See­ing Red

THE QUAG­MIRE CON­TIN­UES AROUND GULF RED SNAP­PER MAN­AGE­MENT

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - By Rip Cun­ning­ham

RIP CUN­NING­HAM

OK, OK, I get it. There has to be a sub­ject other than fish­eries man­age­ment.

It is likely that other sub­jects ex­ist, but as I sit here suf­fer­ing from a case of cabin fever, fish­eries man­age­ment is­sues keep ris­ing up like the myth­i­cal Phoenix. Since I spend a lot of time on fish­eries man­age­ment, I have been asked sev­eral times what I think might be a rea­son­able so­lu­tion to the red snap­per is­sue in the Gulf of Mex­ico (GOM). My an­swer is pretty much the same ev­ery time: I hon­estly do not know.

What I do know is that the more de­ci­sions are made on po­lit­i­cal grounds rather than science, the more com­pli­cated the is­sue gets. I don’t be­lieve that red snap­per in the GOM is the only species be­ing turned into a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball. So, if past re­sults are an in­di­ca­tor for the fu­ture, we should all be con­cerned. I have lost track of the num­ber of years this re­source fight has been go­ing on, but it has been a while, and we don’t seem to be much closer to a res­o­lu­tion. In fact, new dy­nam­ics seem to get added all the time, with fed­eral ver­sus states rights, states ver­sus states, and user groups de­fend­ing ter­ri­tory left and right. Let me make this as clear as I can be­cause in the past I have been ac­cused of be­ing a flam­ing lib­eral and a rad­i­cal-right pro­po­nent. I hap­pen to think that man­ag­ing re­sources is sim­ply a com­mon­sense and science-based ef­fort that has no po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion. If I sug­gest that some­one is mak­ing stupid de­ci­sions, then I don’t care whose side they are on. It is sim­ply a stupid de­ci­sion, at least in my opin­ion.

I have writ­ten about the Sec­re­tary of Com­merce’s (SOC) de­ci­sion on sum­mer floun­der and the State of New Jer­sey, where the sec­re­tary re­versed the de­ci­sion of the At­lantic States Ma­rine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion. This was within the sec­re­tary’s author­ity, but it was a bad de­ci­sion and prece­dent be­cause it put the SOC in a po­si­tion of mak­ing fish­ery man­age­ment de­ci­sions rather than pol­icy de­ci­sions for fish­ery man­agers to carry out. What’s worse, there was strong in­di­ca­tion that this de­ci­sion was made for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

About a year ago, the red snap­per is­sue was at a rolling boil, as usual. The recre­ational fish­ing in­dus­try in the GOM had made a con­certed ef­fort with its state and fed­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives to get more than a three-day fish­ing sea­son in fed­eral wa­ters. Who could blame them? That is a stun­ningly short sea­son. They were suc­cess­ful in con­vinc­ing a group of Con­gress­men to go to bat for them with the SOC to see if he would ex­tend the sea­son. Back to mak­ing man­age­ment de­ci­sions, not pol­icy.

In sev­eral memos from a com­merce staffer in charge of pol­icy and strate­gic plan­ning for the SOC, the idea of ex­tend­ing the sea­son was laid out. While the ba­sic logic for mak­ing a de­ci­sion

seemed straight­for­ward, one im­por­tant piece of the puz­zle was skipped. There was also an ef­fort to co­or­di­nate the length of the recre­ational red snap­per sea­son for both fed­eral and Gulf state wa­ters. It was and is a great idea, but it is not legally doable un­der the Mag­nu­son Stevens Act. In the memo to the SOC, this fact was pointed out. It read: “An ac­tion to ex­tend the sum­mer sea­son to 46 days would be very well re­ceived and would re­set the re­la­tion­ship with the states. It would re­sult in over­fish­ing the stock by 6 mil­lion pounds (40 per­cent), which will draw crit­i­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mer­cial fish­er­men.”

The memo con­tin­ued on to say: “Un­der the Mag­nu­son Stevens Act, a court can’t is­sue a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der, so your ac­tion would re­main in ef­fect for at least 45 days be­fore a court could act. This ac­tion would demon­strate that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing this long-stand­ing prob­lem.”

I say bravo in the ef­fort to try to re­solve this prob­lem, but I do won­der about the idea of know­ingly con­tra­ven­ing fish­ery man­age­ment law to get to a res­o­lu­tion. This can go in the cub­by­hole la­beled “good idea, poorly ex­e­cuted.”

Just prior to Congress’ Christ­mas break, the House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources acted fa­vor­ably on the Red Snap­per Act H.R. 3588, which would give the Gulf states more au­ton­omy in man­ag­ing this fish. Can that work? I think that it is pos­si­ble, but since this is be­ing in­cor­po­rated into the over­haul of the Mag­nu­son Stevens Act, where the mantra is flex­i­bil­ity in re­build­ing time­lines and where the chair of the House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources has said that fish­ery man­age­ment de­ci­sions in the U.S. have be­come “no­tably worse” over the last 10 years, re­sult­ing in too many re­stric­tions on fish­er­men (Green­wire, De­cem­ber 2013), I have my con­cerns that the out­come will ben­e­fit the re­source.

What­ever the out­come, I main­tain that re­source man­age­ment and pol­i­tics make strange bed­fel­lows, and the re­source is the likely loser.

“... fish­ery man­age­ment de­ci­sions in the U.S. have be­come ‘no­tably worse’ over the last 10 years ...”

SHORTSIGHTED: Fail­ure to take the long view in fish­eries man­age­ment leads to a di­min­ished re­source.

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