Bad Comparisons: Economic Value of Recreational vs. Commercial Fishing
Have you heard this one lately? “Recs just play with their food.” This has been a common misconception put out there by some who simply wanted more from any allocation of the resource between the recreational and commercial user groups. The idea was to make sure that those making the allocation decisions looked at the recreational user as simply someone who was having fun, but creating nothing. On the other hand, the image of the commercial user was someone who was feeding a hungry nation and by doing so, created jobs and economic activity. Unfortunately, as wrong as the image is, it has had some real traction since day one. How is that possible? Let’s look at several factors.
Most importantly, the overall economic statistics show a completely different picture. These may vary from region to region and fishery to fishery, but lets look at the numbers in aggregate. Recreational anglers comprise about 97% of the resource users and take about 3% of the resource. However, from that 3% they generate substantially more economic activity than the 3% of commercial users do from the 97% of the resource. Given those numbers it is amazing that every single allocation decision does not go to the recreational user. But they don’t because “recs just paly with their food”. But that message has not seen a lot of promotion.
Saltwater sport fishing makes up a substantial portion of the overall numbers. In 2011, about 9 million salt water anglers fished for almost 100 million days. This activity generated about $13.5 billion in retail sales, over $32 billion in economic activity, about $10 billion in wages, and almost 250,000 jobs. While we are not a big fan of taxes, when they are used to enhance the activity that pays them, they are beneficial. Marine anglers generated $2.3 billion in federal tax revenue and almost another $2 billion to the states. Wow! If the sport fishing industry were a single business, it would be ranked 51st on the Fortune 500 ™ list. If that is the benefit of “a bunch of guys playing with their food,” bring it on.
The economic activity generated by sport fishing does not just benefit the manufacturers of tackle, marine electronics, boats, and motors. It supports many rural communities along our coasts. Fishing is part of their heritage. More than most, they understand the need to maintain healthy ecosystems and sustainable resources. Those two things have formed their history and will maintain their future.
Sport fishing participants love to catch fish both for fun and for a healthy source of protein. They also understand the need to protect and enhance the environments that support fish. They realize that no fish means no fishing.
Anglers contribute to the funding of our nation’s fisheries conservation and environmental improvement in a number of ways. This past year, 2012, marked the 75th anniversary of a conservation funding system that is envied throughout the world. The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund in 2010 generated $390 million from excise tax on fishing tackle and from the transfer of boat fuel tax back to the trust fund. This money is apportioned back to states by a formula based on metrics of fishing activity. License sales in 2010 also generated $657 million used by states to operate their fish and wildlife agencies. Beyond all of that, anglers annually donate over $400 million to a variety of conservation and fishing organizations. That is an impressive tally and one of the reasons that the US has maintained generally robust fish populations and quality habitat.
Okay so the participation and economics should be a slam dunk. There is still the issue of how recreational users are compared to the commercial user. It is an unfair comparison that the recreational user will lose every time. The angler is the end user on the recreational side. They are compared to the commercial user who is one rung up the ladder. The commercial user employs people and sells a product, albeit a product that is given to them. Never is the recreational user compared to the person who walks into the supermarket to buy seafood, but that would be the correct comparison. Conversely, never is the commercial user compared to the tackle shop owner or marina owner, but that is the correct comparison. Those folks employ people and produce a product or service. They are the engine that helps generate the socio-economic benefits from the recreational use of fisheries resources.
This image has to be changed if the recreational industry wants to get its fair share in the allocation battles. So when you hear someone saying, “recs just play with their food.” You can say that recreational users are the ones who pay to play and thereby support the economy and the resource.
Make sure that your Congressional delegation and fisheries managers understand this value!
But the Mid Atlantic Council and NOAA Fisheries need to step up
If you’ve been lucky enough to be there when river herring (bluebacks or alewives) clash with striped bass you know why we call them, “striper candy”. It’s a big bait that attracts big fish, and makes them act really stupid. Of course not only striped bass, but bluefin, yellowfin, cod, bluefish, weakfish and dozens of other predators go nuts over river herring… At least they used to.
