Monday, July 8, 2013
Friday, June 21, 2013
Scientists are expecting a very large "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and a smaller than average hypoxic level in the Chesapeake Bay this year.
“Surprise, surprise, surprise,” is how Gomer Pyle would’ve put it.
The report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the 2013 hypoxic "dead" zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, placing it among the 10 largest ever recorded (an area the size of the entire state of New Jersey). Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, often from human activities such as agriculture, which results in insufficient oxygen to support most marine life in near-bottom waters.
“…the growing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are the direct result of inadequate water filtration — a job that was once carried out by menhaden,” noted author Paul Greenberg, while Jim Uphoff at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said of menhaden, “they are filter feeders that consume phytoplankton, thus controlling the growth of algae in coastal waters. As the population of menhaden declines, algal blooms have proliferated, transforming some inshore waters into dead zones.”
Imagine, a single adult bunker filtering as much as 2 million gallons of water a year, essentially inputting bad water and outputting clean water by ridding 4 to 6 gallons of algae from the water in a single minute.
It should be of no surprise to anyone that the biggest dead zones in coastal U.S. waters are at the mouth of the Mississippi and in a small region of the Chesapeake, right where factory menhaden reduction operations by the publicly-traded resource degradation outfit known as Omega Protein (stock symbol OME) are based. Omega’s manufacturing facilities, the ports where hundreds of millions of pounds of menhaden are offloaded for processing into livestock feed and fish meal, are located in the Gulf towns of Abbeville and Cameron in Louisiana and Moss Point in Mississippi, as well as at Reedsville, Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay.
Headquartered in Houston, Texas, Omega Protein traces its origins to Zapata Oil, founded in 1953 by future-U.S. President George H. W. Bush and business partners John Overbey, Hugh Liedtke, Bill Liedtke, and Thomas J. Devine. Overbey was a ‘landman’ skilled in scouting oil fields and obtaining drilling rights cheaply, while Bush and Devine were oil-wildcatting associates who performed oil exploration drillings. Their joint activities culminated in the establishment of Zapata Oil through an initial $1 million investment provided by the Liedtke brothers, Bush's father Prescott Bush and his maternal grandfather, along with an inner-circle of wealthy oil tycoons. Hugh Liedtke was named president, with Bush was vice president.
A 1975 internal CIA memo noted how Zapata was founded through Bush's joint efforts with Devine, a CIA staffer who had resigned his agency position that same year to go into private business, but who continued to work for the CIA under commercial cover. Devine would later accompany Bush to Vietnam in late 1967 as a "cleared and witting commercial asset" of the agency. (Read more about Zapata here at Wikipedia.)
In 1997, Zapata Protein would go public in seeking additional investors, changing its official name to Omega Protein in 2002.
OCEAN ‘WILDCATTING’ & EPA VIOLATIONS
During 2013 alone, the OME stock price has ranged from a low of $6.32 a share on January 7, to a recent high of $11.03 on May 21. One investor called the near-doubling of the OME stock as coming entirely as a result of fish meal supply reductions in Peru following extreme government restrictions there on the anchovy catch. After finding that "the Peruvian anchovy is in danger of extinction," Peru’s President Ollanta Humala cut anchovy production there by 68%, opening a new international market for Omega’s ground-up fish meal product.
Using spotter planes to find the menhaden, high-powered vacuums to suck out acres upon acres of fish from the water, and large factory ships to ‘reduce’ the oily baitfish to meal, Omega Protein essentially functions to take as much menhaden from areas of the Chesapeake and Gulf of Mexico as is technological possible, leaving these waters devoid of a natural “water filtration” while lining the pockets of their investors. What’s left behind are hungry striped bass, weakfish and crabs whose primary source of protein is ultimately turned to fish meal for Peruvian aquaculture facilities (and others around the world), and vast hypoxic "dead" zones where algae and phytoplankton chokes the oxygen from the water.
