercial fishing interests – the mainstream media must share part of the blame with members of Congress for failing to recognize the socioeconomic contributions of recreational fishermen to both our seaside communities and the overall health of our coasts. 

As Congress gets set to reauthorize Magnuson Stevens while the Commerce Department moves forward with creation of a first-ever National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy, let’s hope that fixing this particular imbalance will indeed become a national priority on behalf of the millions of locavores who enjoy open, sustainable access to our natural public resources. 

While environmental organizations cite an abundance of fish in the ocean as evidence that Magnuson Stevens is working just fine, denying American citizens of sustainable access to abundant stocks as means to that end is proof that our federal fisheries law is actually failing the American people who fish for sport, recreation and food. 

What the typical U.S. locavore angler wants is ‘sustainable fisheries.’ By definition, sustainable fisheries are fish stocks accessed by fishermen.  Regrettably, abundant fish stocks don’t actually require the presence of fishermen to be defined. 


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: ANOTHER ‘ABUNDANCE’ OF CRAP


There’s a new buzzword circulating throughout the recreational fishing community of late; a word that’s actively being embraced by many saltwater anglers because of its simple, seemingly straightforward connotation that gives those who speak it a sense of ample warmth and coziness.

That word is abundance. 

Recently, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) issued a bulletin encouraging saltwater anglers and industry representatives to participate in an ongoing national saltwater recreational fisheries policy discussion with NOAA Fisheries.  At the same time, members of the environmental business community have tried to keep anglers away from the active discussion, calling the NOAA meetings “a lot of wasted time and effort,” while supporting an end to “liberal size, season and bag limits” as if U.S. recreational anglers somehow were hoping for even more restrictive seasons on cod, haddock, summer flounder, black sea bass, and red snapper.

These individuals who work for the environmental organizations – whether salaried directly by Pew Environment Group and Environmental Defense Fund, or simply working via one of their heavily funded offshoots – are running a ‘name game’ against individual anglers, urging them to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain but instead to listen to the words of the great and mighty wizard of environmental oddity. 

The last thing you want to do attend one of those irritating meetings,” is what one Environmental Defense Fund advisor and regional fishery management council member advises his followers, explaining that the political process of open dialog is “too much like work.”  Instead, this full-time environmental grant administrator and anti-industry leader is telling his loyal subjects to just stay home and “take five or 10 minutes tops, to submit a note about how you want the recreational fishing policy, first and foremost, to emphasize managing for abundance.

So, what is abundance exactly? 

Actually, Oceans of Abundance was originally an ‘action agenda’ developed by Environmental Defense Fund, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund, with financial support from the Walton Family Foundation.  According to the Oceans of Abundance final report, to achieve a certain level of abundance in U.S. fisheries, the Environmental Defense Fund coalition group says “President Obama should ensure that all federal fishery management plans are evaluated for catch shares by 2012, and that at least 50% of federal fishery management plans feature catch share management by 2016.” 

Furthermore, Environmental Defense Fund states in their Oceans of Abundance final report that “the U.S. Congress should ease bottlenecks in order to achieve the President’s goal by passing legislation to require that catch shares be considered in all fishery management plans by 2012.

In other words, Environmental Defense Fund and its lobbyists, advisors, funding recipients, general minions and peculiar bedfellows simply want saltwater anglers from every walk of life to ask NOAA Fisheries for a policy directive that would consider placing all fishery management plans in the United States under a catch share program designed to ‘cap’ fishing participation and ‘trade’ access rights amongst individuals hand-selected to own the resource.

That means fish tags, auction houses, and state-run access lotteries as our future of recreational fishing, all in the name of abundance!

You can view the document for yourself at http://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/oceans-of-abundance.pdf - it’s part of the entire Environmental Defense Fund catch share movement that has led to the funding of groups like the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance and the Charter Fishermen’s Association, as well as the recent lawsuit to enforce a nine-day red snapper season upon recreational anglers.  Thanks to Environmental Defense Fund, catch share champion Dr. Jane Lubchenco was appointed to NOAA Fisheries during President Obama’s first term, and we are now facing new sector separation mechanisms to divide the recreational fishing community into bits and pieces because of the insidious appointments of ideologues posing as fishermen to regional fisheries councils in the United States.

In other words, asking for abundance is another way of saying ‘please, take away my right to fish.’

I know it sounds good when presented by well-spoken, hip conservationists who claim to be friend to both fish and fisherman.  Ripping a page from the 21st century progressive’s handbook, these angling elite tear into the fishing industry, demonizing those who earn profit in some way, shape or form from the harvest of fish, while pledging to build our oceans to levels of abundance never seen in our lifetime on behalf of the ‘99’ percenters who apparently struggle to catch even a single fish in these dire environmental times.

Anyone who has spent significant time on the water during the past 30 or 40 years will freely admit that the environmental movement of the 1970’s and the enactment of federal fisheries laws during that decade have led to many success stories in coastal fisheries.  And while mostly cyclical, the fishing (when we’re allowed by law) today and overall state of our coastal waters is far better in 2014 than it was during the second part of the 20th century, but that matters little to the environmental hipsters masquerading as nuts and bolts fishermen. 

