After spending over 50 years on and around the water, I have realized that without strong fisheries laws and effective conservation measures, the future of salt water fishing, and America's living marine resources, is dim. Yet conservation is given short shrift by national angling organizations and the angling press. I hope that this blog will incite, inform and inspire salt water fishermen to reclaim their traditional role as the leading advocates for the conservation of America's fisheries.
The effort is rooted in their
assertion that Magnuson-Stevens, with its prohibitions on overfishing, its
annual catch limits and its mandate that overfished stocks be promptly rebuilt,
isn’t good for recreational anglers, although it’s fine for managing commercial
fishermen. A generally unspoken assumption, underlying such claim, is that
anglers, as a group, catch fewer fish than commercial fishermen do.
That was hinted at in comments made by Dr. Larry McKinney, who believes that
Magnuson-Stevens “was developed for larger commercial fisheries
based on biomass extraction and not for access—what
recreational fisheries need. [emphasis added]” (Dr. McKinney is the Executive
Director of the Harte Research Institute (HRI) at Texas A&M University; HRI
is home to the Center for Sportfish Science
and Conservation, which has received at least $500,000 in support
from the Coastal Conservation Association, one of the organizations leading the
effort to weaken Magnuson-Stevens).
However, the ultimate effort
to convince policymakers that anglers don’t catch many fish was made by Mike
Nussman, the president of the American Sportfishing Association.
According to the blog of the
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Nussman gave a speech
impugning Magnuson-Stevens. As he spoke, “In one hand, he held a glass pitcher
filled with gumballs, which represented the total amount of saltwater fish
caught by commercial fishermen. In the other hand, he held a pitcher with two
gumballs. That represented the total number of saltwater fish caught by
Was Nussman right? Do
commercial fishermen really account for such a large proportion of all fish
The answer is clearly yes
and, just as clearly, no.
It all depends on what
species of fish are considered.
Much of the commercial
harvest is made up of only a few species, such as walleye pollock (3.26 billion
pounds), menhaden (1.63 billion pounds) and Pacific cod (699 million pounds),
which are not generally pursued by anglers (in 2015, recreational fishermen
landed about 1.2 million pounds of menhaden, which was probably all used as
bait; there are no recorded recreational landings of either Pacific cod or
walleye pollock, although a handful of cod were undoubtedly caught).
So yes, commercial fishermen
catch a lot of fish, but most are fish that anglers don’t care about very much.
If Nussman had only considered species pursued by anglers when he put on his
show, he would have had far, far more gumballs in the recreational jar.
Commercial fishermen still
harvest most of the groundfish up in New England, accounting for at least 90%
of all Atlantic cod, pollock and haddock landings. In the Mid-Atlantic, they
caught 79% of the scup and 69% of the summer flounder (although the commercial
percentage probably dropped below 60% in 2016); in the South Atlantic, they
landed about 78% of the Spanish mackerel, and roughly 59% of the kings.
On the other hand,
recreational fishermen dominate their share of fisheries, too.
When only federally-managed
fisheries are considered, Atlantic-coast anglers landed 95% of the wahoo, 94%
of the cobia and 90% of the dolphin. In the South Atlantic, recreational
fishermen accounted for 89% of the mutton snapper harvest and 86% of the
yellowtail, along with 64% of the greater amberjack, 60% of the red grouper and
52% of the black grouper. In the Mid-Atlantic, anglers landed 74% of both the
black sea bass and the bluefish.
State-managed fisheries on
the Atlantic coast show a similar pattern. Recreational fishermen were
responsible for 95% of the red drum landings, 89% of the tautog (blackfish),
84% of the black drum, 83% of the spotted seatrout, 81% of the sheepshead, 77%
of the striped bass and 60% of the pompano. Commercial fishermen harvest 54% of
It’s more difficult to come up with comparable numbers for the
Gulf of Mexico, as not all Gulf states cooperate with the National Marine
Fisheries Service’s Marine Recreational Information Program. However, in 2016,
the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council published a blog post titled “2016’s Most Wanted Fish,” which
included pie charts depicting recreational/commercial allocations.
It turns out that in the Gulf, anglers are given about 80% of
the gray triggerfish 75% of the greater amberjack, 65% of the king mackerel,
60% of the gag grouper and 55% of the Spanish mackerel. Commercial fishermen
get about 75% of the red grouper and a bare majority, 51%, of the red snapper.