In addition to its wanton destruction of a vital ecosystem stock, Omega Protein Corporation has also come under fire for other environmental issues in recent years. On June 4th of this year, OME pleaded guilty to a pair of Clean Water Act violations stemming from bilge water discharge practices at its Reedville, VA facility, requiring the company to pay a $5.5 million fine, be placed on a three year term of probation, and implement an environmental compliance program.
In addition to the $5.5 million fine, the Chesapeake operation was required to make a $2 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects in Virginia related to the protection of the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay.
OME has always claimed to be a champion of the environment, and when you search for Omega Protein at Google or Bing you’ll find the company boasting of its “sustainability,” claiming to be “committed to protecting the environment and menhaden fishery that provide us with our livelihood.” The livelihood of Omega’s workforce has always been used by their corporate leaders in defending the company’s ability to degrade our local waters of menhaden. In December for example, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) opted to reduce the total allowable catch of menhaden by 20% beginning in 2013, a move that Omega’s Ben Landry called "big blow for the blue-collar workers in the Northern Neck of Virginia, as well as up and down the East Coast."
According to the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, VA, “Omega employs 300 workers in its reduction facility in Reedville, where menhaden are ground and boiled down into fertilizer, food for pets and livestock and dietary supplements. Thousands of other jobs depend on the industry, including fishermen in Omega's eight-vessel fleet.”
"Well have to run some numbers," Landry told the Daily Press last winter, adding "I can assure you it's probably going to cost the fleet at least one vessel, and that results in (lost) jobs directly there."
Well, surprise, surprise, on May 20th of this year, one day before OME’s stock surged to its highest point of 2013, the company announced the launch of new two state-of-the-art fishing vessels at the Reedville facility. At 196 feet and 184 feet long, these are the first new vessels christened by Omega in more than 20 years.
CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR
In terms of the Omega employees, while they claim to have a staff of 300 in Reedville alone, the company has historically be able to utilize foreign (largely Mexican) H2B Visa workers for temporary employment during the fishing season, although according to its 10-K the company's initial application for 2013 was denied by the U.S. Department of Labor. As of the filing of Omega's 10-Q on May 7 Omega's re-application had not yet been approved, and the company had already "embarked on a program to complement its workforce with non H2B Visa domestic workers."
While Omega hadn’t disclosed the dollar amount of its utilization of the program in 2012, according to a Freedom of Information Act request Omega Protein received 695 H2B visas for foreign workers in 2006 and 2007 at $12,000 per worker for the season. Landry said of the visa program, "the average laborer, a young man, blue collar worker, can make an extraordinary rate in the oil and gas industry [in the Gulf] and it was something we weren't able to keep up with."
Of course, it’s funny that Landry would differentiate himself and his corporation from the “oil and gas industry” in the Gulf of Mexico, given the fact the company’s history is built upon oil and gas revenues going back to Bush, Liedtke, and Devine. There is very little difference between the owner/investor of a Gulf oil rig and that of a 196-foot factory reduction ship, they both function the same.
The good news is that the large-scale commercial menhaden fishery - the ‘reduction’ industry - has been gradually phased out of all Atlantic States except Virginia. And while the overall 20% reduction in overall allowable harvest of menhaden voted by ASMFC sounds like a good deal for the fish and the ecosystem, it’s really a hollow victory for the resource given that Virginia has represented on average about 34% of Omega’s overall catch over the past five years. Coastwide, the total allowable catch now is 20% less than the average catch from 2009 to 2011, but the decision has also granted Omega 85% of the entire coastwide harvest.
Given that all state waters except Virginia are now closed down for the menhaden reduction industry, it’s expected that the Chesapeake will continue to be hit hard in the future by factory ships. In turn, the expected 8% loss in Omega Protein’s overall sales volume thanks to the Virginia restrictions will now have to offset somewhere if investors are going to continue to flock towards OME stock. That means an increase in overall harvest can be expected in the Gulf of Mexico, where there are no similar cap restrictions on the amount of menhaden which the reduction industry may harvest. Omega and its spinsters will say that increased harvest leads to increased employment.
However, where the Louisiana unemployment rate was 3.7% in 2006-2007, topping 6.5% in Mississippi during the same period, Omega’s manufacturing facilities in that region had utilized close to 600 of those low-paid foreign workers through the company’s H2B visa program.
