Have you ever been deep sea fishing? Until last summer, I hadn’t. Which is rather surprising, since I grew up here on the Gulf Coast and spent most of my impressionable days on the deck of one boat or another. It was a warm day in late May. The first few catches were decent B-liners (Vermillion Snapper). The next week Red Snapper season opened and I’m still not sure who was more hooked, me or the fish. The fight at the bottom of the line made dinner taste that much better. I’m not alone. Offshore fishing is big business.
Recreational fishing affects every facet of our tourist driven economy. The marketing committee of the TDC understands this. In a recent meeting there were several references to fishing. “People come here for the fishing.” The TDC wants to make sure that potential visitors know that there is great fishing from the new County Pier. Sure fishing is fun… after the beach, after the water park, after the golf… Let’s go fishing! But for some it is more than something to check off the list of things to do, it is the main reason they come to Panama City Beach.
Fishing is not just for sport on Florida’s Panhandle. Pam Anderson, Operations Manager of Capt. Anderson Marina points out, when people go fishing, “they are fishing for food.” Recreational fishing encompasses two categories. The first is the “recreational angler.” This is the fisherman that goes out on his/her own boat and fishes. The second is the “for hire” Charter Boats that take groups and families off shore fishing, as well as the Party Boats that accommodate as many as 40-60 fishing passengers on 6, 8 and 12 hour fishing trips.
There are many basic recreational saltwater fishing regulations. These regulations change for every season. For the 2010 season, the potential for over regulation is imminent. The lengthy draft policy being proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) can and should be reviewed by those that will be affected. In a letter to “Friends of Grand Lagoon” Anderson writes, “In reality, NOAA officials who head up the task force for Catch Shares Policy in Washington are saying that they can be used as a tool in the tool box of management measures, and are to be used only if the stakeholders in the region agree to their use.” As she explains, “No comment is agreement.”
In a January 12 meeting with area fishermen, Senator George LeMieux, R-Florida came looking for answers. What he got was an earful from area fishermen telling him how the NMFS has failed to acknowledge the economic hardship brought on by its regulations and needed better funding to produce more accurate data.
U.S. Senator George LeMieux Talks to Fisherman
Anderson explains, “For confirmation that we should question the science, read Dr. Frank Hester’s inside look at fishery management.” In a June 2009 article for Florida Sportsman, Dr. Hester “highlights perceived fatal errors that greatly overestimated the number of red snapper in previous decades. Now those guesstimated numbers are being used as proof positive that today’s red snapper stocks are in severe decline.” Anderson went on to say, “The data is inaccurate. They are regulating with wrong data. They are putting people out of business.”
This kind of policy has far reaching repercussions. The United States has more than 88,000 miles of coastline. From New England to Hawaii, coastal fishing communities represent a variety of traditions and a diversity of ecosystems as colorful as any in the world. In a November 2009 post in the The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), guest contributor Glen Spain (Northwest Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations) writes, “Under the guise of conservation, the National Marine Fisheries Service has put us on a fast track to a system known as “catch share,” or individual fishing quotas, which would allocate personally owned shares of the catch of public fisheries only to certain fishermen.”
These concerns are mirrored on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Anderson writes, “Catch shares are not good for the recreational anglers. They will increase the costs of fishing substantially, to the point of many not being able to fish at all anymore. This Natural Resource, belongs to all the people, not just a few of the most wealthy”. All in all, these Individual fishing quotas (IFQ) “catch-share” programs, as proposed today, are going to be bad for fishermen, bad for ecosystems and bad for consumers. The oceans are a public trust, and there must be meaningful public comment on a broad national scale before they become the private property of anyone but the people. Comments may also be submitted by email to the Gulf Council at: Amendment32@gulfcouncil.org .
So what does this mean for you and me? Tighter regulations. Shorter fishing seasons. Higher prices. Less boats on the water. What does this mean for our economy? I don’t even want to think about it.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance is gathering support for a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on February 24 at noon. This will be an organized demonstration against the unintended negative impacts of the Magnuson Stevens Conservation and Management Act (MSA). You can also show your support for Recreational Fisherman by joining Fisherman’s Voice on Facebook and Twitter and subscribing to the blog: United We Fish.
For more information:
You can read more about catch shares at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/catchshares.
Dr. Frank J. Hester, PhD’s full report available here.
Submit your comments to NOAA officials in Washington, D.C. via web.
Comments can be submitted by email to the Gulf Council at: Amendment32@gulfcouncil.org (The Gulf Council will be deciding at the February 1-4 meeting in Mobile whether the stakeholders (you and I) want catch shares and sector separation in the Gulf Region.
Alternate proposal supported by local Recreational Fisheries representatives:
House Bill- HR1584 (Pallone, Bill) // Senate Bill s-1255 (Shumer, Bill)
Flexibility in American Fisheries Act of 2009
Amendment proposed by the Panama City Boatman Assoc. and Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the reef fish fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic shall not be required to be rebuilt, and over-fishing ended, by a specific date provided that the annual level of fishing does not exceed the net reproduction rate for that fishery such that the fishery is rebuilding each year. If the objective set forth in this section is not met for any of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic reef fish fisheries in one year, the Secretary of Commerce shall adjust the fishing rate in that specific fishery in subsequent years to compensate for any overage.