Sunday, July 29, 2018
Since early in 2017, anglers have been bombarded with propaganda, produced by a very well-funded, very sophisticated public relations campaign, intended to gain their support for legislation that its proponents call the “Modern Fish Act.”
Depending upon just which bit of PR you happen to read, the “Modern Fish Act” rhetoric might be applied to H.R. 2023, S. 1520 (both of which are true “Modern Fish Act” bills, formally titled the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017”), or even H.R. 200, which isn’t really a “Modern Fish Act” bill at all, but a much more comprehensive, and much more dangerous, piece of legislation actually titled the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, that has been bouncing around in, and regularly rejected by, Congress for at least the last five or six years.
Whichever bill is being discussed at the time, the goal of the Modern Fish Act is to increase recreational landings, generally at the expense of the commercial fishing sector and always by weakening the conservation and stock rebuilding provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a bill that has slashed the number of overfished stocks, and the number subject to overfishing, over the past twenty years.
Despite the folks who call such bills “modern,” they represent a step backwards; depending on the particular bill involved, instead of truly modernizing the federal fishery management process, by weakening critical provisions of Magnuson-Stevens, they would actually move the process backwards, to where it was ten or even twenty years ago.
But it’s always easy to complain, or to critique someone else’s efforts. As a conservation-minded angler and writer, I have an obligation to go beyond just knocking the badly flawed bills that are being called the “Modern Fish Act” today.
I need to ask the question, “What if someone actually had the foresight and courage to draft a truly Modern Fish Act, a bill that would make a real effort to address the issues that recreational fishermen, and the fish that they target, will face in the future, rather than a bill just designed to increase today’s kill?”
What would a bill like that look like?
Well, here are some ideas…
The first thing that such a bill would do is assure the health and abundance of fish stocks, because—despite the protestations of the last surviving troglodytes on the coast, who keep focused on recreational kill (but never quite explain how you can kill what’s not there)—even most of the Modern Fish act supporters will admit that a quality angling experience, and the future of our angling-related businesses, depends on the average angler being able to reliably expect to be able to encounter reasonable numbers of fish when they venture out on the water, and be able to find an occasional larger fish, too.
The first step to achieving such abundance is preventing today’s healthy stocks from being overfished. Current law already does that very well.
The next step is to promptly rebuild stocks that remain overfished, as well as those that have not yet been fully rebuilt. Current law requires that to happen, and has a fairly good record of success, but it also has notable failures, such as Atlantic cod and various other New England groundfish stocks. Thus, a real modern amendment to the law would adopt one of the few beneficial previsions in the Senate version of the Modern Fish Act, S. 1520. Such provision requires that
“A [regional fishery management] Council shall not approve a fishery management plan, plan amendment, or proposed regulation…for any fishery that has previously been under such a plan that did not rebuild such fishery to the biomass necessary to achieve maximum sustainable yield as determined by the Council’s scientific and statistical committee unless the new plan, amendment, or proposed regulation has at least a 75 percent chance of rebuilding the fishery within the time proposed by the Council, as calculated by the Council’s scientific and statistical committee…”
Such a requirement would prevent risk-prone regional fishery management councils, such as New England, from adopting the riskiest management measures allowed by law—a mere 50-50 chance of success—time and time again, piling failure upon failure, and instead require more risk-averse measures if the first effort to rebuild a stock doesn’t succeed.
The second provision that would help secure and maintain abundance comes, surprisingly, from H.R. 200, and it would change the definition of “bycatch.”
Magnuson-Stevens’ National Standard Nine mandates that
“Conservation and management measures shall, to the extent practicable, (A) minimize bycatch, and (B) to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch.”
That sounds fine on its face, but things get a little muddled when one reads the definition of “bycatch” and learns that it is
“fish which are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept for personal use, and includes economic discards and regulatory discards. Such term does not include fish released alive under a recreational catch and release fishery management program. [emphasis added]”
That definition leaves fish voluntarily released by anglers in a sort of legal limbo.
They are not “harvested,” but presuming that they are of legal size and that the angler has not yet retained a limit of fish, neither are they “economic discards [or] regulatory discards.”
