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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SPORTSMEN'S ACT OF 2012 STALLS - "PROGESSIVE" PLAN MEETS REPUBLICAN ANTI-TAX BACKLASH

“Ten bucks. That’s what killed the progressive, popular, good-government Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 yesterday. Ten bucks, or the increase of the cost of a federal duck stamp from $15 to $25.”

And so it is, the lead sentence from Ben Lamb’s Outdoor Life piece on November 28th regarding the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, and how it was killed in the Senate over a $10 fee increase.

In other words, the democrat-led Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, complete with a 66% tax increase on the price of a federal duck stamp (a tax increased supported and endorsed by the national group Ducks Unlimited), stalled because republicans agreed that a ‘yes’ vote to increase taxes would be in clear violation of section 302(f) the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

Slice it and dice any way you want, but the Senate is prohibited by law from considering legislation that would cause a committee's allocation of either budget authority or outlays to be exceeded. Additionally, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) pointed out that the Sportsmen's Act would require $14 million in new federal spending, and thus, Sessions says, would violate the spending levels set in the Budget Control Act (BCA). "The BCA limited spending in various accounts as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, the debt limit," Sessions recently told The Hill.

Sen. Sessions acknowledged that a $14 million override is small compared to the sums Congress usually spends, but he said Congress needs to be more principled if it is going to reduce the budget deficit, which is why he stood out as one of the sole republicans earlier in the month to come out in opposition to this piece of legislation, most of which he supports in principle.

"We cannot breach those levels. It is a sick pattern and makes a mockery of law and responsible governing," Sessions told The Hill.

According to Lamb at Outdoor Life however, Sen. Sessions has a more sinister reasoning behind his opposition of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. “The sad fact is that most Republicans are still smarting over the re-election of the bill’s sponsor, Montana Sen. Jon Tester,” he wrote in his opinion, adding “That’s the real reason they killed the bill, behind the guise of procedural posturing.”

Here’s the real “posturing” being done as perpetrated against the recreational hunting and fishing community as a whole. The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 failed because there simply too many cooks in the kitchen.

Ducks Unlimited wanted to raise the federal duck stamp fees; the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) supported language to keep the Environmental Protection Agency out of the lead regulation game with regard to fishing tackle and bullets; the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) was hoping to see more funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act dedicated to development and operation of public shooting ranges; the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) supported the creation of a new National Fish Habitat Board to for “establishing national goals and priorities for aquatic habitat conservation;” even environmental groups like Nature Conservancy pushed for elements of this bill, like authorizing use of 1-1/2% of Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations for purchasing access to public lands from private sellers.

All totaled, there were about eight different pieces of legislation bundled together under one broad-based bill, devised with the help of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and their Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. The problem of course with this many individual and diverse special interests included under one big umbrella is that it only takes one little tear in the fabric to get everyone else all wet.

After following the procession of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 through the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate during the course of several months, it’s been pretty interesting to see how so many individuals joined up with a caucus of one distinct voice. We at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) certainly agree with and support certain pieces of legislation which have been bundled into the final package, however, we cannot sensibly endorse all legislative language under the umbrella, nor are we able to promote bills which are not supported by our stated mission “to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”

In other words, because elements of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 to allow for the importation of polar bear trophies from Canada or putting mandates on increasing duck stamp fees for U.S. waterfowl hunters are not issues supported by our mission, RFA is not able to sensibly endorse or support the entire umbrella.

I know it’s hard for folks like Ben Lamb to understand, but here’s the political reality simplified – no one buys a whole carton of eggs if one of them is cracked.

In the end, this appears to be about partisan politics destroying the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, but not necessarily for the reason Lamb states. Even democrats like Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Sen. Bob Menendez who had opposed this legislation numerous times before had turned out with a favorable ‘yes’ vote on November 26th, a pretty good indication that something was amiss.

After reading through the Senate proceedings on November 26th, it’s quite clear that this was a vote about a tax increase and the apportionment of more money towards government programs. It was indeed a partisan standoff between democrats and republicans, with a very clear edict under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

I’m sure the leaders of each of the organizations with their own dog in this hunt knew about the very tenuous thread by which their umbrella was woven. One slip, and the house of cards would come crashing down. Amendment 2875 was offered clearly as a request for Senators to ignore the Congressional Budget Act, if even just this one time. Some, perhaps Ben Lamb is one of them, would argue “hey, what’s $10?”

