As all saltwater fishermen are aware, President Bush signed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 on January 12, 2007. In the six years since this law governing management of our coastal fishing industry- recreational and commercial alike - was reenacted, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has pointed out the complete absurdity of fisheries management stemming from both the rigid and inflexible requirements spelled out in this law, as well as the gross neglect by our federal government to meet Congress's deadlines and requirements.
Over the next several weeks, RFA plans to focus on several key 'absurdities' stemming from this broken federal law, putting a spotlight on our government failures to properly protect and serve America's coastal fishing communities in the way that Warren Magnuson and Ted Stevens had originally intended when our federal fisheries law was first adopted to aid in the development of the domestic commercial and recreational fishing industry while phasing out foreign fishing in 1976.
Of course, some folks would prefer that the RFA keep quiet with our criticism so that they could continue to provide cover for our over-worked bureaucrats and ever-conscientious members of Congress, while forgetting all about the high praise that some national trade and manufacturing groups bestowed upon the Magnuson-Stevens Act when it was reauthorized (which now has brought many recreational fisheries to their knees.) But in the words of the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., "Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed -- and no republic can survive."
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
During the 2005 and 2006 debate over Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization language, the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC) was conducting a comprehensive review of the recreational data collection program used by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The NRC's final report was issued in 2006, upon which time NRC committee chairman at the time Pat Sullivan, a Cornell University professor, referred to the recreational data collection methodology as "fatally flawed."
According to the 2006 NRC report, a panel of experts found specifically that the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) which had been used by NMFS since the early 1980's to generate catch statistics from the recreational sector has "serious flaws in design or implementation and use inadequate analysis methods that need to be addressed immediately."
As a result, Congress incorporated section 109-479 under the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization in 2006 specifically to implement a few of the NRC recommendations for data collection. Among the items included in the final law signed by President Bush was the use of surveys that target anglers registered or licensed at the State or Federal level to collect participation and effort data, incorporating an adequate number of dockside intercepts to accurately estimate recreational catch and effort; collection and analysis of vessel trip report data from charter fishing vessels (also known as VTR), and even development of a weather corrective factor that can be applied to recreational catch and effort estimates.
As per this federal fisheries law, the President's signature required that the Secretary of Commerce to "complete the program under this paragraph and implement the improved Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey not later than January 1, 2009."
So how has the Department of Commerce met this challenge? In a recent meeting in Gloucester, MA, several recreational stakeholders from New Jersey to Maine learned first-hand how VTR data from the charter and party boat industry was still not being used as a source of data, and that angler registry data compiled by states as required by Magnuson-Stevens was not being used for effort/participation models. Instead of contacting registered anglers, NMFS informed stakeholders that they were still compiling recreational data collection using the original MRFSS methodology of calling phone numbers at random from coastal phone books.
One week following yet another public revelation by NMFS that they had failed to meet their federal requirements, a handful of recreational anglers in New York received an email announcing that "NMFS has begun a pilot study of a mail-based effort survey in New York and a few other states. They are continuing the Coastal Household Telephone Survey (for now) and wanted to build awareness of the project in case we get any questions while this is going on."
At this time, the Department of Commerce, NOAA Fisheries and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is asking for help in improving outreach and communications in terms of their ongoing pilot studies to improve data collection in the recreational fishing community. Rather than implementing the NRC recommendations from 2006 or adhering to the federal requirements laid out by Congress to meet the 2009 implementation deadline, the government instead would like you to know that nothing has changed, MRFSS is still being used to gather recreational harvest data, the angler registry databases are not being used, and neither are the vessel trip reporting logs collected on federally permitted charter and head boats.
RFA is more than willing to help our Department of Commerce in any way possible, and we offer this notice as a public service to our recreational fishing communities nationwide; please take note that NMFS just wants you to know that they are using "fatally flawed" data collection and incorporating "inadequate analysis methods" that should've been "addressed immediately" in 2006 in order to meet a 2009 congressional deadline.
Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day. Although it's true, it only took six days for it to burn to the ground!
Next Thursday, February 7th, part 2 in the RFA continuing series on the Absurdity of Fisheries Management will focus on the 'biggest mistake mistake we can make' in rolling out new management mechanisms