And “released alive under a recreational fishery catch and release program” has been interpreted to mean fish for which release is part of the formal management plan (i.e., protected species of shark that are caught and tagged by NMFS Cooperative Shark Tagging Program), and not other releases.
In fact, there is no formal concept of “release” in Magnuson-Stevens, which is in turn reflected in the language of fishery management documents such as the pending Bluefish Allocation Amendment to the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan, which refers to the released fish as “discards” and proposes reallocating such “discarded” fish to the commercial sector for harvest, as the recreational sector typically fails to harvest its full quota.
H.R. 200 would strike the words “management program” and thus make it clear that voluntarily released fish were not bycatch, but rather a useful contribution to the success of the fishery management process.
After that, though, neither the two Modern Fish Act bills nor H.R. 200 have much of worth to contribute.
Yet there are still a number of improvements that need to be made to Magnuson-Stevens, if angling is to thrive in the future.
One of those is to recognize that fish have to eat, and that single-species management, which merely addresses the rate of harvest and its impact on biomass, doesn’t directly address that issue.
Magnuson-Stevens must be amended to recognize the special role that forage fish play in the ocean, and that management measures that may be appropriate for larger predator species—setting targets and thresholds for both biomass and fishing mortality, based on the concept of maximum sustainable yield—don’t work so well in the cases of species for which serve their highest and best use as prey.
Instead, it would be preferable to manage such species primarily for their ecosystem value, instead of sweeping tens of thousands of tons of them out of the sea with huge midwater trawls, in high-volume, low-value fisheries that might yield (in the case of Atlantic herring) perhaps 20 cents per pound.
And forage fish aren’t the only ecosystem consideration that needs to be made. A truly modern Magnuson-Stevens Act would aggressively protect essential fish habitat, including important spawning, nursery and feeding areas, and migration routes, wherever they may be located. That would include protecting such areas from the damage done by non-fishery-related activities, such as offshore energy exploration and development, agricultural runoff leading to “dead zones,” and inshore development and other activities that threaten salt marshes, mangrove shorelines, turtle grass flats and other spawning and nursery areas critical to healthy stocks of federally-managed species.
While many of those issues extend well beyond NMFS jurisdiction, a modern Fish Act could very well create a comprehensive National Ocean Policy, similar to the one in effect prior to July 19 of this year, along with an Ocean Policy Board composed of state and federal agency members empowered to cross jurisdictional lines in order to coordinate ocean uses and assure water quality and the health of fish stocks. It would be a worthwhile improvement on the current Administration’s recently announced Ocean Policy, which seems intended to encourage short-term exploitation while risking serious long-term harm to the health of marine ecosystems.
At the same time, a truly “modern” fish act would consolidate management authority by recognizing that the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the United States Constitution more than 200 years ago, and that Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, states that
“The Congress shall have Power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
It would further recognize that such language has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to mean that Congress has the right to regulate commerce
“may be exercised in individual cases without showing any specific effect upon interstate commerce if in the aggregate the economic activity in question would represent a general practice subject to federal control. Only that general practice need bear on interstate commerce in a substantial way. [citations, internal quotation marks deleted]”
Since current supporters of H.R. 200, H.R. 2023 and S. 1520 argue that those bills would benefit companies throughout the country due to their impact on commerce, they would have a hard time arguing that managing fisheries, even in state waters, isn’t something that the federal government has the Constitutional authority to do.
Yet, today, Section 306(a) of Magnuson-Stevens provides that
“Except as provided in subsection (b), nothing in this Act shall be construed as extending or diminishing the jurisdiction or authorities of any State within its boundaries…”
which boundaries include that state’s territorial sea. The exception in the referenced subsection (b) states
“If the Secretary finds…that the fishing in a fishery, which is covered by a fishery management plan implemented under this Act, is engaged in predominantly within the exclusive economic zone and beyond such zone; and any State has taken any action, or omitted to take any action, the results of which would substantially and adversely affect the carrying out of such fishery management plan; the Secretary shall promptly notify such State and appropriate Council of such finding and of such intention to regulate the applicable fishery within the boundaries of such State (other than its internal waters), pursuant to such fishery management plan and the regulations promulgated to implement such plan. [internal numbering deleted]”
That sounds good on paper, but in the real world, such federal preemption is too politically fraught to actually be used.