For the constituents, it’s not just $10 – it’s another $10! And as far as more taxes go, Congress has drawn a line in the sand – for now. As dysfunctional as we all believe it to be, so long as our elected representatives continue to add another fee here coupled with a new appropriation over there, the bickering will continue.

Individual saltwater anglers and business owners who had been asked to sign on to a pledge or petition to help pass the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 in the Senate may want to consider the following items in terms of saltwater fishing and the sportfishing industry as included in this bundle of legislative items, and where the RFA position stands on these specific items of marine interest.

Section 121 of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 would provide an exemption for fishing tackle to allow the continued use of lead in sinkers, jigs, some types of fishing line, and other materials deployed by saltwater anglers. As a stand-alone piece of legislation (S.838) called the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, this language would block ongoing attempts by some environmental groups to federally ban lead in recreational fishing equipment and ammunition by clarifying the Toxic Substances Control Act. RFA supports S.838.

Section 122 of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 includes the same language regarding Pacific billfish that has already been signed into law by President Obama on October 5th. The so-called Billfish Conservation Act of 2012, which is in fact law today, would ban foreign imports of Pacific-caught billfish into the continental United States, but still allows those fleets to land and sell billfish in Hawaii and other Pacific Insular Areas like Guam and Samoa.

Furthermore, the new Billfish Conservation Act will allow commercial fishermen from Hawaii and these Pacific Insular Areas to continue to sell blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin inside the continental United States. RFA did not support amendments made to the Billfish Conservation Act legislation since 2011 which now provides a loophole to allow for the continued sale of Hawaiian-caught billfish in the continental United States.

Additionally, because the U.S. Senate already sent the Billfish Conservation Act (S.3422) to the President for his signature into law (which has already taken place), RFA believes inclusion in the final Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is mostly irrelevant at this time.

Section 123 of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 authorizes a report to be completed within 18 months on the feasibility and benefits of keeping inactive oil platforms in place for fish habitat. RFA endorses this language, while also supporting the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act (S.1555) which regrettably is not bundled into this final bill; S.1555 which would authorize the use of certain offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico for artificial reefs (perhaps pending results of the final report which would come from approval of section 123 of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012).

One additional piece of legislation incorporated into the final Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is S. 1201, otherwise referred to as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act. The primary purpose of this language according to the bill’s sponsors is to “conserve fish and aquatic communities in the United States through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation, to improve the quality of life for the people of the United States.” To meet these lofty goals, S.1201 would create a National Fish Habitat Board to further promote, oversee, and coordinate the implementation of the Act while “establishing national goals and priorities for aquatic habitat conservation.”

RFA believes the creation of additional councils, commissions, boards, and summits offer excellent opportunities for bureaucrats and appointed professionals to meet and discuss important ecosystem issues in the United States. However, in the real world where U.S. anglers are being denied opportunities to fish because of an inflexible federal fisheries law bound by inadequate science and a “fatally flawed” recreational data collection program, the creation of a National Fish Habitat Board will be of no relevance to saltwater anglers.

So, the U.S. Senate has stalled on a comprehensive package of legislation in the form of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. RFA offers the very best of luck to those supporters in getting this legislation passed. But for saltwater anglers hoping for improved access to vital saltwater fisheries, sensible reform of our nation’s federal fisheries law remains the most important action for congress to address in the coming months.

Protection of important fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico is critical, and ensuring that environmental groups are impeded in their efforts to ban lead fishing tackle are key issues which should be taken up by Congress on behalf of saltwater anglers and business owners. However, RFA is not about to cry crocodile tears because of stalled legislation pushed by a group caucus, peer pressure mentality, especially given that there are many other pressing concerns which Congress should be addressing right now in terms of angler access and the future well-being of our recreational industry.

Sure, it’s just another $10 fee heaped on the nation’s sportsmen – and a $14 million override is relatively small when compared to the sums Congress usually spends.   

But the term “progressive, popular, good-government” is more than just a misnomer, it's an oxymoron wrapped in political doublespeak - another tax bundled up in a feel-good package which regrettably has very little impact on your access to coastal fisheries. 

Especially when considering the fact that Sandy's impact on the recreational fishing community alone on the East Coast could top $500 million...think about that when priortizing Congressional spending on critical saltwater angling interests in our frontyard!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SOMETHING’S FISHY ABOUT THE PEW/EDF ELECTION STRATEGY

 
Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida’s 2nd Congressional District is what we at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) call a Fishing Champion.

Since his election to Congress in 2010, Rep. Southerland has stood up for all fishermen along the Gulf of Mexico, recreational and commercial alike, while passionately representing coastal interests in the House Natural Resources Committee.

