Thursday, June 16, 2016


Yesterday, the House Committee on Natural Resources marked up H.R. 3094, Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-Louisiana) so-called Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act.  

The approval came on a 24-14 vote, with Republicans from important coastal states such as Idaho, Arizona and Utah enthusiastically supporting the bill, and most Democrats expressing real doubts.

The support of inland Republicans shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone, for the bill, which would strip the National Marine Fisheries Service of all authority to manage red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, and turn such authority over to the states, is very much in line with the landlocked legislators’ philosophy. 

In the same session, the Committee also approved H.R. 3650, sponsored by Don Young (R-Alaska), and H.R. 2316, sponsored by Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). 

H.R. 3650, titled the “State National Forest Management Act of 2015,” it would permit each state to take over up to 2 million acres of National Forest Service land within such state, and included provisions that would assure that both the timber and hard rock mining interests would be able to exploit any such natural resources found on the relevant lands.

H.R. 2316 had somewhat more modest goals.  Titled the “Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act,” it would allow state “Advisory Committees” appointed by each state’s governor to manage parcels of federal land.  Such parcels, designated “community forest demonstration areas,” would be no less than 200,000 acres in size,  and important federal conservation laws, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Clean  Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, could only be enforced to the degree that they could be imposed on a state or private party, and not as they would normally apply to federal lands.

Taken together, H.R. 3650 and H.R. 2316 are the sort of bills that are usually supported by the sort of folks who drill for oil, strip mine coal, clearcut timber and, in the not so recent past, occupied a federal bird sanctuary in order to demonstrate their patriotism and defend their Constitutional rights.

Now, with H.R. 3094, the anti-government folks in Congress have taken their fight to the coast, in an effort to de-federalize red snapper.

“The federal government has been a lousy landlord for western states and we simply think the states can do it better.  If we want healthier forests, better access to public lands, more consistent funding for public education and more reliable energy development, it makes sense to have local control.“
That sounds benign.  However, it’s hard not to suspect that the real motivation of Rep. Stewart’s (and Rep. Bishop’s) Federal Land Action Group is to get out from under federal regulations intended to prevent overgrazing, unsustainable timber harvest and unsound energy extraction practices.

It also sounds a lot like some of the rhetoric being spouted by anglers’ rights groups supporting H.R. 3094, which have said that

“The state approach is simply a better way to manage a fishery as a whole.  State agencies put more stock in what a fish population actually looks like and how it’s responding to management in real time, rather than basing everything on estimates of what is caught…
“The federal government has had decades to get red snapper management right.  It’s time to let the states finally provide the remedy.“
Again, it all sounds good, but federal law is already rebuilding the stock, based on the best scientific information available.  Thus, it's hard not to suspect that the state management proponents just want to kill more red snapper than federal law or good science allows.

Still, the Committee’s approval of H.R. 3094 is the sort of thing that should make the states’ rights folks proud.  It's the sort of thing that might make some of the “patriots” who bailed out of Malheur want to go out to the Flower Garden Banks and drag around some illegal anchors in a show of support…

The myth that state fishery managers do a better job than their federal counterparts persists, despite evidence to the contrary.

The Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority proposed by H.R. 3094 would be peopled by the salt water fisheries directors of each of the five Gulf states, and is modeled upon the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is responsible for managing a number of inshore stocks that inhabit the waters between Florida and Maine.

Ironically, ASMFC was only given real management authority in 1984, after Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, in order to gain some control over squabbling individual states that were unable to put their parochial concerns aside long enough to begin rebuilding a collapsed striped bass stock.

Once given that authority, ASMFC did manage to recover the striped bass stock, which was declared fully rebuild in 1995.  However, it has failed to rebuild even one other stock since then, while federal managers, acting pursuant to federal law, have fully recovered 39 once-overfished populations since the year 2000.

The success of federal fisheries managers can be attributed directly to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires that overfished be promptly halted, that overfished stocks be rebuild within a time certain that, in typical circumstances, should not exceed ten years, and that fishery management plans be based on the best available science.

ASMFC’s failure to rebuild a single stock in the past 20 years can be attributed to the fact that it is not subject to Magnuson-Stevens, leading its various management boards to perpetuate overfishing, delay rebuilding overfished stocks and ignore scientific advice when there is a short-term economic benefit in doing so. 

And if one looks hard enough, such short-term benefits can almost always be found…

One of the most striking examples of the failure of state fisheries managers can be found in North Carolina.  In a recent op-ed piece published in the News-Observer, Chris Elkins, President of the North Carolina chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, notes that

“At best, North Carolina has a sordid history of fisheries management, with only four of 16 managed finfish stocks listed as viable.  In large part, that is because North Carolina has the most relaxed commercial fishing regulations in the country.  The decline of the commercial fishing industry in N.C. is not due to regulations, but to the lack of regulations that have depleted state-managed stocks…”
To explain why state fisheries management in North Carolina is so weak, Mr. Elkins describes the state’s failure to enter into a “joint enforcement agreement” with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which would give North Carolina the right to enforce federal fisheries regulations, and in return, would see federal money flow into the state to aid fisheries enforcement efforts.  

Every coastal state except for North Carolina has entered into such agreements, but as Mr. Elkins explains

“the [Joint Enforcement Agreement] committee composition was predetermined by the legislature and thus the outcome was predetermined.  The committee voted not to recommend entering into a JEA.  Only commercial fishermen or charter fishermen were allowed to sit on this committee; all recreational fishermen were excluded.  Of the one million or so total saltwater N.C. fishermen, about 99 percent are recreational fishermen.  Nonfishing North Carolinians,  (about 9 million) were also not represented.
“So only 1 percent of the stakeholders, those who have a financial interest, will provide input as to whether federal regulations are enforced properly and whether our nation’s marine resources in territorial waters off the N.C. coast are protected.  The majority of us, who truly own the resource, are denied a voice in improving law enforcement…”
In other words, the reason that North Carolina’s fisheries are badly managed is purely political.

So is H.R. 3094.

Loggers, miners and ranchers perpetuate the myth that state land managers can do a better job than their federal counterparts, in an effort to exploit natural resources to a degree, or in a manner, that federal law would not allow.

Similarly, H.R. 3094 argue that state fisheries management provides a “better way” to manage red snapper because it would allow them to harvest more fish than the current science-based federal rules permit.

Whether we’re talking about red cedar or red snapper, state management is only “better” because it allows more such resources to be harvested now.  It is worse if we look to the future.

Yet, if we take the long view, it’s only the future that matters.

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