While Jim Nabors’ boyhood home of Sylacauga, Alabama is a good 250 miles from the mouth of Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure that his beloved Gomer Pyle could’ve surmised this hypocrisy quite well in just three, simple words:
“Shame, shame, shame…”
One final point which many find interesting - where groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) were pushing ASMFC and federal officials to go after Omega’s Chesapeake Bay operations, while calling for an outright ban on the reduction industry there, environmental activists working under the Pew Charitable Trusts umbrella pushed for the coastwide bunker cap which was approved back in December.
With Pew’s billion-dollar coffers, one might think that a crushing blow to Omega’s heart was within reach in 2012. However, with Pew’s activist support, Omega Protein’s 85% share of the Atlantic Coastal menhaden harvest was memorialized, with local bait harvesters taking the lion’s share of the overall harvest limit on a state-by-state basis.
Pew Charitable Trusts of course was founded by J. Howard Pew, Mary Ethel Pew, Joseph N. Pew, Jr., and Mabel Pew Myrin—the adult sons and daughters of Sun Oil Company (SUNOCO) founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. If you’d like to get in touch with SUNOCO INC, feel free to write them at 1308 N US Highway 83 in ZAPATA, TX 78076.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
RED LOBSTER & OLIVE GARDEN GO ANTI-ANGLER – Corporate Owners Officially Ask Gulf Council To Take Red Snapper Away From Recreational Sector
While the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population is getting healthier, the owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden don't believe anglers should be given the opportunity to fish for them - despite a recent decision by NOAA Fisheries.
A week before reopening the season, federal regulators announced that the recreational season in federal waters for red snapper will be 17 to 34 days instead of 9 to 28 based on updated recreational landings data and new information from Louisiana and Texas according to a release from NOAA Fisheries. The recreational season is set to open on June 1 in federal waters, which begin 9 nautical miles off Florida and Texas and 3 nautical miles from the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coasts.
NOAA Fisheries also raised the total allowed red snapper catch from 8 million to nearly 8.5 million pounds, with 51 percent allotted to the commercial sector and just 49 percent for recreational anglers. However, according to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), one national restaurant chain is not happy with that allocation between commercial and recreational red snapper fishermen, and has asked the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) to consider giving anglers less fish.
Darden Restaurants, the corporate owners of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Season 52 restaurant chains, has recommended "for consideration a review of the Gulf of Mexico recreational sector quota," which the corporation feels presently gives anglers too much of the overall red snapper quota at 49 percent. "This sector is allocated a very large portion of the red snapper quota, almost equal to that of the commercial sector; however, they do not have the same reporting requirements that the commercial sector."
In a recent Sun Sentinel article by Washington Bureau correspondent William Gibson, it was reported that Darden Restaurants supports stricter quotas on red snapper harvest in the Gulf of Mexico, evidenced by the 2012 letter to the Gulf Council in which Darden called for continuation of more restrictive red snapper quotas, while asking that "commercial fishers should be allotted more and recreational anglers less."
RFA was able to track down the official letter to the Gulf Council at a website run by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Shareholders Alliance, a group of individual fishing quota owners in the Gulf whose organization is heavily funded by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other organizations who support programs giving full ownership of coastal fish stocks to select groups and individuals. In their official letter, Darden Restaurants claims personal support for helping establish 'catch share' programs in the Gulf of Mexico, explaining how rigid time limits in place by law to rebuild fish stocks should actually be shortened to force recreational anglers to have fewer days to fish for iconic species like red snapper.
"Some stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, including red snapper, are not on target to be rebuilt in 10 years, as is mandated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act," the letter from Darden Restaurants reads, while also "calling for improved data collection and monitoring from recreational fishers and shorter rebuilding plans within 10 years" which they claim could lead to clearer benefits to the Gulf resource.
RFA said that greenwashing efforts of organizations like EDF and Pew Environment Group has influenced several major corporations to turn their back on the angling public. In response, RFA is encouraging U.S. saltwater anglers to respond with a less than subtle message - take your business elsewhere!