However, the recreational sector
overfishes red snapper with such regularity that it has
actually been responsible for most of the red snapper landings over the past
Despite the incomplete Gulf data, it’s clear that anglers on the
Atlantic and Gulf coasts not only kill a lot of fish in absolute terms, but
also are responsible for most of the landings of many popular species. That
being the case, it is also clear that the proposed Modernizing Recreational
Fishery Management Act of 2017, which would allow anglers to avoid
the discipline imposed by annual catch limits and the accountability measures
that apply when such annual catch limits are exceeded, could easily jeopardize
many important fish stocks.
Commercial fishermen do land
the lion’s share of many fish stocks, but there is no credible effort to
abolish the annual catch limits that affect them, or to relieve them of
accountability if they overfish a particular stock of fish in any given year.
Looking at the matter
objectively, it is difficult to justify treating recreational fishermen any
differently. When anglers are responsible for landing 70%, 80% and sometimes
more than 90% of many fish stocks, they are clearly capable of doing
substantial harm to such stocks should they overfish. Thus, it is only prudent
to constrain their landings with annual catch limits, and hold them accountable
to the public should they exceed such limits.
That makes a lot of sense.
Both the recreational and the commercial sector have the capability to overfish
many fish stocks, and both have a responsibility to limit its landings to
sustainable levels. Both recreational and commercial fishermen should be held
accountable if they engage in overfishing.
For a dead fish is a dead
fish, and it has the same impact on the stock, whether it is killed by a
recreational or a commercial fisherman. If the recreational sector kills the
greater percentage of any fish stock, the greater responsibility for the health
of that stock should be placed on its shoulders as well. ----- This essay first appeared in "From the Waterfront," the blog of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, which can be found at http://conservefish.org/blog/
Over the past few years, we’ve heard a number of
organizations such as the Center for Sportfishing Policy and the Coastal
Conservation Association argue that states manage fishery resources better than
do federal fishery managers.
“supports driving management of marine resources to the
lowest level of government possible.
That position is staked in the belief that the states simply have a
better grasp of how to manage these resources in ways that assure their health
and stability. At the same time, state
agencies have proven their expertise in providing the greatest access to those
resources and maximizing the benefits of those resources for their citizens.”
“Recreational fishing and boating are two of America’s oldest
and most beloved pastimes. They are
family-friendly activities that connect people to nature and help them develop
an abiding respect for our natural resources,”
you’ll find a much uglier reality that reveals another of
America’s oldest pastimes—pure power politics—and is anything but natural
Americans recently got a look at that ugly reality when, in
response to a lawsuit brought by two conservation groups challenging the
reopening of the private boat recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of
Commerce Department released a number of documents that clearly show how
the recreational fishing and boatbuilding industry influenced the decision, and
that the Secretary of Commerce was fully aware that the extension was contrary
“Speciale’s first request was about more red snapper for Gulf
of Mexico anglers.
“’…we must return to a recreational red snapper season of no
less [than] the 60 days for the 2017 and 2018 seasons,’ he wrote.
“’I understand that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management
Council and the regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in the southeast
region will present obstacles to this initiative, but they must be overcome so
that we may restore a sense of fairness for recreational anglers.’
“Speciale continued: ‘Excessive
precaution and fear of frivolous litigation from the environmental industry has
created a massive bureaucrat [sic]
roadblock that has been unfair to anglers and stifled our industry.’
“’We ask that you overcome these obstacles at the regional
fishery management councils and Regional Administrators’ offices.”
“An action to extend the summer season to 46 days (3 days a
week through June, July and August with 4th of July and Labor Day
included) would be very well received and would reset the relationship with the
States. It would result in overfishing
the stock by six million pounds (40%), which will draw criticism from
environmental groups and commercial fishermen.
