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Monday, August 2, 2010

BROKEN LAW, BROKEN PROMISE

"How did I get here?"

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 291,000 saltwater anglers in New York, whereas the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) pegs that number at closer to 874,000. NMFS of course bases their angler estimates on information gathered through the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Surveys or MRFSS, a recreational fishing harvest program deemed “fatally flawed” by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences.

A Connecticut study spearheaded by fisheries assessment expert Dr. Victor Crecco spotlighted this growing discrepancy between NMFS and USFWS estimates, comparing numbers with overall saltwater licenses sales from several Atlantic coast states. The report shows that MRFSS’ 2008 saltwater angler estimates were often “three to four times higher than both the 2006 USFWS estimates and the 2008 adjusted saltwater license sales,” findings which Dr. Crecco said “strongly suggest that the MRFSS has severely overestimated the number of saltwater anglers and fishing trips particularly in recent years, and by extension, has severely inflated the true recreational catch and harvest of all finfish species.” In other words, the federal government believes that we’re catching 300-400% more fish than we really are - this theoretical “overfishing” of quota is no secret to the New York angler, particularly when considering our state’s own marine license has generated only about 125,000 unique registrants since it was implemented last October.

At the behest of Congress, NRC convened in 2004/2005 to review the marine recreational fishery survey methods used by NMFS to monitor fishing effort and catch data in the recreational sector. Their official report blasted the current methodology of surveying anglers based on random telephone contacts, while recommending “the development of and subsequent sampling from a comprehensive national saltwater angler registry.” When the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was reauthorized by Congress in 2006 and signed into law by the President in 2007, it required the Secretary of Commerce to establish a national saltwater registry program which meets the recommendations of the NRC panel of experts.

The program, which according to the law may or may not require a fee as of 2011, would provide for the registration - including identification and contact information - of individuals who engage in recreational fishing in state coastal waters when fishing for anadromous species such as striped bass, shad and river herring, or when fishing out beyond the three-mile limit in federal waters. The newly reauthorized federal law also noted that the Secretary would exempt from federal registration requirement those anglers and vessels registered by a state, if the state provides sufficient identification and contact information of individuals who engage in recreational fishing, for use in federal recreational surveys.

About the time that Magnuson amendments were being debated in Washington, NMFS brought a series of national stakeholder groups together to review the pending registry requirements. In a 2006 briefing document on the saltwater angler registration (which can be found online by Googling saltwater angler registration briefing document), NMFS described the angler registry specifically as a tool to help increase survey efficiency and improve precision of catch and effort statistics, describing how the Senate’s draft Magnuson reauthorization bill had language that would set up an angler registry, which NMFS called “simply a list of saltwater anglers and their contact information, a virtual phonebook of anglers.”

A handful of groups involved in those early meetings came out specifically in favor of seeing states implement an actual saltwater fishing license in order to both meet the registration requirements and increase funding for fisheries management. NOAA’s briefing document goes on to list those groups in support of a saltwater license as being the American Sportfishing Association, Billfish Foundation, BoatU.S., Coastal Conservation Association, Coastside Fishing Club, International Game Fish Association, National Association of Charterboat Operators, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Pure Fishing, Sportfishing Association of California and United Anglers of Southern California.

A smaller, more northeast-centric corps of angling groups representing vocal opposition to the saltwater fishing license present in those early registry briefing meetings was the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, United Boatmen of New York and New Jersey, and the Recreational Fishing Alliance. The northeast opposition charged that a saltwater license was simply another tax on anglers, and noted concerns that collected fees would not actually go back into fishery management, while creating a confusing patchwork of required permits and licenses throughout coastal communities.

Perhaps bolstering the opposition argument, the NMFS briefing document states, “To be clear, a saltwater angler registry does not guarantee anglers more access or more fish. What it does is ensure that both anglers and fisheries managers have a complete picture about the scope and impact of sportfishing in our oceans and along our coasts.” Such a statement actually countered one of the key license arguments regarding power and influence. The bare facts were laid out clearly as one NOAA’s key messages regarding the need for a saltwater registry program stated the registry “is simply a list of saltwater anglers and their contact information, a virtual phonebook of anglers.”

While the need to develop cohesive registries that capture angler contact information was paramount to the program itself, heads of fish and wildlife agencies in states without an angler registration program wasted little time in reaching out to legislators to help drive the registry discussion towards the need for funding. Soon after the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was reauthorized, key fisherman-friendly legislators assembled New York’s recreational fishing industry stakeholders to discuss the benefits of a saltwater license. Many staunch anti-license participants dragged their feet at first, noting the earlier concerns expressed at the federal meetings. But with legislative assurances promising to hand-deliver a wish list to Albany, the staunchest naysayers acquiesced during these private meetings and eventually agreed to support a fishing license – but only if funds were dedicated to a marine account to help increase funding for fisheries management.

By the spring of 2009, the ‘wish list’ was delivered to Albany, and while these license opponents were less than thrilled at seeing a saltwater user fee come to fruition in New York under their watch, the core stakeholders slept better at nights with the promise by legislators that funding was to be dedicated specifically to the marine resource. When a new dawn broke, so did those promises.

In October of 2009, New York implemented its first-ever saltwater fishing license forcing all residents who fish the tidal and coastal waters to pay a $10 fee, or opt for a one-time $150 lifetime right to fish. The promise when this new tax was levied was that our community would get a whole new suite of services. However, once instituted, the Governor immediately offloaded the salaries of dozens of Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) employees from the general fund to the marine fund, immediately putting the account into a $2 million deficit. Meanwhile, monies collected through the lifetime saltwater licenses were then reallocated away from the marine fund towards paying down debt within the general conservation fund. Adding insult to injury, the very same, NMFS abruptly closed the recreational sea bass fishery for 180 days, piling a fisheries moratorium on top of the most restrictive fluke regulations of all of Atlantic coastal states.