In the face of a presidential executive order creating a National Ocean Policy, Rep. Southerland asked the tough questions, eliciting confusing and contradictory answers by the White House staff and NOAA administrator as to whether new laws and regulations would be required.

Rep. Southerland doesn’t pitch softballs to bureaucrats, but instead demands answers to tough questions as to how the appointed government employees plan on delivering on their pledges to the American people; a perfect example being congressionally mandated requirement that NOAA Fisheries overhaul their recreational angler data collection program by the 2009 deadline, an important scientific task which the government has still not met and for which Rep. Southerland has been particularly vocal.

In recent years - and in light of the government’s failure to meet their congressional mandates for improved science and data collection - extremist non-government organizations like Pew Environment Group (PEW) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have invested heavily in a cap and trade fisheries program which works by limiting the number of fishermen while trading away ownership of the fish stock itself to a few, well-heeled groups and individuals.

Falsely claiming to represent the best interests of all fishermen – even getting invited to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee in favor of their privatization scheme - the individuals who own shares of fish stocks are hoping to expand on the PEW/EDF fisheries ownership plot, breaking down the barrier between the commercial and recreational sectors in a winner-take-all battle over resource allocation.

TWO-PARTY ‘CATCH SHARE’ OPPOSITION

In a recent debate before the entire House of Representatives, Rep. Southerland (a Republican) joined ranks with liberal Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank (a Democrat) in passing legislation designed to halt funding on the spread of this all-out fish grab. Also known as ‘catch shares’ or individual fishing quotas (IFQs), this devious plan devised by PEW and EDF has had a debilitating impact on the New England fishing communities, forcing small-scale operators, individual owners and private anglers out of action while allowing big corporate operators, often from out of the region, to buy their way into ownership of what once was a public natural resource.

Rep. Southerland should be commended for standing up to this take-over attempt, but the environmental organizations like EDF and PEW - those who wish to limit fish harvest to a few well-connected and hand-selected advocates- have a lot riding on this investment scheme, and they’re not about to let a freshman Congressman like Steve Southerland stand in the way of their corrupted agenda.

According to IRS tax documents, EDF has invested more than $750,000 in the past 3 years alone in creating pseudo fishing organizations like the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Gulf Fishermen’s Association and South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association. As these EDF-funded organizations continue to lobby legislators and fisheries managers to further restrict coastal fishing opportunities in an effort to further divide the community and expand upon these limited entry business models, investors have been lining up at the trough.

Take Michael Miglini for example, a former tech investor from Austin, TX who was quoted in an Associated Press story on August 5, 2000 following one of the most volatile days in Wall Street history as having “lost more money in this week than I made in the previous two years." According to the AP story, Miglini had recently sold his construction company and invested heavily in technology stocks which completely collapsed in the market turn.

Twelve years later, Miglini is the owner of fisheries IFQs through several different business interests, including South Atlantic Fishing, Inc. and Great Sage, Inc. In 2011, he received another $48,000 from the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance to start a new organization called the Charter Fishermen’s Association (CFA), a group designed to look like a recreational fishing industry outfit made up solely of recreational charter boat captains. Upon closer look at the CFA board of directors however - Gary Jarvis, Mike Jennings, Michael Colby, Billy Archer, Chad Haggert and Steve Tomeny - one will also find three of the six members also hold commercial IFQ permits, while another is president of a commercial marine association.

BUYING UP THE BYLINES

The opinion sections of Florida newspapers have been heavy with anti-Southerland rhetoric by many of the EDF-endowed fishermen all claiming to represent the poor, huddled masses. A little bit of research will show however that the individuals do not in any way, shape or form represent the interests of the fishing public, especially not when their goal of privatizing natural resource has been directly funded by New York City and Philadelphia based environmental business organizations like EDF and PEW.

In addition to Jarvis, Jennings, Colby, Tomeny and Miglini, other representatives of the EDF-funded groups getting printed bylines in newspapers up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida of late, as well as in publications as far north as Massachusetts, including Jim Clements. A board member of the EDF-funded Gulf Fishermen’s Association, Clements recently told the Gloucester Times how he is financing one of his two boats for a captain who has no shares of fish and is therefore not able to fish. “He is doing fine by leasing the allocation for each species of fish that he catches,” Clements said, essentially describing how he functions as the broker through this method of coastal sharecropping.

In actuality, Clements doesn’t have to struggle any longer trying to fill a single bucket of fish himself just to secure a living in commercial fishing; not so long as he gets harvest shares which he can then lease back to real fishermen at a significant profit. Clements and others have created a rather unique investment opportunity, all thanks to the gracious support of the environmental business leaders and lobbyists at EDF!

