Thursday, June 5, 2014


Last Sunday, I wrote about H.R. 4742, the House of Representatives’ Magnuson Act reauthorization bill, and described how it threatened to set salt water fisheries management back twenty years.

I noted that the enviro groups were calling it the “Empty Oceans Act” and explained a little bit of why it more than deserved that name.

Which is a little curious, given that TRCP, and a number of its member organizations, deserve a lot of the credit—maybe better described as the blame—for creating an environment in which “Empty Oceans” could take root and thrive.

Throughout the current Magnuson debate, TRCP has talked a good game, but when push came to shove, its official stance was that a little overfishing was fine, so long as it resulted in a bit more income for the folks who sold boats and tackle.

That’s made clear in TRCP's much-ballyhooed report, “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.”

TRCP didn’t make much noise condemning the “discussion draft” precursor to H.R. 4742, despite that draft’s truly abominable provisions, but did declare that “creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines” was one of the “six key policies” informing its position on the upcoming Magnuson Act reauthorization

The concepts of ending overfishing and rebuilding overfished stocks are conspicuously absent from TRCP’s Magnuson-related press releases, which are largely comprised of paeans of praise for the economic contributions of the recreational fishing industry.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise if the House Natural Resources Committee took those calls for “flexibility” in rebuilding fish stocks, and the related emphasis on the economic impacts of the fishery, seriously, and put together a bill that is all about prolonging overfishing and delaying rebuilding—the very definition of fisheries “flexibility”—and has nothing to do with restoring and conserving America’s marine fish stocks.

After all, if you seem on board with a little overfishing, and don’t talk about protecting overfished stocks at all, you shouldn’t be surprised if the folks writing the laws take you at your word—even if those laws go a bit farther than you had intended.

And, we must always remember, TRCP isn’t in this alone.  

The back page of its “Vision” report lists nine organizations, plus TRCP itself, that “contributed” to the report.  Of those nine organizations, eight belonged to or were in some way affiliated with the Louisiana-based Center for Coastal Conservation, which describes itself in the following way:

“The Center for Coastal Conservation is a coalition of the leading advocates for marine recreational fishing and boating. It is dedicated to promoting sound conservation and use of ocean resources by supporting federal legislators who support its goals.”

If you look at the Center’s board of directors, you’ll find that 10 of the 17 seats are filled by folks from within the boatbuilding and fishing tackle industries.  That could lead the cynical among us to believe that, despite the talk about “sound conservation and use of ocean resources,” the Center is little more than a trade organization guarding the interests of the boating and fishing industries, and isn’t really about promoting conservation at all.

The Center put out a press release distancing itself from H.R. 4742, too, and—hopefully to no one’s surprise—it sounded a lot like the one put out by TRCP.  

Although, to be fair to all concerned, it was a little worse.

Like TRCP, the Center’s release expressed dismay at “Empty Oceans,” while speaking of “creating reasonable latitude in stock rebuilding timelines”—that is, prolonged periods of overfishing—so that its members could make a quick buck.  

But then it goes on.

It quotes Mike Nussman, president and chief executive officer of the American Sportfishing Association—the fishing tackle trade group—who praised parts of H.R. 4742, including parts “easing the strict implementation of annual catch limits,” (because, you know, catch limits don’t only limit catch, they can limit tackle sales, too…) 

And it quotes Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association--yes, the same Pat Murray who, just a few years ago, wrote that very sensible pro-conservation piece “The Last Fish”, in which he noted that

“It has often been said that commercial fishermen want to catch the last fish.  But are we recreational anglers trying to stop them simply because we want to catch the last fish?...
“Some of the very people who first pushed the ‘resource first’ ethic are now arguing for greater poundage and more liberal limits, even in the face of troubling stock assessments.”
In the Center’s release, Muray said

“…we are also disappointed that the federal management failure in the Gulf of Mexico is not resolved in H.R. 4742…It’s vital that Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization addresses this management train-wreck by transferring Gulf red snapper management over to the states…“
The “federal management failure”—the “management train-wreck”—that Murray refers to, of course, is the National Marine Fisheries Service issuing regulations restrictive enough to successfully begin rebuilding the red snapper stock, and the reason that he wants to take management away from the feds and give it to the states is because three of the five Gulf states have already demonstrated that they will allow anglers to harvest a “greater poundage” and will impose “more liberal limits” than the feds do, despite what the folks conducting the SEDAR (“South East Data Assessment and Review”) program say…

(Pat, don’t you feel just a few conscience pangs these days?  When you shave, can you really meet the eyes looking out from the mirror?  But that’s OK; the folks up in New Jersey would be proud of you now…)

Whether they gave it to him for his unstinting support of dams that prevent returning salmon and steelhead from reaching their historic spawning grounds, for his efforts to cripple the Clean Water Act, for his efforts to put endangered species in even greater peril, for a combination of those things or for something else entirely, there is no question that the Center sent a message that his consistent efforts to frustrate the conservation of America’s natural resources represented the right way to go.

In making the award, the Center noted that 

“Doc Hastings has been a stalwart for anglers across the country—and a real steward of the resource.”
I don’t make this stuff up.  I really don't…

Anyway, if you couple that sort of praise with the Center’s (and TRCP’s) rhetoric about increasing “flexibility,” rhetoric that's not substantially different from what we’ve been hearing for years from the most voracious members of the commercial fishing industry up in New England or off North Carolina, you can easily give Hastings and his like-minded allies could get the impression that American anglers don’t care about the health of fish stocks.

Add TRCP’s incorporation of that economics-above-all policy into its “Vision” report, and its efforts to convince lawmakers that it represents “a unified vision” of “all segments of the recreational fishing community“ and you’ve pretty well set the stage for a bill such as H.R. 4742.

TRCP and the Center seem to have forgotten the old warning that you should watch out what you ask for, because sometimes you’re going to get it.

You often reap just what you sow.

Now, the question is, just what are those organizations going to do about it.

I particularly ask that question of TRCP because, despite its irresponsible position on the Magnuson reauthorization, it has historically been a pretty decent organization, fighting hard for clean water, an acceptable farm bill, healthy forests and other good things.

In fact, based on TRCP’s overall record, its position on salt water fisheries is puzzling. 

I hope that the answer lies in the fact that most of TRCP’s expertise lies in freshwater and terrestrial issues. 

It's possible that TRCP leadership just put too much trust in the words and the judgment of saltwater "experts" who, in the end, didn’t share the same conservation ethic as their inland counterparts.

It's possible that TRCP leadership has been getting a somewhat biased and distorted account of what's happening all along the coast (which does not all border the Gulf of Mexico, and hosts a plethora of fish besides red snapper).

If that’s true, then it’s time for TRCP to take a good, deep look into its soul and ask if it is really doing the right thing about Magnuson.

For if the Bible says “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap“, it also says “all shall come to repentance.“

TRCP—and even the Center--should take that last passage to heart, and adopt a more righteous path.

If they do not, we all stand to reap a bitter harvest, indeed.

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