The recreational stakeholders involved in the scoping meetings were incredulous, but it was the sportfishing community who hadn’t been invited to participate in the deal making sessions that was most surprised to learn that in addition to fishing closures, beach permit increases and park reductions, a new saltwater user fee was going into effect from October through November, with a new license requirement set to take effect that January. The double-whammy didn’t sit well with the masses. It’s even more offensive when you consider that New York doesn’t require license registrant to submit their phone number, clearly non-compliant with NMFS requirement to create “a virtual phonebook of anglers.”

Groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance, United Boatmen, New York Sportfishing Federation, and New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association had recognized all along that this was an initiative which was doomed from the start, and clearly not representative of the silent majority that makes up the saltwater fishing community. While a small, vocal minority lobbied for a fee to fish in saltwater, the mainstream angling community exploded in protest within days of the new law, letting legislators know in no uncertain terms what they felt about the new saltwater user fee. Within a month of the license implementation, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer told me personally that he’d heard from New York constituents more on two very specific issues than any other– the healthcare plan and the saltwater license. Sen. Schumer was quick to react as the silent majority had spoken – without equivocation, Mr. Schumer agreed that the folks back at home wanted the license gone!

A few months ago, the New York Senate responded in a nearly unanimous 60-1 vote on Senate Bill 6250 sponsored by Sen. Brian Foley which would repeal New York’s broken saltwater license program and replace it with a free, federally compliant angler registration system. An Assembly version (A09234) currently rests in the Environmental Conservation Committee where it’s failed to move and probably won’t until some type of federal funding initiative comes through to support the program, estimated to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 per registration. By NMFS estimates the cost could balloon to $875 thousand to implement, while the more conservative USFWS estimate finds a free angler registry costing the state less than $300 thousand to implement. If you use the latest license figures from NYDEC which show approximately 125,000 unique saltwater registrants since the license was first implemented, the cost to register saltwater fishermen for free as currently exists in New Jersey would come in about $10 thousand less than the annual salary of a DEC Commissioner in New York, minus benefits.

The late Walter Fondren of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) is quoted in the NMFS briefing document, “Regardless of how much money is generated or where it goes in a state budget, the most important function of a license is to provide a simple count of recreational saltwater anglers in a given state.” If that’s the case, then Assembly Bill 09234 to repeal the New York license and replace it with a federally compliance angler registration system for saltwater recreational fishing should be widely supported throughout the New York marine district.

Those who continue to support the repeal of New York’s broken saltwater license continue to hear criticism from those who truly believe a license to be a panacea for all that ails our marine fisheries – that includes representatives of the DEC now hopelessly connected to fishermen who suddenly have found themselves wholly responsible for DEC payroll. Those who would prefer to see this broken system continue ‘as is’ are quick to warn opponents “be careful of what you wish for,” while challenging our opposition view as short-sighted and failing to address the future of our sportfishing community. I’d counter that those license proponents are so blinded by an ideological quest to implement a license system that they’re willing to ignore the very basic facts – the future of our sportfishing community and the marine fisheries division of the DEC now hangs precariously in the balance because of how the marine funding is being used.

What kind of future does our DEC have when all salaries in the marine division are paid for by a saltwater fishing license? If license sales are off, will there be firings and salary freezes, or will fees be raised? When staffers retire with full benefits, will fees be increased to hire new employees? By using the license to generate marine funding to pay for salaries exclusively, our governor has ensured that license fees will increase dramatically in the next 5 to 10 years, which is fiscally irresponsible. The rug was pulled out from under the feet of the saltwater angling community, and DEC staff is now being held virtually at ransom while the license proponents shrug their shoulders and smirk.

USFWS says New York ranks ninth overall among U.S. coastal states in total retail spending in saltwater sportfishing, with over $373 million in annual tackles sales. Recreational fishing brings in tens of millions in tax dollars, and a 10% excise tax on all fishing related equipment is already paid by the consumer from the federal side. While we all understand the fiscal problems facing our state, the marine license was co-opted as a funding source, when a simple angler registry was all that was actually required. Before asking saltwater anglers to pay a second time, the state and federal government should be reinvesting tax dollars into maintaining recreational fishing infrastructure. Saltwater fishing generates a lot of income for the government – simple economics mandates that governments reinvest in those programs which generate a return.

So-called ‘sin taxes’ have a direct negative impact on consumer spending, which is exactly what we’re seeing in our recreational fishing community. Take for example Governor Paterson’s proposal to include a $1.60 per-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax. Budget Director Robert Megna told the NY Daily News that "Increasing the price hopefully gets people to stop using the products," while adding "An added benefit to that is we raise revenue." When the Governor previously detailed plans to implement a 10% price hike on soda tax, it was a stated effort to raise needed funds while simultaneously cutting soda consumption, which New York City Health Department Cathy spokesperson Nonas explained "If the consumer sees the price difference when they're about ready to buy the product, we do see a reduction in consumption.”

Again, it’s Economy 101 – implement a fee, participation drops. And in terms of our recreational fishing industry and the economics of fishing in New York, we need all the business we can get. Hanging the “free fishing” sign at our bridges and ferry terminals can help put more money into state coffers by bringing in more coastal visitors and offering new outdoor opportunities, and in turn it will increase the number of fishermen on our waters. Is that bad? Perhaps some would believe so. Personally, I can’t help but think that some of the biggest proponents of a saltwater fishing license - including some well-funded conservation groups – would prefer to protect the fish over the rights of fishermen and therefore have another agenda in promoting a saltwater user fee. The most vocal pro fishing license arguments typically come from those who would like to see fewer fishermen on the water, maybe to protect the fish or perhaps more selfishly to keep the resource to themselves while forcing those less than fortune anglers out of the sport.

NMFS has failed to meet their requirements under the law; the patchwork of registry programs is not being used as intended, and the bureaucratic push for state funding diversions has apparently trumped the need for a comprehensive data collection program in the recreational sector. A system first meant to count the number of saltwater anglers in America and integrate a contact list to help improve data collection has been co-opted by bureaucrats and ideologues, and once again the New York angler is the one being punished. Albany needs to do the right thing – repeal the law, implement a state angler registry as Maine has done and New Jersey legislation is poised to do, and let’s focus on improving the data collection in New York coastal waters for the benefit of New York’s coastal fishermen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FISHING IS MOST CERTAINLY AN INALIENABLE RIGHT

“Fishing is a privilege, not a right.”