Even in the case of Gulf of Mexico red snapper, where overly-liberal state regulations forced federal regulators to impose a 3-day recreational fishing season in 2017, the Secretary of Commerce refused to intercede and preempt the state rules (in fact, when he did intercede, it was to take patently illegal action to allow recreational fishermen to exceed their annual catch limit).
Thus, if legislators were to take a truly modern view of fishery management, rather than try to perpetuate the same sort of obsolescent “states’ rights” mentality that precipitated the Civil War, they would amend the section to employ the Commerce Clause and give NMFS the right to effect its management measures throughout the U.S. range of any federally-managed species, and so preempt any efforts of the states to frustrate federal fishery management plans.
Under such arrangements, states could still be free to set their own seasons and other regulations, allocate the resource between sectors and between the states, etc., so long as their measures did not conflict with the federal management plan, and assured that federal rebuilding times and prohibitions against overfishing would be maintained.
That, then, would be my concept of a truly modern Fish Act—an act which ensured that an abundance of fish would remain available to anglers, an act that would maintain adequate supplies of forage species and maintain healthy ecosystems, and an act that would better assure that state politics couldn’t undermine science-based federal management plans.
That’s the sort of modern Fish Act that looks toward the future, and doesn’t try to slink back to the past.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
We’ve heard it often enough that it’s become a cliché, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ supposed advice that
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can only be maintained for such time as the State can shield people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
The statement itself may be apocryphal; there is good reason to believe that Goebbels never said it, and that it was actually a created out of a combination of Hitler’s earlier writings and a Goebbels speech attacking English politics. Nevertheless, the chilling cynicism expressed in those words transcends the question of when and by whom they were first uttered.
The philosophy is alive and well in the world today, and if you merely replace “military” with “ecological,” and “the State” with “the angling and boating industry, and the anglers’ rights groups,” you’ve got the H.R. 200/Modern Fish Act debate in a nutshell.
From the very start, the Modern Fish Act proponents maintained, at best, a distant, nodding acquaintance with the truth. Even though H.R. 2023, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act—which was the original “Modern Fish Act” bill—did not contain a single provision that would explicitly deter overfishing or speed the rebuilding of overfished stocks, its proponents tried to sell the bill by saying that it would
“promot[e] conservation of our natural marine resources.”
“alternative [to annual catch limit] management for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocation, smartly [i.e., more slowly] rebuilding fishery stocks, establishing exemptions where annual catch limits don’t fit and improving recreational data collection,”
none of which, except perhaps the latter, promote conservation at all, although most could easily frustrate conservation efforts.
Ironically, one Modern Fish Act advocate, who claimed to be
actually went so far as to say that
“Nothing in the Modern Fish Act undermines the fisheries conservation or sustainability tenants [sic] of [the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act]. It simply looks to strengthen MSA…”
At that point, the truth got up and walked out the door.
But, since we’ve already accepted the tenet (and not the “tenant”) that “truth is the greatest enemy of the lie, and thus is the greatest enemy of the” Modern Fish Act supporters, that ought to be no surprise.
What the Modern Fish Act is intended to do is increase anglers’ landings, and if you ever get around to reading the fine print, you'll learn that Modern Fish Act folks are actually trying to sell the proposition that a bigger recreational kill benefits conservation.
The Center for Sportfishing Policy, a political action group supported by all of the major Modern Fish Act supporters, wrote that
“Another victim of the system is conservation…A considerable portion of the overall funding for the nation’s conservation efforts is in fact generated by recreational fishing licenses and excise taxes. This should not be taken lightly. It would devastate our natural resources if anglers and boaters—who contribute $1.5 billion annually to fisheries and habitat conservation through excise taxes, donations and license fees—decided to throw in the towel due to lack of access.”
“Lack of access” is how Modern Fish Act proponents say “inability to overfish.”
So what the Center for Sportfishing policy is really saying is
“We have to overfish our fish stocks in order to conserve them.”