The soothsayers of the conservation movement readily admit that “we have to comply with federal fisheries law anyway,” which makes the entire abundance argument that much more ridiculous.  Fact is, the federal fisheries law (Magnuson Stevens Act) was originally enacted in 1976 to ensure fishery resources were managed for the greatest overall benefit to the nation, particularly with respect to providing food production and recreational opportunities here in the United States.  By law, those two words – FISHERY and RESOURCES – have very specific meanings when it comes to managing our federal fisheries for continuing sustainability. 

By NOAA Fisheries’ legal definition, resources are “a natural source of wealth and revenue,” including “anything that has value; living and nonliving components of nature such as fish, oil, water, and air.”  At the same time, NOAA says “a fishery is an activity leading to harvesting of fish.”  As much as the progressives would like you to believe that ‘fish’ should have no economic value, the fact that they DO have intrinsic worth by law is precisely the reason why they’ve been protected and conserved with such vigor and tenacity during the past 38 years. 

By the very basic tenets of the Magnuson Stevens Act, our nation’s fishery resources are managed under something called Optimum Yield, which is defined as “the harvest level for a species that achieves the greatest overall benefits, including economic, social, and biological considerations.”  Optimum Yield is the annual ‘yield’ of harvest which in turn provides for the greatest overall benefit to the nation in terms of the wealth, revenue and continued sustainability of our nation’s fisheries.  Economic, social and biological in turns means fish, fishermen and the fishing industry (coincidentally, much in line with the stated mission of the Recreational Fishing Alliance).

Under those very definitions, rebuilding fish stocks while denying fishermen access is actually a violation of the federal law originally intended to foster robust coastal fishing opportunities.  And asking NOAA Fisheries to manage our recreational fishing community for abundance in turn is asking for something which in turn violates federal law. 

The ‘fish first’ conservationists are talking a good game and leading some folks to believe that oceans of abundance will punish greedy business owners while leaving more fish in the ocean to catch, but it’s really just a ploy to build support for reduced fishing participation through shortened seasons and bag limits.  

It's all psychological,” says Mayor Vaughn in Jaws, “You yell ‘barracuda,’ everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘shark,’ we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

The word ‘overfishing’ is like that word shark, or cancer…they’re terms that strike fear into the hearts of men.  Abundance?  Heck, that’s like asking to cuddle a puppy, or for another slice of apple pie for crying out loud – and who’s opposed to cuddly puppies?!?!

As a saltwater angler, before you go sending an email to NOAA Fisheries in request of abundance just because some well-heeled light tackle and fly guy suggested you do so, consider this scenario.  In the summer flounder fishery, the commercial sector gets 60% of the annual harvest, while the recreational community gets 40%.  If commercial folks manage for ‘optimum yield’ they’ll use 100% of their quota; yet if the recreational community wants to manage for ‘abundance’ does that mean that we’ll opt to use only 50% of our allotted quota in order to build fish stocks? 

Is that what we expect of our regional council members in terms of a vote?  We have an increasing abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, yet saltwater anglers are incensed at the lack of access while the shoreside businesses are collapsing.  Pragmatically speaking, that means the Magnuson Stevens is failing.   

Of course, abundance in the recreational sector should make the commercial guys pretty happy.  By taking a deeper than required harvest cut this season, it would mean more abundant fish stocks, so that next season our combined quotas will be larger and the commercial fishermen can harvest more of the fish (optimum yield), while I guess we would take yet another precautionary cutback (abundance).

Here’s the bottom line – managing for abundance sounds wonderful.  Theoretically speaking, in fisheries like tarpon, bonefish, permit, and even Atlantic marlin, managing for abundance is fairly easy considering the lack of commercial pressure in these fisheries.  However, in mixed-used stocks like snapper, flounder, grouper and sea bass, abundance is simply a buzzword created by Environmental Defense Fund to manipulate the conservation ethic of saltwater sportsmen; to once again steal that conservation moniker in the name of grand theft fisheries which will only lead to reduced angler access and a collapsed recreational fishing industry. 

Be proud of the economic output that you provide this nation as a hardcore saltwater angler; remind your member of Congress, as well as the guy down the street, that when you fish it keeps people working.  Fish within the law, keep only that which you plan to consume, and respect the resource - but don’t allow elite conservationists to make you feel guilty about taking home a legal, sustainable American fish for the dinner table. 

Beyond everything else, don’t let some zealot put words in your mouth; tell the federal government what you want as a saltwater angler, not what someone else tells you to want. 

Don’t buy into the abundance of crap that these sharks are selling; they smell blood in the water already, and now they’re looking for the big kill!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

EVEN ‘KEEPERS’ BEGIN TO STINK EVENTUALLY - BUREAUCRATIC NEGLECT PROMPTS HOUSE REFORM


In a recent Roll Call commentary (The Magnuson Act: It's a Keeper), former NOAA Fisheries staffers Eric Schwaab and Dr. William Hogarth boast of their accomplishments while employed by the federal government.  As to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson Act) introduced in 1976 and reauthorized again in 1996 and 2006, Mr. Scwaab and Mr. Hogarth proudly praise their own work in implementing key changes in the federal fisheries law.

