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Entries in Congress (47)

Thursday
Jan282016

Gulf States Should Manage Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

Under this administration, recreational fishing for red snapper in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been diminished to a fraction of what it once was, as the feds have turned over more and more of it to a few commercial operations.

It's time for a change. The Gulf states have better data regarding the health of the fishery and are for more likely to manage based on science than politics. That's why HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, needs to be passed by Congress. Here's what its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, has to say:   

As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was 10 days.

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As it stands today, the right to catch 77 percent of the annual red snapper harvest is controlled by just 55 people, according to an AL.com analysis of hundreds of pages of federal documents, reports and websites--- AL.com

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The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate.

Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.

Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability.  It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation's top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests.

This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.

In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf states’ wildlife departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery.

In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainably manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency's LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.

The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all - not managed like a long-abandoned "sharecropper" model that enriches a select few.  Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things.  To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.”  Let's enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf's bounty.

 

Friday
Oct232015

Congress Considers Future for Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

The future of red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico was on the line yesterday in Washington, D.C, as the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will debated HR. 3094--- the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act. This legislation, sponsored by Garret Graves (R-La.), would shift management of red snapper from the federal government and allow the states to manage the entire fishery.

 “We learned a few things in today’s hearing, but the take-home message is that federal management of the Gulf red snapper remains mired in chaos," said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, following the haring.

"We learned that the recreational angling community and all five Gulf States stand united in favor of state management of red snapper. Despite a wave of pre-hearing propaganda, we learned that most charter operators are in favor of the state management because they, too, want an end to the current federal management program of privatization."

Meanwhile, NOAA wants anglers to ignore what they see every day in the Gulf, Angers said, adding that the federal agency "asked Congress to believe that the snapper stock is still only half rebuilt and will not fully recover until 2032."

In other words, the federal government wants to continue to deny reasonable access to recreational anglers, continuing seasons that are 10 days or possibly even shorter. Meanwhile, using  a "catch shares" strategy of divide and conquer in privatizing a public resource, it is supported by the commercial fishing industry and a small group of charter captains who are guaranteed "shares" of the fishery.

"The management agency for every Gulf state has come to the same conclusion as recreational anglers--- federal management of red snapper is a failure," Angers said.

"Recreational anglers--- the people who go fishing on weekends and holidays with their kids and families--- have no voice in federal fisheries management. The recreational community is united in its conviction that the states will bring balance back into the red snapper fishery to do what is necessary to manage it both for the benefit of everyone - commercial, for-hire and recreational anglers--- and for the health of the resource."

Businesses have "relentlessly manipulated the federal system and have already been given personal ownership of a percentage of the red snapper fishery or are on their way to being gifted a share to use as their own, however and whenever they want," said Sport Fishing.

“It is not fair that America’s sportsmen who voluntarily give $1.5 billion annually toward rebuilding fish species and protecting their habitat are being kept at the water’s edge now that the snapper population is healthy again," Angers said.

“Congress should act quickly to pass this important measure that will give legal recognition to the historic cooperative agreement by the Fish and Wildlife agencies of the five Gulf States -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas -- to assume management of the Gulf red snapper.”

Monday
Aug032015

Bill Introduced to Block NPS Plan to Restrict Access at Biscayne National Park

Following the National Park Service's (NPS) decision to close more than 10,000 acres of Biscayne National Park to fishing,  a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3310,  has been introduced in Congress to help stop this and similar unwarranted fishing closures from occurring.

Led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and 28 other original sponsors, the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the NPS and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing.

“Probably the most concerning aspect of the Biscayne National Park marine reserve decision is the total disregard for the fisheries management expertise of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association.

 “The states are responsible for nearly all of our nation’s saltwater fisheries management successes. This legislative safeguard will prevent the federal government from ignoring the fisheries management expertise of the states in these types of situations.”

Throughout the development of the General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided detailed recommendations to improve the condition of the fisheries resources in the park. The Commission has continually insisted that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public and will not be biologically effective.

 It also argues that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat.

The recreational fishing and boating community has echoed these concerns, but nevertheless the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing.

“The Congressional leaders who are sponsoring this bill are to be commended for this common sense approach to protect saltwater anglers from unwarranted access restrictions,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Biscayne National Park marine reserve is part of a concerning trend of closing marine areas without scientific basis or an understanding of the critical role anglers play in the economy and in funding conservation.”

“Marine reserves are a tool in the fisheries management toolbox, but too often we see them promoted with questionable-at-best motivations,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Government Relations Committee. “This bill will ensure that Florida has a say in important fisheries management decisions in Biscayne National Park, including marine reserves, and that similar issues don’t arise in other parts of the state and country.”

Today the  House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing to explore the potential implications of lost access due to the Biscayne marine reserve.

Friday
Jul312015

BASS, Other Groups Urge Restoration of Funding for Fisheries 

B.A.S.S., along with 30 other conservation organizations, has signed a letter urging Congress to restore funding for sportfishing projects suffering under the current federal budget impasse.

“The letter asks Congress to get off ‘high center’ and do its job, pass a budget and fund conservation programs,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland, “especially including the Sport Fish Restoration Act which is the most important bill up for reauthorization from the freshwater fisheries management standpoint.”