However, NMFS agrees that the stock could handle this level on a
“Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act a court can’t issue a
temporary restraining order, so your action would remain in effect for at least
45 days before a court could act…”
In other words, “sure, extending the season isn’t legal, but
because of a loophole in the law, we can get away with it anyway, at least for
“will result in the overall catch limit for this year being
exceeded by 30% and 50% [depending on how many additional fishing days were
provided]. NMFS has assessed the impact
of such an overage and agrees it does not threaten the health of the
stock. It may slow rebuilding of the
stock, but so far the stock is ahead of schedule. Either option would mean that, absent
Congressional action to modify the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements for the
Gulf, the recreational season next year would be significantly reduced. All the state fishery managers know this, but
agree that coordinated action has the greater long term benefit.
either option will be opposed by the commercial fishermen and the charter
operators, even though neither of their seasons will be affected this
year. Their concerns will be that
overfishing by the recreational sector will result in an overall reduction in
the catch limit for next year, and hence a reduction in commercial and charter
catch limits next year…
“Either option will almost
certainly draw a lawsuit, either by the commercial sector or the
environmental community, or both. As
discussed, they cannot get a temporary restraining order (TRO) because the
Magnuson-Stevens Act prohibits them…”
Federal officials are supposed to try to obey federal law,
not try to find ways to frustrate clear directions from Congress, but that’s
not the way things seem to be working on the fisheries front these days.
“The Center for Sportfishing Policy’s role is to affect
public policy related to the conservation of marine resources with broad
abilities to pursue political solutions.
The organization is non-partisan and focuses on having an impact in the
national political arena, principally Congress and federal regulatory agencies.
“The Center is organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal
Revenue Code; accordingly, donations are not tax deductible. Additionally, the Center has established the
Center for Sportfishing Policy Political Action Committee (Center PAC), so that
its members can fully participate in elective politics…”
“Fully participate in elective politics,” of course, means
spready as much money as reasonably possible around to the folks on Capitol
Such “full participation” is hardly unusual, or even
As I’ve mentioned in this blog from time to time, I was
inside the fishery management process for quite a while, as a director of one
of the big angling advocacy groups. Some
time ago, maybe it was in the late 1990s, or if not, in the very early 2000s,
all of us attending a national meeting were handed what almost seemed like a
shopping list; in one column was a list of federal legislators, in another a
suggested dollar amount—which ranged into the thousands for important folks,
like subcommittee chairmen, but was as little as $500 for freshman legislators—that
we were asked to have our state members donate, in their own names, to the appropriate parties.
It was made very clear that there was to be no quid pro quo of any sort—the donations
were just a way to gain easier “access” to the legislators in question. Still, just as “access” stands as a euphemism
for “more dead fish” in today’s recreational fisheries management debate, it’s
not unlikely that “access” in the case of those donations also implied the hope
of receiving some sort of benefit benefit at some point down the road.
However, even with such “access,” and despite some of the angling
and boatbuilding industries’ recent successes, affecting federal fishery
management policy can be a very difficult thing to do. That’s particularly true at the agency level,
where a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act helps to keep the bureaucrats in line, and
offers public advocates, in and outside of government, the chance to bring
litigation when the law is violated (which, of course, is why groups such as
the Center, CCA and ASA are trying to weaken Magnuson-Stevens).
Thus, we see the effort to move fishery management to the
state level, to “the lowest level of government,” as CCA puts it, where both
bureaucrats and legislators are easier to influence.
At the state level, where Magnuson-Stevens doesn’t apply,
there is normally no overriding law to respect; there are few if any legal
obstacles to prevent state fishery managers, and state legislators, from making
politically expedient decisions. It is a
situation that relatively small blocs of people can manipulate relatively
If you want to convince an agency to issue a regulation that
you favor, and your own efforts aren’t bearing fruit, your next step is to find
someone within your groups who went to college with the relevant bureaucrat, or
belongs to the same golf club, or maybe married his or her sister-in-law, and can arrange an introduction. That gives you access to the decisionmaker.
Or maybe you know the governor’s favorite fishing guide, and
use that contact to get your argument heard in the Executive Mansion.
Political contributions remain an important tool. While many advocacy groups (unlike the Center,
but like some of its member organizations) are “501(c)(3)” organizations, which
could easily lose their tax exemption if they donated to a political campaign, nothing prevents one of their members from holding a
fundraiser at their home, at the member’s expense, where a bunch of big
donors show up wearing the advocacy group’s hats or jackets and making it clear
that while the donations come from their individual accounts, they all belong
to and support the goals of that particular organization.
