Thursday, March 9, 2017
CONFLICT ON THE COUNCILS
It was written by Jeff Angers, who is the President of an organization called the Center for Sportfishing Policy (formerly, the Center for Coastal Conservation), an alliance made up of representatives of the fishing tackle industry, the boatbuilding industry and several “anglers’ rights” organizations.
“Our mission is to maximize opportunity for saltwater recreational anglers by organizing, focusing and engaging recreational fishing stakeholders to speak with one voice to shape federal marine fisheries management policy.”
In other words, the Center for Sportfishing Policy exists solely to protect and further the interests of tackle dealers, boatbuilders and recreational fishermen.
That’s important to remember as you read Mr. Angers’ op-ed, because he is essentially complaining that representatives of the commercial and for-hire fishing communities sit on regional fishery management councils where, according to Mr. Angers, they seek to promote their best interests.
In his op-ed piece, Mr. Angers asks,
“Why are people who profit from the harvest and sale of America’s marine resources allowed to sit on management bodies that make regulations governing those resources?”
To answer Mr. Anger’s question, the first place to turn would be the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which states that one of its purposes is to create and maintain fishery management plans
“which will enable the States, the fishing industry, consumer and environmental organizations, and other interested persons to participate in, and advise on, the establishment and administration of such plans. [emphasis added]”
Magnuson-Stevens further states that
“The members of each Council required to be appointed by the Secretary [of Commerce] must be individuals who, by reason of their occupational or other experience, scientific expertise, or training, are knowledgeable regarding the conservation and management, or the commercial or recreational harvest, of the fishery resources of the geographical area concerned. [emphasis added]”
More specifically, with respect to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council,
“The Governor of a State submitting a list of names of individuals for appointment...shall include at least 1 nominee each from the commercial, recreational and charter fishing sectors… [emphasis added]”
Thus, the easy answer to Mr. Angers’ question is “Because the law not only allows, but requires that people engaged in commercial and for-hire fishing sit on the various regional fishery management councils.”
But that answer, while true, doesn’t really do justice to the question.
To give the question the sort of attention it truly deserves, one must ask a question in return.
That question would be, “Who would sit on the management councils, and make the decisions, if those “who profit from the harvest and sale of…marine resources” were not allowed to do so.
For lo and behold, if the commercial and for-hire sectors couldn’t sit on such councils, the only folks left, outside of the state fisheries directors, would be the very same people represented by Mr. Angers’ organization.
Now, isn’t that something to keep in mind when reading the op-ed in Sport Fishing?
There’s no question that conflict of interests is a real problem on the fishery management councils.
When a person is seated on a regional fishery management council, he or she is required to take an oath in which that person swears
“to conserve and manage the living marine resources of the United States of America…for the greatest overall benefit of the Nation…being careful to balance competing private or regional interests, and always aware and protective of the public interest in such resources...”
Magnuson-Stevens also requires Council members to disclose
“any financial interest held by that individual, the spouse, minor child, or partner of that individual, and any organization (other than the Council) in which that individual is serving as an officer, director trustee, partner, or employee; in any harvesting, processing, lobbying, advocacy, or marketing activity that is being, or will be, undertaken in any fishery over which the Council concerned has jurisdiction, or with respect to an individual or organization with a financial interest in such activity.”
However, once a council member makes such disclosure, nothing prevents such member from fully taking part in all council votes and deliberations. There are times when the law does require a council member to recuse him- or herself from a vote, but the circumstances under which that must occur are very rare. Recusal is only required when
“a Council decision..would have a significant and predictable effect on such [Council member’s] financial interest. A Council decision shall be considered to have a significant and predictable effect on a financial interest if there is a close causal link between the Council decision and an expected and substantially disproportionate benefit to the financial interest of the affected individual relative to the financial interests of other participants in the same gear type or sector of the fishery.”
Taken together, the oath and the disclosure requirements help to assure that members of the council actually work together to find a solution that benefits everyone, and don’t merely try to advance their own interests at the expense of the fish, other sectors and the nation as a whole.
Of course, as Mr. Angers’ op-ed inadvertently points out, things often don’t work out that way.
For Mr. Angers reserves his wrath for council members who are commercial fishermen or operators of for-hire vessels.