Then there’s recent Tampa Tribune editorialist Dean Pruitt of Madeira Beach, another Gulf Fishermen’s Association board member and EDF funded captain who recently slammed Rep. Southerland for having “humiliated Florida recreational fishermen who have traveled to Washington to testify before his committee.” Pruitt bases his argument on a recent political action alert issued by environmental lobbyist Matt Tinning of the Pew-funded Marine Fish Conservation Network who describes CFA’s Michael Colby as having been “treated with remarkable contempt” at the congressional, adding how another charter captain named Terry Gibson also “endured a similarly offensive barrage.”

FROM STATE PEN TO PENNED STATEMENTS

What neither Pruitt nor the Australian attorney turned Democratic strategist turned environmental lobbyist Tinning divulge is Colby’s financial relationship to EDF through CFA, or Gibson’s direct employment by PEW (what Gibson himself has called one of “the most incredible experiences” of his life.)

Pruitt also fails to acknowledge that he spent four years in federal prison after admitting to using "deceit, craft, trickery, and dishonesty" to undermine federal enforcement of grouper regulations in the early 1990s. CFA member Steve Tomeny was also fined $12,000 after pleading guilty in the 90’s to making false statements to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to trying to meet a qualifying annual threshold of 5000 pounds of commercial caught red snapper. In the same case, Theodore Tomeny was sentenced to six months' home confinement, three years' probation and fined $20,000.

Another political operative and headline generator is Tallahassee attorney Tommy Warren, a man Tinning describes as a “lifelong Gulf private angler.” Truth be told, part of Mr. Warren’s life was actually spent behind bars following a 1973 bust aboard a shrimp boat traveling between Cuba and Havana in an attempt to buy 10 tons of marijuana to smuggled back into the U.S. Youthful indiscretion perhaps, but Warren was finally granted an official pardon by President Bill Clinton in the mid 1990’s, and has since been a top fundraiser for both the national and state Democratic parties according to Federal Election Commission data.

As for whether Mr. Warren has entered the political firefight to undermine Rep. Southerland for purely partisan reasons, or perhaps professionally through his Tallahassee law firm (Settlement Services, Inc) is not entirely known. But with millions of dollars of environmental funding in play on political action campaigns through EDF and PEW, not to mention legal settlement opportunities in securing potential ownership rights of coastal fisheries, you can bet that where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Environmental non-government organizations are spending copious amounts of cash to steal the November elections away from coastal fishermen. Instead of doing the heavy lifting and grassroots effort themselves, they’ve contributed millions of dollars in the Gulf of Mexico over the past several years in an attempt to convert natural public resource into private equity, with a core group of pseudo fishermen and political operatives doing the extensive lobbying on behalf of their corporate benefactors.

The Gulf of Mexico has now become ground zero in EDF’s campaign to “help advance catch shares throughout the country.” On behalf of 7-1/2 million individual saltwater anglers at risk of being denied the opportunity to fish recreationally in the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic and all across our nation’s public waters, the RFA gives thanks to Rep. Steve Southerland, a true Fishing Champion and staunch advocate for individual rights.

EDF, PEW and the political action committee from California known as Oceans Champions have brought their cultural battle to Bay County, FL in hopes of stopping an effective legislator early in his congressional career. The radical environmental warriors who believe they know what’s best for our oceans like yes men, legislators who are unlikely to ask the hard questions and more than willing to take a few handouts in exchange for the peace and quiet that often comes with blanket compromise.

For legislators like Steve Southerland - those who are unwilling to give away their constituency’s essential liberty for a little personal safety – the only path is the straight and narrow. Good thing for Florida’s second congressional district and for the U.S.’s 7-1/2 million saltwater anglers, Congressman Steven Southerland is a true Fishing Champion!

Join RFA today, and together let’s fight for your right to fish!

(Journalists interested in seeing the IRS 990 forms used to compile the financial information included above may contact Jim Hutchinson at the Recreational Fishing Alliance.) 





Wednesday, August 29, 2012

HOW PRIVATE INVESTORS ARE LOOKING TO CORNER THE FISHERIES MARKETS

“On the most volatile day ever on Wall Street, plunging technology shares sent the stock market into a stomach-churning rout…”

This was the lead sentence in an April 5, 2000 story in the Associated Press about a massive selloff of stocks just 12 years ago at a time when both Nasdaq and Dow had each recorded their widest point swings in history on record volume. The primary culprit of this mass movement of stock was the technology sector, what many financial analysts had called “insanely overvalued” while explaining the big drop in price “long overdue.”

