For years, the Big Game Fishing Journal has been warning fishermen of the issues surrounding fisheries regulations and
the ongoing attempts by nongovernmental organizations to kick fishermen off the oceans.
When I was with the Asbury Park Press, we spoke out against the Pew Foundation and its many-tentacled approach to grabbing our recreation away from us, through its various environmental claims.
And while we have raised concerns about attacks on various fisheries, from summer flounder and sea bass on the Atlantic Coast to red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, while we have railed against catch shares in the Gulf and in Alaska, the overall threat to fishing has been treated by many as not real.
When President George W. Bush designated thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean as a National Marine Monument under the federal Antiquities Act in 2006, many anglers didn't give it much thought, because it was in the Pacific. Bush expanded the area by designating three other spots as national marine monuments. But again, few people paid attention.
And now those attacks have come to the East Coast, right to our backyard.
In September, three canyons in the New England area received national marine monument designation: Oceanographer, Lydonia and Gilbert.
And now there's a proposal to designate the Hudson Canyon as a National Marine Sanctuary.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is pushing this proposal, saying there is a need to “secure additional protection for the Hudson Canyon, the largest submarine canyon along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, and other ecologically rich areas.”
Why, you ask?
The organization says it wants to “ensure a safe place for marine wildlife among the many competing human activities.”
Those human activities, of course, include fishing, recreational and commercial, and fishing is specifically singled out.
“The 16,000 square miles of ocean from Montauk, New York, to Cape May, New Jersey, are an ecological treasure trove, providing critical migration routes for globally threatened animals, including sea turtles, whales, and sharks, as well as nursery grounds and critical habitat for hundreds of species,” the group's website says.
Pay close attention to the language, folks, because it is revealing. “Globally threatened animals” and “critical habitat” are two favorite phrases used when targeting areas for shutdown.
They are the same language used back in 2001 when groups tried to get Atlantic white marlin listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Such a listing would have effectively prevented fishermen from doing any kind of fishing in waters where white marlin were present, because an ESA listing makes it illegal to "take" (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to do these things) to a listed species. On land, that usually translates to limiting development, but in the ocean, the main interaction is from fishing.
That effort failed, but it was a warning, even then, about the aims of these groups. By talking about "globally threatened animals" and "critical habitat" they are letting everyone know they want to limit how humans use the area. They know they'd never be able to shut down the global economy that brings thousands of ships in and out of New York every year.
Fishermen, however, are a much easier target.
The Wildlife Conservation Organization says it wants to “build greater awareness and inspire stewardship of our local ocean.”
I don't even have words for the arrogance of that statement.
It implies that residents of the area — primarily those in New Jersey — don't have a clue or a care about the ocean. If you've lived in the area for more than 5 minutes you'd know what a crock that is.
Repeated efforts to site a liquid natural gas transfer station off the New Jersey-New York coast have been vociferously fought not just by environmental groups like Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society, but by fishermen as well, who pointed out that the proposed facility would destroy prime fish habitat.
Fishermen are out on the water; they see things immediately that are a risk to the environment. They report issues of pollution, which can have a critical impact on the local environment.
It is fishermen debating about how best to foster a healthy balance between fishing and the environment when it comes to striped bass. And it was fishermen who fought to end reduction fishing for menhaden off the New Jersey coast years ago, recognizing the critical role the baitfish plays in the entire ecosystem.
The idea that someone would come in and raise awareness and “inspire stewardship” of the Hudson Canyon and its interconnected companions is beyond laughable; it once again shows an utter disdain and disregard for fishermen who already are stewards of the environment that is their livelihood.
Of course, the folks at Pew have defended the push to make the Hudson Canyon a national marine sanctuary.
Shana Beemer Miller, who works for Pew's Ocean Foundation, posted a reply to a Facebook post by Trophy Tackle Fishing about Wildlife Conservation Organization's efforts in which she defended the move: “The monument process, driven by the Antiquities Act, is completely different from a national marine sanctuary, driven by the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Most of the marine sanctuaries limit oil and gas exploration only and are beneficial to fisheries, both commercial and recreational,” she said.
That's simply not truthful.
According to NOAA, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act “authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate and protect areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational or esthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries. … The primary objective of the NMSA is to protect marine resources, such as coral reefs, sunken historical vessels or unique habitats.”
Once protected NOAA can pretty much do whatever it wants, as the NMSA gives NOAA “the authority to issue regulations for each sanctuary and the system as a whole. These regulations can, among other things, specify the types of activities that can and cannot occur within the sanctuary.”
That, of course, completely circumvents the process of getting public input. So much for democracy.
The folks at Pew and so many of these organizations deny that's their intent. Yet in the 18 years I've been covering these topics, it's the same nonsense over and over.
Read the words put on paper, because those are the words they will strangle us with.
Some have advocated contacting the Wildlife Conservation Organization directly; truthfully, that's a bad move because in their arrogance, they label any communication they receive on a subject as positive.
Contact your local congressmen, folks. Send letters to Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez and send them this column too. A draft letter that you can send will be posted on the Big Game Fishing Journal website and Facebook page.
Don't sit silently. Take action. Too many people have sat idly by while all these other fisheries have been taken from us. Like that quotation from Martin Niemoller, who spoke of how the Nazis rounded up the people they did not like, too many people have sat idly by while all these other fisheries have been taken from us.
You cannot sit quietly now. There's no one left to protect the livelihoods of fishermen — commercial and recreational — and there's no one left to protect our enjoyment of the oceans but us.
Speak now, or forever hold your peace when it's taken away.
You've been warned.
Karen Wall Subscribe