“As former directors of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, we were both fortunate to have been present and helped implement these key bipartisan reforms to the Magnuson Act,” noted Mr. Schwaab and Mr. Hogarth collectively, adding “these reforms have demonstrably improved the health of our oceans, sustainability of our fish stocks and the viability of many local fishing economies.”

Sadly, since the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, coastal communities have been anything by economically viable.  A recent NOAA Fisheries socioeconomic study showed the number of saltwater fishing trips has gone down every year since 2008, due in part to debilitating cutbacks to recreational fishing seasons because of a broken federal fisheries law; yet in a rather staggering government revelation, while fewer Americans are legally allowed to access coastal fisheries, their data shows job growth in the recreational fishing sector skyrocketed 18% from 2008 to 2011. 

This of course is especially surprising when one considers that our federal unemployment rate during the same timeframe jumped from 5.1% to 9.1%.  While NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Department of Commerce statistics show that income and sales growth in the recreational fishing industry somehow managed to spike 40% between 2010 and 2011 with fewer actual customers, reports from actual business owners show a stark reality that’s much more in line with our recessed national economic numbers. 

That is of course why members of Congress have convened numerous hearings in Washington DC since the last reauthorization of the Magnuson Act in 2006, hearing first-hand how fish populations are improving while the overall state of the fishing community is in economic disarray.  Individual anglers and recreational fishing industry leaders are appealing to Congress for assistance, despite the double-talk from some double-dipping former bureaucrats. 

The collapse of the American recreational fishing industry was no surprise. As Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries in September of 2007, Dr. Hogarth himself sent a widely circulated memo about the Magnuson Act in which he warned that “based on the language included in the most recent reauthorization, 2010 will be a train wreck.”  He was right. 

And under direct questioning by Congress a year earlier, Dr. Hogarth told members of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans that certain rebuilding requirements in the law were “arbitrary,” and asked for some “flexibility” in meeting some of deadlines.  However, instead of helping steer the fishing industry clear of the “train wreck” and ensuing economic devastation, Dr. Hogarth left NOAA Fisheries in 2009 to take over as Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. 

In addition to the restrictive regulatory controls written into the federal law at the behest of environmental non-government organizations (ENGO’s), a comprehensive data collection overhaul was mandated by Congress which called upon NOAA Fisheries to implement a saltwater angler registry while making use of existing data regularly compiled by the for-hire sector captains who run charter and party boats.  Specific language in the Magnuson Act relied upon a key 2006 study from the National Academy of Sciences by calling upon NOAA Fisheries to implement a robust new recreational data collection methodology as of January 1, 2009.

After Dr. Hogarth left this project in limbo, Mr. Schwaab took over as Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries in 2010.  In reporting on the delayed data collection rollout, Mr. Schwaab told a national sportfishing publication in 2011, “while we would certainly have liked to make this transition to the new approach more quickly, the process of new survey design, angler registry development and transition to new methods required more time.” Later in 2011, under questioning by the House Natural Resources Committee, Mr. Schwaab described his agency’s handling of this particular project as “suboptimal.” 

Of course, “suboptimal” data collection is in turn what the Department of Commerce uses today to measure the socioeconomics of the sportfishing industry, hence their rose-colored view of recreational fishing as a ‘growth industry’ while anglers are continually forced off the water due to draconian federal restrictions.  Perhaps the most quotable commentary ever given by Mr. Schwaab though was in 2011 in a video interview produced by the NOAA Ocean Media Center and posted at You Tube in which the Acting Administrator explains “we will be judged not by our words but by our actions.”

Like Dr. Hogarth, Mr. Schwaab skipped out of NOAA Fisheries before completing his pledged tasks, taking over as Chief Conservation Officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD just last year.  The new recreational data collection methodologies have still not been implemented, with current NOAA Fisheries staffers readily acknowledging that neither the national private angler registry nor coastwide vessel trip reports are being actively integrated into the federal data collection efforts.  In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences referred to this data specifically as “fatally flawed” – regrettably, it is just as “flawed” today as it was during the tenures of Dr. Hogarth and Mr. Schwaab. 

In addition to leaving projects incomplete and in total disarray, Mr. Schwaab and Dr. Hogarth share another similar distinction with regard to their present employers; both the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the National Aquarium in Baltimore are heavily funded by philanthropic endowments, charitable donations and ENGO grants. While neither of these former bureaucrats has to answer to coastal anglers or industry leaders ever again, they do have to be mindful of the wants and wishes of their wealthy benefactors in their new roles as non-profit mercenaries.  

Sadly, many of these financial gift-givers are the same ones trying to influence Congress away from listening to the pleas from the recreational fishing community regarding federal fisheries reform. 