One tech stock investor who got pounded especially hard was Michael Miglini of Austin, TX. "I lost more money in this week than I made in the previous two years," Miglini said at the time, telling the Associate Press that he had recently sold his construction company and invested heavily in the stock market on technology stocks.

"It was the absolute worst timing possible," Miglini said, adding "It's a painful lesson."

After losing his shirt in the stock market, Miglini started up a new business out of Corpus Christi, TX in May of 2001 called Great Sage, Inc., running a fulltime business in the Gulf of Mexico operating fishing and dive boats and hiring staffers and interns to help with grant writing and social media campaigns.

Just 10 years after learning a “painful lesson” as a technology investor in the stock market, Miglini has now gotten himself in on the ground floor of a new investment opportunity revolved around personal ownership of once public resources. Miglini now runs several business enterprises listed under NOAA Fisheries has having an ‘IFQ User ID’ which is what is required for a business owner to apply for individual fishing quota (IFQ) and transferable shares of fish stock.

In addition to possessing an IFQ User ID for himself, Miglini is the owner of at least two other enterprises out of Corpus Christi, TX listed in NOAA shareholders listing forms, including South Atlantic Fishing, Inc. and Great Sage, Inc. Miglini’s Great Sage itself is also connected to other Gulf of Mexico limited liability corporations (LLC) including Going Pelagic, Out to Sea, and South Atlantic Grouper, Inc.

While technology stocks are old news at this point, ripe for the picking are stocks of fish which are now being eyed by business savvy investors looking to corner the market on a once publicly held resource. Miglini now owns commercial IFQs for deepwater grouper, red grouper, gag grouper, shallow water grouper, tilefish and red snapper, ensuring that he can get paid for harvest even if he doesn’t actually perform the work. Once an IFQ allocation is established, a commercial owner like Miglini can catch that share of fish to sell direct to market, or he can sell the shares outright when the timing is right, while leasing out that harvest to real fishermen until such a time is right to cash in and sell out.

Same thing that Miglini did in the late 1990’s when he sold his Texas construction company and invested all the profits in technology stocks, stocks which eventually collapsed. This time however, Miglini has received some start-up cash from groups willing to help him invest, like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In the past 3 years, EDF and their political action arm have invested more than $750,000 on Miglini and his associates, helping him to form several non-profit organizations in the Gulf of Mexico designed to give cover to efforts to wrestle fish stocks away from the public domain, including the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, Gulf Fishermen’s Association and South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association. As these organizations have continued to lobby legislators and fisheries managers to further restrict coastal fishing opportunities to further divide the community and expand on limited entry schemes to protect individual shareholders’ bottom line, Miglini has been active in creating yet another investment diversion.

In 2011, Miglini took $48,000 from the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance account to start a new organization called the Charter Fishermen’s Association, a group designed to look like a recreational fishing industry outfit made up solely of charter boat captains. However, upon closer look of its board of directors (Gary Jarvis, Mike Jennings, Michael Colby, Billy Archer, Chad Haggert and Steve Tomeny), one will find three of the six members hold commercial IFQ permits, another is president of a commercial marine association on the Gulf.

The fact that the original funding to create this faux charter association came from a group of commercial IFQ shareholders should send enough cautionary flags to scare off skeptical anglers.

With the commercial sector already being force-fed a cap and trade fisheries policy whereby entry into the fishery is limited and ownership of the resource is awarded to a select group of established fishermen, the recreational sector has survived via open access for everyone under the harvest management mechanism of season, size and bag limits. With continuing pressure by the EDF-funded members of Miglini’s new Charter Fishermen’s Association, many charter boat captains are being led to believe that by separating the recreational sector into two parts, the private angler and the business owner, a new set of rules and regulations can be adopted to improve access.

What Miglini and friends are not explaining is how this system will operate in the same exact way as it does with commercial fishermen; a mechanism will have to be put in place to cap the number of overall fishermen, offering access to individual fish stocks through public auction or government allocation whereby shares can be openly bought, sold and traded on the open market. The sector separation and catch share scheme which would effectively trade off ownership of our coastal public resources to a few well-connected investors would effectively shut the public out of the fishery; without shares, or ‘tags’ or personalized allocation of specific quota, the average, everyday angler will not be allowed to access a given fish stock like red snapper or gag grouper.

