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posted in: General

December 4, 2013

Coming to Justice

Photo courtesy of SC DNR

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about four Maryland commercial netters – or should I say “poachers” – who were linked to illegally setting gill nets to catch tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass. The investigation was triggered by the discovery of an illegal net off Kent Island in the upper Chesapeake Bay in February of 2011. It turned up falsified catch documentation going back to 2007. Much of that illegal catch then was traced as being sold across state lines to New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Seemingly, that would violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits such actions.

In November a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on this long-pending case. The indictment alleges criminal conspiracy in the illegal catching of striped bass and the subsequent interstate sale of the illegal catch. My sincere hope is that these alleged criminals, masquerading as hard-working commercial fishermen, become wards of the federal government for a very long time. History, however, is not on the side of that outcome.

I applaud the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officers for putting a lot of long hours into researching this case. Their perseverance and dogged determination led to the indictment. Without their efforts it is likely that the alleged perpetrators would get only a slap on the wrist and have to pay a small fine, which only amounts to a cost of doing business. State and local judges have been reluctant to throw the book at this type of criminal activity. With this indictment, the case gets elevated to a federal court as a Lacey Act violation. That carries some real consequences.

Some might say that these DNR officers are only doing their jobs. Yeah, I get it. They are, but from my standpoint I don’t know what keeps them motivated when in the past their hard work has been largely disregarded by the state and local court systems. How many times have I read coverage about illegal fishing activities only to see those who got caught pay a small fine and be back at business as usual the next day. Why courts have been so reluctant to take a harsher stance is beyond me. Something akin to the three strikes kind of process would be a deterrent. First time … OK, it might have been a mistake, but a reasonable fine should get your attention. Second offense is not a mistake. You pay a hefty fine, do some jail time and lose your fishing permit for at least a year. Third offense: bye, bye. Pay a very hefty fine, do a big chunk of jail time and be subjected to a lifetime loss of all fishing permits.

I know, I know. Judges are very reluctant to take away someone’s ability to make a living. Can’t say that I understand why. I am unable to distinguish between stealing a public resource and robbing a 7-Eleven. The courts should understand that illegal harvest of common property resources takes away someone else’s ability to earn a living. It has a ripple effect far beyond the criminal activity itself.

I want to be sure that DNR officers, environmental police or whatever they are called in different states continue to be motivated to go the extra mile in pursuing a case. These folks are protecting our resources, and their job is not easy. In today’s world of bending way over backwards to protect the “rights” of the criminals, I wonder how we are trampling on the rights of the innocent – not to mention the condition of our resources. Too often, natural resource officers do whatever they can do to bring a case to justice, and all their work is negated by too light of a sentence. Those of us who would like to see our resources around for future generations need to support their good work.

One Response to “Coming to Justice”

  1. Beau Beasley

    This is a well written article and I agree with Rip fully. We as sportsmen should be more engaged in seeing those that committing serious and on going natural resources violations, be brought to justice.

    Keep up the good job Rip!

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posted in: General

November 22, 2013

The Many Fish of Louisiana

Photo courtesy of freepresshouston.com

Jeff Bruhl is a man who lives on the right side of life. In addition to his full-time job as a pharmacist, he is an avid tournament bass angler and manager of the popular marshbass.com website. Beyond all that, he never misses the chance to point his lightning-quick bass boat toward any number of bayous, lakes and bays across southeast Louisiana in search of hard-fighting and tasty speckled trout.

If he hasn’t yet realized it, his mantra has to be “que sera, sera,” an idiom to the Spanish loosely translated to “Whatever will be, will be.”

That’s why it was unusual to hear him mutter, albeit under his breath and all the time holding a fishing rod, some not-so-nice words after fighting 25-30 knot winds for five hours on a late-October journey into the marshes east of New Orleans.

Fishing is more than Bruhl’s pastime. More like a passion, maybe something approaching addiction, but enough was enough in the Delacroix marshes that morning.

