During the past six weeks, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has detailed a series of fisheries management absurdities which includes time-certain deadlines, in-season recreational measures based on flawed data, rigid annual catch limits and punitive accountability measures, not to mention a federal bureaucracy more focused on 'effort reduction' and 'catch & release' than with promoting angler opportunity or preserving fishermen's rights to responsibly harvest marine species.
For the past 7 years, RFA has contended that the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, reauthorized by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate in late 2006, is a broken law in desperate need of reform. To make matters worse, NOAA has been selectively enforcing provisions of this law by picking and choosing which sections it wants to follow and those it wants to disregard, resulting in deliberate and excessive negative impacts to the recreational community.
Regrettably, as you read in last week's edition, dissension even amongst the ranks of recreational fishermen (for whatever the reasons) has only led to problems in Congress with getting sensible reform legislation to the table.
Following a series of discussions and debates before the House Natural Resources Committee going back to 2007, committee members Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and Steve Southerland (R-NJ) shepherded a committee-backed bill in the House of Representatives in August of 2012, pulling together various components of other fisheries legislation supported by fellow committee members including Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rob Wittman (R-VA), in hopes of addressing the various problems with Magnuson.
Known as the Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act of 2012, this 'committee bill' has been thoroughly reviewed by House Natural Resource Committee members and staff, and according to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), should be re-introduced in the 113th Congress for a chance to pass out of committee and be voted on by fellow House members.
"There were many different representatives from a host of organizations hoping to see their own individual piece of legislation adopted by the committee, but it's time for all individual organizations to band together behind one comprehensive bill to see if we can salvage what's left of our beleaguered industry," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "If the Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act is the vehicle supported by committee members and staff, then let's all get in the driver's seat and get to where we're going."
THE SUM OF ALL PARTS
The bill to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act would provide increased flexibility for fishery managers, additional transparency for fishermen, a referendum for catch shares, and added sources of funding for fishery survey mechanisms in support of coastal fishermen from both the recreational and commercial fishing communities.
It would amend Magnuson to provide that any regional fishery management council is not required to develop an annual catch limit (ACL) for a fishery or stock for which a survey and stock assessment has not been performed within the preceding 5 years; it also permits the Secretary to suspend ACL's if the scientific advice is based on a level of uncertainty that insufficiently meets national standards. To help improve science and statistical standards, the legislation also mandates that portions of fisheries enforcement penalties be used for data collection purposes.
The Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act would require that each ACL take into account key management measures under international agreements and informal transboundary agreements under which management activities outside the exclusive economic zone by another country may hinder conservation efforts by U.S. fishermen. It would also prohibit the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Councils (except Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper) from submitting a fishery management plan or amendment that creates a catch share program for a fishery unless the final program has been approved in a referendum by a majority of specified permit holders eligible to participate in the fishery.
In addressing rebuilding timelines for rebuilding fisheries, the legislation would allow the Secretary of Commerce to extend the rebuilding period under specified provisions, provided that the maximum rebuilding time not exceed clearly defined criteria based on the biological attributes and life-history characteristics of the stock. The legislation also directs the Secretary to review and report to Congress on each fishery closure that was not a normal and expected occurrence under the fishery management plan and was considered disruptive to sport, charter, or commercial fishing operations, and that was in effect for more than 120 days within the 5-year period preceding the enactment of this Act.
"I remember JFK once saying that victory has a thousand fathers, and this legislation could be a great bipartisan example of that," Donofrio said. "There has been a lot of head-butting to get to this point, but if all the representative organizations would agree to support comprehensive legislation which helps keep our fishermen fishing and includes everyone's individual concerns, the Transparent and Science-Based Fishery Management Act could help eliminate a few of these fisheries management absurdities now keeping anglers off the water."
RFA said efforts to completely reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act are already underway with expected debate to begin soon in both the House and the Senate. According to Donofrio, the first official hearing on reauthorizing the federal fisheries law will occur this Wednesday at 10 a.m., and again in the House Natural Resources Committee.
RFA said while proceedings to reauthorize the law are underway, many members of Congress have already made personal, public pledges during the past 3 years to fix the current law in order provide some much-needed coastal relief, promises Donofrio is hoping will be kept.
"The last time the reauthorization proceedings began, it took more than two years to see something come out of Congress," Donofrio said. "Our fishermen and coastal fishing businesses don't have another 2 years to battle anti-industry environmentalists about what language should or shouldn't be included in a final draft, we need to pick up where the House Natural Resources Committee left off in 2012 and fix this law."
Donofrio and RFA staff will be in Washington DC all day on Wednesday, checking in on the hearing and visiting members of Congress in support of federal fisheries reform. As a follow-up, members of the RFA board of directors will be asking RFA members and non-members alike to band together nationwide in support of sensible Magnuson reform in 2013 which can responsibly balance commerce and conservation.
The discussion and debate has carried on too long, and it's time for all recreational anglers, businesses and organizations to put their collective efforts together in helping dismantle the ongoing absurdities in fisheries management.
"Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan." (A Thousand Days," by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Comment made by JFK in the aftermath of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, 1961.)