Unfortunately, river herring numbers have declined precipitously. While in 2006 NOAA Fisheries listed them as a “Species of Concern”, a 2012 stock assessment recently confirmed river herring are in dire straits. Alewife and bluebacks are anadromous species – spending most of their lives at sea, then ascending unique rivers to spawn. Out of 24 assessed river runs 92% were determined to be badly depleted. A number of runs have dwindled so far that fewer than 100 adults return each spring to spawn. Last year, the National Resources Defense Council submitted a petition to list river herring under the Endangered Species Act, and while NOAA did a full review, they recently issued a statement declining to list, not because they didn’t believe river herring were in trouble, but because they just didn’t have enough data to support it. Which I still don’t understand given the ASMFC assessment and the well-known fact that these fish spend most of their lives at sea. But moving on….
The cause of the decline is heavily debated. There are still those who want to blame a resurgence “ravenous” striped bass, which frankly is silly given the two species’ historical abundance and coexistence, and, well, there aren’t really that many stripers around anymore anyway. No one really argues that pollution and impediments to upriver migrations haven’t played a large part in the decline. Yet despite greatly improving water quality, dam removal, fish passages, and other efforts to restore habitat, not to mention state-imposed moratoria, river herring numbers, at least in the Mid-Atlantic, continue to tank. (Note: there are indeed some runs in New England that appear to be recovering, more on this later).
River herring are managed inshore by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). That body has required most state fisheries to shut down; a few continue, subject to very small quotas, under state sustainable management plans. Yet, at sea, industrial fisheries for sea herring and mackerel are still allowed to kill unlimited amounts of river herring, usually taken as bycatch, and most of that is simply unaccounted for. The building consensus is that a lot, perhaps most, of the mortality is happening at sea.
River herring’s demise has been concurrent with the proliferation of mid-water small-mesh-net trawlers. Since the late ‘70s, there has been a significant motivation for US fishermen to capitalize on fisheries for such low-trophic level species, in the form of federal subsidies among other things. As a result, such fisheries grew in size and scope in a relatively short amount of time.
Operating mostly out of New England ports, such trawlers are quite large, with holds that can store over 1 million pounds of fish. They employ an array of electronics to pinpoint and scoop up entire schools by dragging nets the size of a football field with mesh so small little escapes. Apparently, one tow can put 50 tons of fish in the hold. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that a single tow, in the wrong place at the wrong time, could wipe out an entire river’s run, particularly if it’s already depleted.
So, incidental catch is likely a big factor in river herring’s depletion and failure to recover. There is some data to back this assertion up, but not enough to be definitive, and therein lies the problem. Observer coverage of the small-mesh-net fleet is very low. Such observers, 3rd party contractors that sample and observe catch at sea so as to evaluate the composition of a fishery, are vital if managers are to know what goes on on those boats.
Both the Mid Atlantic and New England Councils, to their credit, sought to address this in their Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish and Sea Herring Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) respectively. Last year, despite significant pushback from the industry, the Councils voted to recommend that NOAA Fisheries impose 100% at-sea observer coverage on industrial herring and mackerel trawlers, having industry share the cost with NOAA.
A few weeks ago, however, NOAA Fisheries disapproved the 100-percent observer coverage requirement, rationalizing the decision by claiming the agency had not yet developed a legal way share observer coverage costs. What’s incredibly odd about this is that NOAA fisheries is already doing such observer cost-sharing in Alaska. Upon further clarification, it appears that there is a mechanism for doing this in Alaska that was, many years ago, written into the Magnuson Stevenson Act, but only for Alaska? Frankly, I don’t really understand it. Public/private cost-sharing partnerships are pretty common as far as I know. But I don’t venture to understand the complicated workings of such federal bureaucracies. Regardless, even if they could implement a cost sharing program, the agency claimed it didn’t have the funds even for their part of the additional observer coverage. Honestly, while it certainly isn’t a popular opinion in some circles, I believe that if any industry is granted the privilege of utilizing such large-scale gear to harvest a public resource in such large volumes for profit, then they absolutely should be required to fully fund whatever monitoring is necessary to insure that what they are doing is sustainable, not just in a maximum-sustainable-yield context, but an ecosystem context as well. But moving on…
NOAA fisheries also rejected a requirement that all catch brought to shore in the fishery be weighed, and a limit on “slippage” events where bycatch is dumped at sea before it can be counted. The latter is important, because NOAA Fisheries did uphold the Mid Atlantic Council’s requirement for an annual catch limit/cap for river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery, beginning in 2014. In other words the mackerel fishery would close if it’s determined that such a cap is met or exceeded. Yet the fact that large tows dominated by river herring can be dumped overboard dead before anyone can determine what was killed, seriously diminishes the enforceability of such catch cap. Not to mention, without a significant number of observers for the fleet, it’s pretty difficult to determine if that catch cap is met even without slippage events.
