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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.