Sunday, July 20, 2014


New York’s black sea bass season opened last Tuesday, and I was eager to get out and put some fish in the box.  

Yesterday, with the work week behind me, I finally ran out to one of my favorite wrecks, where the sea bass were fat and abundant.

It was great fishing.  I had my 8-fish limit in about 40 minutes; probably less time than it took me to get to the wreck.  The fish had some shoulders, too.  The biggest one weighed over four pounds.  I probably could have stayed out a bit longer and been a bit pickier, and come in with nothing much under three; however, I wanted to keep a few smaller ones to steam Chinese-style, with black beans, ginger and soy.

There were clouds of sea bass on the depthfinder, and that was a good thing to see, because once the season opens, anglers hit the fish pretty hard; by fall, the clouds will be gone and the average size will be quite a bit smaller.  

Exuberant abundance at the start of the season means that there will still be some fish around at its end.

The size and number of the black sea bass available to anglers today is testimony to the effectiveness of the conservation provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and their ability to restore real abundance to a fishery that had fallen on hard times not so many years ago.

One might think that everyone in the angling community would be pushing to restore all of our fish stocks to similar levels of abundance, but I learned earlier this week that’s just not the case, when someone pointed me to the blog of an organization that didn’t mince words, and but came right out and deemed current calls for of managing for abundance “crap.”

The blog appears under the aegis of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, and seems dedicated to the principal that if you can’t say something bad about someone or something, it’s best to say nothing at all (the link that I provided above leads to the single post being discussed here, but you can click on this link if you feel the need for a second helping of vituperation).

It’s made up of the same kind of black helicopter stuff about environmental organizations trying to impair recreational fishing that folks have been trying to sell to anglers for years. 

It confuses the concept of “managing for abundance,” which is intended to provide more and larger fish for anglers to catch (although it also creates a more stable age and size structure in fish populations), with a report entitled Oceans of Abundance that was crafted by a group of environmental organizations that support catch shares as a management strategy. 

Assuming that readers will be gullible enough to go along, the blog then makes the next jump of illogic to warn

“That means fish tags, auction houses, and state-run access lotteries as our future of recreational fishing, all in the name of abundance!”
Let’s be serious here.  Can you imagine using fish tags on a porgy boat?  And scup are already one of the most successful examples of “managing for abundance” that we have…

After some additional blather that attempts to link managing for abundance with catch shares and label it all an environmentalists’ plot, the blog goes on to identify those supporting abundance as “well-spoken, hip conservationists,” and members of some “angling elite” who “[rip] a page from the 21st century progressive’s handbook” in order to seduce folks into believing that having a lot of fish in the water is a good idea, and wraps up the entire process by saying

“In other words, asking for abundance is another way of saying ‘please, take away my right to fish.’”
One could respond by saying that “opposing abundance is another way of saying ‘please, don’t let me catch many fish,’” but that’s probably too obvious for words…

At any rate, the blog’s assertions would probably come as a pretty big shock to the nation’s largest angling organizations, as well as to the primary trade associations representing the recreational fishing and boatbuilding industries because, as it turns out, they want folks to manage for abundance, too.

If the Recreational Fishing Alliance had attended the 2014 Recreational Saltwater Fishing Summit that NOAA fisheries hosted back on April 1st and 2nd (I believe that I saw RFA members and at least one of their regional spokesmen there, but the national leadership was noticeably absent), perhaps it would have been aware that “managing for abundance” was anything but a sinister plot to chase anglers off the water; it was one of the central talking points at the Summit, clearly supported by the leaders of the fishing tackle and boatbuilding communities, as well as by spokesmen for the anglers themselves.

In February, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership issued a detailed report entitled “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries”.  A number of important recreational fishing and boatbuilding organizations, including the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the American Sportfishing Association (the trade association for the fishing tackle industry) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association were contributors.  That report explicitly endorses managing for abundance, saying

“What recreational anglers want and need is wide-ranging, dependable access to healthy and abundant fish stocks…
Recreational anglers are more focused on abundance and size, structures of the fisheries, and opportunities to get out on the water [emphasis added].“
It doesn’t, however, endorse catch shares, because the folks who wrote the “Vision” report actually understand the difference between the two.

No, “managing for abundance” isn’t just for environmentalists anymore.  In fact, it never was.

Speaking at a previous recreational fishing summit, held a number of years ago, Bob Hayes, General Counsel to the Coastal Conservation Association, offered what was probably the best working description of the “managing for abundance” concept, saying that

“Anglers want to be able to catch a lot of fish, with some big ones.”
That’s what I found on my sea bass wreck yesterday, and I thought that it was pretty good.

For who could say that kind of fishing is bad? 

That is, who other than the RFA?

But then, RFA always seems to forge its own path.

Hastings named it the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act”, but the bill is so bad that the conservation community is calling it the “Empty Oceans Act”.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says that the bill

while the Center for Coastal Conservation—which represents both the American Sportfishing Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, among other groups—issued a press release declaring “Recreational Fishing and Boating Community Underwhelmed By House Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization Bill.”

But, contrary to the comments emanating from most of the recreational community, RFA calls H.R. 4742

Yes, RFA forges its own path.  But that path seems to be getting pretty lonely these days.

There is a unique service on the Internet that can be found at  Anyone can go onto that site and, once registered (registration is simple and free) find Form 990s—the tax return filed by tax-exempt organizations, including 501(c)(4) advocacy groups such as RFA—for any not-for-profit corporation with significant income.  When those returns are filed, the signer states, under penalties of perjury, that they are “true, correct and complete”.

So we can pretty much assume that anything that a Form 990 says is true.

When one takes a look at RFA’s Form 990, a couple of things jump out pretty quickly.  The first one is that the Recreational Fishing Alliance has quite a bit more money going out than coming in.  The 2012 tax return, which is the last one available on the Guidestar site, shows a loss of $109,824 for that year (expenses of $693,286 on revenues of just $583,462); the 2010 and 2011 Form 990s show losses of $52,613 and $111,197, respectively.

Over the long term, RFA’s 2012 tax return shows an accumulated loss of $359,027; RFA apparently hasn’t shown a profit since sometime before 2008, when it experienced yet another loss of $135,676.

So whatever the organization is selling on its blog and elsewhere, it doesn’t appear that a lot of folks are buying…

That’s probably a difficult thing to accept for RFA, which bills itself as a

yet, according to Schedule C of its 2012 Form 990, spent just $4,700 on lobbying in 2012, for “various election campaign donations” (by contrast, the Coastal Conservation Association, which as a 501(c)(3) organization cannot spend unlimited funds on lobbying, still managed to devote $497,829 to that purpose in the same year).

But it appears that RFA has not given up trying to sell its message and grow its membership base.  In 2012, for example, its Form 990 shows that it spent $130,664—twenty-seven times as much as it spent on lobbying, and 22% of all revenues received that year—on “Advertising and Promotion” and another $93,647 on “Dues Processing”.

Who knows how successful those efforts will be for an organization that calls managing for abundance “crap” and believes that the “Empty Oceans Act” is “a bill worth supporting.”

Maybe they’ll convince anglers that their cause is the right one, and become profitable once again.

Or maybe they will stand on the shore as a modern-day analogue of old King Canute, and try to halt a rising tide of support for “managing for abundance” with declarations that such notions of management are “crap”—and share that ancient sovereign’s lack of success.

Time will tell which turns out to be true.

But if I were a betting man, I know which outcome I’d put my money on.

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