by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Chaired by Louisiana Senator David Vitter, recently held a hearing on “The Impacts of Federal Fisheries Management on Small Businesses”. In a letter to Chairman Vitter and Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the Gulf Seafood Institute urged committee members to keep in mind the myriad benefits this landmark legislation has had on Gulf coast fisheries.
Witness at the hearing included; Ms. Pam Anderson, Operations Manager at Capt. Anderson’s Marina in Panama City, FL, Mr. Hughes Andry, Regional Manager of Sportco Marketing, Mr. Brad Gentner, President of Gentner Group Consulting, Mr. James Hayward, President ofXI Northeast Fisheries Sector and Dr. Joshua Wiersma, Managerof Northeast Fisheries for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Thousands of fishermen and millions of consumers nationwide depend on robust, sustainably‐managed Gulf of Mexico U.S. fisheries,” said Harlon Pearce, GSI’s President and NOAA Marine Advisory Committee member. “Commercial, charter-for-hire and recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico are a regional economic powerhouse; protecting the public’s access to these resources for every American must be paramount.”
The National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) and the Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Council(Gulf Council) are responsible for creating and implementing rules governing the Gulf’s federal fisheries under a management process outlined under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the landmark fisheries management law which celebrates its fortieth birthday this year.
Those born in the Gulf share an inherent appreciation for the abundant natural resources it has to offer, said Senator Vitter during opening statements. “When it comes to fishing in the Gulf, there needs to be a mutual respect between the recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.”
According to his remarks, Senator Vitter called the hearing because the rights of recreational anglers, particularly with access to certain fisheries including the red snapper fishery, have been chipped away at by federal governing bodies. “It’s time for the Gulf States to take a larger role in the management of these important assets,” he said.
Magnuson-Stevens at 40
The Magnuson-Stevens Act is celebrating forty years of protecting U.S. fisheries along all coasts. A landmark piece of bi-partisan legislation, it established the broad rules by which all federal fisheries are managed. Under that legislation, eight regional fishery management Councils develop plans to manage fish stocks that adhere to federal standards for conservation and management.
“The fisheries management process outlined under MSA is working,” said GSI Executive Director Margaret Henderson. “The Department of Commercee, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils work together to monitor, manage and enforce a program that has led the United States to its position as a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood.
In the letter to Chairman Vitter and Ranking Member Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, GSI said that “Guided by 10 National Standards of sustainability, these agencies monitor, manage and legally enforce all marine fisheries in the United States in a way that allows all Americans to access these resources, while also preserving fish stocks for the future. As a result, U.S. fish populations are rebuilding and overall fish abundance is improving. Since 2000, thirty‐two fish stocks in the U.S. have been rebuilt meaning that routine stock assessments conducted by fishery scientists indicate that the abundance of the stock is above the maximum sustainable yield.”
While the facts speak for themselves regarding increased sustainability under MSA, some policymakers continue to call for less federal oversight and more state responsibility. As Senator Vitter pointed out in his opening statement, there are more than three million salt-water recreational anglers, those having access to a private boat, from Florida to Texas, and nearly 400 commercial red snapper fishermen. “However, federal management authorities weigh the priorities of the few over the public, which can be seen in the reduction of the recreational red snapper season from 40 to 10 or fewer days,” he said.
The Bayou Senator failed to mention that the 400 commercial red snapper fishermen, and the more than 600 boats in the Gulf’s charter-for hire fleet, provides access to more than 318 million other Americans in the U.S. having no other access to the Gulf red snapper.
“In the Gulf of Mexico, both commercial and recreational fisheries are thriving side‐by‐side and continue to be managed in a way that benefits all participants. For example, in all Gulf states except Mississippi, fishing license sales have increased from 2004 until 2013,” said Pearce. “Under MSA, the Gulf red snapper catch has rebuilt from 5 million pounds in 2007 to more than 14 million pounds in 2014.”
“It’s embarrassing to me we heard the Gulf Council was subverting the system,” said GSI member Captain Steve Tomeny of Port Fourchon, LA. “We heard nothing about how the recreational quota has almost tripled over the last few years, nothing about how the federal for-hire fishing season quadrupled under sector separation, and nothing about how red snapper are bigger now and are being caught in more parts of the Gulf than before. The Magnuson-Stevens Act has helped give charter fishermen some stability today and a vision for the future.
According to Vitter, “Using proper data collection techniques is paramount for the proper management of our Gulf fisheries.” Yet no mention was made during the hearing of the groundbreaking implementation of the new voluntary electronic data collection program which is being rolled out now on more than 200 boats in the Gulf charter-for-hire fleet.
The issues surrounding Gulf fisheries have and will continue to spur national attention.
However, the transparent, stakeholder‐driven Gulf Council process crafted under the MSA ensures all components of the fishery community are given a voice in a process that is carefully overseen by the Department of Commerce and driven by science‐based decisions.
“Small businesses like those represented in the vast Gulf coast seafood supply chain, including thousands of harvesters, restaurants, distributors and retailers, rely on the certainty that federal management provides in order to plan for the future,” said Henderson. “By preserving the integrity of the Magnuson Stevens Act, you can help reassure our community that this will be the case well into the future.”