Thursday, April 23, 2015
WHAT'S GOOD FOR RED SNAPPER SHOULD BE GOOD FOR RED DRUM...
Today was the last day that the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted comments on a proposed Exempted Fishing Permit that would allow Mississippi charter and party boats to harvest red drum out in federal waters over the next couple of years.
I mentioned the proposal a couple of weeks ago, and I hope that some folks registered their opposition, because if this idea flies in the Gulf, it won’t be long before someone tries to get the same sort of permit here on the East Coast, in order to target striped bass in our federal waters, where the harvest is currently closed.
Red drum and striped bass are equally treasured by anglers in the waters where each species is found, so I completely understand why folks in the Gulf might want to keep the federal waters shut down. Even so, I had to scratch my head in a bit of puzzlement when I read something on the Coastal Conservation Association’s website just a few days ago.
The headline was certainly catchy.
And if you start reading the meat of the message, they make those “Feds” sound pretty bad.
“Exempted Fishing Permit targeting breeder red drum sets stage for fish grab
“The federal government’s management of Gulf fisheries has created some of the most chaotic, dysfunctional and unsatisfactory fisheries in the country, and now it seems that the agency is set on bringing that same experience to our red drum fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
“NOAA Fisheries is currently seeking comment on a two-year plan to allow harvest of breeding-sized red drum in federal waters for the first time in decades…”
“Anyone who has watched the manipulation of the red snapper fishery the past few years should be extremely alarmed at the implications of this federal overreach into one of the great state-based marine conservation victories. The EFP is limited to Mississippi’s for-hire industry today, but it is certain to spread rapidly to other states if it is approved. [emphasis in the original]”
Reading CCA’s diatribe against NMFS would make anyone believe that federal fisheries managers were out to steal red drum out from under Gulf anglers’ noses by opening a for-hire fishery in waters that are closed to everyone else.
The only problem is, that isn’t not quite true.
The item in the Federal Register which announced the proposed rulemaking, clearly states that
“an application for an exempted fishing permit (EFP) [has been received] from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources…”
So there’s no doubt that the impetus for letting for-hire boats sample red drum in the Gulf’s federal waters came not from NMFS, but from the State of Mississippi. Yes, the State of Mississippi. The STATE FISHERIES MANAGERS of Mississippi…
And CCA actually knows this, because in their comments to NMFS opposing the proposed exempted fishing permits, they start right off saying
“The Coastal Conservation Association is opposed to the exempted fishing permit (EFP) application filed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources… [emphasis added]”
And that makes you wonder about a few things.
First, it makes you wonder why CCA, in their release to the public, went so out of their way to criticize federal managers, in a manner likely to make folks believe that allowing the Mississippi for-hires to kill red drum offshore was the federal managers’ idea. I’d never be surprised to see a press release worded like that come out of southern New Jersey, but I always believed that the folks down in Houston would try quite a bit harder to avoid misleading language.
But beyond that, it makes you wonder why CCA is so vehemently opposed to the proposal.
After all, throughout the red snapper debate, we have seen them, along with their partners in the Center for Coastal Conservation, repeatedly write such things as
“State-based fishery management has proven to be far more effective, and has engineered some of the greatest marine conservation victories in the country. We have faith in the states to be philosophically capable of not only conserving and managing robust fisheries, but also providing greater access to those resources for their citizens.“
“With their proven track record of managing fishing and recovering stocks such as red drum and speckled trout, and with superior recreational data collection systems, the states have earned the trust and respect of Gulf Coast anglers and conservationists.“
“Coordinated management among the states is the only solution to an unaccountable federal system of fisheries management.“
In fact, CCA and the rest of the folks at the Center are so enamored of state fisheries managers that they want to strip all authority for managing red snapper away from NMFS, and give it to state authorities. According to the Center’s President, Jeff Angers,
“The Gulf states are among the nation’s leaders in marine fisheries management, which is why we have continued to look to them as the vehicle for managing Gulf red snapper going forward to get us out of the current mess created by federal mismanagement.“
But now that the fisheries managers of the State of Mississippi want to let their for-hire boats fish for offshore red drum, it seems that CCA might be questioning their wisdom after all. In fact, CCA seems to be doubting the wisdom of all the states’ fishery managers, as it expresses its fear that “other states” will “rapidly” emulate Mississippi if its exempted fisheries permit is granted.
CCA is effectively asking NMFS for help in keeping the red drum safe from what the states want to do.
Now, this creates a conundrum. Why do CCA and the rest of their Center colleagues believe that the states are wise enough to manage red snapper better than the feds already do, but fear the states’ gaining some control over red drum in federal waters?
One would think, given all of the praise that such folks had for state managers during the red snapper debate, that they’d support lifting the federal red drum closure completely, and letting the states have full management authority for red drum, as well as red snapper.
It appears that the folks over at CCA are now trapped by their own rhetoric. In the case of red snapper, they’re not happy with science-based federal management, because it doesn’t allow them to kill as many fish as they’d like; thus, they rhapsodize over state fisheries managers that would permit a higher, if perhaps unsustainable, harvest.
But when it comes to red drum, perhaps the most revered sport fish along the Gulf Coast, they’re very happy with federal protections that guard the drum brood stock against state harvest excesses. So they’re trying to blame the feds for taking comments on the exempted fishing permit for red drum, while conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the State of Mississippi that is spearheading the effort.
CCA warns that NMFS must deny Mississippi an exempted fishing permit for red drum in order to
at the hands of that state and the others which would “rapidly” follow suit. However, it offers no explanation as to why the red snapper fishery wouldn’t meet a similar fate if it lost its federal protections.
And that makes no sense, because what is good for red snapper should be good for red drum, and what is bad for red drum isn’t likely to red snapper a lot of good, either.