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Entries in Gulf of Mexico (24)

Tuesday
Feb182014

Exotics Take a Bite Out of Wetlands

Nutria photo from Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that other exotics also are doing severe damage. They don’t receive as much publicity because their range is more limited.

But in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

Additionally, the giant apple snail also is taking a giant bite out of the wetlands. They’ve been banned from the state since 2012, but that was too late to keep them from becoming a destructive force, courtesy of irresponsible hobbyists who dumped their aquariums into waterways.

“They eat a ton of plant material, anything they can get their tiny little mouths on,” said Michael Massimi of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “You are converting a water body from one dominated by plants to one dominated by algae.”

Asian carp, tiger prawns, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia also are among the exotic species doing damage to Louisiana’s coastal system.

Some limited good news is that the state’s nutria control plan, implemented in 2002, has lessened the impact of these furbearers, which were imported during the 1930s and promoted as a way to combat water hyacinth and other invasive plants during the 1940s.

Giant apple snails also are gobbling up wetlands.

Still the cumulative effect of these invaders is significant for an ecosystem already under siege. First came decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. These actions accelerated erosion and saltwater intrusion, which are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, which added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

Sadly, passing legislation and creating coalitions will do little to counter the damage already being done by established exotic species, including the nutria and giant apple snail.

But something could be done to lessen the likelihood of future harmful invasions in Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands, as well as other waterways nationwide. Congress needs to strengthen the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and trade of harmful species.

Here is how bad the problem is: Since the act’s implementation more than a century ago, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited, and that usually occurred long after they were imported, escaped into the wild, and started doing damage.

By modernizing the Lacey Act, Congress could empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade in the United States. The ineffectiveness of the current law is easily evidenced by Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, and giant apple snails joining nutria in gobbling up Louisiana’s wetlands.

Sunday
Jan192014

Feds Continue to Ignore Anglers, Push Ahead With 'Sector Separation'

 

Monday update: Comments link (below) might not work. Thanks to T.J. Stallings for alerting me to this. If that is the case, send your comments to gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org  Also tell your Representatives and Senators about this issue and why you oppose it. The Big-Government know-it-alls are trying their best to ignore us, and it's time to get their attention.


As part of its determined effort to manage every aspect of our lives, including fishing, this administration is pushing ahead with its scheme for “sector separation” in the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper fishery. This is a divide-and-conquer strategy, and it continues despite long and loud opposition from recreational anglers and their advocates.

By promising an allotment for charter captains, the feds intend to split recreational anglers, making them easier to subjugate for Catch Shares.

Under Catch Shares, the federal government turns over a public resource (fish) for private profit. It does so under the guise of better management of the resource, but its real intent is to reduce participation, thereby making federal control easier.

Mostly Catch Shares has been implemented on commercial fisheries. A company or a boat receives a specific “share” of the allotment for a season.

When the scheme is applied to mixed (commercial and recreational) or recreational fisheries, however, it treats sports anglers as a single entity and allots it a single share. Common sense will tell you that this cap will discourage both participation and growth in recreational fishing, which is worth far more economically than commercial fishing.

With “sector separation,” the feds hope that charter captains will forsake recreational fishing and support Catch Shares.

Even if you don't fish for saltwater species, this is something that you should be concerned about and speak up against. This is but one of several ways that this Big-Government administration intends to tell you where you can and cannot fish.

Here’s the latest on this from the Coastal Conservation Association:

The Council let it be known with its stealth release on the afternoon of Christmas Eve that this time, for sure, they really want to know how you feel about Amendment 40 – Sector Separation. And, at the same time, they announced that they don’t really care what you think about sector separation because they went ahead and launched the Headboat sector separation pilot program already. 

What’s the purpose of this public comment thing again? 

The only thing more disingenuous than the Christmas Eve News Dump is the charade of public comment in federal fisheries management on this issue. There is nothing in the glorious history of sector separation that indicates the general public matters in this arena. If it did, then these plans to give away fish to private businesses would have been dead and buried long ago.