Dr. William Hogarth and Mr. Eric Schwaab had plenty of time to be judged by their actions while in position of authority within the Department of Commerce; respectfully, they gave up the relevancy of their words related to federal fisheries once they walked away from their shovels and axes along that unfinished stretch of railroad track, allowing the “train wreck” to occur while they were out searching for greener pastures. 

These are the actions that anglers will remember most when it comes to judging accountability inside our federal government; and the only words our recreational fishing industry care to hear right now are from members of Congress, in terms of honest pledges to fix a broken federal law and to hold NOAA Fisheries to a certain standard of responsibility to the fish, the fishermen and the recreational fishing industry. 

On May 29th, 2014, the House Natural Resources Committee voted 24-17 to move H.R. 4742, the aptly titled Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act” to the floor of the House for a vote.  In his opening statement on the need to reform the Magnuson Stevens Act in Congress, committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said “One of the key messages the Committee has heard is that while the 2006/2007 amendments to the Act were good, those requirements have been hard to achieve in some regions without significant economic pain and that some level of flexibility is necessary.” 

“The goal of HR 4742 is to strengthen and improve the Act through common sense reforms that increase management flexibility based on science, ensure greater government transparency, promote responsible fishing and prevent overfishing, improve fish data collection, and provide predictability and certainty for American jobs and local communities whose economic livelihoods depend on fishing,” Chairman Hastings added.

Anyone who watched the hearing (click here to watch the archived version of the hearing) easily recognized the common theme among both democrats and republicans; that the abject failure by NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Commerce to meet certain statistical requirements under the present law was forcing undue socioeconomic hardship on coastal fishing communities.  Further, the wanton destruction of essential fish habitat by the Department of Interior outside of the Commerce Department’s jurisdiction had made a mockery of the government accountability process, forcing Congress to write new laws to get the government off its ass. 

In other words, without congressional intervention, government lifers like Mr. Schwaab and Dr. Hogarth would never get around to getting their work done. 

“It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions” – that concept should apply to current and former bureaucrats as well, pensioned or otherwise. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

THE REASON WHY BAIT GETS HARDER & HARDER TO FIND...

With 85% of the coastwide quota of Atlantic menhaden now essentially memorialized for the reduction industry
out of Reed$ville, VA (sorry for the earlier typo folks), local bait harvesters along much of the Atlantic states
may be scrambling to meet demand in the coming months.  Gotta wonder what the fall 'chunkin' season is
gonna look like if those fractional TACs are met before 2013 is out! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE: How 'Gas & Oil' Industry Helps Create Coastal Dead Zones

Scientists are expecting a very large "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and a smaller than average hypoxic level in the Chesapeake Bay this year.

Surprise, surprise, surprise,” is how Gomer Pyle would’ve put it.

The report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the 2013 hypoxic "dead" zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, placing it among the 10 largest ever recorded (an area the size of the entire state of New Jersey). Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, often from human activities such as agriculture, which results in insufficient oxygen to support most marine life in near-bottom waters.

“…the growing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are the direct result of inadequate water filtration — a job that was once carried out by menhaden,” noted author Paul Greenberg, while Jim Uphoff at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said of menhaden, “they are filter feeders that consume phytoplankton, thus controlling the growth of algae in coastal waters. As the population of menhaden declines, algal blooms have proliferated, transforming some inshore waters into dead zones.”

Imagine, a single adult bunker filtering as much as 2 million gallons of water a year, essentially inputting bad water and outputting clean water by ridding 4 to 6 gallons of algae from the water in a single minute.

SHAZAM!

It should be of no surprise to anyone that the biggest dead zones in coastal U.S. waters are at the mouth of the Mississippi and in a small region of the Chesapeake, right where factory menhaden reduction operations by the publicly-traded resource degradation outfit known as Omega Protein (stock symbol OME) are based. Omega’s manufacturing facilities, the ports where hundreds of millions of pounds of menhaden are offloaded for processing into livestock feed and fish meal, are located in the Gulf towns of Abbeville and Cameron in Louisiana and Moss Point in Mississippi, as well as at Reedsville, Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay.

Headquartered in Houston, Texas, Omega Protein traces its origins to Zapata Oil, founded in 1953 by future-U.S. President George H. W. Bush and business partners John Overbey, Hugh Liedtke, Bill Liedtke, and Thomas J. Devine. Overbey was a ‘landman’ skilled in scouting oil fields and obtaining drilling rights cheaply, while Bush and Devine were oil-wildcatting associates who performed oil exploration drillings. Their joint activities culminated in the establishment of Zapata Oil through an initial $1 million investment provided by the Liedtke brothers, Bush's father Prescott Bush and his maternal grandfather, along with an inner-circle of wealthy oil tycoons. Hugh Liedtke was named president, with Bush was vice president.

A 1975 internal CIA memo noted how Zapata was founded through Bush's joint efforts with Devine, a CIA staffer who had resigned his agency position that same year to go into private business, but who continued to work for the CIA under commercial cover. Devine would later accompany Bush to Vietnam in late 1967 as a "cleared and witting commercial asset" of the agency. (Read more about Zapata here at Wikipedia.)