You can imagine how, if the folks holding such event were big players in the Gulf oil industry or maybe major-league real estate
developers down in Florida, their donations might impact state policy with respect to, say, recreational red snapper management…
And that helps you to see why such folks might prefer to
have states, rather than NMFS, manage their fisheries.
Which is why the current fight over the future of
Magnuson-Stevens is so important.
Right now, we have a choice.
Do we want to have our fisheries managed by professional
fisheries managers, in accord with good science and standards established by
Or do we want them managed at the whim of political donors,
who are likely to show the same respect for our living marine resources that
other donors have shown for our public lands, once-clean waters and air?
I came back from a trip out of town a few days ago, to find
the November/December issue of Sport Fishing magazine waiting on
the kitchen counter.
I picked it up and turned to the Editorial page, as I
usually do. It’s always worth
reading. Doug Olander, Sport Fishing’s editor, is a thoughtful,
reasonable sort of writer, who is willing to look well beneath the surface of
the issues that impact salt water fishermen and the stocks that they
pursue. Sometimes I agree with him,
sometimes I don’t, but his thoughts are always well-presented and worth real
The editorial in the November/December issue was no
exception to that rule.
The topic was the current, fraught relationship between many
salt water anglers and the conservation community.
Olander noted three recent alleged “wins” for the
recreational fishing community—the Commerce Department’s decision to extend the
private-boat recreational season for Gulf of Mexico red snapper, its decision
not to enforce the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s determination
that New Jersey was out of compliance with ASMFC’s summer flounder management
plan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision not to
list Pacific bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act and observed that
sportfishing suddenly seems to matter in decisionmakers’ eyes.
He also noted that the conservation community has recently
been very visible opposing legislation supported by elements of the
recreational fishing community, which would amend the conservation and stock
rebuilding provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs fishing in federal
At that point, Olander could have entered into the kind of
rant that has become all too typical in the angling press, condemning the
conservation community and accusing them of trying to push anglers off the
water and forcing them to stop fishing.
But that’s not how he operates. Instead,
once again, we got something thoughtful.
“I realize that many of my fellow fishermen consider such
groups as an evil-incarnate enemy.
Vilification and hating are the easy responses. But more reasoned voices realize that, at the
least, the end goal of these environmental groups is one that everyone
supports: safeguarding our marine-fish
“The issue, of course, and where the disagreement comes in,
is how best to do that…
“I recall, back in the 1990s, when some large environmental
groups really did reach out, trying to find common ground. But in the past 15 or so years, mistrust and
outright hostility have increased to toxic levels…
“Tearing down the walls to find common ground for cooperation
represents an extraordinary challenge, but stranger things have happened.”
For while there were other parts of the editorial where
Olander made it clear that he wasn't necessarily a fan of the various
conservation groups, he had the integrity to admit that at least their end goal
was the right one—healthy fish populations.
That admission alone could cause some of the more militant anglers’
rights advocates to make him a target of their typically vitriolic attacks.
I have a lot of sympathy for what Olander said, because I
have long had a foot in both worlds. I
caught my first fish when I was barely able to walk, and have been an angler
ever since. And I fished through the striped
bass collapse of the 1970s and ‘80s, when I watched fisheries managers dither instead of trying to stem the decline. I have been an advocate
for strong and effective conservation measures ever since.
Over that time, I’ve also seen both conservation groups and
anglers do stupid things.
While it’s true that some environmental groups reached out to
anglers during that time—Doug Olander and I both attended a meeting with
various such organizations, hosted in New York City by the Norcross Wildlife Foundation—there
wasn’t much meeting of the minds going on.
It was more the environmental folks telling anglers what they
were planning to do, and why, and anglers pushing back.
“…If the enviros had bothered to communicate with sportsmen,
they could have avoided a war, gained allies, and learned what kind of [marine
protected areas] are genuinely beneficial to fish.”
Instead, Williams relates, the then-responsible American
Sportfishing Association, which represents the fishing tackle industry,
responded to the conservation groups’ heavy-handed tactics with a press release
“Extreme Environmentalists Offer Misleading Statements on
[Marine Protected Areas},”
“Mostly, though, the ASA has maintained its cool. Not so the otherwise savvy, effective CCA
(Coastal Conservation Association). For
example, I and my fellow members received the following communication from
President David Cummins. ‘Recreational
fishing is under attack as never before…attack by the feds and the radical environmentalists…Environmental
extremists are conspiring with federal bureaucrats to take away our freedom to
fish…These No Fishing Zones are a power grab; they’re all about control of the
citizens, not protection of anything…Now picture this: the fish-no-more map proposed by these
well-funded environmentalists. I’ve seen
it, and I can tell you what it looks like.
