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Thursday, August 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: ANOTHER ‘ABUNDANCE’ OF CRAP


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

That word is abundance. 

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

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

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

So, what is abundance exactly? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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