Just like he was in the late 90’s with his technology stocks, Michael Miglini on the ground floor of the sharecropping gold rush in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, gobbling up as many individual shares of commercial quota as he can conceivably get through the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association. Simultaneously, Miglini and his fellow investors at the Charter Fishermen’s Association are hoping to divide the recreational sector into smaller pieces, divesting of private anglers to more readily invest on the commercial component of the recreational community.

Once the community is divided and recreational IFQs are finally allotted and made transferable between the sectors, Miglini is hoping to recoup that money he originally lost as a tech trader during that dismal week back in April of 2000. Then, when Miglini has cashed in his shares and the entire Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic reef fish complex is under a privatized cap and trade fisheries policy, those who had refused to fight in opposition to this corporate takeover of public resource will no doubt say the same thing as Miglini did 12 years ago.

"It's a painful lesson."






Friday, July 27, 2012

WHAT ORGANIZATION SHOULD I JOIN? CHOOSING BETWEEN MISSIONS & METHODS



On July 16, 2012, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, died from complications stemming from a bicycle accident. Seven Habits sold more than 20 million copies in roughly 40 different languages, but Covey’s work was far more than just literary, as his personal clients included three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies and scores of schools and government entities. Covey trained three dozen heads of state, including the presidents of Colombia and South Korea and their cabinets, and both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were among his ardent fans.

As the Economist put it in 1986, "Coveyism is total quality management for the character, re-engineering for the soul — a tempting product in an age when the organizational versions of these disciplines have often pushed employee morale to rock bottom."

In the second of his seven habits, Covey spelled out how a mission statement – personal or corporate – functions as your constitution, the solid expression of personal or corporate vision and values. The mission becomes the very basis by which you measure everything else in your life in terms of making the daily decisions “in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.”

For a private company which functions to make money, the mission is clearly to earn profit. A publicly held corporation on the New York Stock Exchange for example is actually bound by law to pursue maximum profit on behalf of their shareholders (which is essentially why the Recreational Fishing Alliance takes an antagonistic view of Omega Protein Corporation, a publicly held company whose sole mission is to vacuum as much menhaden from the ecosystem as humanly possible in order to turn a profit for its corporate shareholders). In a true capitalist sense, a typical corporate mission statement is written to guide a company towards the ultimate goal of earning income and maximizing profit.

For a non-profit organization on the other hand, Covey’s mission statement is even more important. For an organization which is recognized as non-profit in the eyes of the government, profit is not the goal; instead, it is up the mission statement to provide a clear statement of the purpose of an organization so as to guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and lead overall decision-making.

When a non-profit organization's purpose is to serve some part of the community as a whole, it is essential that the mission statement clearly defines the services to be performed and the compassion driving the people who provide those services. Developing the mission statement therefore becomes a critical first step in defining what a non-profit organization plans to do; it also defines how that organization is different from any other in the same field.

In other words, the non-profit mission statement is an iron-bound constitution from which no one involved in the organization may ever deviate. No egos, no personal or individual goals, but instead a strict constitution for which all strategies are formulated and carried out on behalf of the entire organization and its membership.

HOW DOES A MISSION STATEMENT IMPACT YOU?

Before signing up to support a non-profit organization as individual member or sustaining supporter, it’s important to first consider the mission statement. Does the mission truly represent your own personal goals? Is the reason why you are looking to join or support an organization substantiated by that organization’s own constitution? Does the organizational mission statement protect you and your rights?

In the world of recreational fisheries today, there has been plenty of talk about an angler’s personal right to fish, yet there’s only ever been one organization charted specifically with that mission in mind and that’s the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). Founded in 1996 as a non-profit political action organization and modeled after the National Rifle Association (NRA), RFA’s personal mission is to “safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”

When you break down the key words in the RFA’s mission, you’ll see “safeguard,” “rights,” “saltwater anglers”, “protect” and “saltwater fisheries, in addition to “marine, boat and tackle industry jobs.”

These are constitutional staples, missing from the mission statements of other organizations in the same field which claim to do the same thing. However, you need to consider for a moment the following “mission statements” offered up by other groups in the sportfishing field.

(Keep in mind that this is in no way meant to criticize those groups listed below, but instead to point out a very clear contrast between RFA and any other organization in America whose members have sometimes been led to believe that their right to fish is being protected through active membership.)

Take for example the Coastal Conservation Association or CCA whose stated mission is “to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote, and enhance the present and future availability of those coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.”