That doesn’t seem true to me, or even biologically feasible.
But if the repeat it often enough…
And, by the way, federal fisheries management, which is what Magnuson-Stevens and, ultimately, the Modern Fish Act addresses, is not funded by fishing license or excise tax revenues, so raising that issue in a Modern Fish Act context is more than a little misleading, too.
But the really big lie told by Modern Fish Act has only emerged in recent months, after the House of Representatives marked up H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, a bill so bad that some conservation groups are referring to it as the “Empty Oceans Act” because of the effect it would have on our natural resources.
H.R. 200 is most definitely not the House version of the Modern Fish Act; that’s H.R. 2023. But because H.R. 2023 never made it out of Committee, and some of its provisions were added to H.R. 200, the anglers' rights, tackle industry and boatbuilding groups trying to weaken Magnuson-Stevens started calling H.R. 200 the Modern Fish Act, in order to convince recreational fishermen to support the legislation.
“There’s a similar bill working through the U.S. Senate. On July 11, 2017, the Modern Fish Act—S. 1520 was introduced…That bill was overwhelmingly approved on Feb. 28 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. From that stage, the bill needs approval by the Senate…It will then need to be reconciled with the House bill, approved again by both chambers, and then signed by the president. [emphasis added]”
While the last sentence is a good and honest description of the industry/anglers’ rights coalition’s strategy, the overall statement is based on a big, blatant lie.
S. 1520, the Senate version of the Modern Fish Act, is not at all similar to H.R. 200.
Let’s put it this way…
Depending on how you count the various titles, sections, subsections, etc., S. 1520, the Modern Fish Act, has about 11 provisions in common with H.R. 200. On the other hand, H.R. 200 contains about 30 provisions which are not in the Modern Fish Act.
Thus, to say that the so-called “Empty Oceans Act,” H.R. 200, is “a similar bill” to S. 1520, the Modern Fish Act, is clearly a lie.
S. 1520 is far from a perfect bill, but it’s more-or-less innocuous, and actually includes a worthwhile provision or two. If it passed, it would impose a few seemingly spiteful, nuisance provisions on the commercial fishing community, but it wouldn’t do much, if any, real and lasting harm to fish stocks.
On the other hand, many of the provisions that are unique to H.R. 200 would do some real harm. H.R. would exempt both the recreational and commercial sectors from annual catch limits, designed to prevent overfishing, in a number of fisheries. A far worse set of provisions would create vaguely-worded exceptions to the deadlines for rebuilding overfished stocks, exceptions so vaguely worded that they could arguably eliminate rebuilding deadlines for every federally-managed stock.
Thus, when Mike Leonard, the so-called “conservation director” for the American Sportfishing Association, the primary trade organization for the fishing tackle industry, tries to discredit H.R. 200’s critics—remember, if they want to sell the big lie, it is “vitally important for the [industry and anglers’ rights groups] to suppress dissent”—by saying
“It’s unfair and inaccurate to characterize attempts to address the very legitimate problems with how the Magnuson-Stevens Act manages recreational fishing as ‘anti-conservation,’”
he runs into a very real problem: Leonard and his fellow travelers have enthusiastically embraced H.R. 200, and there’s just no other way to describe that bill, which assaults many of the core conservation provisions of current law.
Trying to dismiss H.R. 200’s threat to the fishery management process by saying
“most commercial and recreational fishing organizations acknowledged that the bill wasn’t perfect (no legislation is, certainly nothing so complicated and with competing interests such as this), but supported it on the whole because it included provisions important to each constituency,”
is a less-than-forthright whitewash.
H.R. 200 is an anti-conservation bill. A person, or an organization, can be pro-conservation or pro-H.R. 200, but can’t be both.
If Leonard and his confederates want to avoid the “anti-conservation” label, they ought to stop supporting anti-conservation bills. And they need to stop trying to convince anglers and others that H.R. 200 is the “Modern Fish Act,” because that's a big lie.
To look at it from a different angle, of the roughly (again, depending on how you count them) 41 provisions of H.R. 200, it shares 11—or about 27%--of those provisions with the Modern Fish Act.
