I'm writing this the morning of Nov. 7, the day after President Obama’s re-election. Over my morning coffee, I browsed Facebook and looked through the reactions of my friends: some jubilant, others depressed, and a few truly angry, some irrationally so. But it seems like they are as equally divided as the nation as a whole.
Most of us probably hope that we will all move forward together, and that those we’ve elected to represent us will actually put aside differences and seriously address the huge problems our country continues to face. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but we’ll see.
The marine fisheries world is a microcosm of those larger problems, but the issues we’re dealing with in this smaller world are vitally important to those of us who fish. In an ideal scenario, the managers at NOAA Fisheries would take this opportunity to step up to the plate and get something done to make things better over the next four years. Along those lines, here are a few suggestions:
1. The most pressing issue concerns funding for adequate science. The gap between the demand for science to set Annual Catch Limits and implement Accountability Measures where necessary, and the resource constraints of the Science Center to fulfill those needs, often forces indefensible and arbitrary closures. The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act created these deadlines, which depend upon science that often doesn’t exist — a governmental train wreck. Unless we can close the gap, we will remain stuck in our current management quagmire.
2. The current leadership of NOAA/NMFS should exercise the interpretive authority that many of us believe they already have under the management framework to prevent arbitrary closures in fisheries where this science doesn’t exist. The NMFS leadership has so far been reluctant to do so, in my opinion because they fear legal action from the environmental groups pushing these measures, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Pew Environment Group and the Environmental Defense Fund.
3. If NMFS insists on pushing catch shares for the commercial industry, they should at least let the stakeholders in a particular fishery vote as to whether they want it or not, and if they do want it, they should pay a royalty like the lease of every other public resource that this country manages. Catch shares do work in some commercial arenas, like wreckfish in the South Atlantic, and spiny lobster and stone crabs in the Florida Keys. But drop all consideration of recreational catch shares.
4. Drop sector separation. All that accomplishes is permanent and irreversible allocation between groups. Charter boats have always been a quasi-commercial entity, neither fully recreational nor commercial, but sector separation wouldn’t necessarily fix that. It would merely drive wedges between groups that traditionally have been allies and create a smoke screen covering up the real issue (see No. 1 above).
5. When considering allocation schemes between recreational and commercial users, support decisions that produce the best overall benefit to the nation as required by the Magnuson Act. It is known that for many species, recreational fishermen create millions of dollars in revenues, jobs and taxes each year. It makes no sense to continue commercial harvest for some species, as 100 percent recreational allocation is far and away the highest and best use, no matter how you measure it. NMFS has historically been squeamish about these decisions, as it forces them to choose one user group over another, and they much prefer to treat both sectors equally.
So that’s my pie-in-the-sky laundry list for President Obama’s fishery team during his second term, although the aforementioned items are really quite pragmatic. Will any of them come to pass? Time will tell, but if we don’t relentlessly urge those in power to do the right thing, they surely never will. As the old saying goes: The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.