Five minutes later, a solid seven-pound redfish filed off his rough edges brought on by fighting wind, grassbeds and trolling motor.

And that got me wondering just how many fishing folks around our country would react to this same trip.

We launched from Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix, an outpost in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. Not too many years ago, it was a commercial fishing hamlet whose residents looked at recreational fishermen like most react to a painful corn on our little toe – you know, it’s bearable, but only slightly so, and it would be so much better if it went away.

During the mid-1990s, Louisiana’s fight over banning gill nets brought confrontation between these two fishery user groups.

That’s not the case today, and Bruhl was out that windswept morning on a quest to take a Delacroix “slam.”

The “slam” starts out with the basic three species – largemouth bass, speckled trout and redfish  and we chuckled about the mix of cultures that would label these fish “green trout, spotted seatrout and red drum.”

It took just minutes to locate the bass. A pound-and-a-half largemouth inhaled a locally made Creole shrimp-colored Matrix Shad, one of the dozens of soft-plastic minnow imitations available in south Louisiana.

It proved, at least to me, that bass in the marshes will eat shrimp, something that launches fishermen into provocative discussions about a largemouth’s diet. (My answer to the guys who believe bass dine only on finfish is that I would much rather eat a shrimp than a shad, so why wouldn’t a bass have that same preference?)

A speckled trout hit the same bait in the same canal five minutes later and an undersized redfish, maybe 14 inches long, grabbed it, too.

That was the “slam.”

But there’s more to Delacroix, like the “super slam” and the “grand slam” on the same trip by catching a black drum or a flounder to get to the “super” and both to get to the “grand.”

It’s been done, not just in Delacroix, but in the nearby Biloxi Marsh as well as the marsh-draining bayous on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, along and off the Mississippi River between Fort Jackson and the oft-mentioned fishing mecca of Venice.

One day, not too many years ago, on a trip with another fishing addict named Gary Twigg, we got the grand slam and more near Fort Jackson.

Fishing the rocks lining the Father of Our Waters – we were taught at an early age that was the translation of the Native Americans’ “Mississippi” – we put eight different species in the boat on a single, middle-of-the-fall adventure.

We hit the previously noted five species and added sea-run striped bass, white bass and spotted bass.

Maybe that’s why we Louisiana folks celebrate Thanksgiving with dishes like oyster dressing, crab- and shrimp-stuffed potatoes, and redfish courtbouillion. Yes, we’ll have turkey too, fried of course.

And the common bond that links all south Louisiana fishermen is that we’re thankful that our marshes are a year-round provider of fish and other seafood for our holiday tables, even on the days when winds howl and whitecaps cover our shallow, inland lakes.

And that’s something millions of our angling brothers and sisters don’t have.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

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posted in: General

November 21, 2013

The Great Conspiracy

In last week’s blog, as well as previous blogs, I have mentioned “The Great Conspiracy.” What finally dawned on me is that I have not really addressed what I am referring to in any of these blogs. I have done so in other writings.

We’ll have to start back a few years according to the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a term popularized by then Vice President Spiro Agnew but actually written by New York Times columnist William Safire. According to the proponents of this conspiracy theory before President Obama was elected, the environmental community led by the Pew Environment Group, the Environmental Defense Fund and maybe the Walton Foundation was infiltrating the fisheries management system and positioning the likes of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to become the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Somehow they knew the outcome of the election, but we’ll put that aside. Pretty amazing stuff! They couldn’t have simply guessed right, it had to be some sort of backroom deal. Actually, isn’t there a lot of that in politics no matter which side one is on. Yeah!!!

Well, OK, I’m getting a little sarcastic, but it does take a fairly vivid imagination to pull all the pieces of The Great Conspiracy together. So the environmental nongovernmental organizations ended up on the right side of the election, which should not be too surprising to anyone, as they tend to be more liberal than conservative in politics. According to the believers, Phase 2 was put in place with the confirmation of Dr. Lubchenco, and now EDF was running all the Regional Fishery Management Council activities. I must have been on an anomalous RFMC.

