Gulf Recreational Anglers Take Leadership Action
One of the greatest tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is its formation of the regional councils. The council process promises transparency in the management process by bringing state agencies and the region’s various stakeholders to the table to discuss the management decisions that will ultimately affect their constituencies’ access to federal waters and its resources. When applied properly (look at the Mid-Atlantic Council and the Pacific Council), managers discuss decisions about resource management, and the ocean resource benefits–most of the time.
To be fair, there is often a fair amount of grumbling concerning management decisions from losing factions, and often a lawsuit or two, but far and away the system works. Each stakeholder’s voice is heard at the table or in public comment, and the chosen managers base their opinions on the best-available science or the region’s political leanings.
This is how it is supposed to work in a democracy, right? At least to this red-blooded, southern-bred private recreational angler, that’s the way it should go. Sadly, here in the Gulf and in my private recreational sector, this is not how things are playing out. Recreational anglers need your help since factions on the Gulf Council are blocking us from convening a private recreational advisory panel to seek management solutions that work for our sector.
I admit I applauded the 2014 NOAA-sponsored recreational summit that brought 100 leaders of the recreational community to Alexandria, Virginia to listen to the recreational community, allowing the community to find consensus within its ranks, while helping NOAA find a path forward for inclusive and progressive management. Participants had great discussions, and we received a National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy out of it. From the summit’s conversations and in the recreational policy, one of the things recreational fishermen asked for was more transparency in the management process and the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s upcoming reauthorization. Broadly, the recreational community applauded the efforts of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and its willingness to work with us to develop the recreational fishery policy document.
Quickly on the heels of the summit, recreational leaders, largely from the Gulf, convened and developed A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries, sponsored by Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris and Maverick Boats’ Scott Deal. Again, we recreational fishermen cheered the efforts of our leadership and the calls for transparency in the management process. But as the details of this document trickled out, and then its final form was launched, recreational anglers learned that the document essentially wanted to manage by reallocation and “flexibility” through relaxed annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines.
Through 2014, the Morris-Deal Report, as it was quickly renamed, and those endorsing the document toured the country promoting its ideas. As the road show crisscrossed the nation, reality hit. Recreational anglers across the country realized the “vision” the promotors of the report espoused did not broadly reflect the recreational community’s conservation ethos. In a politically charged national climate that pits opposing viewpoints as irreconcilable differences, recreational anglers suddenly realized the practice of management by our national leadership did not reflect the broader community’s ideals. Unfortunately, this “us-versus-them” has infected a vocal fringe element of recreational fishing interests that have decided it is better to close the door on discussion, damn the torpedoes, and sink the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
From 2010 through 2014, as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council wrangled with management of its troublesome red snapper, the NMFS and Gulf States’ governors’ offices placed a number of recreational fishermen and recreationally-aligned scientists on the Gulf Council. Most private recreational anglers that I know were elated, thinking the representation of private anglers on the Council would mean we had an equal voice at the table. Man, were we mistaken.
As recreational leadership “lost” a string of Gulf red snappers decisions, especially sector separation, our recreational leadership and Gulf Council representatives became more insular and began retracting from the council process at the peril of recreational interests. In retrospect, sector separation was a huge win for the broader recreational community and the charter-for-hire fleet, giving recreational anglers that use the charter fleet access to the fishery for a 44-day season versus the private recreational 10-day federal-water season.
Under sector separation, part of the Council’s intent was to bring the charter-for-hire fleets and private recreational interests to the table to find management solutions that work for their respective sector and its anglers. The charter-for-hire fleets—charter boats and headboats—have come to the table and are currently working two amendments through the council process that will hold them accountable to their share of the recreational quota. The only sector not represented in this process and not working toward a management solution that may give private recreational anglers more access to federal-water fisheries is the recreational sector.
To date, the Gulf Council has spent time at each meeting attempting to convene a private recreational advisory panel to hear how recreational anglers want to be managed, but the convention has been blocked three times. This is unacceptable, but what is even more dander raising than the fact that the Council will not convene the advisory panel is that my fishery’s leadership, the very sector that clamored and worked to get more transparency in the federal management system, is blocking the advisory panel. That leaves an entire recreational voice from being heard, and that voice is being silenced by the leadership that should be advocating the hardest for them.
The only way the Gulf Council will convene the panel is if it grows organically from fishermen. This is a plea, because all recreational voices are crucial to the discussion about how best to manage our fisheries. While the small vocal fringe attempts to find solutions outside of the council process, which trashes any level of management transparency, I want to make sure I and all recreational anglers are heard. So, I urge you, please, to visit and sign a private recreational petition that asks the Gulf Council to convene the private recreational advisory panel. Join me and other Gulf fishermen in demanding our right to participate in the democratic process, and by doing so, ensuring better management of red snapper and all Gulf fisheries, which bring tight lines to all of us.