On the other hand, the average baboon shares about 91% of its DNA with humans.
Given those numbers, it becomes clear that an H.R. 200 supporter’s resemblance to a baboon is three times greater than H.R. 200’s resemblance to S. 1520, the real Modern Fish Act.
So don’t let the industry and anglers’ rights groups make a monkey out of you. Don’t buy their Big Lie.
Instead, contact both of your United States senators, and let them know that you oppose S. 1520 because, as admitted in the quote above, passing that bill will let H.R. 200 bypass the deliberative Senate process and go straight to conference with all of its anti-conservation provisions intact.
Magnuson-Stevens, our fish—and you--deserve better than that.
Tell folks that truth, and prevail.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
I have no idea how much money I’ve spent fishing offshore in the past forty years.
You can toss the price of three boats, each one bigger than the last, into the pot. And not just the initial cost, but dockage, repairs, annual maintenance and, not the last, fuel, which taken altogether probably costs more than the boat itself. Then there’s gear, which isn’t cheap, plus bait, chum, electronics and…
Well, you get the idea.
And it was all the fault of a single shark.
I was thirteen years old, off on my first real “adult” fishing trip. While I had fished about as long as I had walked, and had chased cod and pollock and such from various New England party boats since I was six, those were all family trips on what were essentially “tourist” boats—half-day boats out of Provincetown, MA or full-day trips out of places such as Plymouth, where the fish were fairly small and the waters were fairly calm.
But now, I was finally deemed fit to fish with “the guys,” my father and two of his friends, who were planning a midnight run from our home in southwestern Connecticut up to Galilee, Rhode Island, where we’d be fishing Cox’s Ledge, in those days a 2 ½ hour trip offshore, aboard the party boat Sea Squirrel, hoping to find some spring cod.
The cod were certainly there. As soon as our baits hit bottom, we all began to hook up, and I hung over the stern rail, hanging onto my rod, as I cranked and waited to get the first glimpse of my fish coming up through the crystal blue water. My fish was small—five or six pounds or so—but a guy in the corner was on something good. The tip of his rod was throbbing, deep and slow, as he slowly raised his fish toward the surface. I peered down, and saw the cod begin to appear, first as just a sort of blue glow down in the water, then taking on shape and growing in size.
My father said it probably weighed forty pounds, but we never found out for certain, because as it came close to the top, another shape far longer and sleeker glided in from the side, swam a couple of figure-eights under the cod and then rose and bit it neatly in half.
The angler started cranking harder, hoping to salvage at least a few steaks from the ruins of his catch. It looked like he was going to make it, too, when the big blue shark, at least nine feet long, rushed across the stern of the boat, less than a yard from my feet, and raised its head out of the water. In a magnificent rush of grace and speed, the shark gulped down the rest of the cod, and was gone.
The victimized anglers began to re-rig his broken line; I vowed that I’d catch fish like that one day.
My time came a decade later, aboard Capt. Charlie Donilon’s Snappa,another Galilee-based boat. I had sold my a piece on striped bass fishing to Salt Water Sportsman, and spent the check treating my father and one of my uncles to a shark fishing trip.
We caught a bunch of blue sharks, releasing them with National Marine Fisheries Servicetags implanted in their backs. The biggest fish was still far smaller than the remembered cod thief. I caught it at the end of the day, and few months later received a letter from NMFS, telling me that the fish had been recaptured a few miles away.
Thus, the beauty, the sport and the science of sharks became entwined in my mind. And I have fished for them ever since, participating in the NMFS Cooperative Shark Tagging Program in an effort to increase scientists’ knowledge and, over the past couple of years, working with a research team from Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, helping them find and catch sharks for acoustic tagging and other scientific studies.
Other folks don’t have such a mutually beneficial relationship with these ancient animals.
Last week, a couple of middle-school-aged kids were bitten by sharks while wading at nearby Fire Island beaches. The local press is calling them “shark attacks,” a factually deficient description, as it’s virtually certain that the sharks had no intention of actually attacking anyone. They were just feeding on the abundant baitfish in the turbid, sand-filled surf, and the two kids either got in their way or maybe flashed a bit of white skin that looked too much like a menhaden to resist.