Wrong. Fishing is a right, protected under thousand-year old law, upheld by the Constitution of the United States.
While it’s true that there is no constitutionally protected Freedom To Fish Amendment in either the US Supreme Court or in my own home ‘states’ of New York or New Jersey, there have been attempts to create such legislation on both the federal and state sides. Here in New York, Freedom to Fish legislation passed the Senate in 2003 in the form of Senate Bill 5381, but it stalled in the Environmental Conservation committee in the form of Assembly Bill 7299, which is where it’s stayed ever since.

Many environmental groups openly oppose Freedom To Fish legislation, particularly the State Environmental Resource Center or SERC, a project of the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). At SERC’s website you’ll learn that these leading preservationist groups argue against the basic language of Freedom to Fish acts because it prohibits states from closing waters to fishing unless “there is a clear indication that recreational fishing is the cause of a specific conservation problem.”

The Defenders of Wildlife and NRDC maintain that if passed, Freedom to Fish legislation “would effectively end the ability of states to create marine reserves, which are an important conservation tool for the restoration and protection of ocean ecosystems.” The group makes the argument that “for many species, recreational fishing is the primary source of fishing mortality, and catch-and-release practices are often not effective” management compromises.

In other words, granting fishermen exclusive rights to catch fish would make it impossible for these groups to create legislation banning public access to public waters. Other national organizations coming out in vocal and adamant opposition to Freedom To Fish legislation include Environmental Defense and the Ocean Conservancy, organizations which not only support no-access marine parks but also publicly support a management scheme known as ‘catch shares’ which further privatize our nation’s fisheries by granting exclusive access to the resource to certain groups and/or individuals.

While fishermen don’t have their own amendment to hang their waders on, what we do have is a public trust doctrine, a Roman era principle that says that certain natural resources are to be preserved for public use and that the government is required to maintain it for the public’s reasonable use. When the Emperor Justinian first held around 500 AD that the seashore not be appropriated for private use but was open for all, he was setting a precedent to be memorialized by the King of England some 700 years letter when the Magna Carta ruled that fishing traps must be removed from public waters in order to allow the public access to the fish.

English law being the foundation of our nation, in 1842, the Supreme Court ruled that the Magna Carta was the ultimate rule determining who owned the country’s fish and wildlife, saying that King Charles II did not have authority to give away the “dominion and property” of lands in colonial America, and stated that the American Revolution rewarded the American people with public trust responsibilities for fish and wildlife except for rights specified in the U.S. Constitution.
Just 50 years after that, the Supreme Court would again make an important ruling in Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois, upholding the public trust doctrine again by ruling that the state of Illinois was in violation of the Constitution when it attempted to divest the State of the control and management of state waters, writing “It is a title held in trust for the people of the state, that they may enjoy the navigation of the waters, carry on commerce over them, and have liberty of fishing therein, freed from the obstruction or interference of private parties.”

Fishing is not a privilege, nor is access to our public waterways and the resources themselves privileges – these are instead inalienable rights granted to man more than 1,500 years ago, and upheld for over a century by the U.S. Supreme Court. Any individual who claims that fishing is not a right would be contradicting recognized legal opinion, and any organization which would support the denial of access to public resources is in turn in violation of America’s constitutionally guaranteed, Supreme Court upheld right to fish.

State and federally recognized Freedom to Fish legislation would be nice, but thankfully the saltwater anglers of America have the Magna Carta, the public trust doctrine, the U.S. Constitution, more than 300 years of precedence in this country, and the Recreational Fishing Alliance standing firmly on a nation’s right to fish!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hello DC, Is There Anyone Home?

It's sad to watch the liberal elite come completely unglued under pressure. Most talk a good game about peace & love & impartiality, but when confronted with actual challenge, the far left is wrapped far too tightly in their own blanket of self-righteousness to mete out any true change, reverting instead to temper tantrums and petty theatrics. Pecksniffian weasels, the whole lot of ‘em!

Pecksmith is a character from a Dickens story, an architect who never designed or built anything, going on to become one of the biggest hypocrites in fiction history. Dickens himself compared Pecksniff to a signpost which is always telling the way to a place, but never goes there itself. Same ol’ sanctimonious “DO as I say, NOT as I do” hogwash we’ve been seeing from legislators from both sides of the aisle, but it seems to permeate most through the liberal left of the private sector today.

I’m no fan of the past president mind you, in fact I only voted for him the first time around (I believe Pecksmith is Gore’s middle name). But our latest commander in chief is certainly not making any friends in my industry right now, as his administration has run roughshod over the rights of both fishermen and their accompanying industry since taking control of the White House. If not by his own hand, those he has selected to do his bidding have arrived in our nation's capitol carrying a helluva lot of ideological baggage.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, longtime environmental champion is the recipient of a hundred-thousand dollar plus fellowship from the Sun Oil Company founded Pew Charitable Trusts, and through her work at the Pew-funded Environmental Defense Fund helped author a study praising ‘catch shares’ as the panacea for the ills plaguing our global fisheries. On April 19, 2010, the day before the BP’s Deepwater Horizon blew up, killing 11 people and dumping millions of gallons of crude oil (and counting) into our marine ecosystem, the Huffington Post ran an interview with Dr. Lubchenco which covered a series of topics, including the NOAA chief's fondness for no-take marine reserves, privatization schemes, climate change and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force. When asked by the interviewer her biggest concern for our oceans, Dr. Lubchenco responded "At the global scale, probably the one thing currently having the most impact is overfishing and destructive fishing gear."