In 1997, Zapata Protein would go public in seeking additional investors, changing its official name to Omega Protein in 2002.

OCEAN ‘WILDCATTING’ & EPA VIOLATIONS

During 2013 alone, the OME stock price has ranged from a low of $6.32 a share on January 7, to a recent high of $11.03 on May 21. One investor called the near-doubling of the OME stock as coming entirely as a result of fish meal supply reductions in Peru following extreme government restrictions there on the anchovy catch. After finding that "the Peruvian anchovy is in danger of extinction," Peru’s President Ollanta Humala cut anchovy production there by 68%, opening a new international market for Omega’s ground-up fish meal product.

Using spotter planes to find the menhaden, high-powered vacuums to suck out acres upon acres of fish from the water, and large factory ships to ‘reduce’ the oily baitfish to meal, Omega Protein essentially functions to take as much menhaden from areas of the Chesapeake and Gulf of Mexico as is technological possible, leaving these waters devoid of a natural “water filtration” while lining the pockets of their investors. What’s left behind are hungry striped bass, weakfish and crabs whose primary source of protein is ultimately turned to fish meal for Peruvian aquaculture facilities (and others around the world), and vast hypoxic "dead" zones where algae and phytoplankton chokes the oxygen from the water.

In addition to its wanton destruction of a vital ecosystem stock, Omega Protein Corporation has also come under fire for other environmental issues in recent years. On June 4th of this year, OME pleaded guilty to a pair of Clean Water Act violations stemming from bilge water discharge practices at its Reedville, VA facility, requiring the company to pay a $5.5 million fine, be placed on a three year term of probation, and implement an environmental compliance program.

In addition to the $5.5 million fine, the Chesapeake operation was required to make a $2 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects in Virginia related to the protection of the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay.

OME has always claimed to be a champion of the environment, and when you search for Omega Protein at Google or Bing you’ll find the company boasting of its “sustainability,” claiming to be “committed to protecting the environment and menhaden fishery that provide us with our livelihood.” The livelihood of Omega’s workforce has always been used by their corporate leaders in defending the company’s ability to degrade our local waters of menhaden. In December for example, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) opted to reduce the total allowable catch of menhaden by 20% beginning in 2013, a move that Omega’s Ben Landry called "big blow for the blue-collar workers in the Northern Neck of Virginia, as well as up and down the East Coast."

According to the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, VA, “Omega employs 300 workers in its reduction facility in Reedville, where menhaden are ground and boiled down into fertilizer, food for pets and livestock and dietary supplements. Thousands of other jobs depend on the industry, including fishermen in Omega's eight-vessel fleet.”

"Well have to run some numbers," Landry told the Daily Press last winter, adding "I can assure you it's probably going to cost the fleet at least one vessel, and that results in (lost) jobs directly there."

Well, surprise, surprise, on May 20th of this year, one day before OME’s stock surged to its highest point of 2013, the company announced the launch of new two state-of-the-art fishing vessels at the Reedville facility. At 196 feet and 184 feet long, these are the first new vessels christened by Omega in more than 20 years.

CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR

In terms of the Omega employees, while they claim to have a staff of 300 in Reedville alone, the company has historically be able to utilize foreign (largely Mexican) H2B Visa workers for temporary employment during the fishing season, although according to its 10-K the company's initial application for 2013 was denied by the U.S. Department of Labor. As of the filing of Omega's 10-Q on May 7 Omega's re-application had not yet been approved, and the company had already "embarked on a program to complement its workforce with non H2B Visa domestic workers."

While Omega hadn’t disclosed the dollar amount of its utilization of the program in 2012, according to a Freedom of Information Act request Omega Protein received 695 H2B visas for foreign workers in 2006 and 2007 at $12,000 per worker for the season. Landry said of the visa program, "the average laborer, a young man, blue collar worker, can make an extraordinary rate in the oil and gas industry [in the Gulf] and it was something we weren't able to keep up with."

Of course, it’s funny that Landry would differentiate himself and his corporation from the “oil and gas industry” in the Gulf of Mexico, given the fact the company’s history is built upon oil and gas revenues going back to Bush, Liedtke, and Devine. There is very little difference between the owner/investor of a Gulf oil rig and that of a 196-foot factory reduction ship, they both function the same.

The good news is that the large-scale commercial menhaden fishery - the ‘reduction’ industry - has been gradually phased out of all Atlantic States except Virginia. And while the overall 20% reduction in overall allowable harvest of menhaden voted by ASMFC sounds like a good deal for the fish and the ecosystem, it’s really a hollow victory for the resource given that Virginia has represented on average about 34% of Omega’s overall catch over the past five years. Coastwide, the total allowable catch now is 20% less than the average catch from 2009 to 2011, but the decision has also granted Omega 85% of the entire coastwide harvest.