Either way, the “attack” noise is still going on four days later—I just heard some more of it on this morning’s news. Parents are keeping their kids out of the water for fear of another bite. One such protective parent said that
“Obviously the sharks probably are not here right now,”
a statement that might have been reassuring but was almost certainly untrue, as some species of shark, including both sandbars and sand tigers, are endemic in New York’s inshore waters each summer, and every time someone puts a foot in the ocean, it’s a pretty good bet that one—and most likely more—aren’t too far away, although most folks probably don’t want to think about that.
The Governor of New York is promising a “multiagency investigation” into the incidents, and drone patrols are flying over the Fire Island surf. But there’s really not much to investigate, and not much for the drones to see.
We already know that there are sharks in the ocean and that, last Wednesday, for the first time in about 70 years, two of them made a mistake. It's hard to imagine any investigation coming up with much beyond that.
The fact that two people were bitten on the same day is a little curious, but given the 70-year hiatus since the last bite, probably not statistically significant. And since the most common inshore species tend to stay close to the bottom during the day, the drones are going to burn through a lot of batteries for very little return, and for very little reason, because there should be little doubt that the sharks, whether seen or not, are still there.
In fact, there has long been a generally quiet cadre of anglers who visit the beach after dark, intentionally targeting sharks in the surf, who catch them all the time. They have largely been respectful of their quarry, handling them gently and trying to release them without doing harm.
But in a case of life imitating art, just like in the movie Jaws, the encounters have brought out the yahoos, who are catching sharks in the surf and dragging them around by the tails, posing with open-mouthed sharks in “hero shots” (yes, we know sharks have teeth, you don’t have to show us) and generally doing enough harm to the fish that they are unlikely to survive the encounter.
No animal should be handled with that level of disrespect, but it’s particularly inappropriate for the sharks most likely to be caught from a northeastern beach; all three species, the sandbar, sand tiger and dusky, are protected species that may neither be targeted nor retained in New York and many other states, as their populations have already fallen below sustainable levels.
In the case of the dusky, the population has fallen so low that NMFS biologists think that it will take about 90 years for it to recover; some other biologists believe that rebuilding the population to sustainable levels could take as long as 400 years.
The bottom line is that a shark may give someone a nip every now and then and swim off, but when sharks and people meet, the shark is almost always the loser.
The latest species to fall on hard times in the shortfin mako, a swift, beautiful pelagic predator that arguably forms the foundation of the recreational shark fishery of the East Coast of the United States. Unfortunately (for the mako, if not for its captors), makos are a very good-tasting shark, too, which means that it has been widely harvested by both the commercial and recreational sectors.
A stock assessment, performed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas last year, revealed that shortfin mako shark landings would have to be reduced by about 75% just to halt the decline in abundance; however, such a sharp reduction probably wouldn’t rebuild the stock in the foreseeable future, and has only a 40% chance of doing so by 2040.
On Friday, NMFS announced its proposed Amendment 11 to the Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, which is intended to protect the shortfin mako. The draft amendment contains a number of alternative management measures on which the public may comment. Some of those management measures have been designated “preferred alternatives,” meaning that they are the ones that NMFS is most likely to adopt, absent substantial and convincing public comment to the contrary.
For the commercial fishery, the preferred alternative would limit shortfin mako harvest to fish hauled back to the boat dead, and even then, only by boats with limited access shark permits that are equipped with video monitoring systems. Such video systems are already required on pelagic longliners, which are currently the only vessels allowed to keep shortfin makos (if dead when retrieved). The preferred alternative would extend such retention of dead makos to gill net and bottom longline boats as well, but only if the required video monitoring equipment is installed.
The recreational mako fishery would be governed by the 83-inch size limit adopted in emergency regulations last March. In addition, recreational shark fishermen holding NMFS Highly Migratory Species permits would also be required to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks wherever they fished. Currently, such hooks are only required south of 40. 43’ North latitude, to minimize the release mortality of dusky sharks; the latitude restriction would be deleted under the proposed regulation.