Just 44 days later, the Huffington Post ran another story about ‘Blowout Jane’ in which the President’s appointment to lead scientist at NOAA refused to contradict BP CEO Tony Hayward's statement that "the oil is on the surface" and "there aren't any plumes." The liberal news website and aggregated blog founded by Arianna Huffington reported that Scientists aboard NOAA and academic research vessels have been reporting for weeks on the presence of oil suspended in the water column, claiming that lab results from a previously secret NOAA research mission have been analyzed and results not publicized.

Click here to read the article in its entirety, but members of the scientific community invited on NOAA vessels are apparently under gag order at the time, as Blowout Jane uses terms like “circumstantial" and “anomalies” to explain away reports of subsurface oil plumes in the Gulf. You have to wonder if the good doctor still thinks that fishermen are the biggest plague to our ocean environment. Her enviro friends at the big Pew-funded groups like Nature Conservancy have suddenly found themselves under a great deal of fire for being business partners with oil companies like BP. The Washington Post recently reported that Nature Conservancy specifically had given BP a “seat on its International Leadership Council and has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years.”

The Nature Conservancy recently contributed $350,000 to the Ocean Conservancy towards developing a partnership with various environmental groups and “specific stakeholder networks, both within the Administration and with a variety of stakeholders on the ground,” while promoting the “need for a federal marine spatial planning framework and supportive funding mechanisms.” This is another fancy way of saying they’re lobbying for legislation and pushing the Administration to divvy up ownership of the oceans, creating a series of ‘no take’ marine reserves, privatizing fisheries through Blowout Jane’s concept of ‘catch shares’ while working to a lot certain coastal zones for mineral extraction.

Catch shares are essentially rights & privileges to fish. Only those who actually own shares of a particular stock are allowed to harvest fish, and the owners of these individual ‘catch shares’ can trade or sell these rights as they see fit. There’s very little evidence to prove that this privatization scheme works, except that by its very nature it will reduce participation to only the very few, or those privileged to be granted ownership. Blowout Jane says “moving forward to implement more catch share programs is a high priority for me.” Of course, she wrote one of the definitive scientific papers while working with the Pew-funded Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Nearly every recreational fisherman I've ever met has been vehemently opposed to catch shares, except for a few well-connected allies of the Ocean Conservancy and one Houston-based conservation organization I can think of.

Dr. Lubchenco's buddy David Festa, vice-president of EDF said the right approach to getting tie-in from the fishing industry is to offer incentives, or what some might call bribes. "Make it easy, grease the skids with some money, and celebrate the successes," he was quoted as saying in the Science Insider. According to journalist Richard Gaines, Festa has been urging institutional investors to buy shares of New England groundfish, touting a projected 400 percent return on investment based on experiences with catch shares in other fisheries.

Another environmental ally in this privatization movement is fisheries scientist Andy Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire, who helped write the catch share manifesto with Lubchenco. It should be noted that Rosenberg is also Senior Vice President of MRAG Americas, a consulting firm that’s in the business of managing fishery observer programs and stands to profit greatly on monitored catch share plans.

Last week, the President acknowledged that his administration was not aggressive enough making reforms in the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the arm of the Department of Interior which oversees oil drilling operations. In a press conference, the President noted the agency "had been plagued by corruption for years," while simultaneously carrying on a "scandalously close relationship" with the oil companies. It certainly appears these cozy relationships between members of the Administration and big oil companies has had a much more devastating impact on our oceans than that family who enjoys taking a home a few red snapper, porgies or fluke ever could.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised an aggressive criminal investigation of BP and its contractors for their actions leading up to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, already the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. He had damn well better look inside the Administration as Mr. Obama clearly stated, to see what links the oil industry had on the MMS, the Department of Interior, and by god the Department of Commerce as well which oversees NOAA.

It seems pretty apparent to me that the environmental groups are not asleep at the wheel on this one. Instead, they’ve purposely focused all attention on fishermen and the “overfishing boogey man” because that’s been the butter of the bread. The Sun Oil Company family fortunes at Pew Charitable Trusts have filtered along through the entire environmental community, poisoning the environmental movement. Instead of pressuring this and every other administration on the lax standards and improprieties stemming from undue petroleum influence, the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) have taken the easy route and put the preservationist crosshairs on the backs of fishermen.

Yes, there most certainly is an environmental business community, and the do-gooders and preservationists who’ve been blindly leading a battle for the past decade to save the last fish may have inadvertently destroyed the entire coastal ecosystem at the very same time.

Who the hell is in charge down there anyway?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

RFA ASKS TACKLE INDUSTRY TO HELP - East Coast Anglers Raise $30K Alone

Several months ago, I sent a letter to many of the friends I made in the tackle industry during my time as Executive Editor of The Fisherman Magazine. The letter outlined efforts here at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) to infuse a bit of sensibility into our federal fisheries law in the form of the aptly named Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. Since that letter was sent, a lot has happened to our industry, most of it not so good – though I’m happy to report there are some glimmers of hope.

On October 5, 2009, NOAA Fisheries (NMFS) fired a shot directly at every recreational fisherman and business dependent on recreational fishing when they used their “emergency” rulemaking authority to abruptly close the recreational black sea bass fishery for more than six months! RFA answered the call and immediately began working on a legal challenge in opposition to this hostile abuse of discretion perpetrated by the federal fisheries service.

Just one month after the closure, RFA and a coalition of allies in the for-hire sector filed suit in federal court arguing that the sea bass closure should be declared unlawful and set aside for being arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise not in accordance with law pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. The legal argument challenges NMFS with violating numerous provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act for closing a recreational fishery in reliance upon the fatally flawed Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS) and for failing to adequately assess the impacts the Emergency Rule would have on business entities like tackle manufacturers, the for-hire industry and our local bait and tackle shops.

The obvious question for the hundreds of thousands of East Coast anglers who target black sea bass each season is where was the emergency? NMFS scientists have said all along that black sea bass is a healthy stock – it’s not overfished, no overfishing is occurring, and the most recent stock assessment places the spawning stock biomass at 103% of their rebuilding target. Yet, they shut down a recreational fishery with little or no warning during the most important part of the season for many of our fishermen!