Given that all state waters except Virginia are now closed down for the menhaden reduction industry, it’s expected that the Chesapeake will continue to be hit hard in the future by factory ships. In turn, the expected 8% loss in Omega Protein’s overall sales volume thanks to the Virginia restrictions will now have to offset somewhere if investors are going to continue to flock towards OME stock. That means an increase in overall harvest can be expected in the Gulf of Mexico, where there are no similar cap restrictions on the amount of menhaden which the reduction industry may harvest. Omega and its spinsters will say that increased harvest leads to increased employment.

However, where the Louisiana unemployment rate was 3.7% in 2006-2007, topping 6.5% in Mississippi during the same period, Omega’s manufacturing facilities in that region had utilized close to 600 of those low-paid foreign workers through the company’s H2B visa program.

While Jim Nabors’ boyhood home of Sylacauga, Alabama is a good 250 miles from the mouth of Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure that his beloved Gomer Pyle could’ve surmised this hypocrisy quite well in just three, simple words:

“Shame, shame, shame…”

One final point which many find interesting - where groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) were pushing ASMFC and federal officials to go after Omega’s Chesapeake Bay operations, while calling for an outright ban on the reduction industry there, environmental activists working under the Pew Charitable Trusts umbrella pushed for the coastwide bunker cap which was approved back in December.

With Pew’s billion-dollar coffers, one might think that a crushing blow to Omega’s heart was within reach in 2012. However, with Pew’s activist support, Omega Protein’s 85% share of the Atlantic Coastal menhaden harvest was memorialized, with local bait harvesters taking the lion’s share of the overall harvest limit on a state-by-state basis.

Pew Charitable Trusts of course was founded by J. Howard Pew, Mary Ethel Pew, Joseph N. Pew, Jr., and Mabel Pew Myrin—the adult sons and daughters of Sun Oil Company (SUNOCO) founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. If you’d like to get in touch with SUNOCO INC, feel free to write them at 1308 N US Highway 83 in ZAPATA, TX 78076.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

RED LOBSTER & OLIVE GARDEN GO ANTI-ANGLER – Corporate Owners Officially Ask Gulf Council To Take Red Snapper Away From Recreational Sector

While the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population is getting healthier, the owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden don't believe anglers should be given the opportunity to fish for them - despite a recent decision by NOAA Fisheries.

A week before reopening the season, federal regulators announced that the recreational season in federal waters for red snapper will be 17 to 34 days instead of 9 to 28 based on updated recreational landings data and new information from Louisiana and Texas according to a release from NOAA Fisheries. The recreational season is set to open on June 1 in federal waters, which begin 9 nautical miles off Florida and Texas and 3 nautical miles from the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coasts.

NOAA Fisheries also raised the total allowed red snapper catch from 8 million to nearly 8.5 million pounds, with 51 percent allotted to the commercial sector and just 49 percent for recreational anglers. However, according to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), one national restaurant chain is not happy with that allocation between commercial and recreational red snapper fishermen, and has asked the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) to consider giving anglers less fish.

Darden Restaurants, the corporate owners of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Season 52 restaurant chains, has recommended "for consideration a review of the Gulf of Mexico recreational sector quota," which the corporation feels presently gives anglers too much of the overall red snapper quota at 49 percent. "This sector is allocated a very large portion of the red snapper quota, almost equal to that of the commercial sector; however, they do not have the same reporting requirements that the commercial sector."

In a recent Sun Sentinel article by Washington Bureau correspondent William Gibson, it was reported that Darden Restaurants supports stricter quotas on red snapper harvest in the Gulf of Mexico, evidenced by the 2012 letter to the Gulf Council in which Darden called for continuation of more restrictive red snapper quotas, while asking that "commercial fishers should be allotted more and recreational anglers less."

RFA was able to track down the official letter to the Gulf Council at a website run by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance, a group of individual fishing quota owners in the Gulf whose organization is heavily funded by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other organizations who support programs giving full ownership of coastal fish stocks to select groups and individuals. In their official letter, Darden Restaurants claims personal support for helping establish 'catch share' programs in the Gulf of Mexico, explaining how rigid time limits in place by law to rebuild fish stocks should actually be shortened to force recreational anglers to have fewer days to fish for iconic species like red snapper.

"Some stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, including red snapper, are not on target to be rebuilt in 10 years, as is mandated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act," the letter from Darden Restaurants reads, while also "calling for improved data collection and monitoring from recreational fishers and shorter rebuilding plans within 10 years" which they claim could lead to clearer benefits to the Gulf resource.

RFA said that greenwashing efforts of organizations like EDF and Pew Environment Group has influenced several major corporations to turn their back on the angling public. In response, RFA is encouraging U.S. saltwater anglers to respond with a less than subtle message - take your business elsewhere!

"If Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Capital Grille would like to deny anglers the opportunity to fish, then it's time to deny those restaurants the opportunity at our business," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "If Darden Restaurant chain thinks that if anglers are denied the right to fish, that we'll simply dine out more at Red Lobster or Olive Garden, then I hope anglers are willing to send the message that shows them just how wrong that is."