"If Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Capital Grille would like to deny anglers the opportunity to fish, then it's time to deny those restaurants the opportunity at our business," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "If Darden Restaurant chain thinks that if anglers are denied the right to fish, that we'll simply dine out more at Red Lobster or Olive Garden, then I hope anglers are willing to send the message that shows them just how wrong that is."
RFA recently called on a nationwide boycott of Wal-Mart because of similar corporate neglect for core customer values. "The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who'll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it's corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries," Donofrio said last August. "Don't just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart, stop supporting this company altogether and let's quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities."
Through their contributions of over $36 million towards no-access marine reserves and catch share programs, RFA said the Walton family has turned their back on local fishing communities and even their own customers. "Shopping for fishing equipment at Wal-Mart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it's supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans," said Donofrio. In late May, Wal-Mart also pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act to the tune of over $110 million in federal fines.
RFA said that environmental organizations today function more like corporate public relations firms for major retail business outlets like Wal-Mart, Olive Garden and Red Lobster who are often criticized at the local level. However, EDF recently has created turmoil inside even its own environmental ranks by providing support for oil giants Chevron and Shell who are pushing for hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to extract oil and natural gas.
"The recent national headlines showing how EDF has ruined the environmental movement by carrying the financial load for major corporations should be red flag in Congress where efforts to protect our small business owners have stalled in recent years by the so-called green movement," Donofrio said. "Darden Restaurants, like Wal-Mart, sees big green only for its shareholders, certainly not for the local constituents."
RFA noted how New York Times originally reported last year how EDF "does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for," though when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart founders' Sam and Helen Walton) has been underwriting EDF's effort to replace the nation's owner-operated fishing businesses with a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets, the reporter responsible for the story conceded that in a rush to meet deadlines she never considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart.
"I didn't think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations," said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding "None of the third parties I'd spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn't an excuse - I should have thought of it myself, but didn't."
RFA said groups like Pew and EDF have been given a free pass by the mainstream press in recent years, but Donofrio hopes that the current climate with journalists appearing to fall under intense, unethical and perhaps even illegal government scrutiny may be the tipping point that fishermen have longed hoped for in terms of open and responsible reporting.
"Pew recently sponsored their own fish summit in Washington DC designed to influence Congress towards adding more restrictive measures to our federal fisheries law, while EDF appears to be carrying the water for oil giants and Wall Street investors," Donofrio said. "This isn't conspiracy, it's a transparent culture of treachery and deceit within the environmental business community."
"Saltwater anglers need to send a unified message to businesses like Wal-Mart, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and turn your back on those who turn their back on us," Donofrio said.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the current ethics storm in Washington over improper scrutiny of American political action organizations is invoking her Fifth Amendment rights today after being called to testify before a House Oversight Committee hearing. Her refusal to testify has led to some members of Congress to call for her removal from IRS duties and firing from her employment within the federal government.
Regrettably, as most members of Congress all well aware (yet probably don’t want you to know), government officials really don’t get fired.
Never gonna happen!
Take for example what happened in March of 2010, when the chairwoman of the House panel that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called for the agency's director of law enforcement to step down in the wake of a scandal over heavy-handed fisheries enforcement. As reported in the New York Times at the time, the House Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) said that NOAA Law Enforcement Director Dale Jones should be relieved of his duties given the questions as to whether or not he tried to destroy documents to avoid an even more scathing report from the Commerce Department's top investigator.
"As the top cop at NOAA and a longtime investigator himself, Dale Jones must be acutely aware that shredding documents during a federal investigation raises serious questions about his commitment to a full and fair look at all the facts," Bordallo said at a subcommittee hearing. "At a time when transparency and accountability in the way our government operates is of utmost importance, this type of behavior cannot be condoned, and Mr. Jones should step aside until the IG's investigation is completed."
The Commerce Department's inspector general had earlier released a report finding serious flaws in NOAA's fisheries enforcement and law enforcement operations, describing an unbalanced system that was heavy on criminal investigation resulting in a "dysfunctional relationship" between NOAA and the fishing industry.