Yes, we had a council member who worked for EDF, but I’d be hard pressed to find a major or, for that matter, minor, council action that had EDF’s fingerprints all over it. Too bad, actually, as some of the ideas proposed by the council member made a lot of management sense. Oh, yeah, catch shares. Well, we have to rewind the clock on that one as well.

The New England Fishery Management Council began the catch shares discussion in 2001, well before any NGO infiltration, and the rollout of more extensive catch shares was just an extension of that discussion. What happened at the NEFMC may not be typical of what happened at other councils, but I am familiar enough with other council actions to know that the NGO community was not railroading a lot of new council actions through the system. Was the environmental community part of the council process? Yes, of course it was. It is one of the three constituent groups represented on the council.

If we look at inside the Beltway (Washington, D.C., for those not familiar with the world of politics), the story is different. The NGO community has been very active in the political process. In fact, it has been extremely influential in the legislative process. Environmental NGOs were able to get much of what they wanted in the Magnuson- Stevens Act reauthorization passed in 2006 that included annual catch limits, accountability measures and the continuation of mandated rebuilding periods.

This is not meant to be a debate about the merits of those measures but a discussion about our political system. Let’s face it: the environmental NGO community has deep pockets to use in pushing for the issues it wants enacted. From my standpoint the community has been very effective at using that influence to get what it believes in. It also has been effective at working collaboratively. Is that a conspiracy? If it is then organizations like the National Rifle Association, the farm lobby and for that matter all of K Street are involved in serial conspiracies. I am not saying that I agree with all the outcomes. Unless we change the system, the environmental community is simply using it to the best advantage. Money talks and BS walks. Do we need to change the system? I tend to think so, but that is a discussion for another time.

I always have wondered what the response would be from those who think that the environmental NGO community is hell bent on eliminating extractive uses of the ocean environment, if these NGOs used all their clout to do what the conspiracy theorists want. Would there still be a hue and cry of conspiracy then? I doubt it. Folks would happily say that is just the way the system works.

Call me crazy, oblivious or naïve. I do not believe that all environmental NGOs are out to end fishing. Nor do I support all of their proposed measures. I do believe that most are interested in having sustainable resources for the future. They have some very substantial economic clout and are not afraid to use it. What the recreational fishing industry should do is to find a way to partner with them … or would some see that as conspiratorial?

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posted in: General

November 20, 2013

Wind Power: Coming to a Coast Near You

 

               Despite what the skeptics say, offshore wind power could be good for saltwater anglers

Depending on who you talk to, offshore wind power (wind farms at sea composed of multiple turbines) is the best thing in the world or the worst.  What I tend to believe is that most people think that offshore wind equates to “sustainable energy” with a minor footprint, certainly smaller than that of oil and gas.  To some extent that’s correct, although the footprint may not be all that minor, and really they are not yet “sustainable” in the true sense, although hopefully they are headed that way.

 Because these massive wind farms are offshore, in one of the most salt-laden/corrosive environments in the world, it takes an awful lot of diesel fuel (think boats with maintenance crews) to maintain them.  I should note here that this is still a young technology, is far from perfect, and not yet profitable mainly because of the maintenance costs.  It’s pretty well known that most of the European wind farms receive government subsidies and that’s presumably the only way they can exist.  It’s my personal opinion that, as a society, we will never get sustainable, environmentally-friendly power right unless we start somewhere, so I understand the rationale. 

 Regardless, wind power is hip.  Overall, the American people seem to like it and want it, and the current administration seems to be into it.  As watermen we all know that at sea, wind blows harder and longer, and suitable sites (note: “not in my backyard”) are more readily available to enable large projects to operate.  Perhaps more important than any of this is that there’s a lot of money being dumped into offshore wind right now by huge companies like Google.  The point is, offshore wind farms are likely coming soon.  I don’t think there’s any stopping them at this point.