Finally, the proposed regulation would call for the United States to work cooperatively with ICCAT to rebuild the shortfin mako stock. ICCAT is expected to release a shortfin mako rebuilding plan at some point next year. Once that plan is released, the proposed regulation contemplates adopting further rules to conform NMFS regulations to the international standard.
Hopefully, that international standard will be rigorous enough to restore the mako stock. In the meantime, concerned anglers and other individuals would do well to click on this link to obtain a copy of the proposed amendment, and then provide comments to NMFS prior to the October 1 deadline.
Because, sure, a shark might give someone a nip on rare occasion, but over the course of history, we’ve hurt them far, far worse than they’ve ever hurt us.
It’s time that we gave them a bit of help, too.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is always a long and contentious process, as conservation advocates face off against those who are willing to risk the long-term health of fish stocks for higher short-term harvests and their promise of greater short-term economic returns.
This time around, things have gotten more confusing, because a coalition of anglers’ rights groups, fishing tackle industry folks and boating industry interests have become militantly opposed to the conservation and management provisions of current law. As a result, they have convinced some federal legislators to sponsor something called the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act (S. 1520 in the Senate, H.R. 2023 in the House), which they like to call the “Modern Fish Act.”
Boiled down to its very essence, the Modern Fish Act is about finding ways to let recreational fishermen kill more fish.
It would require the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils (much of the impetus for the law arose out of ways to justify, or at least continue, recreational overharvest in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, so there are a number of provisions that apply only to states with red snapper fisheries) to look at commercial and recreational allocations, in the hope that the recreational allocation would be increased at the expense of the commercial sector.
It also seeks to relieve anglers from most of the burden of conserving fish stocks and rebuilding overfished populations, by exempting them from annual catch limits and delaying rebuilding times for overfished stocks, both measures that would allow bigger recreational kills.
I try to stay away from allocation fights, unless they have an impact on the health of the resource. That is arguably the case here, at least in the case of Gulf red snapper, since the last time the commercial sector overfished its red snapper allocation was in 2006, while the recreational sector chronically overfishes its annual catch limit, last doing so just last year.
The recreational sector's response, at least as expressed in the Modern Fish Act, isn’t to get its own overfishing under control, but to steal fish from the compliant commercial sector, while also promoting recreational overharvest by doing away with annual catch limits. So just based on that one fishery alone, the Modern Fish Act looks like a bad idea.
But recently, things have gotten even worse. On July 11, the House passed H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.
It’s neither a good bill nor a new one.
A bill with the same name and most of the same language was introduced in the last Congressional session as H.R. 1335, and in the session before that as H.R. 4742. The conservation community called one of those earlier bills the “Empty Oceans Act” because of the effect that it’s likely to have on fish stocks, and the same label was applied to H.R. 200 when it made it out of committee last year.
Nothing similar emerged from the Senate, which tends to be more thoughtful and deliberative, and is a place where bills need, as a practical matter, 60 votes to pass, something that usually keeps the very worst ideas from becoming law.
But recently, there’s been a new sort of renaming going on.
Representatives of some salt water angling groups, along with the fishing tackle and boating industry, have now declared H.R. 200, the “new Empty Oceans Act,” to be the “Modern Fish Act,” despite the fact that the bill is much different, and far worse for the health of fish stocks, than the real Modern Fish Act, H.R. 2023.
But because H.R. 200’s sponsor agreed to transplant a few Modern Fish Act provisions into his “Increased Flexibility” law, the anti-conservation contingent of the recreational community is, more than a little dishonestly calling H.R. 200 the “Modern Fish Act,” and compiling that lack of truthfulness by saying things such as
“the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Modern Fish Act (MFA)—which modernizes outdated regulations that govern recreational fishing in saltwater. In addition, the U.S. Senate is moving forward with similar legislation, [emphasis added]”
even though a side-by-side comparison of the Senate bill, S. 1520, would quickly show that it would do relatively little damage to the federal management system, while H.R. 200 would do wholesale violence to what is arguably the most successful fishery conservation and management bill in the world.