The RFA legal team – which consists of two small-firm lawyers very familiar with the law and issues at hand – have presented a strong case against the U.S. Department of Justice lawyers defending NMFS as to why the closure should be overturned. Captains’ groups, tackle shops, fishing clubs, locally owned manufacturers, boat owners and individual saltwater anglers have provided the financial support which carried this legal case for the last seven months.

Over the last seven months, over $27,000 has been raised for the RFA Legal Defense Fund for our efforts to overturn this closure and set a precedent to ensure that NMFS can’t make similar midseason closures in other recreational fisheries.

Your tackle shops have gone to bat for you in this effort – your customers who buy your products have footed most of the bill. The grassroots community is leading the charge.

The key source of revenue in this fight to reopen the black sea bass fishery and to ensure that NMFS never again shuts down a healthy fishery in any region has been the local angler.

We need YOU to step up and support this effort!


After careful review of the Administrative Record filed by the government in this case (i.e., all the documents the Court will consider in making its decision) our legal team discovered that NMFS failed to submit the minutes of the December 2008 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council which are adverse to their defense of this case. The government would not consent to adding these materials to the Administrative Record so we filed a motion to supplement the record on April 23rd which we expect will be decided sometime after May 17th. Thirty days after we have a decision on this motion to supplement, we plan to file a motion for summary judgment and expect NMFS to file a cross motion for summary judgment after that. We expect this case will ultimately be decided on these cross motions for summary judgment which will require significant legal time and effort.

NMFS is a federal agency out of control. Letter writing campaigns, Congressional hearings and fishing summits won’t stop this agency – this lawsuit can!

Individual anglers and local business owners from New England down through the Outer Banks have already committed to this action, and we’ve taken up the task on our own of raising the first $30,000 towards fighting this federal indifference which now threatens our very livelihoods. Today it's a complete shutdown of a healthy black sea bass fishery, but what’s next? A closure of the fluke season in the middle of the summer? How about striped bass or king mackerel? Amberjack and red snapper again? Where will it end?

This case isn’t just about sea bass; it’s about putting an end to NMFS wanton disregard for our recreational fishermen and the industry they support.

The members of our local fishing communities have dug into their pockets to start this legal fight – but now we need your support to see this through to the end. The RFA has worked tirelessly over the last seven months fighting for a reasonable 2010 black sea bass season and thanks in part to our heavy lobbying and the wide shadow of our lawsuit, we’re happy to report that anglers will have a fairly robust 200-day season in 2010 instead of the scant two-month season that NMFS first recommended. This of course is tremendous news, but unless we can win this case, there’s nothing stopping NMFS from shutting us down again in this or other fisheries using highly suspect MRFSS data.

Since leading the fishermen’s rally on our nation’s Capitol on February 24th (with 5,000 strong), our grassroots coalition of recreational fishermen has been getting stronger, each and every day. I hope you will do your part and write a check to the RFA Legal Defense Fund today and mail it to us at PO Box 3080, New Gretna, NJ 08224. Nothing is certain of course, but I truly believe that we can win this battle on behalf of the recreational fishing community. Our individual anglers can’t do it alone.

Click here to contribute to the RFA Legal Defense Fund using your credit card.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Who Supports the Free Saltwater Registry in Cape May County?

Open Letter From RFA’s Managing Director to Cape May County Herald

The Cape May County Herald seems to be missing the boat a bit on reporting back to readers about the federal requirements for a saltwater registry (click here to read Herald columnist Caroline Miller’s April 1 opinion.)

Here are the facts. Federal law signed by President Bush in 2007 requires that the Secretary of Commerce establish and implement a regionally based registry program for recreational fishermen in each of the eight fishery management regions. The program, which shall not require a fee before January 1, 2011, shall provide for the registration - including identification and contact information - of individuals who engage in recreational fishing in state coastal waters when fishing for anadromous species such as striped bass, shad and river herring, or when fishing out beyond the three-mile limit in federal waters.

New Jersey residents and non-residents alike who will be fishing in coastal waters this season and will “fish for or are likely to catch anadromous species in tidal and salt waters,” will need to first visit http://www.countmyfish.noaa.gov/ or call 888-674-7411 to register with the federal government, free of charge. This information is available at most every tackle shop in Cape May County, including those I recently visited including Jim’s Bait and Tackle, Hand’s Too Bait and Tackle, Utsch’s Bait and Tackle and No Bones Bait and Tackle.

For the record, each one of these Cape May County bait and tackle shops is opposed to a saltwater fishing license, and has officially signed on to support efforts to ensure that a saltwater registry is established by the state of New Jersey as of 2011, and that it’s kept free for all users.

Since 1996, the Recreational Fishing Alliance has represented saltwater anglers and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues across the country. Based in southern New Jersey for over 14 years, the RFA boasts a strong 10,000-member chapter in the Garden State, with our RFA-NJ Board of Directors comprised of more than a dozen individual saltwater anglers and New Jersey marine business owners, including top local captains. The RFA and its members in New Jersey support a free saltwater registry.

The Marine Trades Association of New Jersey (MTA/NJ) is a non-profit trade organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the recreational marine industry and waterways in the State of New Jersey. MTA/NJ is the watchdog for the state’s vast marine industry and is comprised of over 330 marine related businesses. The MTA/NJ serves as the voice of the recreational boater throughout New Jersey. MTA/NJ supports a free saltwater registry.

The United Boatmen is an organization in New Jersey which has represented the interests and rights of party and charter boat operators for over 30 years. United Boatmen supports a free saltwater registry.

Surfcasters, boaters, tackle shops, party and charter boat captains, marina owners, fishing magazine publishers, and livery operators up and down the coast of New Jersey are supporting free registry legislation in New Jersey and have pledged their support of a saltwater registry, either through MTA/NJ, United Boatmen, RFA-NJ, or by signing on to a pledge form now being circulated throughout the New Jersey fishing community. Take marine business professionals like Rick Traber for example, owner of Pier 47 Marine in Wildwood and Board President of the MTA/NJ. Mr. Traber believes strongly that his summertime boat rental business would take a serious hit if customers learned that in addition to the boat cost and fuel, they’d also have to ask everyone in the family to pay a fee in order to fish.