Why should we care if yet another comment period is open on plans to divide up the recreational sector and give another small group of business-owners an insurmountable advantage over the general public in the red snapper fishery? The uncomfortable truth is that if we flooded the Council website with comments in opposition to this nine times in the past and washed our hands of it on the 10th time, that 10th time would forever be held up as evidence that this is what the public wants.

As sorry as this whole episode is, we can’t let that happen. 

We must fight this all the way to the end. You have done your part repeatedly and you’ve done it well. This is a battle in which we are struggling not because we are wrong or apathetic, but because the system doesn’t work the way it is supposed to.

We are up against a system that does not understand recreational angling and often acts like it doesn’t want to. You need look no further than the fairly insulting decision to release an announcement of the most controversial federal fisheries amendment in recent history on Christmas Eve. 

This comment period is a chance to OPPOSE SECTOR SEPARATION ONE MORE TIME, and we should take it. But more significantly, it is an opportunity to send the message that millions of recreational anglers cannot be oh-so-casually dismissed. We deserve far better treatment than this.

The comment period on Amendment 40 – Sector Separation is open until Jan. 23. Click HERE to submit comments electronically or submit written comments to: Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

The next meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will take place February 3-6, at the Westin Galleria Hotel, 5060 W. Alabama Street in Houston, Texas.

Also, read what the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have to say about this scheme to privatize and limit participation for public fisheries.

 

Friday
Nov152013

Texas A&M to Build Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation

Texas sea trout, caught and released while fishing out of Redfish Lodge. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Texas A&M will build a Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation (CSSC) at its Harte Research Institute (HRI) in Corpus Christi.

 “The Island University is excited to have the first center of its kind in the nation dedicated to advancing sportfish management, science, and conservation,” said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, president and CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “The new Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation will position the University as a national and international leader in addressing issues related to sportfish.”

Recreational saltwater fishing in Texas generates more than $981 million dollars in retail sales each year with more than 750,000 saltwater anglers supporting an annual economic impact of $1.7 billion dollars.

“We will contribute the expertise and the leadership needed to help ensure that the state’s multi-billion dollar recreational fisheries continue to thrive for future generations,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, executive director of the HRI. “The Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation will provide a robust base of scientific knowledge to assure that the best decisions are made in managing fisheries and marine environments.”

Dr. Greg Stunz, director of the CSSC and Endowed Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health at the HRI, added that both inshore and offshore, many challenges confront maintaining healthy sportfish populations. These threats include a changing environment that is seeing diminished freshwater inflows to estuaries; habitat loss due to coastal development; and increasing pressure from commercial fisheries.

“The Center will address the most critical issues and problems affecting sport fisheries today,” said Stunz. “Our team is ready to take on the challenges facing the recreational fishing industry along the Texas coast and the Gulf of Mexico.”

In November 2012, the Coastal Conservation Association-Texas (CCA-Texas) pledged $500,000 to support the CSSC.  CCA Texas is a leader in restoring the fisheries for spotted sea trout and red drum, advocating for freshwater inflows to Texas estuaries, habitat restoration, and education.

 CSSC will provide hands-on research opportunities for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi graduate and undergraduate students. It also will be a hub for marine research for the Texas A&M University System and scientists interested in marine fisheries investigations.  

Monday
Oct282013

Louisiana's Vitter Calls Out NOAA for Failure in Managing Fisheries

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is pushing back against NOAA’s failure to implement its own allocation policies and to provide leadership and direction to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. He says that he will “hold” the nominee to lead that agency until it agrees to address its responsibilities.

Even though the recreational fishery for red snapper is worth far more to the economy than the commercial, sports anglers are allocated just 49 percent of the catch, based on data from the 1980s. Back then, bycatch of juvenile red snapper by shrimp trawlers caused the recreational catch to decline by 87 percent.

“It shouldn’t have to come to this,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association.  “After all, NOAA is an agency charged with managing our public marine resources in a manner to achieve the greatest benefits to the nation and there is no way to manage any fishery to achieve that goal when the managing agency insists on adhering to an allocation that was set using catch history from the 1980s.  

“We really appreciate Senator Vitter stepping in to make NOAA Fisheries do its job.”

