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Editorial November/December 2011

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's

push for sector separation, Catch Shares, and

a recreational fishing shutdown

    Recently, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has set its sector separation and catch shares sights on the Gulf of Mexico commercial and recreational fishery. The EDF is using and funding shell organizations that purport to be the voice of the recreational and commercial Gulf fishermen in order to further their catch shares agenda. Organizations such as Save Our Sector and the Charter Fishermen's Alliance that support sector separation for recreational fishermen along with the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fishermen’s Shareholder Alliance and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association that support catch shares for commercial fishermen are hoping to lead our legislators to believe they speak for the majority of the Gulf of Mexico fishermen.
    The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) has also become a pawn of the EDF. It has become so obvious to many the members of the Gulf council have become nothing more than puppets for the anti-fishing environmental giant. Why would any regulator involved in regional fishery management, not having a vested interest if catch shares are implemented, turn into a lemming for the EDF. This very well may explain why.
    The Gulf council consists of 17 voting members which includes 11 state nominated NMFS approved members. At this point, I would like to commend Doug Kelly for his excellent article that appeared in the September 2011 issue of Florida Sportsman Magazine entitled “The Cost of Advice.” The author clearly explains the excessive compensation being received by regional fishery management council members and the GMFMC in particular. It is well worth the read to understand the dollar amounts that are being made by council members. It surely has become a cash cow for many regulators—a money press that council members would not want to endanger by voting against the direction taken by the establishment.
    Let’s look at the GMFMC chain of command to better understand the word “establishment.” Roy Crabtree currently holds the title Southeast Regional NMFS Administrator of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico councils. Roy slams down $179,000 annually, that’s nearly $3,500 weekly, plus expenses. One step down the ladder from Crabtree you’ll find the executive director of the GMFMC, Steve Bortone. Steve’s compensation for his position on the GMFMC totals $160,000 annually, that’s nearly $3,100 weekly plus expenses. Other NMFS approved voting members receive $453.32 daily plus expenses (the amount of expenses are substantial) for each GMFMC meeting or function they attend. Climbing the food chain from Crabtree’s position you’ll find Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator and EDF puppet. Dr. Jane has the final say on who gets appointed to the regional councils and who doesn’t. A seat on one of the regional councils can be extremely lucrative, and if you read Doug Kelly’s article you will see exactly how lucrative it actually can be. With EDF Jane sitting atop the food chain, if financial compensation means more to a council member than recreational fishermen’s right to fish, he or she had better keep Jane happy by following her catch shares and sector separation crusade. This very well may explain how and why catch shares has been implemented by other council’s, and why the GMFMC is allowing EDF to lead the way in their fishery management decisions.
    Evidence of EDF infiltration into the Gulf council was apparent at a 2010 sector separation meeting held by the GMFMC. Executive Director Steven Bortone attempted to invoke Chatham Rule by informing journalists in attendance to leave their cameras and recording devices outside the meeting. The state police were notified and Mr. Bortone was quickly reminded of the Sunshine Law which designates video cameras and recording devices must be allowed in any public board or commission. Without cameras and recorders, no one would ever be aware of the hue and cry against sector separation and catch shares by Gulf fishermen that occurred at that meeting.
    At the completion of the conference, Mr. Bortone publicly asked EDF’s attorney Whitney Tome if it was OK to release the breakout group’s presentation to the public. He then openly stated that EDF was preparing the final documents for the meeting. Why would a non government organization prepare the final documents of a NOAA council meeting?
    The recent decisions made by the GMFMC regarding American red snapper (ARS) is a classic EDF maneuver. Designate a species as overfished, then come to the conservation rescue with catch shares and sector separation to save the day and save the species. The GMFMC voted in for 2011 the shortest ARS season on record, 48 days, because they have deemed the species as overfished. Many captains have disputed these claims stating that it is difficult to fish for other species because of the staggering amount of ARS on the fishing grounds. Their words fall on deaf council ears. A recent claim by the GMFMC is that during the 48 day season, and because the fish that are being caught are larger, Gulf recreational anglers exceeded their weight quota and there will be no fall ARS season. Many believe that exceeding the ARS quota in 48 days is a total impossibility.
    Capt. Dale Perkins, an ARS advisor to the GMFMC, has recently resigned his position stating, “The whole process is a charade as evidenced by the fact that they schedule meetings to take out input and then go ahead and make decisions without even holding the meetings. I am not going to lend false legitimacy to this charade by allowing my name to be used on a so called committee that has no input. No matter what the data shows, it is always interpreted as a need to reduce Total Allowable Catch (TAC). If we are catching to few fish, they say reduce the quota. If we catch too many fish, reduce the quota. The fish are too big, reduce the quota. The fish are too small, reduce the quota.” Please see our Guest Column on the very last page of this issue of the Journal. Capt. Dale has consented to give his take on the GMFMC and their commitment to, or lack of, protecting the rights of Gulf anglers.
    Anglers in the North and Southeast, please let this sham being perpetrated by the EDF and the GMFMC on Gulf anglers be a warning of what will soon be transpiring in your region if we ignore this hijacking of our right to fish taking place today in the Gulf. With Lubchenco’s new council seat designation of “Other” that will join commercial and recreational fishermen on the regional fishery councils, more and more council seats are opening to environmentalist with ties to EDF. With the climbing number of “Others” on the fishery councils, along with the increase in council seats held by the “fair-haired” captains, both commercial and recreational, that support EDF ideology for their personal gain, and the council members not wanting to endanger their revenue flow, fishing will soon become a privilege given to us by the environmental community along with their set of rules, seasons, time and area closures, size minimums and bag limits.
    We have requested that after our readers read “The Great Conspiracy Fact or Fiction” article published in the July/ August 2011 issue of the Big Game Fishing Journal, they come to our web site and vote in our poll to let us know if they believe or disbelieve a huge enviro/ NOAA conspiracy exists today to privatize our commercial and recreational fishery for their profit and control. The final tally is as follows: 250 individuals have voted in our poll and 20-percent believe there is no conspiracy in progress. 80-percent of the voters believe there is a huge conspiracy currently in progress. So much for individuals attempting to lead the fishing public away from the truth about the EDF/ NOAA conspiracy in progress today.

    Captain Len Belcaro