You can also ask Ernie Utsch, III about what would happen when the casual fisherman and his family down for the weekend learn that in addition to bait, tackle and a couple of new rod & reel outfits, dad would have to plunk down cash for a saltwater user fee at Utsch’s Marina. Same can be said if you talk to Jim Wallace at Jim’s, Nick at Hand’s Too, or Capt. Fred up at No Bones in Wildwood.

Recognizing that the vast majority of business owners in New Jersey do not want their loyal customers charged by bureaucrats in Trenton for the right to access a public coastal resource, Cape May County legislators Sen. Jeff Van Drew, Assemblyman Nelson Albano and Assemblyman Matt Milam have spent the past two years spearheading legislation in New Jersey to both satisfy the registry requirements mandated by the federal fisheries service, along with the needs and interests of their local constituents. Assembly Bill #823 requiring the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) passed unanimously out of Committee and was approved overwhelming (54-16) on the floor of the Assembly last month.

The fishing & boating community in New Jersey offers sincere thanks to Assemblyman Albano and Assemblyman Milam (in addition fellow Primary Assembly Sponsors John Amodeo, Celeste Riley and Paul Moriarty).

The RFA would also like to thank Sen. Van Drew for working hard to pass his Senate version of the free registry legislation (S1122) recognizing that New Jersey’s coastal fishing community needs this registry legislation passed in order to avoid the potential of paying a federal fee in 2011.

The fishing, boating and conservation community also wishes to thank Sen. Van Drew and Assemblyman Albano for proposing forward-thinking new legislation to amend the New Jersey State lottery to authorize creation of a new lottery to fund conservation programs in the state. SCR93 and ACR119 would let the New Jersey voters decide upon an amendment to the Constitution of the State of New Jersey towards dedicating funding to programs for the conservation of fish and wildlife, marine fisheries, agriculture and endangered or nongame species in the state.

There are presently a handful of individuals on a campaign to disparage the excellent work of our Cape May legislators from District 1, claiming erroneously to represent the local business concerns of Cape May County. Their tactics, which include anonymous comments in local newspapers and derogatory online message board postings, coupled with venomous email exchanges between coastal advocates and local legislators, has been disheartening to say the least.

While there are those who continue to spread false information about the registry legislation in hopes of forcing a full-blown saltwater license upon the boating and fishing public in New Jersey, it’s time for the majority to be heard – the ‘free fishing’ sign is hung along the Jersey Shore, and that is where our resident anglers and non-resident coastal visitors demand it stay!

Cape May voters spoke in November – they put the current slate of District 1 legislators in place. The team of Van Drew, Albano and Milam has proven up to their task to represent the coastal community, and on behalf of the estimated 340,000 resident saltwater anglers in New Jersey and 155,000 non-resident visiting fishermen, who together spend an estimate $643 million on saltwater tackle sales alone in the state (source - US Fish & Wildlife Service 2006 survey), I would personally like to thank you gentlemen for going to Trenton and standing up for your constituents back at home in Cape May County!

Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Managing Director, Recreational Fishing Alliance
New Gretna, NJ

(Our thanks to those business owners who responded to RFA-NJ member pledge form which was first circulated at the RFA-NJ booth at the Salt Water Expo in Somerset, NJ. New Jersey area business owners who have signed the pledge so far include Bob’s Bait Board, the Gambler, the Jamaica, Bimini Bay Outfitters, New Jersey Angler Magazine, Coast Boating School, Shore Catch Charters, Reel Seat Bait & tackle, Full Ahead Sportfishing, E-Z Outrodder LLC, AquaSkinz, Coastal Fish Replicas, OB Fish Company, Avet Reels, Reel Fun Sportfishing, Industrial Welding Supply, Ole Barney Charters, Karen Ann Charters, Chum Bucket Bait & Tackle, Fish the Drop Off, Legal Limit Charters, Oceanside Bait & Tackle, Brielle Bait & Tackle, Jim’s Bait & Tackle, Chazin’ Tale Charters, Hand’s Too Bait & Tackle, Utsch’s Marina, Pier 47 Marina, and No Bones Bait & Tackle. To sign on to support the free saltwater registry legislation and to ask the Senate to support S1122, email me at jhutchinson@joinrfa.org).

Monday, March 1, 2010

THOUSANDS RALLY IN DC FOR THEIR "RIGHT TO FISH"
Leading House Members Join Fishermen At US Capitol

February 25, 2010 - Over 20 federal lawmakers joined several thousand fishermen from around the country next to the US Capitol yesterday in a three-hour rally supporting national fisheries reform. The first reports from journalists on the scene tabbed attendance at between 3,000 and 5,000 with fishermen standing elbow-to-elbow in Washington DC. The rally was historic in that it was the first time that members of both the recreational and commercial sector found common ground in a cause for reform. "An incredible success," said Jim Donofrio, Executive Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and one of the key organizers of the historic rally.

The rally drew a fairly equal mix of recreational and commercial fishermen from as far as away as Alaska and California in united opposition to the strict federal fishing requirements contained in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). The nation's primary fishing law helped fishermen when it was enacted in 1976 by eliminating foreign fishing, but during reauthorizations in 1996 and 2006 new language has mandated rebuilding fish populations under arbitrary timetables resulting in the closure of many healthy and rebuilt fisheries.

Carrying signs and banners with the message I Fish, I Vote and Reform Magnuson Now, most participants came by chartered bus from points up and down the down coast which let off at nearby Union Station. The RFA estimates that were about 40 chartered buses, some arriving as early as Tuesday afternoon, and a few were hounded by weather-related traffic problems in New York and New Jersey depositing attendees on the scene nearly an hour into the rally. "We have close to 4,000 fishermen. This was better and bigger than we ever thought," Donofrio said.