RFA recently called on a nationwide boycott of Wal-Mart because of similar corporate neglect for core customer values. "The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who'll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it's corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries," Donofrio said last August. "Don't just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart, stop supporting this company altogether and let's quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities."

Through their contributions of over $36 million towards no-access marine reserves and catch share programs, RFA said the Walton family has turned their back on local fishing communities and even their own customers. "Shopping for fishing equipment at Wal-Mart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it's supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans," said Donofrio. In late May, Wal-Mart also pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act to the tune of over $110 million in federal fines.

RFA said that environmental organizations today function more like corporate public relations firms for major retail business outlets like Wal-Mart, Olive Garden and Red Lobster who are often criticized at the local level. However, EDF recently has created turmoil inside even its own environmental ranks by providing support for oil giants Chevron and Shell who are pushing for hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to extract oil and natural gas.

"The recent national headlines showing how EDF has ruined the environmental movement by carrying the financial load for major corporations should be red flag in Congress where efforts to protect our small business owners have stalled in recent years by the so-called green movement," Donofrio said. "Darden Restaurants, like Wal-Mart, sees big green only for its shareholders, certainly not for the local constituents."

RFA noted how New York Times originally reported last year how EDF "does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for," though when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart founders' Sam and Helen Walton) has been underwriting EDF's effort to replace the nation's owner-operated fishing businesses with a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets, the reporter responsible for the story conceded that in a rush to meet deadlines she never considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart.

"I didn't think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations," said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding "None of the third parties I'd spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn't an excuse - I should have thought of it myself, but didn't."

RFA said groups like Pew and EDF have been given a free pass by the mainstream press in recent years, but Donofrio hopes that the current climate with journalists appearing to fall under intense, unethical and perhaps even illegal government scrutiny may be the tipping point that fishermen have longed hoped for in terms of open and responsible reporting.

"Pew recently sponsored their own fish summit in Washington DC designed to influence Congress towards adding more restrictive measures to our federal fisheries law, while EDF appears to be carrying the water for oil giants and Wall Street investors," Donofrio said. "This isn't conspiracy, it's a transparent culture of treachery and deceit within the environmental business community."

"Saltwater anglers need to send a unified message to businesses like Wal-Mart, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and turn your back on those who turn their back on us," Donofrio said.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NO ONE IS EVER GETTING FIRED - So, The Beatings Will Continue Until Federal "Morals" Improve

Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the current ethics storm in Washington over improper scrutiny of American political action organizations is invoking her Fifth Amendment rights today after being called to testify before a House Oversight Committee hearing. Her refusal to testify has led to some members of Congress to call for her removal from IRS duties and firing from her employment within the federal government.

Regrettably, as most members of Congress all well aware (yet probably don’t want you to know), government officials really don’t get fired. 

Never gonna happen!

Take for example what happened in March of 2010, when the chairwoman of the House panel that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called for the agency's director of law enforcement to step down in the wake of a scandal over heavy-handed fisheries enforcement. As reported in the New York Times at the time, the House Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) said that NOAA Law Enforcement Director Dale Jones should be relieved of his duties given the questions as to whether or not he tried to destroy documents to avoid an even more scathing report from the Commerce Department's top investigator.

"As the top cop at NOAA and a longtime investigator himself, Dale Jones must be acutely aware that shredding documents during a federal investigation raises serious questions about his commitment to a full and fair look at all the facts," Bordallo said at a subcommittee hearing. "At a time when transparency and accountability in the way our government operates is of utmost importance, this type of behavior cannot be condoned, and Mr. Jones should step aside until the IG's investigation is completed."

The Commerce Department's inspector general had earlier released a report finding serious flaws in NOAA's fisheries enforcement and law enforcement operations, describing an unbalanced system that was heavy on criminal investigation resulting in a "dysfunctional relationship" between NOAA and the fishing industry.

Rep. Bordallo’s comments before the subcommittee had come in response to new allegations from the Commerce Department’s inspector general, Todd Zinser, that Jones had authorized the destruction of more than 100 files at law enforcement headquarters in Silver Spring, MD during the investigation.

"It was not authorized by me, and when I informed NOAA leadership of what we found, they did not say they authorized it either," Zinser said of the shredding. "I was surprised by it. What came to my mind is, I wonder what the office of law enforcement would do if a fishing company they were investigating had done the same thing?"

In response to the inspector general’s report, then NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco ordered an overhaul of her fisheries department’s enforcement system, outlining 10 program changes for NOAA’s general counsel and acting fisheries administrator, Eric Schwaab.

Lubchenco also asked the department to immediately freeze all hirings of criminal investigators, institute higher-level reviews for enforcement decisions, improve data, develop an outreach strategy with fishermen and revise procedures and penalties to make sure they are consistent and clear, free from any ethical violations or bias.

Lawmakers were more dramatic in their call to action. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said Lubchenco should consider firing everyone in the law enforcement department, allowing them then to reapply for their positions, while the Times noted how other lawmakers advised Lubchenco to take special care not to let the issue slip. An earlier investigation 10 years earlier found similar abuses by NOAA fisheries enforcement personnel.