He complains that
“someone who owns red snapper shares can sit on the Gulf Council and vote on every aspect of that fishery,”
“on the Gulf Council, people who own charter businesses and stand to directly benefit from the [catch share] program are never required to recuse themselves from votes on that program.”
But there are plenty of other interests out there.
While some are indirect, and don't involve profit from the harvest of fish, they are nonetheless very real.
For example, the Coastal Conservation Association, an “anglers’ rights” group that was one of the Center’s founders and remains one of its most important constituent organizations, has criticized the current allocation of Gulf of Mexico red snapper between recreational and commercial fishermen.
In a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Regional Office, CCA complained, after the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council increased the recreational share of such allocation from 49% to 51.5% of all landings, that such change
“is not a reallocation…It is not a change that addresses the vastly higher value found in the recreational sector for harvesting a red snapper…
“It should be clearly understood that the allocation of Gulf red snapper has been static for more than two decades in the face of vast economic and demographic changes, and it remains static today regardless of the outcome of this amendment…
“CCA strongly supports the shift of 2.5 percent of the quota to the recreational sector. However, there should be no illusion that the process that produced the shift is a true reallocation process or that this flawed result is evidence that an allocation process is working. On the contrary, this experience demonstrates that the allocation process could not be more flawed. [It] devolved into a purely political exercise and the results represent an injustice to all participants in the fishery, as well as the coastal economies of the Gulf Coast states.”
That statement is interesting, given that at least two members of the Coastal Conservation Association, and by extension, at least two representatives of a Center for Sportfishing Policy constituent organization, currently sit on the Gulf Council, and will be eligible to vote on any allocation matters that come before that body.
Although such CCA members/Center representatives don’t directly profit from the harvest of red snapper, they and the organizations that they represent certainly do have a very real interest in shifting more red snapper to the recreational sector, and in preventing the charter fishing sector from being allocated fish that might otherwise have been caught by private-boat anglers.
In fact, when the Gulf Council voted to set aside a portion of the recreational allocation for the federally-permitted for-hire fleet, the CCA members on the Council, who had vehemently opposed the action, issued aminority report urging NMFS to reject the Council’s actions, because
“private anglers will be extremely disappointed next year when they begin planning their trips. If current projections remain true, they may be faced with a one day fishing season for red snapper in federal waters…
“Amendment 40 [which created the set-aside for the for-hire fleet] disproportionately harms private anglers. While their 2015 season may shrink to just one day, the for-hire charter boat season will grow by up to 266.7%. Private recreational anglers who fish from their own vessels will be extremely limited in their fishing opportunities. As a result, they will be forced to pay for charter services, which will have more than 30 days in fishing from federal waters… [emphasis added]”
In drafting their report, the CCA members and their fellow dissenters conveniently ignored the fact that while private boat anglers could enjoy long state-waters seasons—seasons that could run for as long as 365 days each year, when private boat anglers land a large proportion of the total red snapper catch, and so force managers to shorten the season in federal waters—federally-permitted charter and party boats were not allowed to fish in state waters when the federal season was closed.
The minority report never acknowledged that, when both the state and federal seasons were taken into account, for-hire vessels had far fewer days to fish than did private boats, even with the for-hire set aside.
Just as Mr. Angers, in his op-ed, is eager to chastise NMFS for allowing commercial and for-hire operators to vote on issues that impact their businesses, yet fails to point out that, by concentrating on the wants of the private recreational sector while never acknowledging the needs of the for-hire operators, the CCA members on the Gulf Council violated their oath to be “careful to balance competing private…interests.”
The regional fishery management councils are intended to be peopled by stakeholders, who all have some sort of interest in the fisheries that they help to manage. The plain language of Magnuson-Stevens makes that abundantly clear.
And it is true that far too many council members, on every coast, ignore the words of their oath to manage “for the greatest overall benefit to the Nation,” and instead vote to support themselves and their sector, at the expense of everyone else.
That is unfortunate, but it is impossible to deny that there is conflict of interests on the councils.
However, it is the purest hypocrisy to point out the failings of other sectors’ representatives, while ignoring the failings of the folks whom you favor. Such is Mr. Angers’ mistake.
“Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother , let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Luke 6:42)
That pretty much says it all…