Rep. Bordallo’s comments before the subcommittee had come in response to new allegations from the Commerce Department’s inspector general, Todd Zinser, that Jones had authorized the destruction of more than 100 files at law enforcement headquarters in Silver Spring, MD during the investigation.
"It was not authorized by me, and when I informed NOAA leadership of what we found, they did not say they authorized it either," Zinser said of the shredding. "I was surprised by it. What came to my mind is, I wonder what the office of law enforcement would do if a fishing company they were investigating had done the same thing?"
In response to the inspector general’s report, then NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco ordered an overhaul of her fisheries department’s enforcement system, outlining 10 program changes for NOAA’s general counsel and acting fisheries administrator, Eric Schwaab.
Lubchenco also asked the department to immediately freeze all hirings of criminal investigators, institute higher-level reviews for enforcement decisions, improve data, develop an outreach strategy with fishermen and revise procedures and penalties to make sure they are consistent and clear, free from any ethical violations or bias.
Lawmakers were more dramatic in their call to action. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said Lubchenco should consider firing everyone in the law enforcement department, allowing them then to reapply for their positions, while the Times noted how other lawmakers advised Lubchenco to take special care not to let the issue slip. An earlier investigation 10 years earlier found similar abuses by NOAA fisheries enforcement personnel.
Senate Oceans and Fisheries Subcommittee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) encouraged Lubchenco to dig deeper to investigate the response, or lack thereof, to the last report. “I think you'll find that the same issues why those recommendations were not implemented will be the same reasons why these won't be, as well," Cantwell said. "We don't want to do another report in a few years and find the same issues. These are cultural barriers in an organization that need to be broken down.”
Well-said Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Begich, and Ms. Bordallo, kudos to you all.
As I’m sure any fisherman or American taxpayer must think at this point in the story, Dale Jones must be living his personal life somewhere, working in the private sector - a castoff from public service banished from public service for shredding documents during an official investigation.
Now, before you answer that, it does get better as you’ll read in the Gloucester Times of Massachusetts.
You see, not only was it the enforcement level, but a separate probe commissioned by the Department of Commerce concluded that the two NOAA attorneys (Charles Juliand and James MacDonald) who had extracted an excessive settlement from a commercial scallop fishing business owner in 2005 did the same thing years earlier to a pair of fish processors using coercive methods “with an intention to intimidate.” As reported in the Gloucester Times, a detailed narrative of how NOAA’s Gloucester-based enforcement and litigation attorneys Charles Juliand and James MacDonald improperly manipulated the system of fisheries enforcement law.
Following detailed reports back to the Commerce Department, there were formal Cabinet-level apologies to 11 businesses put in duress by wrongful actions of NOAA litigators and agents. Together, Swartwood’s two sets of case studies generated more than $2.3 million returned by the government to settle the penalty score with the fishing industry.
Obviously, with all the sequestration debate and budgetary woes in Washington DC, the paper-shredding cop and the money-grubbing attorneys responsible for these despicable government actions are gone, right? Surely the directive of leading members of Congress like Bordallo and Begich was met with swift action, the firings of Jones, Juliland and MacDonald?
Actually, no. Former NOAA Enforcement director Dale Jones was reassigned as a fisheries program specialist in the Office of Science and Technology, allowing him to keep his pay grade above the $150,000 a year mark. Juliland was reassigned to be senior councilor for natural resources where was last working on matters related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while MacDonald was made attorney advisor to the deputy general counsel at NOAA.
As for Ms. Lubchenco, she left NOAA earlier this year and was last seen over the weekend getting an honorary doctorate at Rutgers University where she was credited with personally credited with ending overfishing in the United States of America. Mr. Schwaab announced today that he too was leaving NOAA to take a post at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The Secretaries of Commerce who held posts during the ongoing investigations into wrongdoings at NOAA Fisheries, including Gary Locke and John Bryson are gone, while the current ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary, Rebecca Blank, will be leaving the job at the end of this month to take over as chancellor at University of Wisconsin at Madison.