Senate Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) encouraged Lubchenco to dig deeper to investigate the response, or lack thereof, to the last report. “I think you'll find that the same issues why those recommendations were not implemented will be the same reasons why these won't be, as well," Cantwell said. "We don't want to do another report in a few years and find the same issues. These are cultural barriers in an organization that need to be broken down.”

Well-said Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Begich, and Ms. Bordallo, kudos to you all.

As I’m sure any fisherman or American taxpayer must think at this point in the story, Dale Jones must be living his personal life somewhere, working in the private sector - a castoff from public service banished from public service for shredding documents during an official investigation.

Now, before you answer that, it does get better as you’ll read in the Gloucester Times of Massachusetts.

You see, not only was it the enforcement level, but a separate probe commissioned by the Department of Commerce concluded that the two NOAA attorneys (Charles Juliand and James MacDonald) who had extracted an excessive settlement from a commercial scallop fishing business owner in 2005 did the same thing years earlier to a pair of fish processors using coercive methods “with an intention to intimidate.” As reported in the Gloucester Times, a detailed narrative of how NOAA’s Gloucester-based enforcement and litigation attorneys Charles Juliand and James MacDonald improperly manipulated the system of fisheries enforcement law.

Following detailed reports back to the Commerce Department, there were formal Cabinet-level apologies to 11 businesses put in duress by wrongful actions of NOAA litigators and agents. Together, Swartwood’s two sets of case studies generated more than $2.3 million returned by the government to settle the penalty score with the fishing industry.

Obviously, with all the sequestration debate and budgetary woes in Washington DC, the paper-shredding cop and the money-grubbing attorneys responsible for these despicable government actions are gone, right? Surely the directive of leading members of Congress like Bordallo and Begich was met with swift action, the firings of Jones, Juliland and MacDonald?

Actually, no. Former NOAA Enforcement director Dale Jones was reassigned as a fisheries program specialist in the Office of Science and Technology, allowing him to keep his pay grade above the $150,000 a year mark. Juliland was reassigned to be senior councilor for natural resources where was last working on matters related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while MacDonald was made attorney advisor to the deputy general counsel at NOAA.

As for Ms. Lubchenco, she left NOAA earlier this year and was last seen over the weekend getting an honorary doctorate at Rutgers University where she was credited with personally credited with ending overfishing in the United States of America. Mr. Schwaab announced today that he too was leaving NOAA to take a post at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The Secretaries of Commerce who held posts during the ongoing investigations into wrongdoings at NOAA Fisheries, including Gary Locke and John Bryson are gone, while the current ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary, Rebecca Blank, will be leaving the job at the end of this month to take over as chancellor at University of Wisconsin at Madison.

So who’s in charge over at NOAA Fisheries or the United States Department of Commerce? Good question, with no simple answers. You see, back during the presidential campaign in the fall, President Obama pledged to appoint a new Secretary of Business to oversee newly-consolidated government agencies, including the Small Business Administration.

"We should have one Secretary of Business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans to SBA or helping companies with exports,” the president told MSNBC during a campaign interview. “There should be a one-stop shop.”

In the week leading up to the election, White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated to reporters that the streamlining proposal would be one of Obama’s first orders of business. “The President will be engaging directly after the election in moving forward,” he said, adding that he was “very committed to that proposal.”

Six months later, there’s been no movement by the Obama administration on this new Department of Business. Meanwhile, the soon departure of the ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary Blank, following the previous departure of appointed Commerce Secretary Bryson last June, leaves a hole yet to be filled at the cabinet level. The President recently nominated Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker for appointment to the head of the Commerce Department, though it’s expected to be a bumpy road ahead in the Senate considering the staunch opposition by labor unions unhappy about the Pritzker family’s running of Hyatt Hotels.

As for fishermen, the only ‘offshore’ action Pritzker seems aware of is the $53.6 million in income she received last year through an offshore trust in the Bahamas.

In the interim, there will be a new ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary in place just after the Memorial Day Weekend, Cameron Forbes Kerry. In addition to being the younger brother of Secretary of State John Kerry, he’s also the General Counsel of the Department of Commerce and principal legal advisor to the Secretary of Commerce where he oversees the work of over 325 lawyers in 14 offices who provide legal advice to all components of the Department.

Cameron Kerry, coincidentally, is also the Commerce Department’s chief ethics officer – and he hails from Massachusetts.

Final question, who is it that said, “We can't have the sort of hands-off, head-in-the-sand attitude that we've had over the last eight years and think somehow we're going to reverse some of these trends?” If you said then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 when campaigning for president, you would be correct.

However, I would also accept as correct the answer, ‘whoever will be the 2016 republican challenger for president in 2016.”

Any way you look at it, we lose.

And the person who should've really been fired for all of this burdensome, vindictive and abusive government power?  Well, the American people renewed his 4-year contract in November of 2012...and that's a sad, sad fact.