Thursday, August 31, 2017
REP. ZELDIN CONTINUES ATTACK ON STRIPED BASS
Rep. Lee Zeldin, who represents New York’s 1st Congressional District—the East End of Long Island—has a poor record when it comes to conservation.
Although he does deserve credit for trying to preserve Plum Island as public land and maintaining interim funding for the National Estuary Program that benefits Long Island Sound, his overall resume is pretty bad.
In 2016, he earned a dismal rating of 8—yes, out of 100—from the League of Conservation Voters; only one New York representative scored lower. He is an enthusiastic supporter of legislation that would weaken critical conservation and stock rebuilding provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
While still a state senator, he spearheaded the effort to repeal New York’s salt water fishing license, and so deprived the state’s marine fisheries managers of critically needed resources.
But Rep. Zeldin has a particularly bad record when it comes to striped bass.
It started in July 2015, when he introduced H.R. 3070, the so-called “EEZ Transit Zone and Clarification and Access Act.” I wrote about H.R. 3070 back in 2015, into too much detail now; it’s enough to say that the bill was intended to allow striped bass fishing in federal waters between the mainland of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island and Block Island.
To do that, the initial version of the bill would have redefined the boundary between state and federal waters, solely for fishery management purposes; unfortunately, the new boundary would have cut across the southeast corner of Block Island, so that surfcasters standing at the edge of the beach would have been illegally fishing for stripers in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone.
A revised draft of the bill eliminated the proposed new boundary, and would merely have allowed striper fishing in the so-called “transit zone,” federal waters between Block Island and the mainland where transiting boats may currently possess, but not fish for, striped bass.
Despite the fact that the bill was widely opposed by striped bass anglers, with support coming largely from the Montauk party and charter boat fleet and some commercial fishermen, it passed the House in June 2016. However, because there was no companion bill in the Senate, it did not become law.
But bad bills are harder to kill than B-movie monsters.
Earlier this year, Rep. Zeldin introduced H.R. 1195, the Local Fishing Access Act, which is effectively H.R. 3070 dressed up in a new set of clothes for a new session of Congress. The reintroduced bill has attracted no cosponsors at all, and is currently languishing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, where it will hopefully meet an unlamented death. If it does, like its predecessor H.R. 3070, somehow make it out of Committee and is passed by the House, passage by the Senate, where no companion bill has been introduced, remains problematic.
With the front door seemingly slammed in his face, Rep. Zeldin is now trying to sneak through the back door, and open the EEZ between Block Island and the mainland not by stand-alone legislation, which receives a full hearing as well as full scrutiny by citizens and the press, but by attaching two stealth amendments to an omnibus spending bill, which the public isn’t likely to notice, and can pass well below the press’ radar.
The first such amendment provides that
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to Enforce Executive Order 13449 or section 697.7(b) of title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, in the Block Island Transit Zone (as that term is defined in section 697.7(b)(3) of such title.”
The second amendment is similar, but substitutes “Coast Guard” for “National Marine Fisheries Service,” and thus prevents the two federal fisheries enforcement agencies from enforcing the rules against striped bass fishing in the EEZ off Block Island.
Passage would be a bad thing.
There is only one reason why the charter and party boat fleet wants to be able to fish in the Transit Zone—because they can catch more and/or larger fish there than they can find in state waters, at least at certain times during the year.
The last thing that the striped bass stock needs right now is a higher harvest.
The Atlantic States Striped Bass Technical Committee released a report last February, which estimated fishing mortality in 2016 as somewhere between 0.190 and 0.194. That’s already above the fishing mortality target of 0.180, and halfway to the fishing mortality threshold of 0.219.
Additional landings could easily raise mortality above the threshold, at which point overfishing will occur.
Add to that the fact that the striped bass stock isn’t all that healthy right now. An update to the stock assessment, released last October, estimates that female spawning stock biomass at 58,853 metric tons, barely 1,000 metric tons above the biomass threshold of 57,626 mt (if female SSB fell below that, the stock would be deemed “overfished”) and more than 13,000 metric tons below the 72,032 mt biomass target that denotes a completely healthy stock.
Any overfishing would likely cause the female spawning stock to decline, and draw even closer to the critical threshold.
And opening the EEZ off Block Island to striped bass fishing may be the least of the threats that Rep. Zeldin’s actions could cause. There have long been anglers in other states, particularly Massachusetts and Virginia, who would like to be able to harvest striped bass in federal waters. Should Rep. Zeldin be successful in opening the Block Island Transit Zone to striped bass fishing, it’s not unlikely that representatives from other states would try to open the EEZ off their shores, as well.
The cumulative increase in landings would certainly cause overfishing to occur.
Thus, both the striped bass and striped bass fishermen would benefit if Rep. Zeldin’s efforts are defeated.
Deliberations on whether to add his amendments to the appropriations bill are expected to begin right after Labor Day. Thus, anglers interested in the health of the striped bass stock need to act quickly.
Contacting Rep. Zeldin’s office is one way to go, and should certainly be done. However, unless a significant number of his constituents and/or campaign contributors make it clear that they are unhappy with his proposed action—enough constituents and contributors to overcome the Montauk for-hire fleet—it is unlikely that he will change course.
Thus, efforts should also be directed toward legislators directly involved in the appropriations process. They include Jose Serrano (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Commerce—Justice—Science Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee.
Just click on the name of the legislators in the previous sentence, and you’ll pull up their contact information.
If you live outside of their districts, they may not respond to your e-mail, but it’s important that they receive it all the same.
Labor Day is almost upon us. If we let Rep. Zeldin sneak his amendments through, we put the striped bass at risk once again.