The first four months of 2017 have been far from uneventful with all of the goings-on in Washington. But while much of
the country has been focused on what is happening in the White House and Congress, issues of grave importance to anglers continue to fly under the radar.
Four months in to 2017, sportfishermen on the East Coast continue to face the very real possibility of the institution of a marine sanctuary covering one of the most popular offshore areas for all sorts of pelagic pursuits: the Hudson Canyon.
The Hudson Canyon, as well as the Baltimore and Norfolk canyons, were nominated in 2016 for consideration as urban marine sanctuaries. The Hudson Canyon was nominated by the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium, similarly to the efforts by the National Aquarium in Baltimore for the Baltimore Canyon, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for the Norfolk Aquarium.
In each case, the nomination's backers say the marine sanctuary status aims to protect the canyons from exploitation by oil, gas and mineral extraction interests. Gas and oil exploration have not happened in the Atlantic since the early 1980s, yet the nominations pushed for marine sanctuaries anyway.
“It is our intention that the designation of a new National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) would preclude such inconsistent uses as oil, gas, and mineral extraction in the Hudson Canyon, helping to maintain fish and wildlife populations, protect our coastline, and ensure a future for the economically important fisheries and tourism industries that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems,” the New York Aquarium's nomination says. “We therefore recommend that fishing should continue in this economically valuable area, especially in light of recent proactive measures taken to protect deep sea corals and forage species in the region.”
Marine sanctuaries, however, are just one step shy of marine monuments, which repeatedly have been used to bar fishermen far more often than drilling. Hundreds of thousands of square miles off the California coast, where oil drilling has been banned since the late 1960s, are covered by marine monument status that bars fishing. Massive marine sanctuaries in the Pacific further limit activities around U.S. Territories.
The Northeast hasn't been immune: In 2016, an area off Cape Cod, Massachusetts was designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The plan includes ending commercial fishing in the monument, which covers an area the size of Connecticut, by 2023, according to a report in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Recreational fishing reportedly would be allowed to continue, but how many times have we heard that?
The Baltimore Canyon nomination was withdrawn earlier this year, according to a report on Philly.com, but the Hudson proposal remains on the table.
If the concern is banning oil and gas exploitation, which scientists say pose a significant risk to fragile deep sea corals and habitats, why not simply focus on gaining that ban?
Part of the reason for the proposals, according to the Virginian-Pilot report, is the organizations behind the nominations stand to receive federal funding if the proposals go through. That could amount to millions of dollars for aquariums that are often cash-strapped as they try to be educational while at the same time conducting research on fish populations and more.
What we have seen all too often is that fishermen end up wearing the dunce caps because they've gotten suckered in to government double-speak so many times. Doubt me? Ask the fluke fishermen right now, who are once more faced with massive cutbacks, especially in New Jersey, despite nearly two decades of conservation efforts that have raised the summer flounder population to historic levels, according to NOAA's own scientists.
It's worth noting that even the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has come out against the proposal to turn the Hudson Canyon into a marine sanctuary. The council voted 15-4 at its spring meeting in New Jersey against the proposal.
We have seen all too often that NOAA promises one thing, yet ignores those promises when it's simply easier and more convenient to do so. Remember that promise that we'd have a program that would do a much better job of measuring recreational fishing effort, one that would give fisheries managers more sound, robust data upon which to base their fisheries decisions? How's that working out for us? Not sure? Let me tell you: badly. So badly they're back before the National Academies of Science looking at the Marine Recreational Information Program just like they did the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survery that was deemed to have fatal flaws a dozen years ago.
While the New York Aquarium and its environmental business partners such as New Jersey's Sierra Club and the Wildlife Conservation Society continue to fight for the Hudson sanctuary, claiming it will ensure protections for fishermen as well, they continue to attack fishermen on other fronts. Not exactly a surefire way of gaining trust, I would suggest.
There are so many things broken in our fisheries management world today, starting with the still-unrenewed Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. It's been 10 years since then-President George W. Bush signed the 2007 reauthorization that put the screws to fishermen, and in 10 years we still don't have a fix.
If you're not fighting against these measures now, when will you? Don't sit back and wait and hope that President Trump will fix everything; we've all seen how broken our government is. Make your voice heard. Contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to block this move, this stepping stone to shutting you out of a legal activity that not only brings enjoyment to you and yours but supports real jobs.
We can't afford to allow this change, and then spend the next 10 years or more fighting to turn back the regulations. Not if we really value our ability to fish and to enjoy our time on the water.
Send your comments opposing the marine sanctuary designation to:
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
1305 East-West Highway, 11th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Fax: (301) 713-0404
Karen Wall Subscribe