Sunday, August 24, 2014


This blog post is NOT about red snapper.

It’s about everything except red snapper. 

It’s about New England codfish, haddock and cusk.  It’s about scup off Long Island, fluke off New Jersey and black sea bass off all of the Mid-Atlantic states.  It’s about Georgia dolphin and Texas king mackerel, Pacific rockfish, Alaska halibut and wahoo off Hawaii’s Big Island.

It’s about the National Marine Fisheries Service’s proposed Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy, an idea with a lot of potential, and a handful of—well, I have to say those two dreaded words—red snapper anglers and their representatives, who want to hijack that policy and make it all about them, and not about you.

It’s about all of us who don’t fish in the Gulf of Mexico, and don’t fish for Gulf red snapper, and the need for all of us to get up off our tails and make sure that any national Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy that NMFS ultimately adopts is truly national in scope, and addresses all fisheries, and isn’t corrupted to serve just one piece of the coast and those who pursue one particular groundfish.

I’ve mused more than once in this blog about the semi-hysterical, borderline irrational rhetoric coming out of the angling community down in the Gulf of Mexico, who seem to have lost all sense of proportion—and maybe reality—as they rant and rave and attack federal regulators unwilling to let them overfish the red snapper stock.

I’ve written about various anglers’ rights organizations and industry trade groups, which are now willing to weaken, and most likely cripple, America’s primary fisheries management law, simply to kill more red snapper.

Now we learn that the proposed national Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy is all about them, too (something that all but the most altruistic among us already suspected). 

Not surprisingly, it opposes the amendment, but some of its language reaches much farther, saying

“…we question the timing of an effort that represents such a significant shift in recreational fisheries management in the middle of NMFS’ attempt to craft the nation’s first Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy.  It is highly ironic that passage of Amendment 40 will severely limit the ability of the Council or NMFS to meaningfully implement any such policy for the Gulf recreational red snapper fishery, which is virtually the sole impetus for the creation of the policy in the first place  [emphasis added].”
Many things now become clear.

Most particularly, this admission explains the disjointed language in the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s report A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, to which CCA, along with a number of affiliated trade organizations belonging to the Center for Coastal Conservation, contributed.

The TRCP’s “Vision” report was a very disquieting read, because on one hand it said all the right things, correctly noting that

“Our [recreational fishing] community invests in aquatic resource conservation because we know that the future of recreational fishing directly depends on the health of fish populations and their habitat…
“For all anglers, fishing provides a chance to experience a special connection with our marine environment, gain a better appreciation for our country’s natural resources, and practice the conservation ethic that is integral to the sporting community…
“Recreational fishing is founded on conservation, sustainability and opportunity.  Saltwater anglers and the recreational fishing industry that they support are critical to conservation…”
I find it impossible to disagree with those statements, and believe that the great majority of anglers will also concur; they are as true in Maine as they are in Mississippi, and hold as firm in Alaska as they do in Alabama.

The “Vision” report is also correct when it states that

“Currently, federal fisheries managers set catch limits for recreational and commercial fishing at or near maximum sustainable yield.  While this may be an ideal management strategy for commercial fishing, where harvesting the maximum biomass is desired, it is not an effective management tool for saltwater recreational fishing.  Recreational anglers are more focused on abundance and size, structure of the fisheries, and opportunities to get out on the water.”
However, when we get down to the nuts and bolts of what a “national” Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy would actually look like, all of that idealistic talk about conservation, sustainability and harvesting fewer fish go straight out the window.

Which makes perfect sense, given that red snapper were “virtually the sole impetus for creating the policy in the first place.”

Today, red snapper are already managed in accord with the precepts of aquatic resource conservation.  Managers are already setting annual quotas that allow for a sustainable harvest.  They are already keeping landings below maximum sustainable yield.

That’s what red snapper anglers are complaining about!

So in the “Vision” report, they set about proposing a “national” Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy that will allow them to kill more fish.

They propose doing away with quota-based management, saying

“The NMFS should manage recreational fisheries based on long-term harvest rates, not strictly on poundage-based quotas.  This strategy has been successfully used by fisheries managers in the Atlantic striped bass fishery…”
Perhaps they should have spoken to some Atlantic-coast fishermen before taking the name of the striped bass in vain, and checked how “successfully” that no-quota strategy was working out.