So where does all this leave us? Unfortunately not in a really good place. And it’s more than a little frustrating. The Councils worked hard on both amendments for years. The provisions were fully vetted by the Councils and included carefully considered compromises. In the end they had broad public support. Really, we all thought we had the monitoring/accountability problem solved. NOAA fisheries says they will work with the Councils to develop a solution to the monitoring issue, but I’m not holding my breath. Even if they did figure out a legal way to cost share with the industry, if the money for observers isn’t there, it’s not there.
But there is hope. The Mid Atlantic Council is currently developing an amendment that could add river herring and shad as directly managed “stocks in a fishery” (SIF) to their Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish FMP. Doing so would force NOAA Fisheries to manage and conserve river herring when they are at sea, through the adoption of measures such as Annual Catch Limits, identifying Essential Fish Habitat, and establishing joint management plans in conjunction with bodies such as the New England Fishery Management Council and/or the ASMFC. Whether it moves forward, however, is indeed in question as certainly there is opposition. Making river herring a stock in the fishery (SIF) would require resources, and NOAA Fisheries is already indicating a reluctance to take this on. But there’s a legal mandate here. Federal FMPs must describe the species involved in a fishery, and NMFS and the Councils are required to manage those stocks in need of conservation and management.
That said, there will likely be those who will argue that river herring are not in need of conservation management in federal waters, or that we just don’t know enough about the status of the overall stock to proceed. I think that’s BS! We do know that 92% of the individual river runs are in bad shape. Given all the recent evidence of the species’ decline and the building body of science indicating mortality at sea, I don’t know how that argument could fly. NOAA Fisheries appears to support the catch cap, so that in itself would tell us that they do believe river herring are in need of such conservation and management. Some will argue that the catch-cap is enough, but as mentioned, without observers it is virtually unenforceable.
There will also be those folks who argue that river herring simply don’t need federal management because they are already managed in state waters. That is complete BS also. It seems pretty darn obvious at this point that they are falling through the cracks in federal waters where they spend most of their lives, and where the bulk of the fishing mortality is probably occurring. Again, NOAA Fisheries did support the annual river herring catch cap we passed a couple of meetings ago, so I think it would be strange for them to say they don’t need federal management.
There are those who argue that in-state/in-river barriers to migration are the cause of the problem, and the populations won’t come back no matter what we do in the ocean. That may be true to some extent, assuming such barriers weren’t being removed or mitigated across the coast. Regardless, what SIF designation would do is enable NOAA Fisheries and the Council to identify Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) inshore. When state and federal projects require federal licenses (energy projects, dams, etc.) those agencies would have to consult with NOAA Fisheries, which could stop or require mitigation of potentially habitat-damaging projects. That would indeed be a good thing.
Lastly, industry has been arguing that volunteer bycatch avoidance projects are and will be sufficient. Certainly industry should be commended for such efforts, and they may be working to some extent. However, they are strictly volunteer, and managers should acknowledge that they are not a substitute for binding federal action to reduce river herring bycatch.
There is evidence that river herring can come back if given the opportunity. There have been recent reports of recovering runs in New England as dams and other impediments to upriver migration patterns are removed. There are those who argue that such recovering runs are evidence that river herring are not in trouble and that as long as we deal with inshore habitat issues they will come back. But such anecdotal reports of a recovery are generally restricted to some very specific areas up north, and there’s some speculation that herring from such northern regions don’t spend their lives at sea in the areas small-mesh-net trawlers frequent. And such recoveries are not happening in the Mid Atlantic’s rivers. Regardless of whether the above is true, what the recovery of such local runs shows me is that they can recover. We should be trying to facilitate that recovery, not allowing large bycatch events to set them back again.
