Hello Kettle, this is your friend Pot....

Posted on February 26, 2016

Hello Kettle, this is your friend pot....

By Ted Venker

There have been many odd contradictions in the nightmarish debacle of Gulf of Mexico red snapper management: a robust snapper stock that has a 10-day season, a federal governmental agency that pushes to limit public access to healthy public resources, environmental groups that partner with commercial fishermen. The list actually stretches quite far. But, to date, nothing captures true unflinching hypocrisy as well as a commercial-fishing-industry driven lawsuit filed last week against the permitting of commercial aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

The suit, filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has some familiar plaintiffs: the Gulf Fishermen’s Association, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and the Charter Fishermen’s Association, among others. Those are the same groups that have been the driving force behind efforts to privatize about 70 percent of the entire Gulf red snapper harvest and place it into the hands of just a few commercial businesses. They are the ones that ironically decry recreational anglers as an out of control, overly consumptive user group like so many Huns at the proverbial gate of the ocean.

They have successfully lobbied for a 70-percent privatization of the Gulf red snapper quota that can only be accessed by them for commercial sale and commercial charter. Now, here comes the contradiction. Apparently, these same groups that have relentlessly promoted and championed exclusive private ownership programs don’t like those concepts so much when they aren’t the ones reaping the benefits.

In the introduction of this latest lawsuit, the groups list their grievances with the federal government’s intention to permit aquaculture operations in offshore waters. Incredibly, these groups list adverse impacts such as “the privatization of public ocean resources…adverse economic effects on fishing businesses…and trickle-down effects to communities and families that depend on healthy wild fish stocks and ocean ecosystems for their livelihoods.”

Now wait a minute.

These are the same folks who have driven the privatization of the Gulf red snapper stocks to the extent that private boat recreational anglers can only fish a handful of days in federal waters, constricting tackle sales, marine motor and boat sales, fuel usage, hotel stays, etc. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect in logic here.

Of note, the federal government’s attempt to expand aquaculture is an effort that CCA has long questioned and often opposed. The environmental threat from ocean aquaculture is real, but the only glimmer of value in this recent action is that it created a forum to showcase true hypocrisy in action.  This is brazen…even for the catch share crowd.

The real question is why are these groups of commercial fishermen suddenly concerned about “privatization of public ocean resources and the trickle-down effects to communities and families that depend on healthy wild fish stocks and ocean ecosystems…?” Are these not the same people outlined in a recent article titled “Kingpins of the Gulf” which revealed about 55 people own roughly 70 percent of the commercial harvest of red snapper to the tune of millions of dollars? Indeed, these are some of the same groups that have been aggressively outspoken on their need to own private red snapper shares even at the cost of local fishing businesses that rely on selling products, fuel, etc. to private boat recreational anglers. Could it be because this version of privatization threatens them and the millions of dollars they reap from their private shares of Gulf fish? Now that is irony.

Amusingly, there have been other, more discreet philosophical slip-ups from this same privatization crowd. One outspoken representative of the Charter Fishermen’s Association protested a plan in Texas that would privatize public oyster reefs. In an interview with a local reporter, he took on the mantle of concerned recreational angler and said, “…Ma and Pa who come down from Houston, drag their boat down from Houston and want to have a nice weekend of fishing, they would be able to be kept off these areas too."

But wait a minute Mr. Charter Fisherman’s Association….what if Ma and Pa want to catch Gulf red snapper in federal waters and can't go during the fleeting 10-day season? That scenario must be an entirely different thing than privatizing oyster reefs or permitting private aquaculture facilities.....

Regardless of what you think of aquaculture or attempts to privatize oyster reefs, and there are many, many reasons to be concerned and actively opposed to both, this commercial and charter-driven lawsuit is a stark confirmation that the red snapper debacle in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing more than a historic fish grab by people driven to keep and defend an equity share of a resource that was taken from the public and gifted to them. It’s all about a select few operators fighting to keep their ability to set prices and control markets.

Hey, Kettle. The phone is ringing…I think it’s for you.

Issues: Gulf of Mexico