While CCA has often been referenced as an angler’s organization, the actual non-profit mission does not show any indication of being such. While saltwater anglers in Florida have flocked to CCA over the years because of their efforts to destroy the commercial fishing industry, there is nothing in the CCA mission to indicate that the “rights” of “saltwater anglers” will be either “safeguarded” or “protected” should the organization ever be successful in their stated mission to “advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources.”

Another organization often described as the voice of anglers is the International Game Fish Association or IGFA. According to their longstanding mission statement, “the International Game Fish Association is a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping.”

Again, while IGFA may have been founded on the premise of “record keeping,” the “conservation of game fish,” and promoting “responsible, ethical angling practices,” there is nothing in the IGFA mission that shows it is concerned with America’s right to fish.

Similarly, the Billfish Foundation (TBF) is another non-profit organization with a very clear mission which is “dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of billfish populations worldwide through research, education and advocacy.” TBF has taken a truly admirable path to protect the world’s billfish stocks, dedicated to protecting marlin, sailfish and swordfish specifically, and their work is to be respected. But arguably, if you’re concerned about the closure of red snapper, how is TBF structured to help you?

Of course, if as an angler you’re most interested in snook or tarpon, you might prefer to be a member of the Snook Foundation or Save the Tarpon. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, anglers rallied behind the summer flounder in recent years by supporting the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund, while a handful of striper aficionados pressing for gamefish protection of linesides have focused efforts in that fight through Stripers Forever.

All these individual species are terrific and the missions of the organizations themselves are truly admirable; in meshing with that common theme of sustainability, RFA specifically dedicated itself through development of its mission in 1996 to “ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries”- in meeting our own mission to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers and protect recreational industry jobs, RFA must tread carefully in making our decisions best on the overall “long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”

By adhering to a more angler-specific perspective, RFA does not put itself in a situation of compromise…in order to get gamefish protection for striped bass for example, we would not have to compromise on someone else’s efforts to protect billfish stocks. Or if legislators had a choice of legislation to protect snook or tarpon, which effort would succeed and which would fail? This is one of the perfect examples of why combination hunting and fishing organizations or broad caucuses of ‘like-minded’ sportsmen are rarely effective. Imagine an opportunity to allow sport hunters the opportunity to take game on Sunday hinging upon whether or not an added tax will be inflicted on saltwater anglers or a freshwater hatchery is allowed to continue.

Politics, regrettably, is wrought with compromise. While a coalition of ‘like-minded’ groups or individuals has a pleasant, unifying sound to it, there will always be someone in the union who is forced to compromise, typically the one whose own personal mission is the most challenging to attain.

POLITICAL POWER OVER IMPOTENCE

Many folks assume that all non-profit organizations are essentially alike in their ability to operate legally under U.S. tax law. However, there are key differences between a federally recognized 501(c)(3) ‘non-profit’ and a 501(c)(4) ‘non-profit’ organization, specifically as it relates to an organization’s ability to work the political system on behalf of its mission.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines both the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) as being non-profit organizations exempt from paying federal income tax, however, a 501(c)(3) organization is legally defined more as a public charity while a 501(c)(4) organization is more politically active. Specifically, a 501(c)(3) is limited by law in the amount of time/money they can put into lobbying for particular cause, whereas the 501(c)(4) can do an unlimited amount of lobbying.

A significant tradeoff here is that the 501(c)(4) is therefore ineligible to receive federal monies like grants.

Under federal law, a 501(c)(3) cannot in any way support or oppose anyone running for public office. A 501(c)(4) on the other hand can engage in political campaign activity, so long as this is consistent with the organization’s mission and is not the organization’s primary activity. Because of these political and campaigning activities, any donation made to a 501(c)(4) which is not a public entity like a local fire department is not deductible.

While corporations, environmental non-government organizations and philanthropic trusts groups can freely give to a 501(c)(3) and enjoy the benefits of an IRS tax deduction, those donating money directly to a 501(c)(4) must believe wholeheartedly in the group’s mission statement, given that no IRS ‘charitable’ donation will be recognized.

In terms of achieving political gains in support of an organization’s mission, the 501(c)(4) has power to lobby, whereas the 501(c)(3) has been all but rendered politically impotent under federal tax law. Recognizing this fact in the mid 90’s, the institutional founders of the RFA chose to register their organization with the government as a 501(c)(4) in order to meet its stated mission to “safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.”

Where other groups like IGFA, TBF and CCA were already established as 501(c)(3) organizations with their exclusive mission, RFA was founded specifically to be the political watchdog for individual anglers and recreational business owners, as well as the resource itself. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, RFA modeled itself on the National Rifle Association (NRA) to specifically function as a lobbying force for anglers.