As we move forward with the stocks-in-a-fishery amendment, we should acknowledge and stress that we can rebuild this culturally and economically important fish that has historically been a critical part of the marine food chain. And that we can, at least to some extent, control mortality both inshore and offshore. A stocks-in-the-fishery designation would give us the tools to do that. It won’t be easy for NOAA Fisheries, or Council staff, to make it happen, but it’s their/our obligation. This is not entirely new ground. Such stocks-in-a-fishery management models do exist (e.g. salmon in the Pacific Northwest). I would really like to hear more from NOAA Fisheries about how we can do it, instead of reasons why we can’t.
The public has made it more than clear that they want us to restore river herring, and as a key part of the problem becomes clear (bycatch mortality in the sea-herring and mackerel fisheries) the public has put it in no uncertain terms that they want it addressed. States have invested and continue to invest resources while imposing draconian fishing restrictions including moratoria. The Council and NOAA Fisheries have an obligation to their part in federal waters to make sure those efforts aren’t in vain.
If we can restore river herring runs to the Mid Atlantic, in my lifetime, that would be huge, and I think that we can. The Mid Atlantic Council leads. We have successfully rebuilt or are rebuilding every species under our jurisdiction. No other Council can make that claim. Making river herring and shad a stock in one of our FMPs would allow us to do the same with alewives and blueback. And those once epic river herring bass-blitzes will once again come back. We can successfully restore these historical and culturally important species and we will!
What we need now is the strong support of the public, particularly anglers, as we move forward. Stay tuned, and we’ll let you know when and how you can provide such support.
A case can be made, but it’s not the one we’re making
In my Aug 8th blog The Straight Dope on Striped Bass I mentioned “Assuming striped bass continues to decline, there is a rationale for gamefish, but thus far the angling community hasn’t picked up on it. I don’t really have the space to fully explain this here but will certainly do so in a future blog.” So… Let me do that now. If you haven’t read the above referenced blog, stop right here! Read it, then continue.
Let me be clear that on its face, gamefish doesn’t appear to be about conservation. It’s about a reallocation of a public resource. Again, on its face, it’s a policy decision, not a conservation one.
There was a comment following the blog along the lines that, according to my rationale, we should reopen market hunting for terrestrial game. Sounds silly, and it would be. But it is true that as long as total mortality is controlled, such populations would remain healthy. A dead duck is a dead-duck, likewise, a dead fish is a dead fish, regardless of who killed it. It matters little where the mortality comes from, it’s still mortality. As Charlie Witek pointed out in the comments section, wildlife managers simply chose broad public access over commercialization. It’s important to point out that this was not a decision mandated by biological imperatives. It was a policy decision on how to allocate limited resources. They chose the greater public rather than a few guys still trying to make a buck off of it.
If the true motivation is conservation, and I believe that at least with most gamefish advocates that’s the case, they could avoid a lot of grief by being very clear in their “conservation” goals. In other words, stop talking about killing small fish, either by reducing the minimum size or creating a slot limit, and shift the conversation toward reducing fishing mortality. Decommercializing the fishery may actually be a good way to do that but no one is taking that track, and frankly, I’m not sure they should be right now. I’ll explain this later.Managers obviously haven’t done that with striped bass, and I don’t disagree that they should. I think decommercialization could achieve a number of objectives, yet I also feel like the entire striped bass gamefish issue has blinded people to the total fishing mortality issue, often to the extent that people can talk about killing smaller slot fish for dinner and then promote conservation in the same breath, while few notice that they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.
I do believe that once we get the 2013 Benchmark assessment, reducing mortality, particularly on older fish, will quickly become a management goal. And, while the “fairness” issue still exists, decommercialization of striped bass is a realistic means to achieve it, particularly since decreasing recreational harvest is likely to lead to increased catch-and-release mortality. (Again I want to note here that in 2006, when the recreational fishery peaked, the number of fish killed as recreational discard mortality was double the total commercial catch).
However, such action would only be justifiable if the former commercial harvest is used as a buffer of sorts, to increase the population, and not merely transferred to recreational landings, as was the case in New Jersey when they went the gamefish route. I’m certainly not bashing Jersey. The fact is that, given the amount of fish they took from commercials and gave to anglers, only a small portion are actually killed pursuant to their 3rd “bonus program” fish, which I believe was suspended anyway last summer. So in reality, there is indeed a conservation benefit there. Of course that doesn’t translate to decision-makers who see only an unfair reallocation, perpetuated by a movement that, instead of promoting the conservation buffer idea, talks about killing a smaller fish. Certainly they get an earful about it from commercial striped bass fishermen in their states.
