No matter where you may stand on the gun control debate, the one fact on which both sides can agree is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has established itself as the single most powerful lobbying organization in America today. While they're often attacked for staunchly defending individual members and the gun industry itself, the fact is that NRA is a political force second to none in Congress.
Regrettably, there is no constitutional amendment protecting the saltwater angler's right to fish, no comprehensive state or federal Freedom to Fish law by which to stand firm in the belief that Americans have an inalienable right to fish. Even more disheartening is that unlike those who cater to the sporting consumer under protection of the Second Amendment, the recreational fishing industry has mostly allowed their customers' right to open access to a sustainable public resource to be treated more like a privilege as opposed to a right.
Legal U.S. gun owners have grown accustomed to the 'guilt treatment' while criminals steal the headlines. More recently, recreational anglers have been subjected to the same treatment, with our 'right to fish' argument ridiculed by groups like Pew Environment Group, National Resources Defense Council, Marine Fish Conservation Network and others who rail against the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) as being nothing more than a "marine equipment industry lobby/trade association," and a "fringe" group unwilling to concede on important access issues.
Sadly, if the recreational boating and tackle industry were as steadfast in their defense of saltwater anglers as NRA was with their members, our recreational fishing industry probably wouldn't be forced into giving up so much, so fast, as we have since special interests helped pass the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006. When you consider our own national fishing and boating trade associations helped broker the restrictive federal policies in the federal law in the first place, the best analogy would be if the national gun manufacturers closed down operations and simply turned their product over to the government before giving their customers a choice or a voice in the debate.
In essence, by continually providing cover for an inefficient federal bureaucracy while lobbying against sensible legislative reform of our federal fisheries law, the recreational fishing industry is doing just that.
EVEN CATCH & RELEASE REQUIRES OPEN ACCESS
In the past several weeks, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has detailed a series of absurdities in fisheries management, including time-certain deadlines, in-season recreational measures based on flawed harvest data, rigid annual catch limits and punitive accountability measures, not to mention a federal bureaucracy which seems to focus more attention on 'effort reduction' as opposed to promotion of angling opportunities. Since early 2007, RFA has contended that the Magnuson-Stevens Act was a broken law, warning of an impending train wreck in managing both rebuilding and rebuilt fish stocks.
While RFA has spent 7 years arguing for congressional intervention in addressing these absurdities, even spearheading the first 5,000-strong rally in DC to embolden the call for Magnuson reform back in the winter of 2010, the recreational fishing industry itself has stood mostly along the sidelines, even while their own Beltway advocates have partnered with our legislative enemies while helping support a broken federal bureaucracy. Perhaps unbeknownst to most boating and tackle CEO's, they've actually become directly involved in the fight by providing cover and support for those who support these fisheries management absurdities.
Take for instance the Center for Coastal Conservation (CCC), a lobbying organization created in 2008 by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) with financial help from the recreational boating and tackle industry. With a board primarily consisting of CCA members, the CCC mission supports "ending overfishing by a time certain," and "rebuilding plans for fisheries with time constraints," both of which are unscientifically based absurdities which RFA has openly criticized.
"Imagine if the entire recreational fishing industry understood just how badly angler access has eroded due to time-certain deadlines and constraints, I don't see how they'd ever spend another dollar on lobbying against their customers' best interests," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "Yet every time we walk into a Member of Congress' office, RFA has to once again unscrew this problem created by the industry's support for inflexible fisheries management through artificial deadlines."
Another recreational boating and fishing industry side project creating confusion in Washington is the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), described by non-profit reporting group GuideStar USA as an organization funded by Pew Charitable Trusts ($484,000), William & Flora Hewlett Foundation ($370,000) and the Turner Foundation ($305,700). According to their recent federal policy agenda, among the TRCP action items for 2013 is helping fisheries managers to acquire the "the tools and opportunity to make in-season adjustments necessary to help recreational anglers stay within their annual catch limits."
"What the TRCP board of directors is saying to Congress is that they support real-time, in-season closures so that saltwater anglers won't go over rigidly assigned annual catch limits, even though the recreational data collection is based on random surveys and stock assessments which are being called into question by key members of Congress," Donofrio said.
Earlier this week, USA Today reported on a bipartisan group of senators now pressing for an independent review of how the federal government calculates fishing stocks in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. "We have a systemic problem within NOAA right now on how they do stock assessments," Donofrio told USA Today, explaining how fishermen around the country are suffering due to the bureaucratic challenge. "It just goes to show you that they have to start paying attention to on-water observations and fishermen," Donofrio said, adding "we've been ignored for the most part."
In the same article, it was also noted that environmental groups like Pew are continuing to dispute RFA's claims about angler participation in the fishery management process, openly charging the recreational fishing industry as being over-represented among members of the eight regional councils that help guide NOAA on catch limits around the country.
"If the recreational boating and fishing industry really understood what their involvement with Pew on their TRCP board of directors was actually doing to influence members of Congress, they'd be shocked to learn that they are actually helping support fewer and fewer angler days on the water for their customers," Donofrio said. "These particular environmental groups have very little respect for industry, and without individual anglers, there is no recreational fishing industry."
Much like NRA has stubbornly refused to budge on behalf of its members and businesses, RFA refuses to concede open access through compromise to those who would promote angler intolerance through guilt.
Or perhaps as Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
On Tuesday, March 11, the final installment of RFA's month-long series on the Absurdity of Fisheries Management looks at the answer to all this madness as Congress once again takes up debate on the 'reform' and 'reauthorization' of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.