Here We Go Again


Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - RIP CUN­NING­HAM

The cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress’ phi­los­o­phy of grab­bing ev­ery­thing they can to­day and deal­ing with what­ever hap­pens as a re­sult tomorrow spells trou­ble for fish pop­u­la­tions.

If you are in­ter­ested in the long-term health and sus­tain­abil­ity of our marine re­sources and would like to make sure there are fish left to catch for your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, then you need to be con­cerned. If you are more in­ter­ested in cur­rent ac­cess and catch for our marine fish, you might be smil­ing. I sus­pect that most read­ers are in the mid­dle ground, con­cerned about the fu­ture of our fish but un­aware of what the dis­cus­sion about the reau­tho­riza­tion of the Mag­nu­son Stevens Act re­ally means. My hope is that I can help with that dis­cus­sion.

Hav­ing spent 19 years on a state marine fish­eries ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion and nine on a re­gional fish­ery man­age­ment coun­cil, I un­der­stand the reg­u­la­tory process and the in­tent of both state and fed­eral laws meant to man­age our marine re­sources. The United States is unique in how we man­age our com­mon-prop­erty marine re­sources. We do so in a trans­par­ent and open process all are wel­come to par­tic­i­pate in. Hav­ing said that, I am also the first to rec­og­nize that the process, like many gov­ern­men­tal reg­u­la­tory deal­ings, is very com­pli­cated to the ca­sual ob­server. Ar­cane may be a bet­ter de­scrip­tion. Ev­ery­where else in the world, the process is far more dog­matic, with min­i­mal or no pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. Our demo­cratic process can cer­tainly work with­out pub­lic in­put, but sim­ply stated, it works a whole lot bet­ter with it.

The fed­eral law that reg­u­lates how many of our marine fish are man­aged, and is ba­si­cally mim­icked for some state fish­eries, is the Mag­nu­son Stevens Act (MSA). It is reau­tho­rized, give or take, ev­ery seven years, and it gets a typ­i­cally flow­ery gov­ern­mentese name, but un­der­neath it is still the MSA. Reau­tho­riza­tion is an op­por­tu­nity to tin­ker with or out­right change parts of the law that one dis­likes and/or to fine­tune parts that need to work bet­ter. Since Congress is busy with health­care, taxes, bud­gets or im­mi­gra­tion, MSA may not get a lot of

Here We Go Again con­tin­ued from page 22

at­ten­tion. The cur­rent Congress is in the process of reau­tho­riza­tion as this is writ­ten, but it is any­one’s guess if it will have been signed into law by the time this sees print. Yet the on­go­ing dis­cus­sions are trou­bling to me. They are re­flec­tive of the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress’ phi­los­o­phy of grab­bing ev­ery­thing they can to­day and deal­ing with what­ever hap­pens as a re­sult tomorrow. Not a good sit­u­a­tion, in my opin­ion, but I ad­mit to be­ing con­ser­va­tive with a small “c” and per­haps old-fash­ioned. Re­source man­age­ment is like a sav­ings ac­count. If you take out just the in­ter­est earned, the ac­count re­mains sta­ble. If you take the in­ter­est and nib­ble at the prin­ci­ple, soon the ac­count is empty. The ex­ist­ing MSA has done a pretty good job of main­tain­ing, or in some cases build­ing, the prin­ci­ple. Where it has doled out too much of the in­ter­est and/or prin­ci­ple, there are trig­gers that re­quire a process to re­build the stock.

While this process is far from per­fect, there are more species of fish that have had their biomass re­built in U.S. wa­ters than in any other of the world’s ter­ri­to­rial seas. There are still some to be re­built, but our record is pretty good.

The prob­lem comes when a re­build­ing pro­gram is es­tab­lished and, un­der the ex­ist­ing law, the time frame gen­er­ally can be no longer than 10 years. This ar­bi­trary num­ber is not based on any nat­u­ral time frame. It was set as a rea­son­able pe­riod long enough to al­low the re­source to re­build and short enough to make sure the gov­ern­ment did not just kick the can down the road, which it is ex­pert at do­ing. The bill that will most likely be the ba­sis for change is HR 200, the Strength­en­ing Fish­ing Com­mu­ni­ties and In­creas­ing Flex­i­bil­ity in Fish­eries Man­age­ment Act. The de­sire is to make the re­build­ing pe­riod more flex­i­ble, which should be read as “longer.” This means some fish pop­u­la­tions will remain at be­low-op­ti­mum lev­els for a longer pe­riod, which may ben­e­fit some re­source users in the short run, but will not ben­e­fit the re­source. An­glers should re­al­ize that we use the least-ef­fi­cient gear, and when fish pop­u­la­tions are de­pressed, we are the most neg­a­tively im­pacted users. That au­to­mat­i­cally means fewer folks tak­ing fish­ing trips.

Some see this as sim­ply giv­ing users more im­me­di­ate ac­cess to fish by keep­ing quo­tas slightly higher. Go­ing back to the sav­ings-ac­count ex­am­ple, this means the in­ter­est level has to be en­hanced with some of the prin­ci­ple in hopes that the in­ter­est rate will soon rise.

My con­cern is and will remain, whether reau­tho­riza­tion has been passed or not, that the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is far more in­ter­ested in con­sump­tion rather than con­ser­va­tion. That is not good for the fish bank ac­count, and that should con­cern you as well.

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