Getting back on point, decommercialization could indeed eliminate some bycatch-prone commercial gear such as gillnets and would stop the practice of discarding smaller, dead fish in favor of larger ones (“highgrading”) in order to maximize profit. (While I hate to say it, that sort of thing happens on charter/party boats as well.) Regardless, making striped bass a gamefish would likely quell the rampant illegal harvest along the coast. Sure there would still be some poaching, but certainly not to the extent that it has existed in the last two decades, since the profit motive would be eliminated.
That said, one could certainly argue that decommercialization is valuable not because it will permit a bigger recreational kill, but because it is a reasonable way to reduce overall striped bass mortality, increase the spawning stock, better assure the long-term health of the striped bass fishery and better represent the long term interests of the general public. However, simply reallocating the resource without reducing overall mortality fails to achieve any of those goals. The fact that the gamefish advocates haven’t tried to quell the “more fish for me” impression has really harmed anglers’ credibility with fishery managers and it has dealt commercial interests a winning handAnd then there is the economic argument. It’s pretty well established that anglers create quite a bit more economic activity than commercial striped bass fishermen. That’s been demonstrated in more than one academic study, and the argument that we deserve more fish, if not a total allocation, as a result has certainly been made. Yet, having spent the last five years on one of the regional fisheries management bodies, I can say with certainly that managers simply don’t do allocation based on economic value of the fishery. If that were the case, just about every dual-component fishery would have had all the fishery resources, except perhaps mackerel, tilefish and bluefin tuna, over to the recreational side. The economic value of those fisheries are heavily weighted to the commercial side; thus we probably would lose them all together if NMFS were to base allocation on economic impact. Several years ago, Stripers Forever retained Southwick Associates to prepare an economic study of the fishery, which unsurprisingly determined that economic activity generated by striped bass anglers was, I think, 26 times greater than that produced by the commercial fishery. But it mattered little. The ASMFC Committee on Economics and Social Sciences reviewed the study, then rejected it in its entirety. About a decade ago, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science also produced a study which concluded that allocating the entire striped bass harvest to anglers would yield the best economic result. It, too, was ignored.
Several years ago, Stripers Forever President Brad Burns told me “If the striped bass were a personal-use-only species, the values of recreational fisherman would control its fate… Sure, a few would be eaten, but a healthy stock and high-quality fishing experience would be the primary values.” I think he’s right about that when we talk about fly fishermen and even a lot of the surfcasting community, but when you start to look at the party boats and the six-pack charters, along with a significant segment of the private boat community, a lot of bass are being killed. In those venues, conservation-minded sportsmen can be pretty thin on the ground.
First, Striped bass must be managed in a way that makes biological sense. Once that is achieved, like terrestrial game, bass should be managed in a way that brings the greatest overall benefit to the general public. Permitting the continued commercial exploitation of striped bass doesn’t really appear to achieve that objective. But, we have to keep in mind that this is a historical and culturally significant commercial fishery. We can’t expect it to just go away.
A nice striper from Capt. Dave Bitters at Baymen Charters
Unfortunately, a lot of anglers do think we can just make commercial fishermen disappear. Such people are still living in the “us vs. them” age. As I indicated in my Straight Dope column, I get it. It’s irritating to see one guy kill lots of fish 20 or so yards away from where you are releasing them all. But at a point in time so critical to the striped bass population, when we have a chance to convince managers to do the right thing, we’ve got to realize that it’s not about what is best for me, it’s about what’s best for the resource (although in the long run that’s usually the same thing).
So, while I do believe gamefish could have benefits for the stock, assuming the fish that had been harvested commercially were all maintained as a conservation buffer and not reallocated to anglers, I also believe that decommercializing striped bass is politically impossible at this time. Yet, since chasing that impossible goal tends to blind people to the total mortality issue, I can’t say I’m a big advocate anymore. There are other more important things on the table.
I’ll say it one more time, then I’ll shut up about bass, at least until we get the results of the benchmark: as a community greatly concerned with the future of this precious natural resource, we need to put the blinders on and focus solely on reducing fishing mortality. Clamoring about gamefish, slot limits etc., isn’t doing us any favors. There may be a time when there is an opportunity to achieve decommercialization, but that time is not now. Distracting ourselves from the most important goal of reducing mortality is likely to hurt the bass—and us—in the end.
