Taking Flak

Posted on December 15, 2011 by Jeff Angers, President Center for Coastal Conservation From The Saltwater Sentinel–the Newsletter of the Center for Coastal Conservation

It is easy to see why federal fisheries management is in the shape it is in.

On one side of the debate is a completely obstinate environmental community that refuses to budge even an inch to address a train wreck in federal fisheries brought on by some provisions of the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. On the other extreme is a recreational group involved in a coalition of charter and commercial fishing entities that takes a wildly different view from the environmental community.

In between and catching flak from both sides is a coalition of responsible fishing and boating groups working to find a way to address problems in federal fisheries management that doesn’t leave anglers at the dock, while remaining committed to conservation of our marine resources.

Last week, the environmental community sent letters to Congress opposing H.R.2304/S.1916 — the Fishery Science Improvement Act. One of the letters was signed by 129 scientists opposing the bills, although it is not clear if all of those scientists were sure what they were signing. Conversations with some of those scientists after the letter was released confirm that the bills were misrepresented.

This week, the Recreational Fishing Alliance launched yet another attack on everyone who does not support their “Flexibility” bill. Variations of the Flexibility Bill have been introduced in the last three Congresses to fix a 1996 requirement to rebuild overfished fisheries in a time certain. Environmentalists condemned that bill as fundamentally unraveling just about every conservation tenet of the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 1996 reauthorization of MSA is responsible for many of the conservation provisions that have successfully rebuilt a number of our fisheries. However, that doesn’t discourage RFA from searching for scapegoats in our community for their bill’s repeated failure and engaging in an Internet campaign of scorched earth against its enemies, real and imagined.

Meanwhile, the environmental community refuses to do anything to disprove the impression that its ultimate goal in the 2006 reauthorization was to close the oceans and remove anglers from the water. To the contrary, it uses its vast resources to lobby against any effort to adjust the Magnuson-Stevens Act to fit the current capabilities of NOAA Fisheries. That intractable attitude is one of the factors that drives responsible members of the fishing and boating community up the wall.

It is said that when you start taking flak you know you are over the target. With attacks on the Fishery Science Improvement Act from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is clear that the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation, must be over the target.

As this session of the 112th Congress comes to a close, it looks as though passage of FSIA may be a bridge too far. But when the Congress reconvenes next month, we have another opportunity. I expect our champion Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) to secure a mark up on the House version of the bill. I believe Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will do likewise in the Senate. And we will solve this problem facing America’s fishermen.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization in a few years, and it is difficult to imagine how radioactive the environment may be by then. By refusing to engage in any meaningful manner, the environmental community has given fertile ground to an increasingly extreme opposition. At a time when groups should be working together to address problems in federal fisheries management, the issue is more polarized than ever and the future is uncertain, if not downright bleak.