You’ll be stunned. All along the
Atlantic, from Maine on south, wherever there are aggregations of fish, they’re
proposing to ban fishing…’”
Cummins’ letter, which was intended to drum up donations for
CCA’s Legal Defense Fund, contained far too much hyperbole. However, I sat on CCA’s National Executive
Board at the time, and I was a Vice-Chair of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee, so I know that the fear of no-take marine reserves expressed in that
letter wasn’t feigned. Everyone was
afraid that we anglers were going to be permanently forced off the water.
The wound that wedge created continued to fester. In 1996, angling and conservation
organizations worked together, successfully urging Congress to pass the
Sustainable Fisheries Act, which finally added enforceable conservation and
stock rebuilding provisions to Magnuson-Stevens. They worked together again when
Magnuson-Stevens was being reauthorized in 2006, to keep those provisions
strong, but the relationship was strained, with the angling groups not really
trusting the environmental folks.
Today, the wound opened back in 2000 has done more than festered; gangrene has set in. While the
conservation groups have learned a good lesson from their earlier error, and
are trying to reach out to anglers, groups such as ASA and CCA have completely
changed course, and have adopted policies that are completely opposite the
positions that they took a decade ago.
In Something’s Fishy,
Ted Williams observed that in 2000,
“[Michael] Nussman [president of ASA] and his predecessor,
Mike Hayden, have managed to convince the tackle industry that the best way to
improve sales is to preserve and restore fish stocks; it was an idea that hadn’t
previously occurred to it…”
Since then, such organizations have taken far less enlightened positions.
In June 2015, both
ASA and CCA praised the House of Representatives passing H.R. 1335, the
so-called Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in
Fisheries Management Act, a bill that would undo much of the good work that
such organizations did in 1996 and 2007, and add the sort of “flexibility” to
Magnuson-Stevens that CCA opposed in 2010.
“A letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from Ben
Speciale, president of Yamaha Marine Group, was sent on April 3, less than a
week after Ross met with Speciale, Mike Nussman, Scott Deal and Pat Murray to
discuss the need for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
fisheries administrator who had experience with the recreational sector…
“Nussman is president of the American Sportfishing
Association, Deal is from Maverick Boats and Murray is from the Coastal
“Speciale’s first request was about more red snapper for Gulf
of Mexico anglers…”
“It’s no surprise. We
figured they would sue when this first happened because it’s what they do. Basically, anytime that there’s something
positive for anglers, anti-angler groups like these step up and file lawsuits.”
The CCA representative who made that comment, David Cresson,
identified as “CEO” of CCA’s Louisiana chapter, failed to explain how
substantial overfishing and delayed stock rebuilding was “positive for anglers,”
possibly because no one asked, and possibly because there is no good answer to
such a question.
So yes, in the end I agree with Doug Olander, that it’s in
everyone’s best interests for angling organizations and the various
conservation groups to come together to protect the health of marine fish
Certainly, most anglers want and benefit from healthy and
abundant fish populations when out on the water; fishing on a mostly empty
ocean quickly loses its appeal.
But before those groups can reunite, organizations like CCA and the Recreational Fishing Alliance have to finally
realize that having healthy fish stocks for the foreseeable future, and not
more dead fish on the dock for a couple of years, is really in the best
interests of their members.
And industry groups such as ASA need to remember what they
once knew: that the best way to sell
more fishing stuff is to have more fish in the water for anglers to catch,
because without those fish, there’s little need for an angling industry.
It’s probably up to the anglers themselves to bring that
awareness about, by making it clear that they don’t want to fish on meager, half-depleted stocks when much greater
abundance stands within their reach.
And if the angling groups don’t listen, then it’s time for
the anglers themselves to work with the conservation community, bring the needed
cooperation to life, and leave the organizations that no longer represent their best interests behind.