Those who arrived after the noon start missed an impassioned opening speech by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1255, the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. "Shame on the Magnuson-Stevens Act," Schumer said MSA as currently written denies fishermen access to healthy and rebuilding stocks due to arbitrary, 'time-specific' deadlines. "We need flexibility to be able to thrive," Schumer promised the crowd, while charging federal bureaucrats with failure to recognize the impact of their decisions on working families. "We need to start caring about our fishermen as much as our fish.

The bipartisan unity that could be seen in the crowd between commercial and recreational fishermen was well-reflected on stage, as one by one democrats and republicans took to the microphone in support of their coastal constituents. Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL) encouraged fishermen to visit their legislators, telling them "we've got to change this law." LeMieux said the federal fisheries law was "keeping you out of work, it's keeping the tackle shop out of work, it's keeping the hotel out of work, it's keeping the restaurants out of work."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), a longtime champion of coastal issues with a proven track record in protecting the ocean environment has been a champion of the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act legislation in the House (HR 1584), and praised the fishermen for coming to DC with their concerns. "There is nothing more important than grass roots," Pallone told demonstrators. "The science is broken and what they are doing is wrong," Pallone said of how catch limits are determined. "We need flexibility ... that's the only way we're going to make some changes around here."

"You can't brush aside basic science," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), co-sponsor of the Schumer Bill. "When did flexibility become an ugly word," said Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL), adding "we're not going to stand for it. We'll be there and we'll get it done." "This is about our right to fish. The bureaucrats have to get their heads out of wherever it is they are," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) to cheers from the crowd.

On a day when legislators were busy with hearings on the banking industry and the Toyota recall, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) found time to address his fishing constituents and said he wished the banking regulators treated the financial industry "as harshly" as fishery regulators have treated the fishing industry.

Many legislators spoke about U.S. regulations resulting in more than 80 percent of the fish Americans eat being imported from countries like China and Russia, which Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina said "If you're gone, the Chinese own the fish market in North America. We can't let that happen."

"We're going to work it hard. That's 10,000 miles of fish beds closed; it will put hundreds of commercial fishermen out of a job. I'm hoping these guys (the anglers) can at least get members of Congress to take a look at another option," said Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC).

"Our fishing communities have taken a hit, which is why it is so heartening that so many have still taken the time and resources to come march on Washington in support of their industry," said Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), sentiments shared by fellow coastal congressmen like Rep. John Adler (D-NJ), Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. John Mica (R-FL), all members of Congress who spoke on stage yesterday.

In a passionate speech directed at Gloucester fishermen, state Senator Bruce Tarr (R-MA) said he supported changes he called the salvation of fishermen in New England, flexibility modification which would allow more reasonable rebuilding timelines while still achieving conservation goals and sustained fishing communities." "We don't have a minute to spare we're losing commercial fishing boats, we're losing the ability to fish recreational, this makes all the sense in the world, it's not an unreasonable measure," Tarr said.

Together with fellow state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-MA), the Massachusetts delegation stole the show by returning to the park at 2:30 Wednesday with Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) the newest member of the Senate. Brown, Tarr and Ferrante led Massachusetts fishermen off to a meeting in the Senate, while North Carolina Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) took their constituents off to gain more support for Flexibility.

HR 1584 picked up three additional co-sponsors this week due in large part to the February 24th rally (29 total co-sponsors), while S 1255 gained another three supporters (for a total of 5). The lobbying effort in DC by RFA staffers in support of these vitally important coastal bills will continue.

If you have photos to share from the fishermen's rally in Washington DC on February 24th, be sure to visit the RFA Facebook page and connect with RFA members nationwide.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Golden Jubilee Celebration

On June 17, 18 & 19, 1906, Philadelphia played host to a celebration of the first 50 years of the Republican Party. Being that the first convention of the Republican Party was held in Pittsburgh, PA on February 22, 1856, the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Republican Party in Philadelphia spotlighted the Grand Old Party’s first half-century and “the reminiscences of men who were present at the birth of the party in 1856.” Included in the three-day event was a general meeting at which historical addresses were made, along with “the annual convention of the National League of Republican Clubs; the Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State League; a public meeting at the Academy of Music; a great street parade of Republican clubs and various excursions and entertainments for the visiting delegates.”

A full record of the proceedings and “stenographic report of the addresses” was compiled by author Addison Burk, with a 226-page volume published in 1906, accurately piecing together the many fragmentary contributions to the history of the Republican party which were detailed during the event. Burk’s complete Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Republican Party in turn presented a comprehensive picture of the GOP’s golden anniversary, which first officially nominated J. C. Fremont in 1856 but found its first presidential success story soon after with the election of Abraham Lincoln as commander-in-chief four short years later.

It is said the Republican Party was founded in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin by anti-slavery expansion activists and modernizers, while the first official party convention was said to take place on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. Perhaps stoking the coals of debate, many of those Philadelphia attendees in 1906 actually recalled the earliest formation of the party as occurring in a small grocery store in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the years leading up to the 1856 convention in the city of Pittsburgh. At the gala three-day Golden Jubilee 50 years later, the shop’s owner, David Calhoun Herbst, was invited to address the Republican revelers, where he was introduced as “a man who was present at the birth of the Republican Party in Lafayette Hall, Pittsburgh.”

Herbst gave what was later reported in local papers as an impassioned historical perspective of the Republican Party, leading off his speech by saying “On an occasion like this on the anniversary of the Grand Old Republican Party, it seems appropriate and pertinent to present a kind of family tree to show the inception and reasons for its birth.” Herbst then went into a historical synopsis of the first hundred years of American politics, beginning with the unanimous election of George Washington in the 1700s and leading up to the death in office of Whig candidate President William Henry Harrison in the mid 1800’s, which Herbst said “left the helm of state in the hands of untrusty John Tyler.”