Liberty Natural Gas’ “Port Ambrose” just seems bad all around
I had to do a double-take when I opened a New York Times link last week to read an article: Fight Over Plan for Natural Gas Port Off Long Island . Inset was a photo of the Recreational Fishing Alliance’s Jim Donofrio. Not unusual really (while I rarely see eye-to-eye with that organization, they usually seem to be on the right page when it comes to things like this) except that the text under the photo read “Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, urges people not to dismiss the idea of a natural gas port.” Seriously? Everything I had read up to now has shown that Liberty Natural Gas’ “Port Ambrose” is bad for anglers, or any ocean users. Also from a security standpoint, it appears to be pretty bad for New York Harbor. Given this is an area I fish pretty hard every single year, it got me a little worried. So, I’m scratching my head wondering why.
“Port Ambrose” is a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) port that would consist of two submerged buoys sitting about 30 feet off the seabed, with a radius of about 40 feet. It would potentially be located about twenty miles due South of Jones Beach in Long Island and 30-miles due east of Monmouth Beach in Jersey, allowing huge ships to directly connect to the region’s natural gas system.
LNG is gas that has been super-chilled to -260 degrees, turning it into a liquid that is 1/600th the original volume of gas, so large volumes can be transported overseas. The gas is clear, colorless, and extremely explosive. So much so that Governor Christie vetoed a similar proposal in 2011 and in 2012. According to the Governor’s original veto, it “created a heightened risk in a densely developed region, including potential accidents or sabotage disrupting commerce in the Port of New York and New Jersey.”
According to the permit application, among the environmental impacts, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater used for pipe tests. During construction the project would apparently dredge up over 20-miles of seafloor, which would likely wipe out the fishing in a large area for a long time. There will most certainly be significant underwater noise pollution during construction as well. And given the volatility of LNG there will most certainly be a large exclusionary zone where there will be no fishing, or any sort of recreational or commercial activity, both during construction and probably for the life of the port. It’s hard to see how Port Ambrose wouldn’t affect just about all ocean uses in the area including fishing, diving, boating, and shipping. And, the possible site, in the middle of a recently proposed offshore wind area, would pretty much stifle what has been significant and recent movement toward wind-power in the area.
Upland, there is concern that construction of such an LNG port could lead to increased shale gas extraction, aka “fracking”. The port would of course be close to the Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath parts of New York and Pennsylvania and contains natural gas that can be extracted, should a state moratorium on the process known as “hydrofracking” be lifted. There are certainly those that argue that such fracking would destroy the Delaware River trout fishery, and it likely would.
Liberty Natural Gas contends that the proposed port will be used to import LNG from abroad, not export it, yet there is nothing in the law that would prevent the company, or a future owner of the port, from using it to ship shale gas to foreign countries.
Liberty Natural Gas filed the proposal with the federal Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard last month. It must go through a rigorous yearlong process, including environmental impact studies and public hearings. Assuming it clears all the numerous hurdles it faces, in the end none of it would matter if Governor Christie and/or Governor Cuomo veto it. Given the recent history, I can’t imagine they won’t.
So why on earth is RFA even engaged here? And seemingly on the “wrong” side to boot. Certainly there isn’t a way anglers, or the recreational fishing industry could benefit? Or could it? While I can’t confirm it, there have been rumors that Liberty Natural Gas would provide more than $20M in mitigation money for the exclusionary zone the facility would require. A lot of that would likely benefit the party boats from central and Northern New Jersey and of course Long Island. I’m one of the most cynical guys around, but I can’t believe that this would be a reason RFA would consider supporting this. I mean come on man… that would be the true definition of “selling out”. So let’s take that off the table right now.
In the New York Times Article, Donofrio refers to the opposition to the Port Ambrose as “showroom environmentalists”. I get it! RFA is and has been anti-environmental/anti-conservation for an awful long time. Because of course everyone knows that environmentalists, even if they are fishermen themselves, are out to end all fishing, right! To simplify it, the RFA folks support the taking of more fish, and the folks that want to keep more fish in the water so we can enjoy healthy more abundant fisheries often stand in the way of them getting what they want. But to support something that seems so obviously bad for anglers to spite the enviros? Naaa… Still not that cynical.