“The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports
that largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world…
“The Bristol Bay watershed provides habitat for numerous animal
species, including 29 fishes, more than 190 birds, and more than 40 terrestrial
mammals. Chief among these resources is
a world-class commercial and sport fishery for Pacific salmon and other
important resident fishes. The watershed
supports production of all five species of Pacific salmon found in North
America: sockeye, coho, Chinook, chum, and
“Because no hatchery fish are raised or released in the
watershed, Bristol Bay’s salmon populations are entirely wild. These fish are anadromous—hatching and
rearing in freshwater systems, migrating to the sea to grow to adult size, and
returning to freshwater systems to spawn and die.
“…The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye
salmon fishery in the world, with approximately 46% of the average global
abundance of wild sockeye salmon…
“The Alaska Native cultures present in the Nushagak River and
Kvichak River watersheds—the Yup’ik and Dena’ina—are two of the last intact,
sustainable salmon-based cultures in the world.
Salmon are integral to the entire way of life in these cultures as
subsistence food and as the foundation of their language, spirituality, and
“In the Bristol Bay region, salmon constitute approximately
52% of the subsistence harvest…
“These cultures have a strong relationship to the landscape
and its resources. In the Bristol Bay watershed,
this connection has been maintained for at least the past 4,000 years and is in
part due to and responsible for the pristine condition of the region’s
landscape and the biological resources…
“The Bristol Bay watershed supports several economic sectors
that are wilderness-compatible and sustainable:
·commercial, sport and subsistence fishing
·sport and subsistence hunting
·non-consumptive recreation (e.g. wildlife
viewing and tourism)
Considering all these sectors, the ecological resources of
the Bristol Bay watershed generated nearly $480 million in direct economic
expenditures and sales in 2009, and provided employment for over 14,000 full-
and part-time workers.
“The Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery generates the
largest component of economic activity and was valued at approximately $300
million in 2009 (first wholesale value) and provided employment for over 11,500
full- and part-time workers at the peak of the season.”
Intact natural salmon runs.
Sustainable industries that can continue in perpetuity, in harmony with
the wild nature of the land, that bring in a half-billion (more
recent estimates run as high as 1.5 billion) dollars in direct expenditures
and provide more than 14,000 jobs in a place where jobs can be hard to
find. Ancient cultures that can still
live off the land. Bristol Bay seems to
have it all.
“The potential for large-scale mining development within the
region is greatest for copper deposits and, to a lesser extent, for
intrusion-related gold deposits. Because
these deposits are low-grade—meaning that they contain relatively small amounts
of metals relative to the amount of ore—mining will be economic only if
conducted over a large area, and a large amount of waste material will be
produced as a result of mining and processing.
“The largest known deposit and the deposit most explored to
assess future mining potential is the Pebble deposit. If fully mined, the Pebble deposit could
produce more than 11 billion metric tons (1 metric ton = 1,000 kg,
approximately 2,200 pounds) of ore, which would make it the largest mine of its
type in North America.”
Such a huge mine would clearly not be “wilderness-compatible,”
and mining by its very nature is not a sustainable activity—mining companies merely
rip the ore from the earth and move on, leaving “a large amount of waste
material” behind. Should the Pebble
deposit be mined, the scars, abandoned structures and discarded equipment that remain
on the site would permanently degrade the countryside, and make it less appealing for those interested
in wildlife watching and other ecotourism uses.
Yet that would be the least of the problems that such a mine
“Quinn’s concerns are based on his years researching the bay,
which were incorporated into a 2014 EPA report on Bristol Bay under the Obama
administration. The report, which was
also based on Pebble’s filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission,
estimated the total mine size could be larger than Manhattan and nearly as deep
as the Grand Canyon.
“Such a mine ‘would result in complete loss of fish habitat
due to elimination, dewatering, and fragmentation of streams, wetlands, and
other aquatic resources’ in some areas of the bay watershed, the EPA found
after three years of peer-reviewed research.
In particular, the EPA estimated that 22 miles of streams and more than 6
square miles of wetlands and other habitats that are important to salmon and
other fish would be lost to a large-scale mine.
“’All of these losses would be irreversible,’ the agency
Thus, the Environmental Protection Agency knows that Bristol
Bay is a very special place, which hosts a spectacular run of sockeye salmon
that has sustained native peoples for at least four millennia, and continues to
provide sustenance, jobs and economic benefits today. It knows that development of a mine on the
Pebble deposit would cause irreparable harm to both the nature of the region
and to its irreplaceable salmon runs.