So who’s in charge over at NOAA Fisheries or the United States Department of Commerce? Good question, with no simple answers. You see, back during the presidential campaign in the fall, President Obama pledged to appoint a new Secretary of Business to oversee newly-consolidated government agencies, including the Small Business Administration.
"We should have one Secretary of Business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans to SBA or helping companies with exports,” the president told MSNBC during a campaign interview. “There should be a one-stop shop.”
In the week leading up to the election, White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated to reporters that the streamlining proposal would be one of Obama’s first orders of business. “The President will be engaging directly after the election in moving forward,” he said, adding that he was “very committed to that proposal.”
Six months later, there’s been no movement by the Obama administration on this new Department of Business. Meanwhile, the soon departure of the ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary Blank, following the previous departure of appointed Commerce Secretary Bryson last June, leaves a hole yet to be filled at the cabinet level. The President recently nominated Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker for appointment to the head of the Commerce Department, though it’s expected to be a bumpy road ahead in the Senate considering the staunch opposition by labor unions unhappy about the Pritzker family’s running of Hyatt Hotels.
As for fishermen, the only ‘offshore’ action Pritzker seems aware of is the $53.6 million in income she received last year through an offshore trust in the Bahamas.
In the interim, there will be a new ‘acting’ Commerce Secretary in place just after the Memorial Day Weekend, Cameron Forbes Kerry. In addition to being the younger brother of Secretary of State John Kerry, he’s also the General Counsel of the Department of Commerce and principal legal advisor to the Secretary of Commerce where he oversees the work of over 325 lawyers in 14 offices who provide legal advice to all components of the Department.
Cameron Kerry, coincidentally, is also the Commerce Department’s chief ethics officer – and he hails from Massachusetts.
Final question, who is it that said, “We can't have the sort of hands-off, head-in-the-sand attitude that we've had over the last eight years and think somehow we're going to reverse some of these trends?” If you said then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 when campaigning for president, you would be correct.
However, I would also accept as correct the answer, ‘whoever will be the 2016 republican challenger for president in 2016.”
Any way you look at it, we lose.
And the person who should've really been fired for all of this burdensome, vindictive and abusive government power? Well, the American people renewed his 4-year contract in November of 2012...and that's a sad, sad fact.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
One day out of office following his retirement, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has already begun making new political waves.
On January 4th, 2013, Politico reported that the outgoing congressman had asked Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to send him back to Washington as interim senator following the confirmation of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as secretary of state. “I’ve told the governor I would now like, frankly, to do that,” Frank said in an interview broadcast on CNBC, explaining that the new fiscal cliff deal “means that February, March and April are going to be among the most important months in American financial history.”
For our nation’s saltwater fishermen, the first quarter of 2013 could be one of the most important periods in fisheries management history as well, given the state of four different federal fisheries disasters declarations by the Commerce Department in 2012, a broken federal fisheries law (Magnuson Stevens Act) now up for reauthorization debate, and pending presidential appointments of critical angler interest, notably the Secretary of Commerce and a NOAA Administrator.
ENVIRO’S LACK “VALUES”
Fishermen have long blamed a radical new preservationist agenda for the problems experienced at the federal, regional and state level of government, a sentiment strongly echoed by Frank himself. In an interview with Saving Seafood, Rep. Frank criticized the policies of some environmental groups as overly rigid, and he urged lawmakers to listen to fishermen and ultimately called for elimination of the 10-year stock rebuilding requirement in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Frank also described outgoing NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco as "unfit for the job," noting her unwillingness to consider changes to the arbitrary 10-year requirement.
"Her instincts are to be disagreeing with people," Frank said of Lubchenco, a 2009 presidential appointee who will be replaced in 2012.
Frank said the fishing industry has made notable strides in recent years, explaining that there now exists an "east coast fishing alliance" composed of fishermen and industry advocates from the Canadian border to the Florida Keys, an alliance he called critical in coming years as the Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization by 2016. One of the key items of interest for Magnuson reauthorization according to Frank is that lawmakers should change the 10-year requirement, which he called "rigid," arbitrary and not based on independent science. "If you can reach the goal in 13 years instead of 10, and have much less of a negative impact on the working people of the economy, why not do it," he asked.