And I should note here that Clean Ocean Action, the folks that seem to be leading the opposition to Port Ambrose, is hardly a “showroom environmentalist” group. They are about as small, local and grassroots as you can get. And a good portion of their constituents include commercial and recreational fishermen.
RFA hasn’t come out in outright support of the Port Ambrose proposal. According to the New York Times article they are “reviewing the proposal”. But given the photo and the quotes in the article they certainly appear to be leaning that way. Yes, there may be benefits to such a facility. It could lower heating costs by increasing supply, create construction-related jobs and generate in state and federal tax revenue, but at what cost? I can’t see how such a port wouldn’t adversely affect fishermen. Like I said, I’m scratching my head on this one. I sure would like to see an explanation.
That said, I don’t expect to get a reasonable one. I expect the usual personal attacks for just putting the question out there. More of the same, about how I’m a radical or some crap like that because after all, in addition to generating a significant amount of my income from my charter fishing business, I also run the grants program for a foundation that funds equipment for organizations working to protect natural resources (e.g. CCA, Trout Unlimited, RiverKeeper, etc.). But I’d have to think that the large majority of anglers think like I do on this one.
Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) provides data for fisheries management
Ok, you say. What the heck is MRIP. It stands for Marine Recreational Information Program and it is the process whereby NOAA Fisheries collects all the information about recreational catch and participation. MRIP is one of those fisheries management acronyms of which there are too many. What comes out of MRIP forms the basis for managing recreational fisheries. So it is important, damn important. Is it the best? Well, it is the best that we currently have, and a great deal of energy is being expended to make it even better.
MRIP is the new version of MRFSS, another acronym that stands for Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. MRFSS was found to be flawed by the National Academy of Sciences and since then a dedicated staff has been working to correct the problems that were pointed out. The improvements have not been a speedy process, but little that is done by our government ever is. But it has been a thorough and relentless effort to improve the data flow into the system. Part of the data stream comes from the salt water license requirement, something that I supported way back when and still support today. No, I am not a tax and spend kinda guy. I tend to lean toward the fiscally conservative side, but think that well-run user fee programs that have benefits being returned to the users are good. I know that drives the Tea Partiers nuts, but that’s just the way it is.
I do think that some of the data collection projects make a lot of sense. They are moving outside the old box of intercept survey data toward angler-participation driven data. I have supported cooperative research in the commercial fisheries and think that the same concept will work in the recreational fisheries. These programs are not easy to develop, but they should generate a better data stream in the long run.
One of the projects is looking at a way to identify fish that are released by the recreational fishery. The project calls released fish recreational discards. That is a term that makes me cringe. We’ll have to see what can be done about that, but I digress. This project is using free disposable cameras handed out at launch ramps for anglers to use when releasing fish. The photos will be used for identification and form the basis for statistical projections of release composition.
Another program is developing internet-based angler logs as a source of fishery dependent data. We know how prevalent smart phones are today and using their extensive capability is just plain smart. This project will focus on using an application callediAngler, but there are others out there and expanding this should be relatively easy. Could the day that there is almost real-time data available for the recreational fishing sector be getting closer. I hope so.
Another project is testing the use of video cameras to establish a recreational fishing boat count or essentially fishing activity in a port that has historically been un-surveyed. This will assess if the video combined with traditional shore-side intercept surveys can be used to estimate catch and effort.
These are all interesting efforts to try to improve the data stream that is used to estimate the recreational fishing effort, catch, and also composition of released fish. During 2013, there will be eight other projects around the country to also improve recreational data. A lot of people think that the government should leave anglers alone and I tend to agree with the sentiment. However, with fish, we are dealing with a public trust resource and the public has a right to know what is being caught and killed. Fishery managers need this information to make the best decisions on how these fish should be managed, so that we have a few left for the future.
STRANGE CATCH- This past week an angler riding his bike along the shore of the Cape Cod Canal saw a bunch of fishing activity on the bank of the Canal. He pedaled home and grabbed a rod. Upon returning he saw what it was all about. The sickle-like tail fin of what he though was a white marlin clipped along in the current. He cast in the fishes direction and hooked up. Yup, it was a white marlin all right! He fought it to the bank and along with other anglers tried to revive the fish for a successful release. Unfortunately, they could not revive the fish. That would be an unusual catch on Cape Cod’s outer beaches, but in the Canal. Wow!
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.