Welcome to the TRCP’s fifth annual Saltwater Media Summit, where we brought together key members of the media to discuss the most pressing issues facing saltwater recreational fishing. This year, for the first time ever, the summit was held in conjunction with ICAST, the American Sportfishing Association’s trade show in Orlando, Florida. Our one-day summit focused on a variety of conservation topics relevant to the sportfishing community today—and tomorrow.
“We want to get the word out about some important issues relating to sportfishing in America,” said Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO, in his opening remarks to the standing-room-only crowd at the Orange County Convention Center. “There is also a remarkable economic story about sportfishing. It’s big business. And it can’t be exported to China.”
Making Red Snapper Numbers Add Up
In his lead-in to the panel about recreational red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the fishing community’s most contentious topics, Fosburgh said the species exemplifies everything that’s right and wrong with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. “The folks on the recreational side say they have been shut out of rebuilt fisheries, while the commercial guys are catching a lot of fish,” he said.
Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator for the NOAA Fisheries Service, admitted that the council charged with federal oversight of the fish has been in a deadlock over proposed changes to the system, but collaboration between states and federal fisheries managers is, and will be, necessary to satisfy commercial and recreational anglers. “Yes, there are more red snapper out there than there have been for the past 30 to 40 years,” he said. “But in planning the seasons, we’re trying to predict the length of time it should take to reach 80% of the quota, and there’s a margin of error there.”
Crabtree also discussed the challenges of the solutions already on the table for dealing with short recreational seasons and sector separation, including having the states discuss allocation of seasons. “Regional management of red snapper would be complicated,” he said. “Some regions may benefit at the expense of others.”
Both Jessica McCawley of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Randy Pausina of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries called for state oversight of the red snapper in the Gulf and gave examples of innovative new data collection strategies they have begun to implement. “States know their needs best,” said McCawley. “What works for Florida doesn’t work for Louisiana,” added Pausina. “Each state can develop a plan that fits their needs.”
“I have no problem with the states,” said Crabtree at the height of a spirited Q&A with reporters in the room. “They play a huge role. We all work together.”
Can Revamped Fisheries Law Make Washington Work for Recreational Anglers?
Over lunch, two leading fisheries policy experts discussed the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the principal law overseeing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. It was first passed in 1976—or, as speaker Jeff Angers, President of the Center for Coastal Conservation, noted—about the time Steve Jobs was launching Apple. His point was that the world has changed greatly in the past four decades. “But in the last 40 years, there hasn’t been a lot of change in legislative oversight of saltwater fishing,” he said. “We think the next reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act is our time. This is the time the $70-billion recreational fishing industry deserves the attention of Congress.”
Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association, added that while Sen. Rubio has been a champion for fisheries and has declared his bid for the presidency, Magnuson-Stevens probably won’t be a topic of the first debate in a few weeks. “I don’t think marine fisheries will have a lot of influence in this presidential race,” said Leonard.
What a Few Billion Dollars Could Buy in Gulf Coast Restoration Projects
Pollster Karoline Richardson McGrail of Public Opinion Strategies kicked off this session with the results of an exclusive poll conducted on behalf of TRCP and the Nature Conservancy. Gulf residents overwhelming supported using the fines resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster on Gulf restoration and conservation projects. While 68 percent supported restoration, according to McGrail, only 17 percent favored using the funds for construction of roads, convention centers, school buildings, and other projects on the Gulf Coast.
Kelly Samek of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission explained how she’s helping to divert funds, like the BP spill settlement dollars, to useful restoration projects. “I match needs to dollars,” she said. “There’s a lot of money coming in from a lot of different places.” She cited recent restoration projects at Escribano Point, Fla., near the border of Alabama, as a successful use of funds to restore coastline.
Ted Venker, Conservation Director for the Coastal Conservation Association, discussed the years of work and fundraising it took to open the Cedar Bayou on Texas’s Gulf Coast, one of the state’s iconic fish passes connecting the Gulf with important wildlife estuaries. “There are hundreds of projects like this around the country that can be unlocked” with money from the BP multi-billion-dollar settlement, he said.
Keep checking the TRCP’s website as we share stories from our media attendees and other results from the summit. And if you’re interested in joining us next year, reach out to Kristyn Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org.