Thursday, September 24, 2015


For the past couple of years, we’ve been hearing angling industry interests down in the Gulf of Mexico crying out, calling for the federal government to cede its authority to manage red snapper and hand such responsibility over to the states.

A joint industry letter written to key United States senators early this year stated that

“We support Senator David Vitter’s Red Snapper Management Improvement Act, S. 105.  Last Congress, we supported several other bills fixing red snapper for Americans, including Congressman Jeff Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act, H.R. 3099.  These bills give the states the responsibility to manage this fishery in a manner that ensures not only a robust, healthy resource, but one that is not systematically put out of the reach of ordinary citizens.  With their proven track record managing fisheries 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…”
While the assertions made in that letter are open to question, that’s not the point.

What is really interesting is how the rhetoric surrounding the issue, particularly the attacks leveled against federal fisheries managers and the claims that the states could manage fish better, parallel attacks that have long been leveled against federal land and resource managers in many western states.

Out West, the attack on federal stewardship have been led by the mining, energy, timber and ranching industries, along with the host of politicians that are well-supported by such folks’ campaign contributions.

In the Gulf, the attack comes from the recreational fishing and boatbuilding industries and the politicians…  Well, let’s just say that the Gulf industry groups have come together under an umbrella known as the Center for Coastal Conservation, which says of itself

“The Center for Coastal Conservation’s role is to affect public policy…with broad abilities to pursue political solutions.   The organization…focuses on having an impact in the national political arena, particularly Congress and national regulatory agencies.
“…the Center has established the Center for Coastal Conservation Political Action Committee (Center PAC), so that its members can fully participate in elective politics…”
“Fully participate,” of course, means “make campaign contributions”…

So what we ultimately end up with is a recreational fishing and boating industry that seems to have a lot in common with the folks seeking to bring more mining, more drilling, more grazing and fewer trees to America’s public lands.

Given that is the case, it might make a lot of sense to take a closer look at what’s going on west of the 100th meridian.

Earlier this year, there was an article in The Salt Lake Tribune, a Utah newspaper, headlined “Bishop, Stewart launch action group for states to take over federal lands.”

The article goes on to explain that

“Two Utah congressman are launching a ‘Federal Lands Action Group’ to identify ways Congress could to push a transfer of lands to state and local governments.
“GOP Reps Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop announced the new working group…and said that it would hold a series of hearings with experts on public lands policy with the end goal of introducing legislation to move the federal units into state and local control.”
And yes, that’s the same Rob Bishop who was one of just three cosponsors of H.R. 1335, the so-called “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” which would seriously weaken the conservation and rebuilding provisions of current federal fisheries law, so there’s more than a casual connection here.

At any rate, the Salt Lake Tribune went on to quote Congressman Stewart as saying

“The federal government has been a lousy landlord for Western states and we simply think that 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’s not very different from a statement made by the Coastal Conservation Association (an “anglers’ rights” group that helped to organize the similarly-named Center for Coastal Conservation and, like the Center and Congressman Bishop, a supporter of H.R. 1335), which argued that

“State-based fishery management has been proven to be far more effective than the federal system and has engineered some of the greatest conservation victories in the country.  Whereas federal management of red snapper has been marked by crisis after crisis, the states have proven far more capable of not only conserving and managing robust fisheries, but also providing greater access to those resources for their citizens.”
When you have different people in different places saying about the same thing about the management of natural resources, it’s not unreasonable to believe that their motivations are about the same, too.

What are those motivations?

“the federal land can be developed for oil shale, logging, raising of cattle and for recreation.”
Thus, it’s not very surprising to see the Coastal Conservation Association argue that the states should take over red snapper management and abolish “overly restrictive” regulations that restrict landings

“and are negatively impacting the thousands of recreational fishing dependent businesses all along the Gulf coast.”
For Congressman Bishop and Senator Hatch are far more interested in the short term profits of energy, logging and ranching businesses than they are in intact ecosystems, clean, flowing waters or the survival of imperiled species such as the sage grouse.  

And the Center for Coastal Conservation is far more concerned with the short term profits of the recreational fishing and boating industries than it is in the long-term health of red snapper.

At first glance, the Western politicians and the Gulf angling industry seem to be dealing with very different issues.  But if you listen closely, you’ll realize that they’re just singing different verses of the same old song.

They all are trying to replace responsible federal stewardship of publicly-owned natural resources with weak, politically-driven state management that will put those resources at risk so that resource-dependent industries can pocket a little more cash.

Yes, it’s the same old song, but these days, it sounds badly off-key, particularly to sportsmen who know that they, like the nation, do not own the fish, the game, the land or the oceans, but merely hold them in trust for not only their children and grandkids, but for the children and grandkids of other sportsmen who are not yet born.

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