 So, let’s take a look at what it means for us.  Sure, there’s the domestic, sustainable energy stuff, and I’m down with all that. But at the risk of seeming parochial, I’m pretty much only looking at this from a fisheries perspective.  With that said, I was invited to go to the United Kingdom with a group of commercial and recreational fishing interests (sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy) to ground truth their offshore wind power programs.  The trip was basically a fact-finding mission to see what these things meant for fishermen and fishing communities. 

 Sure, we spent a lot of time in pubs, talking to local fishermen and representatives from various fishing organizations.  We also spent quite a bit of time in government agency offices, and even wind power industry offices.  But what was without a doubt the most memorable part of the trip was steaming though the Thanet Wind Farm, which is located about seven miles off the coast of the Thanet district in KentEngland and consists of almost 200 wind turbines.  Man that was cool!  And of course I was thinking how “fishy” it all looked.  Each structure was a potential fish magnet.  Unquestionably, such structures would draw in tons of life if they existed on our coast, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic, where save for a scattered array of deteriorating artificial reefs (most states just don’t have the money to add to or maintain them anymore), it’s pretty much all sand.  It’s intuitive to anglers that fish aggregate around such objects placed in the sea. We pretty much always look for “structure” even if it’s something as simple as a depth change.  I mean, you don’t need to look any further than the Gulf of Mexico’s oil platforms to see the potential benefits.   

 In case you aren’t convinced, the analysis of existing wind farms in the English Channel and North Sea have shown an increase in biomass by 50 to 150 times!  Such structures provide a hard stable substrata for colonization by a range of marine organisms.   Mussels, barnacles, tubeworms, hydroids, sponges, soft corals and other invertebrates, attach themselves permanently to the structures attracting various free-living invertebrates and small fish, which in turn attract predators.  The science has been pretty clear that they increase species diversity, biomass and general productivity.  The biomass increases have been shown to be particularly steep if such hard substrate structures are placed in soft substrate environments.

 So really, these things could be damn good for fish.  But that means far less if we can’t access them.  As mentioned, offshore wind power really isn’t profitable yet.  And so there is a justifiable fear that, given the liability that developers may face for accidents that may happen, fishermen may simply be shut out.   While the oil industry can likely afford such risk, a fledgling industry like wind power probably can’t.  That said, access has not been an issue thus far in the UK.  Anglers and charter operations have complete right-of-entry to the sites. The only constraint is a 50 meter “recommended” safety zone around each turbine.  Commercial boats can enter the safety zone too, although it’s obvious that trawlers would have gear problems.  Fixed gear (e.g. pots) have also been problematic as currents tend to wrap them around the structures.  So by default, such arrays become hook-and-line only zones, which most readers of this blog would agree, isn’t a terrible thing. 

 On the other hand, North Sea fishermen were not so lucky.  The Swedish, Danish and German governments, based on environmental and safety assessments as well as a simple cost-benefit analysis, did indeed shut fishermen out.  The risks to cables, liability within the farms and search and rescue issues were all driving factors.  Of course, in that region fishermen weren’t considered as culturally and economically important as they are here, and the fishing industry also didn’t really engage in the development process until it was too late.  There were also regionally powerful environmental groups who pushed for no-fishing zones. 

 While this is indeed a concern, I do not believe that would happen on our coast.  The agency in charge of such offshore wind power – the Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM) – says on their website that they do not intend to restrict vessel traffic in and around offshore wind facilities.  If a safety zone or buffer were implemented, it would be by the Coast Guard, who has said publicly that they have no intention of establishing such zones on wind farms.  If a safety zone is ever deemed necessary it would follow formal proposed and final rulemaking (with public comment).  Could the developers themselves exclude anglers?  Very unlikely.  They would need to go through an extensive public process to do so, and given the public’s historical use and their desire for continued access, it would likely fail. 

 We should be well aware, however, that during construction, which may last one to two years, anglers will be prohibited from entering the area.  It should also be noted that that pile driving during the construction phase does create high levels of underwater noise, which likely will drive fish away.  There will be further considerable turbidity as the bottom gets stirred up.  Marine predators simply don’t like such murky water.  Yet, studies have shown that abundance of both fish and marine mammals not only return but increase post-construction. 