“Americans feeling keenly the loss of their loyal president, deemed it essential to gather their hosts and give battle again against the Free Trade Slave-holding Democracy” Herbst added, which he then explained had laid out the grounds for a new American movement.
“On a cold winter’s night a coterie of deep thinking men of all shades of politics, met at Herbst’s grocery store at the corner of Third and Cherry Alley, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to formulate, if possible, a basis for a new political party upon which all political factions opposed to the free-trade pro-slavery Democracy, might unite for its overthrow.” According to Herbst, that winter was exceptionally cold, but he described “the cold blasts and heavy snow outside that little grocery did not chill the ardor of those inside. Besides, our debates got warm, especially when we sought a name for our new creation.”

In a 1921 article in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, it was said that all shades of political opinion were represented at those early rallies at the Herbst Grocery Store, with active participation from Whigs, Democrats, Abolitionists, Free Soilers, and Washingtonians. “Among them were a number who were active in politics” the magazine reported, adding “their object was to formulate a basis for a new political party upon which all the factions opposed to the pro-slavery Democracy.”

“Our selection of a name was a thorn in the flesh and threatened several times to break up our gathering,” Herbst told those in attendance at the Golden Jubilee. “One night, it was necessary to lock all in, and that night Captain Charles Naylor stood up on the counter of the grocery, with a wave of the hand said ‘peace be still’.” Naylor was a lawyer elected to the 26th Congress as a Whig, but he declined candidacy for renomination in 1840. Naylor had raised a company of volunteers known as the Philadelphia Rangers and served as captain in the Mexican-American War, settling back into law in Pittsburgh soon after.

Herbst continued, “Struck by his attitude and remark we were amazed and hushed. He smilingly remarked: ‘that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ and after a few words, he said, Spartan-like: ‘We have a great Republic as our nation, why not call our new party, Republican?” After Captain Naylor’s grand announcement, Herbst recalled the first moment of silence in the room as the name began to register in the minds of those in attendance. “And so it was, the word Republican went forth among all the people,” Herbst said at the Golden Jubilee, saying the first convention in Pittsburgh to follow in 1856 would be most logical, “Lafayette Hall was selected as an appropriate pace for the public christening of the new political child.”

The words of my great-great-great-grandfather David Calhoun Herbst can be found on page 148 of the Golden Jubilee of the Republican Party of 1906 by Addison Burk, contributed by the New York Public Library and preserved electronically at the Internet Archive, a non-profit group which offers permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.

Read more at http://openlibrary.org/b/OL13516124M/Golden_jubilee_of_the_Republican_Party

Sunday, January 10, 2010

United We Fish - Washington DC 02/24/2010

If not now, when?

Born in the late 60’s, I’m part of a broad-based American generation often referred to as Generation X. We are the 30- and 40-somethings who entered the world after the Baby Boom era during a 20-year span between 1961 and 1981, sometimes referred to as the “baby bust” generation.

Raised during a veritable spiritual awakening in the 60’s and 70’s, I grew up in the years of, and the decade following, the Vietnam War, my mind’s eye forever etched with the images of those Baby Boomers before who burned their bras and draft cards, rallied against the war, and marched on the National Mall in a call for peace, civil rights, and the end of world oppression and apartheid.

From the time that I was a teenager through my idealistic 20’s, I’d often wondered aloud about the 60’s and 70’s youth rebellion, and whether I would’ve chosen to have become a part of the movement. A disciple of classic rock and the words and lyrics that energized a cultural era, I’d often lay in bed at night with the headphones on and the turntable skipping across a well-worn Dylan or Doors album, pondering the very thought of organized protest and my own place in the democratic process.

Now a married man of 42, with two kids at home, bills to pay and the vinyl records stowed away in boxes (those headphones replaced by earbuds) I still occasionally wonder if any national or global conflict would ever so consume me with anger and frustration, enough that my stomach burned with passion and my heart brimming resolve. Could my own government’s repressive actions or gross inaction ever lead me to throw open the doors of dissent, to scream from the pulpit and take to the streets in formal protest? In my lifetime, could I ever find a common cause with like-minded individuals across the generational divide, to unite as one and rally on the steps of the Capitol in a grand celebration of the First Amendment’s promise to allow any and all Americans “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Today, my fellow saltwater angler, I offer you a personal invitation to democracy and dissent. Our federal government has ignored our plight, while closed-door preservationists have shut us out of the conservation equation, and in turn the entire democratic process. Our time to act has come, and our reason to come together is clear - united we fish.

Many of our national sportfishing associations, conservation groups, multi-national tackle corporations and industry trade alliances have buttoned-up in the face of the preservationist movement, convening privately in their corporate boardrooms while battening down the hatches during our economic disaster, preferring instead to try to ride out the storm of anti-fishing pressure from non-governmental environmental organizations. Left behind to carry the flag and rally the troops are the individual anglers, shop owners, boat dealers, dockmasters, captains and ‘mom & pop’ businesses who’ve been scratching and clawing at every last scrap of access to a once public resource.

We are the stakeholders in the coastal communities, we are the fishermen who understand most about the future sustainability of our fisheries, and we are the people who make up the human resource portion of our marine fisheries.

For my generation, this may be our only opportunity ever “peaceably to assemble,” to stand together before Congress in an organized, respectful protest for our right to free and open access. For our coastal fishing communities nationwide, it is most certainly feels like the last chance we have to preserve more 300 years of heritage and tradition.

On February 24th, 2010, the saltwater fishermen of America will stand united on the steps of the Capitol in a call on legislators to recognize our right to fish. At risk is public access for more than 12 million saltwater anglers, and the lifeblood of our coastal communities that rely on a healthy, sustained fishery. For the first time in American history, the nation’s saltwater fishermen – both commercial and recreational alike – will stand together as one upon the grand international stage of freedom, Area Number One between Constitution and Independence Avenues in Washington DC.

From Generation X, to the Baby Boomers and our parents and grandparents from the Greatest Generation, I hope you will all join me for this historic event in defense of our right to fish. Once-in-a-lifetime doesn’t come around again.