Frank said he's not willing to compromise on other environmental issues like global warming and clean air, but said the "reproductive rate of fish is a [subject] much less fit for absolutism than many environmentalists think."
"No matter what your connections might be, don't assume that the environmentalists are the right voices and the fishermen are simply greedy," Frank said explaining that environmentalists can be needlessly inflexible on certain issues, and sometimes lack a "hierarchy of values."
CUTTING OFF THE LEGS OF SPORTSMEN
The environmental movement today – particular big money showroom environmental organizations like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Pew Environment Group (PEW) and their beard group the Marine Fish Conservation Network – have certainly lost their way. Those fishermen (like members of the Recreational Fishing Alliance) who have stood up to question the management of our fisheries have put themselves under environmental non-government organization (ENGO) scrutiny and disdain as social media campaigns to malign the point of view held by any fishermen who question the bureaucratic process have turned hateful – that’s as Rep. Frank describes as lacking in values.
At the upper corporate level of the environmental business industry, ENGO’s like EDF, Pew and the Marine Fish Conservation Network hire out-of-work congressional staffers, public relations experts and former media executives, all while using scare tactics and propaganda at the grassroots level to recruit idealistic college students to carry out their anti-fishing message. Leaders at these organizations refuse to enter into serious debate or discussion at the public, grassroots level of the fisheries management process, and prefer to sit back in their wood-paneled boardrooms to devise ways of further disparaging the individuals who hope to improve the balance of commerce and conservation.
The environmental movement has most certainly lost its way, and their activist efforts today are more about preservation than they are about conservation. Consider for a moment the post-Sandy efforts in New York and New Jersey to rebuild valuable infrastructure following the devastating storm. The National Park Service, under heavy pressure by ENGO groups, has decided to not renew a 40-year lease by the owners of Nichol’s Marina in Great Kills Harbor, removing several hundred boat slips (and several hundred boaters/anglers) from the equation. Essentially, the ENGO lobbyists are looking to remove the human footprint from the earth by cutting off the legs of our nation’s sportsmen.
THE OTHER, OTHER WHITE MEAT
Congressman Barney Frank has been a passionate supporter of fishermen’s rights, speaking at two national rallies in Washington DC spearheaded by commercial and recreational advocates alike to bring attention to the plight of our coastal fishing businesses. Rigid language written into our nation’s federal fisheries law and passed by unanimous consent of the GOP-held Senate in 2006 has contributed to serious and catastrophic loss within the fishing industry.
Fisheries managers today are finding in next to impossible to navigate their way through the legal requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, forcing fishermen to actually stop fishing when rebuilding targets are met and statutory ‘overfishing’ or ‘overfished’ thresholds are removed. The grand hypocrisy is now being uncovered by Congress and fisheries experts alike – as fish populations grow, the opportunity for fishermen to fish diminishes.
During the past six years, recreational and commercial fishermen have continued to plead for Congressional attention, while the showroom environmentalists have fought back to diminish our role in government action. While fishermen try to point out the empty-headed logic of the fisheries management process today brought about by rigid and inflexible legislation coupled with the Commerce Department’s failure to address bureaucratic negligence with science and data collection, ENGO groups blast the fishermen for being out of touch with the resource, labeling protest and the protesters as “fringe” elements within our community.
The showroom environmentalists have spent all of their time telling Members of Congress that the fish are fine, that the fishermen are wrong; is it any wonder then that in the recent attempt to fulfill the $150 million federal fisheries disaster relief package that many House members simply viewed the package as pork? Hell, it’s been the ENGO’s who have done nothing but refer to fishermen as pigs, it only stands to reason that Congress would think of anything fishing related as nothing but pork!