 Yes, there’s some concern, albeit unfounded in my opinion, about noise and vibration admitted by the wind farms once they are operating.  Studies conducted in the United Kingdom indicate the amount of noise and vibration is negligible compared to both natural and prior-occurring noise and vibration.  That said, an electromagnetic field (EMF) produced by the lines that transfer electricity from the array to shore could indeed have some negative effect.  Natural EMFs are detected by sharks, skates, rays and are used for prey detection, finding mates and orientation.  There’s some science indicating lobsters, turtles and cetaceans and are may use EMF for orientation, navigation and homing.  And so there’s some speculation that anthropogenic EMF may disrupt natural movements.  The evidence to support this is sparse though, and there are no data available that allow an assessment of impact. 

 So here’s my honest, no BS take on all of this.  I’m not terribly concerned about the environmental impacts of these things.  Sure, it may suck for a year or two during construction, but generally the long-term increase in biodiversity will outweigh all of that stuff.  I think there are extremists from the environmental community who claim that these wind turbine arrays at sea will alter fish migration patterns, and they may be right to some extent.  God forbid fish actually have to swim around them, and given the wide spacing of the ones that I saw (from what I’m told, the newer larger turbines will require even more space between each other)  I’m not sure what fish couldn’t simply swim through the farms.  And there are also some folks who still think that there will be “vibrations” that will negatively affect fish and the marine environment.  Please show me the science that this is the case?  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist.  And then there are the bird people.  Apparently these things kill a few birds trying to fly though.  Seriously???  I can’t help but think there’s some natural selection here.  Why birds can’t simply fly around is not within my understanding of bird migration patterns.

 On the commercial fishing side, there is genuine concern that large areas will be off limits, due simply to the difficultly of fishing inside of these things, and there is always the issue of catching a cable (believe it or not, that’s happened in Europe more than once).  While there are those extremists would have us all believe that the current administration’s ocean policy and particularly the marine spatial planning initiative is a conspiracy to end all fishing, (remember this article?) it is exactly this sort of circumstance that the initiative seeks to address.  It gives fishermen a say in where development is appropriate and where it isn’t.  In other words, they have some input in where wind farms may be placed.  That’s pretty darn important I think! 

 The bottom line is this: experience from the past 15 years in Europe shows that wind farms can be engineered and operated without damage to the marine environment and vulnerable species. Comprehensive environmental monitoring confirms that even large wind farms pose low risks.  Of course, I may end up being drastically wrong, but unless someone can convince me otherwise, I can’t see how wind farms won’t be a boon for recreational fishing.  Really, we should be welcoming these things. Generally, all I’m hearing is pushback, although I have yet to hear reasonable explanation why, save for the access issue which I’ve covered here. 

 When will we see wind farm construction along our coasts?  It looks like construction isn’t that far off.  BOEM has identified several Wind Energy Areas (WEA) off the East Coast that appear suitable. A number of states on the Atlantic coast have initiated planning for offshore wind projects and developers are currently pursuing leases.

 Unless there is some big change in policy, it looks like I may actually see wind farms off our coast in my life time.  I hope I’m not dreadfully wrong about my assessment, but I’m actually looking forward to this. I can’t help but think it will mean better and more consistent fishing, not to mention a big move toward more sustainable energy.  