Even so, CNN reports,
“Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt met on May
1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership [which wants to mine the
Pebble deposit]…Little more than an hour later, according to internal e-mails,
the administrator directed his staff to remove Obama-era protections for
Apparently, Pruitt had met with his corporate masters,
gotten his marching orders, and proceeded to put one of the most unique natural
treasures of this nation on the auction block, to be mined by a Canadian
company which, when it is done, will almost certainly have destroyed most of the salmon as well as the 14,000 American
jobs that they support, salmon and jobs that otherwise could have survived throughout the foreseeable future.
While the final decision has not yet been made on the Pebble
mine—the permitting process must still be completed—the fish, the people and
the very character of the Bristol Bay watershed have never been more directly
The EPA is no longer accepting public comment on its
decision to roll back protections for Bristol Bay; the window for that closed
yesterday. But there should be
additional opportunities to comment during the permitting process itself, and
even if the EPA grants the permits needed to mine—as Pruitt’s EPA almost
certainly will—it’s a near-certainty that people who care about Bristol Bay and
value its wild abundance will bring suit to challenge any such decision.
It’s important that all of us take whatever opportunity is
offered to protect a national treasure, and to support the folks fighting for
I grew up in the
southwest corner of New England’s coast, where fog was hardly unknown. I
learned how to operate a boat in pea soup conditions when I was still a boy.
Running a boat in the
fog can be an eerie, disorienting experience. You are surrounded by soggy gray
walls that display a constantly shifting pattern of light and dark patches.
Your eyes keep trying to make sense of it all, trying to convince you that every
shadow is an island, a bridge or another vessel looming out of the murk. With
visibility reduced to a few dozen yards, sometimes to a few dozen feet, all
perspective is lost; a floating beer can might be mistaken for a buoy, and a
barely-submerged reef may remain undetected until it’s too close to avoid.
One of the first
things that I learned was that, under such conditions, you have to go slowly,
to give yourself enough time to spot any hazards and, if other boats are
nearby, to give them time to spot and avoid you.
carefully, when you’re not sure what’s ahead, might not get you to your
destination as quickly as you would like, but it gets you there far more
quickly—and more surely—than a reckless speed that results in collision, or
that causes you to run hard upon a hidden shoal.
Slowing down and
making sure that you know just where you are and where you are going is a
hallmark of prudent navigation when the way ahead is obscured.
fisheries can also be disorienting. Signals are mixed. Fishermen might be
finding a lot more fish than the biologists’ surveys are. Spawning stock
biomass might seem fairly high, while young-of-the-year fish counts stay low.
Unusual environmental conditions might lead to below-average spawning success,
or cause a stock to produce an unusually high year class. Without reliable data
relating to a species’ life history, its reproduction and historic abundance,
biologists lack the perspective to evaluate the current health of the stock.
Fishermen will tell
them that “there are plenty of fish out there, you just have to know where to
look,” and there is a natural desire to believe them. At the same time, their
own sampling is telling them that abundance is headed downhill.
In such situations,
where the data is ambiguous and the path ahead not completely clear, biologists
are as unsure of their position as any navigator locked in a fog bank. And they
ultimately have the same choice—move slowly and deliberately, and give
themselves enough time and space to get out of trouble should something go
wrong, or race ahead, increase harvest, and risk wrecking the stock due to some
His language suggests
that fishery managers should use best-case assumptions when data is weak,
setting catch limits high regardless of any uncertainties that might exist;
it’s the biological equivalent of running full-speed into a fog bank, trusting
that all will be well.
There’s not a better
way to crash and sink a boat—or a fish population.
Black sea bass in the
Mid-Atlantic region provide a good example of how the National Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS), acting pursuant to Magnuson-Stevens, can prudently manage a
fishery and maximize angling opportunity when the available data is poor.
with such uncertainty, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
(MAFMC) opted to make no changes to the annual catch
limits for 2014.
who were seeing more black sea bass, were extremely critical of the decision
not to increase the annual catch limits.The Jersey Coast Anglers’ Association complained that
managers were unnecessarily restricting harvest on a species so abundant that
it was “now considered by many to be the new nuisance fish.”