Over the years, RFA has taken heat from some of the other 501(c)(3) organizations because of our unwillingness to go along for the good of any broad-based coalition. Regrettably, what many of these groups simply can’t understand is that as a 501(c)(4) with a very specific, three-pronged mission (fish, fishermen and fishing industry), simply going along to get along would be flagrant violation of our mission and of grave disservice to our members. Coalition members are typically asked to compromise mission for the good of the group, something which RFA is incapable and unwilling to do.

Having proven extremely effective in its first few years, RFA’s ongoing effort to protect our membership’s right to fish has earned many friends, a few enemies, and a couple of copycats (imitation of course being the highest form of flattery.) In March of 2004 for example, a new organization sprang up in Saint Petersburg, FL called the Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA) which is registered in the state of Florida as a “domestic non-profit corporation.” Flattering to say the least, there has been plenty of confusion ever since with regard to the ‘alphabet soup’ effect. In fact, many times people will call the RFA office to complain about their FRA membership status, where still others have been led to believe that both organizations are the same.

After years of sportfishing industry backlash for failing to fight as actively as the RFA, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) in 2008 helped form a brand new 501(c)(4) organization by bringing in various 501(c)(3) groups including CCA, TBF and IGFA. In the very first press release announcing the formation of the new Center for Coastal Conservation (CCC), it was explained how this non-partisan national organization would be dedicated to enacting sensible marine conservation laws through education and political action. While many industry professionals believed they were getting a new industry-supported political advocate operating exclusively on behalf of America’s right to fish, the organization’s mission statement would tell a completely different story - “Our mission is to promote good stewardship of America’s marine resources.”

TURNING POLITICS INTO A BRAND

The ineffectiveness of the CCC to promote policy or legislation in support of America’s right to fish should’ve been forecast by all who had read the organizational mission statement when it was created back in 2008. “Good stewardship of America’s marine resources,” is a completely imperceptible concept, it cannot be measured nor can it be quantified. As far as mission statements go, it is an aimless and anemic statement which does nothing to show support for the recreational fishing community, but instead leaves political process and strategy open to personal interpretation by the institutional sustainers who sit on its board of directors.

In other words, it’s simply another senseless coalition of compromise.

The rather directionless efforts of their own 501(c)(4) led to the ASA’s rebranding efforts in 2009 when a U.S. federal trademark registration was officially approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for Keep America Fishing™. According to USPTO, “the Keep America Fishing trademark is filed in the category of Advertising, Business & Retail Services, Education and Entertainment Services. The description provided to the USPTO for Keep America Fishing is Public advocacy to promote angler access, fish conservation and fishery management, provided in person and via an on-line website.”

As anglers and business owners began logging in and signing up for Keep America Fishing™ (or KAF as they’re now known) news alerts, bulletins and political action letters, what many failed to understand was that there was no real backend to the effort, no resource or staff. KAF it would appear is just a simple ‘trademark’ issued by the USPTO, where Keep America Fishing™ itself has been described inside the Beltway as little more than a “rebranding effort” by the industry trade association, ASA.

One thing’s for sure, having apparently had 750,000 individuals go through the site and provide personal contact information (email address), the national sportfishing industry now has one amazing marketing database from which to solicit new customers and a super platform for advertisers themselves!

Consider for a moment Wal-Mart, which RFA has heavily criticized in recent years for providing corporate funding to environmental organizations to promote catch shares and marine reserves; in response to a national angler boycott of Wal-Mart nationwide, the retail chain used the Keep America Fishing™ by partnering with ASA to provide a retail incentive on Plano tackle boxes. By emailing their database of contacts with the offer, ASA ultimately gave Wal-Mart cover within the angling community, and in turn KAF was the recipient of additional funding through the sale of every Plano tackle box sold inside Wal-Mart during the course of the campaign.

RFA was never founded to be nice; it wasn’t incorporated to get along, to along, or to sit quietly in the back of the room while others compromised away individual rights on behalf of ego and personal agenda. RFA is the only political organization in America today which was chartered specifically to defend the rights of our nation’s saltwater anglers and business owners, while protecting the future of our saltwater fisheries.

As “grotesque and incomprehensible” as the political process may seem, it is a fact of American life which requires careful and considerate navigation. These are often treacherous waters, and one fatal act of indecision or indiscretion can surely put an entire crew at imminent risk. Before you set a course, you need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

It all starts with the mission statement.
 

“…deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way…”