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posted in: General

November 14, 2013

ON RIVER HERRING AND SHAD, IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON

Fighting a shad — Photo courtesy of fishwithmj.com

Past votes won’t assure the river herring’s future

Yes, in my last blog, I said that this week I’d address some of the misconceptions on slot limits and gamefish for striped bass.  That’s not gonna happen, for a few of reasons.  One is that, well, I’ve already done it in a prior blog, although apparently not thoroughly enough.  So, I will indeed address this in the future… when it’s more appropriate.  As I mentioned in my last blog ASMFC Moves on Striped Bass, in February the board will consider an addendum that would simply seek to reduce fishing mortality (adoption of the new, more conservative fishing mortality reference points).  In May, a second addendum that would cover what regulations would get us to such a reduction will be considered.  Given the latter is when the slot-limit discussion will likely take place, it’s probably more appropriate to wait until then to cover it here.   Lastly, I’m not sure how I can justify writing for four consecutive weeks on striped bass without this becoming the John McMurray striped bass blog.  There are indeed other issues out there.  And this week I’m gonna cover a big one:  uhm, striper forage.  Okay, so this is related to striped bass, but there’s a much broader picture here. 

Before moving forward, in case you didn’t read it, here is my blog on the last Mid Atlantic Council meeting (River Herring and Shad Lose at the Mid ) where we considered adding river herring and shad to our federally managed stocks.  Perhaps more importantly here’s a darn good response to a post on Talkingfish.org written by a colleague and “recreational” council member. (note: scroll down to the end of the article to see the comment:  To My Fellow Recreational Fishermen).  I can’t say I disagree with some of what’s said there.  It’s true that “Recreational fishermen are appointed to bring the perspective and experience of a recreational fisherman to the council and to insure that the interests of recreational fishermen are addressed,” that fishery resources “belong to every American” and that “Council members are sworn to protect the resource first with the interests of all of those that benefit from the resource being the very next priority.”  It is also true that “We are to weigh all of the information and base our actions on what we believe to be the most reliable of that information” and that “a member has to respect each group’s concerns and try to formulate plans that work for everyone.”  And I agree with the statements about moving on and holding the council’s feet to the fire.   

Those are all good points.  Yet, the response missed the most important point of all:  As council members we have an overarching obligation to uphold the law – in this case the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – which clearly stipulates that we make decisions that provide for the greatest good of the nation. 

It is pretty darn clear at this point that large numbers of river herring and shad are being caught in federal waters, and that such fish are badly in need of conservation and management, and if that’s the case, it looks like the law requires that we manage them under a federal Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  Given all the data on the species, it’s difficult for anyone to credibly argue river herring and shad aren’t in a bad place.  Sure, there may be some isolated recovering runs in northern New England, but they are the exception to the coast-wide trend.  These species are unquestionably depleted and are caught and actually sold in large numbers so they are most certainly “in the fishery.”  And while they are already being managed in state waters by ASMFC, these fish do spend most of their lives at sea, they are being taken incidentally at sea and they need to be managed at sea; in fact, Magnuson-Stevens seems to require that they be managed at sea.  Yes, both New England and the Mid Atlantic Councils have implemented “catch caps” which would shut down the sea herring and mackerel fisheries if river herring or shad catch met or exceeded certain poundage limits, but without 100% observer coverage (or something close to it), and real measures to prevent net slippage/dumping of catch before it comes on board to actually be counted against those limits, the cap is simply unenforceable.  Yes, there are some voluntary bycatch avoidance efforts being made by the sea herring and mackerel fisheries, but they are just that–“voluntary”– they have yet to be proven effective, and are no substitute for legally mandated, enforceable conservation measures. 

While these are all points I’ve made before, the overarching point here is that this was not a case where a small interest group was petitioning for special protection.   Managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP seemed to be clearly in the wide public interest, and arguably a legal requirement.  So it’s a little bit irritating that the above referenced response seems to paint this as an environmentalist push to do something outrageous.  Moving forward with a stocks-in-a-fishery Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had broad and diverse backing, and lost by only one vote at the Council.  The public comment/letters in the briefing book (over 37,000) showed overwhelming support and came not just from the environmental community, but from representatives of well-respected recreational groups, scientists, and even commercial fishing organizations.  The only organization that provided written comment in opposition was a commercial fishing organization representing corporations with a direct financial interest in avoiding restrictions on the fleet. (And by-the-way, no environmental group truly involved in council deliberations, as far as I know, ever wanted to shut down the fluke fishery… and while there’s some truth to the dogfish comment, it’s another red herring as the best available science at the time suggested that a population collapse was imminent). 