“Given all the turbulence surrounding Gulf red snapper over the past several years, it is past time to look at the fundamental underpinnings of how we manage this fishery,” added Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.  “Ignoring the problem is irresponsible.”

The Secretary of Commerce is legally obligated, along with the Fishery Management Councils, to establish procedures to ensure a fair and equitable allocation of fish harvest for Gulf red snapper – and every other federally managed fishery.  The Obama Administration three years ago committed to review guidelines for implementing fair and equitable allocations.  While some preliminary work has been done to develop options for moving forward with allocation reviews, so far, neither NOAA nor any Council has produced such guidelines. 

“Federal managers simply must address allocation,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation.  “Our system of federal fisheries management is broken to a point where a United States Senator is compelled to force a federal agency to do a fundamental part of its job.  We support Sen. Vitter’s continued efforts to make government act responsibly.”

Read more here.

Friday
Oct252013

Recreational Fishing for Gulf Red Snapper at Risk

For years now, I’ve been warning about Catch Shares, a scheme by the Obama Administration to privatize public saltwater fisheries by dividing them into “shares.” When/if such a strategy is applied to a recreational or mixed (recreational and commercial) it would cap participation, denying recreational anglers access to public waters.

Related to this threat, is a push by environmental groups and the commercial sector to reduce the share of the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico reserved for recreational fishing. As I reported at Activist Angler in May, Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster) believes that anglers should get less and commercials more.

Right now, commercials get 51 percent and recreation 49, even though sports fishing is far more valuable economically than is commercial fishing.

Here’s the latest, as reported by the Outdoor Hub:

In a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee on June 27, EDF’s Pam Baker specifically asked members of Congress to consider catch shares as a new way of managing our coastal anglers. “For example, states can try methods such as harvest tags, similar to those used to allot hunting privileges for limited game populations like deer and elk,” Baker said, explaining how “tags could be allocated throughout the year to accommodate tourist seasons, tournaments, and other priorities.”

Very similar to the lead balloon introduced by a conservation group at the Gulf Council back in 2009, Baker and EDF suggest that “Angler management organizations, which receive a given amount of fish to distribute at the local level and allow anglers to manage themselves in cooperation with regulators, also have promise.”

RFA (Recreational Fishing Alliance) and its members were quick in leading the charge in the Gulf region in 2012 to rally opposition to a plan which would have separated the recreational sector into sharply divided pieces. The Council ultimately held off on voting on the plan, but regrettably that means that the idea is still in place.

“It’s hard to believe but we have some members of our fishing community who’ve already compromised away some fairly critical positions, first giving in to cap and trade fisheries policies as being appropriate for the commercial sector, and now yielding to the concept of trading shares amongst the charter and head boat community,” RFA's Jim Donofrio said. “EDF is running towards the goal-line with this new plan to privatize all fisheries, and unless anglers fight back now I really believe it could be the end of recreational fishing as we know it.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will be meeting Oct. 28-Nov. 1 in New Orleans, and the Share the Gulf coalition said it plans to alert members of the restaurant and seafood communities, elected officials, and consumers of these plans and their dire economic consequences. It is expected that all of the EDF ‘catch share’ supporting members will be in attendance for these meetings.

Representing RFA in an effort to fight for the rights of recreational anglers will be Capt. Tom Adams and Capt. Buddy Bradham. Join Capt. Buddy this Saturday starting at 4 p.m. at the Fat Cat Tavern in Tri-Cities Plaza, 16080 US Hwy 19 North in Clearwater, Fla., for an open discussion on fisheries management.

“I listened to the testimony at the Pensacola, Florida, Gulf Council meeting and got very confused,” Capt. Bradham said. “A group of New Orleans chefs were there testifying about how the commercial fishermen needed more quota because they could not keep enough fish at their restaurants to supply the American consumer, yet the commercial fishermen were testifying that they wanted the Gulf Council to move forward with the inter-sector trading plan to allow commercial fishermen to lease quota to charter boats and recreational fishermen.”

 “I am still scratching my head,” Capt. Bradham added. “Do the commercial fishermen want to fish for the chefs and American consumer or do they just want to sit back and lease their quota to the recreational sector? They can’t have it both ways.”