THE FACTS ABOUT THE SANDY PACKAGE
When the U.S. Senate voted 61-33 in favor of a $60.4 billion disaster relief package on December 28, 2012, there were 12 republicans who joined with 49 democrats in supporting legislation entitled ‘‘An Act making appropriations for the Department of Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government.’’ While conservative pundits and lackadaisical reporters called this the “Sandy package,” HR1 was actually a complete package to make cash appropriations available for various natural disasters which occurred in the United States during the 2012 calendar year – which just so happen to include important funding for Sandy relief.
In a bipartisan letter from 14 U.S. Senators to their respective appropriations leaders in the Senate on December 11, 2012, a request for $150 million in funds was formalized by legislators from Alaska, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. In response to four federal fisheries disasters official declared by the Secretary of Commerce, nine democrats and five republicans in the U.S. Senate signed off on this letter in asking that the appropriations committee authorize relief funding these disaster declarations made under Section 308( d) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and Section 315 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
“These designations allow Congress to appropriate federal relief funds to alleviate the harm caused by natural disasters to fisheries and the fishing industry,” the letter noted, explaining how “disaster assistance funds can be used to repair or restore fishing equipment and infrastructure, compensate for losses, restore fisheries habitat, support workforce education, provide low-interest loans, and conduct monitoring and cooperative research focused on improving stock assessments.”
Regrettably, few reporters bothered to ask any serious questions with regard to the $150 million appropriation request; fewer still were inquisitive or concerned enough to ask about the basis for HR1 or the actual intent of the “Act making appropriations for the Department of Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government.” Five GOP senators signed on to that letter, yet the mainstream media lackadaisically following the lead of angry conservative pundits simply ignored this fact.
Again, the original disaster relief bill put forth by the U.S. Senate in late December was an attempt to address multiple natural disasters in the United States; while there was no doubt some additional fat in the final figure, sloppy reporting by the national media helped make a federal case out of critical regional issues. Regrettably, the $150 million was removed from the final legislation, no doubt in part to the aggressive work of ENGO’s working over Congress to minimize the input of coastal fishermen.
After all, why the need for federal fisheries disaster monies when PEW, EDF and Marine Fish Conservation Network have spent the past 12 months telling key congressional staffers that there’s simply nothing wrong with our coastal fisheries?
FRANK ADVICE FOR 113TH CONGRESS
Offering advice to new members of Congress, outgoing Congressman Frank asked that they recognize fishing as “an important economic interest, a cultural interest, a social interest and...understand that the fishermen are very responsible, that nobody has more of an interest in regulating fishing than the fishermen," while adding, "be skeptical of our friends, the environmentalists."
Skepticism is a good bit of advice Mr. Frank, and the best place in the world to cut through the debate and rhetoric is in Congress through open discussion with stakeholders and interested parties. My hope is that you will in fact be given that temporary Senate seat, where perhaps then we can move forward with Senate deliberations on the problems affecting our coastal fishermen.
As Barney Frank said, nobody has more of an interest in regulating fishing than fishermen; and no one has more on the line with regard to the sustainability of our fish stocks than the coastal anglers themselves. ENGO lobbyists at EDF, PEW and the Marine Fish Conservation Network have done nothing more than attempt to suppress discussion and debate of stakeholders and constituents. If they truly embraced the democratic process and American exceptionalism, the ENGO’s would agree to debate and allow Congress to hold Committee hearings on the fisheries management issues in America today.
The big question is, are the showroom environmentalists and ENGO lobbyists willing to malign and vilify environmental champions like Barney Frank for daring to question these groups and their leadership “values” and for warning Congress to be “skeptical” of their actions and initiatives?
Or once again will they attempt to hide from debate by defaming and demoralizing other groups and individuals for daring to petition for a governmental redress of grievances?
The bottom line is that fish is not pork, fishermen are not pigs, and many of the ENGO’s simply have no core values. As for the angling organizations and conservation groups who have acquiesced to ENGO pressure and joined forces with many of these coalitions of deceit in opposition to sensible fisheries reform while supporting arbitrary, time-specific deadlines and rigid overfishing definitions, please take not that you have only been made complicit (perhaps unknowingly) in the continued slaughter of our industry through widely supported congressional neglect of coastal fishing interests.