Protecting forage fish is unquestionably a priority for fishermen, because such fish are near the base of the food web and support the most important recreational as well as commercially valuable species.  A vote in favor of managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP in October, to me, would have represented a real effort to control at-sea catch.  It would have honored the conservation tradition of generations of anglers and the ongoing work and sacrifices of current anglers up and down the Atlantic Coast to conserve river herring and shad.  I do understand the justification for those who voted against it, but I couldn’t help but see a vote to manage them under a federal FMP as recreational priority, and somewhat of a litmus test.  And I’ve gotta say here that while of course we have to all work together to develop solutions that work best for everyone, a recreational seat does, indeed, exist to present and highlight, to a large extent, the interests of the recreational community, within the law of course, just as an industry seats frequently highlight commercial fishing interests.  Regardless, by taking real tangible steps to conserve and protect forage fish, you support conservation of other managed stocks important to anglers and commercial fishermen in an exponential way. 

At this particular meeting, we weren’t even voting to make river herring and shad federally managed stocks, just to move forward with a DEIS that would have simply given us a full analysis of what it would take to do this, enabling the council to make an informed decision.  As the response noted, a council member is obligated to decide issues based on “all of the information” and to give the greatest weight to “the most reliable of that information.”  I’m still having a hard time understanding why anyone would vote against a process designed to provide the council with more and better information about available management alternatives.  Sure it would have taken resources to develop such a document, but the public made it clear (with over 37,000 comments) that this was a priority worthy of resources. Instead, we now have an obligation to develop a “working group”, which, if it is to accomplish anything, would likely require resources as well—except with no commitment to them.  Moving forward with the DEIS was the next logical (and likely legally required) step in weighing all the information, and I thought we had formed a consensus to do just that when we voted to move forward with Amendment 15 in June of 2012.

At any rate, enough rehashing all this stuff.  I think at this point, we all understand each other, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter any longer.  Now that the council’s decision has been made (unless it is legally invalidated in court, where it is currently being challenged) we need to move forward.  It’s now imperative that we focus on the observer coverage issue (getting people on the boats to gage what the incidental river herring and shad catch really is).  We already voted such 100% coverage last year, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that NOAA Fisheries will say that even with industry sharing the costs,  it’s impossible given funding constraints.  We will almost certainly have to move forward with a provision that would require that the small mesh net industry pay 100% of observer costs if we are to hope for significant coverage.  In my opinion this is not unreasonable given that these fish are a public resource and we are allowing the large scale harvest of them for profit.  The people gaining from such a public resource should pay whatever price is required to make sure they are doing it sustainably while minimizing incidental catch.  I hope industry will step up and support such a proposal, and the initial indication is that they will.  The council also needs to pass a strong “framework” to address unobserved dumping or “slippage,” (releasing the net so that the catch cannot be accounted for). Allowing the net to be “slipped” before it can be sampled by observers undermines the potential for the cap to be meaningful; slippage allowances should really be limited to only true emergencies.

Yes, I was bummed that instead of going with the stocks in a fishery model, the council voted in favor of a motion to move forward with a “working group” to address river herring and shad incidental catch.  Because any recommendations coming out of such a working group will not have the force of law.  And really, history has shown that councils avoid making hard decisions unless the law requires them to.  With the obvious limitations in funding these days, I can’t help but see such an unfunded mandate in a rather dim light.  But perhaps I’m being too cynical here.  Indeed, this is a good step in the right direction.  Given the fact that the council will regularly review the process, and the fact that this working group has three years to show results before we consider the stocks-in-a-fisheries model again, I think there’s some real motivation for this working group to come up with something tangible.  In particular, I hope it can further develop the catch cap to serve as an enforceable science-based annual catch limit, in the way it would under law.  As the above referenced response notes, the public has to hold the council’s feet to the fire on this one though.  And I suspect they will.  

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