Those folks aren’t supporting S. 1520 because of its very limited provisions, but rather so that they can conference the two bills together, and emerge with a piece of ostensibly “compromise” legislation that would allow the truly bad provisions of H.R. 200—and that means most of the bill, which only shares a handful of measures with S. 1520—to get out on the Senate floor without the sort of debate and deliberation that would see many of those measures challenged during a Senate committee mark-up of the bill.
They’re desperate to do that, because such subterfuge may be the only way that Modern Fish Act supporters can get what they want during this legislative session.
And just what is it that the anglers who support such tactics are looking for?
Maybe the best thing is to let them speak for themselves. A recent thread on the website Stripers Online contains some illuminating comments.
One H.R. 200 supporter said that he was
“Very saddened to see so many ‘fishermen’ take such a stance on this issue.
“while this bill has been modified over the years since originally written it is still much needed to address some issues that have been very hurtful to rec fishermen.
“should we keep accepting smaller pieces of the pie till [sic] we get no pie at all?”
It’s pretty clear that, besides having an aversion to starting most sentences with capital letters, the author of that comment feels H.R 200 is a gateway to a bigger fish kill (although there are no recent examples of anglers having their allocations cut—“accepting smaller pieces of the pie”—so it’s not completely clear that he understands just what is going on).
A comment right after that one, though, makes it very clear tH.R. 200 proponent understands the bill's implications perfectly. He wrote that
“I’ve read the bill and I’m in full support because I’m tired of regulations always getting tighter and never seeming to liberalize even though everyone keeps telling me about how healthy all of these fisheries are because of current versions of the [Magnuson-Stevens Act].
“Im [sic] sick of bad Rec catch data being used to prevent access to a healthy and rebuilt sea bass fishery. The varying seasons, sizes, and bags is [sic] crazy.”
The post goes on for a few more paragraphs, but you get the idea. The H.R. 200 is good because it would lead to less restrictive regulations and more dead fish.
Because, in the end, that’s what it comes down to.
Scrape away all of the expensive public relations, the sham "blue ribbon panels" and their reports, the misdirection and the push by an industry hungry for sales, and what you find is that the people who are supporting H.R. 200, and the Modern Fish Act effort, are doing it because it’s going to let them, and their customers, kill more fish.
It’s not about conservation, it’s not about “fairness,” it’s not about people being “left at the dock” because fishing seasons are closed.
In the end, it all just comes down to hunger, hunger for more dead fish in the cooler, hunger for the related profits those dead fish can bring.
Even if those dead fish also bring an end to the health of our fisheries at some point not far down the road.
On July 12, I published a blog on this site that was titled “…But Where Are the Bluefish?”
The piece noted that many anglers were reporting an absence of bluefish in the waters between Chesapeake Bay and Massachusetts (people commenting on the piece in other venues noted that the dearth of fish spread as far south as North Carolina), and speculated on possible reasons for the lack of fish. While all statements made in the piece were based on either personal observation, NMFS data or observations made by writers in various publications, one sentence may have been misleading.
After noting that revised NMFS catch and effort figures showed that bluefish landings in recent years were between 2.1 and 3.4 times higher than previously thought, I wrote “That means that fishing mortality was a lot higher than anyone knew.”
That statement was not worded correctly.
It should have read “That means that recreational landings were a lot higher than anyone knew.”
“Fishing mortality,” often abbreviated “F”, refers to a rate of removals from a stock of fish. Because the revised data will require an update of the bluefish stock assessment, scheduled for early 2019, to recalculate both the size of the stock and the rate of removals, the effect of the recalculation of catch on fishing mortality is currently unknown; while F could be higher, it also could remain much the same. No one will know until the assessment is updated next year.
However, we do know that recreational landings in recent years were anywhere from double to more than triple the earlier estimates. That qualifies as “a lot,” and that was the message I had intended to convey.
Apologies. I have always said that I will never knowingly mislead you, and when I was made aware of my misuse of the term “fishing mortality,” a mistake I’m embarrassed not to have spotted when I proofread the piece, I knew that I had to correct it.
A writer owes readers the truth, free of misleading statements, whether intentional or inadvertent. Thus, I apologize again for the mistake I made here.