Because right now, the stock is in steady decline, with a population that has probably already slipped beneath the female spawning stock threshold and into “overfished” territory.  Fishing mortality exceeds the target. 

Is that what a “successfully” managed fishery looks like?

Maybe, if you’re a red snapper fisherman, who doesn’t like targets and thresholds.  

But most striped bass fishermen would like to see a national policy that starts rebuilding the stock pretty soon—or, to be a little more accurate, that started rebuilding the stock maybe three years ago.

And they might talk to the folks in New England about the no-quota concept.  For many years, that’s how the New England Fisheries Management Council managed groundfish.  As a result, a lot of stocks are not in good shape.

And yes, they’d say that up there it’s different, because commercials were doing the killing, but let me let you in on a little fact that you might not have considered before—a dead fish doesn’t care who killed it.  Whether commercial codfishermen fished unsustainably in the Gulf of Maine or recreational fishermen fished unsustainably in the Gulf of Mexico, too many fish are now too dead in both of those places.

In the Gulf of Maine, it may be too late to fix things.  Cod stocks are at maybe 3% of target levels, and it’s not impossible that we will all lose the fishery for the rest of our lifetimes.  That’s not a “successfully” managed fishery, either.  Maybe a quota would have helped…

For most of us, on most of the coast, who have gone through the pains of rebuilding and don’t want to go through the Hell of empty oceans again, a national Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy means just what the idealistic prologue of the TRCP’s “Vision” suggested.  We want abundance, big fish and sustainable, conservative management.

To get abundance and big fish, we need rebuilt stocks.  In fact, we need stocks that are more than only “rebuilt”—which merely means that they will produce maximum sustainable yield.  We want stocks that are substantially larger than needed to produce MSY, because larger stocks produce larger fish and more frequent “encounters” with anglers. 

But, once again, that’s not what the red snapper folks want their national policy to look like.  They say

“Instead of having a flawed deadline for stocks to be rebuilt…set lower harvest rates that would allow fish stocks to recover gradually while diminishing socioeconomic impacts.”
In other words, push back the day when anglers can enjoy an abundance of bigger fish, so that the red snapper folks can kill a few more fish and the people who sell them tackle and bait can enjoy an abundance of bigger profits.

Again, that won’t go over too big with the striped bass folks, who are already fighting to keep some champions of diminished “socioeconomic impacts” in Chesapeake Bay from amending the management plan to allow a longer phase-in of harvest reductions.

Like other folks all around the coast, they want to see the days of abundance and big fish come soon.

It’s pretty clear that a Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy that’s good for the nation—that emphasizes big fish, conservation, abundance and sustainability—won’t please those red snapper folks at all.

They want a bigger kill now, and if they management efforts for anything else, well—let’s just say they won't lose too much sleep.

So you can be pretty sure that the folks who view red snapper as “virtually the sole impetus for creating the policy in the first place” are going to be pushing hard for a policy that’s not in our best interests at all.

Still, as I said at the beginning, having  a national Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy is a pretty good idea.

So let’s embrace it, and make it our own.

NMFS will be accepting comments on the policy until September 12, and is making it very easy for anglers to make them.

Just go to the NMFS webpage at .  You can click on a link to make your comments right there.

You can tell NMFS that you want stocks recovered to real abundance as soon as possible, as current law requires; you don’t want rebuilding delayed to some indefinite day in the future, which may never come.

You can tell them that you want stocks managed for a better age and size structure—which means more big fish—even if that means that you can’t take quite as many little ones home.

You can tell them that you support conservation, and sustainable management, because you want your kids and your grandkids and those not yet born to enjoy some good fishing too.

If you tell them things such as that, and if NMFS listens, it won’t make the red snapper people too happy.

But we don’t catch red snapper here on Long Island.  

They don’t catch them up in Lubec, Maine, or Gloucester, Massachusetts or in Belmar, New Jersey.  They don’t catch them out of Indian River, Delaware or Ocean City, Maryland.  They don’t catch them out of Long Beach, California or Portland, Oregon.  Not out of Homer, Alaska or Hilo, Hawaii.

But a national Recreational Saltwater Fisheries Policy needs to suit anglers in all of those places, and not hang them out to dry in favor of a few folks down on the Gulf coast.

So if you want a national policy that works for you instead of against you, you might want to click on the link that I gave you above, and provide your comments RIGHT NOW.

No comments:

Post a Comment