An old friend of mine used to comment on the lack of change in fisheries policy as being the
result of the various management organizations "moving at the speed of government" — which was to say it moved slow.
As I've said before, some things never change — and the plodding along of bureaucracy is one of them.
Actually, I should clarify: the fisheries bureaucracy plods along when it comes to anything that might remotely be perceived as beneficial to fishermen, but boy, can regulators move at lightning speed when it comes to shutting something down.
As the year comes to a close, fishermen across the country are awaiting action on the newest reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Seven months have passed since the House of Representatives approved H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act. The Senate took up its version of the bill in May, when Sen. Marco Rubio introduced S. 1403, the Florida Fisheries Improvement Act.
That bill was referred to committee in June ... and hasn't been heard from since.
At the same time, NOAA still has failed to revamp the flawed Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. Its replacement, the Marine Recreational Information Program, is nothing more than a ripoff. Promises that a "national phonebook of saltwater anglers" would be used to gather more accurate data have been nothing but hot air coming from Washington. Federally required trip reports continue to gather dust.
And while Senate fiddles around, our fishing communities are slowly suffocating.
At the same time, NOAA has no problem slashing quotas and requiring commercial captains to pay for observers on their vessels — further choking the fishing industry.
According to the Boston Globe, "Fishing officials acknowledge that requiring the fishermen to pay for the so-called 'at-sea monitoring' program will increase the hardship of fishermen who are already struggling with major cuts to their quotas."
"A federal report this year found that the costs could cause 59 percent of the region’s groundfishing fleet to lose money," the Globe report said, referring to New England fisheries.
The argument from NOAA regional administrator John Bullard is that fishermen were supposed to start paying that expense three years ago.
It's been five years since NOAA was supposed to fully implement MRIP. FIVE.
It's taken NOAA three years and counting to decide whether it will allow the import of billfish for consumption from Hawaii to the U.S. Mainland under the Billfish Conservation Act. The act was passed in 2012 to protect the marlin that continue to amaze anglers around the country by completely banning the import and sale of billfish – marlin, sailfish and spearfish – in the United States.
But three years afterward, NOAA continues to move at the speed of government, doing nothing to settle the issue.
And more than 10 years after NOAA started talking about managing by ecosystem, we're no closer to that actually occurring; our fisheries councils continue to manage each species separately, trying to bring all of them to maximum population levels at the same time – a difficult prospect when the only thing they control is humans.
Let me throw one more at you: the Northeast Multispecies fisheries disaster declaration issued in September 2012. It took the feds 18 months to start providing the financial relief promised as a result of the declaration, and even now the money is still trickling out to those who need the help so badly.
Commercial fishermen have banded together to sue NOAA over the at-sea monitoring program, saying it's a tax that NOAA is unfairly imposing on them at a time when their quotas continue to be cut and people continue to lose jobs and go out of business.
Recreational anglers ought to be suing as well, because NOAA's lack of progress on MRIP is destroying jobs and businesses on that side of the fisheries world as well.
Unfortunately, recreational anglers, for the most part, just don't seem to see it happening. A cut here, a cut there ... we're dying a death of a thousand paper cuts.
Trying to get recreational anglers to stand together and really fight NOAA continues to be a difficult prospect in part because we continue to face issues of wolves in sheeps' clothing — the radical environmentalist mouthpieces who continually lobby against fishermen while claiming to be representatives of the recreational fishing community.
The coming together of major players in the recreational fishing world — the American Sportfishing Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance and others — has been a step in the right direction for fighting for the changes necessary.
But it's time everyone gets involved. The pressure is ramping up again, with Pew and its business interests coming after us on one side and NOAA slamming the door on the other. It takes a village — a fishing village — to save our rights.
It's time to stop hearing excuses from NOAA on why MRIP isn't fixed and why our fisheries management is mired in 1980s practices. It's time to stop hearing NOAA doesn't have the money to get into the 21st century and start using the data at managers' fingertips.
It's time for government to stop moving at the speed of government when bureaucrats don't feel like doing their jobs.
Karen Wall Subscribe