The letter to leaders and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, was sent Tuesday afternoon on behalf of 31 conservation organizations. It stated:
 
“The undersigned sportsmen, conservation, outdoor recreation business and resource professional organizations, collectively representing millions of American hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts would like to urge the Congress to start in earnest the process of a bipartisan and bicameral budget deal that lifts the sequester and can begin to reinvest in absolutely critical conservation funding priorities.
 
“As you know, the expiration of the Murray-Ryan budget deal in just a few short months raises the distinct possibility of a return to sequester-level funding for the domestic discretionary programs that are essential to so many segments of economic growth and job creation. When it comes to the outdoor recreation economy, Budget Control Act funding levels are simply inadequate, and in many cases push a backlog of costs onto future generations of Americans.
 
“As conservation has shrunk as a percentage of the federal budget by half from 1978 until today, the outdoor recreation economy has continued to grow; but that phenomenon is unlikely to endure. If investments in recreation, habitat restoration, access improvement, and facility maintenance continue to fall, we can likely expect the health of the American $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, which employs millions, and puts billions into federal, state, and local tax coffers to suffer.
 
“The impact of insufficient funding is clear: shuttered visitor’s centers, unmaintained trails, closed campgrounds, reduced staff, and degraded habitat. These reductions in service keep Americans from enjoying the outdoors to their fullest potential, and in so doing, unnecessarily constrain an entire segment of the American economy, perhaps most pointedly in the rural countryside most dependent on the annual spending of hunters and anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

"Furthermore, the Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Funds (Trust Funds) are a user pays – public benefits system of fish and wildlife conservation derived from hunters, recreational shooters, anglers and boaters instead of federal income tax dollars. As mandatory programs, the Trust Funds are already being sequestered, and the sequestration rate is expected to increase to 8.5 percent in FY2016. These Trust Funds are the lifeblood of many state resource agency operating budgets, and any bipartisan budget deal should address the issue of sequestering these critical trust funds.

“Many of our organizations applauded the Murray-Ryan budget deal, and likewise we stand ready to support the next iteration of the bipartisan budget leadership necessary to keep American outdoor traditions alive for many future generations.”
 
Among other fishing and hunting organizations signing onto the letter were the American Fisheries Society, American Sportfishing Association, Berkley Conservation Institute, Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, National Wild Turkey Federation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Wednesday
Jul292015

Anglers Should Support Improving Magnuson-Stevens

As progress is made to better manage the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, with the likelihood of more angling opportunities for recreational anglers, the Environmental Defense Fund and others who want to restrict access are stepping up their well-funded opposition.

That's why Jeff Angers at the Center for Coastal Conservation encourages fishermen  to talk to their elected officials  during August, urging them to support improving the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

He also points out that, despite its misleading name, the Charter Fisherman's Association does not represent most charter captains in the Gulf.

Here's more from Angers:

In the last six weeks, we’ve made more progress toward improving the Magnuson-Stevens Act on behalf of recreational anglers than at any time in the last six years. 

When you look at how far we’ve come -- passage by the full U.S. House of Representatives of Magnuson-Stevens modernization, approval by the Senate Commerce Committee of the Rubio-Nelson Fisheries Management bill, and introduction just last week of Rep. Garret Graves’ H.R.3094 bipartisan legislation to recognize the Gulf States’ historic cooperative plan for improved red snapper fishery management -- there’s no question we are gaining major yardage.
 
That’s why the shrill rhetoric of our adversaries is reaching new heights.
 
Vastly unpopular in the Gulf region, the Environmental Defense Fund must operate under pseudonyms. One alias (of many) is the “Charter Fisherman’s Association.” Heavily funded by the Washington mega-lobbyists at EDF, when CFA speaks, it’s EDF money doing the talking -- and this week, they’ve been doing a lot of it.
 
My friend Bob Zales is the well-known president of the Panama City Boatmen Association with real-life bona fides as president of the National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO).

Bob’s perspective: “If you poll the 1,300 federally permitted charter vessel owners in the Gulf, over two-thirds would support the proposed five Gulf State plan and legislation recently introduced in the House.” 

Zales added, “Charter Fisherman's Association is an Environmental Defense Fund-created and -funded association to help push the EDF agenda.  Their membership does not represent the majority of charter boat owners in the Gulf.  They are heavily financed by EDF so are able to make a lot of noise in key areas.  The grassroots charter boat owners are not able to be heard as loudly since they cannot afford to travel to D.C., all of the Gulf Council meetings, or areas where a few who are financially supported can.”

Zales speaks the truth. Federally permitted charter owners know, just like we do, that federal Gulf red snapper fishery management is badly broken. These hard-working folks are no more supportive of the status quo than we are, and they trust the states to do a better job, just like we do. 

Still, EDF’s money buys a lot of talk and we have to make sure our representatives and senators hear the truth.
 
We’re making progress, but we can’t stop now.  Now is the time to redouble our efforts to seek out our elected representatives when they conduct town hall meetings or hold office hours during the upcoming August Congressional Recess.
 
Tell your elected representatives how important it is to modernize the Magnuson-Stevens Act so recreational anglers like us can have a fair shake.  Remind them of the jobs we create and the money we contribute to fisheries conservation.
 
Tell them, “I fish -- I fish and I vote."