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May 25, 2012

Unlikely Solution for Fisheries

Recognition of shared interests benefit fishery management battles

As this is being written, the Atlantic Coast is experiencing a strange spring. Temperatures in the 80s, when the norm would be closer to the mid-50s, and welcome at that, may be the harbinger of a very warm summer, or it could snow like it recently did in Arizona. Our hope is that the early warm weather will be a boost to the recreational fishing industry, which has suffered along with the rest of the economy. I keep thinking that fisheries issues in general and recreational fisheries issues in particular will calm down. Where that illusion comes from, I’m not sure. They are doing anything but calming down.

Recently, a second march on Washington, D.C., took place, with United We Fish again organizing the effort. This is a coalition of recreational and commercial fishing interests trying to get their piece of the federal fisheries pie. Mainly, they want to get changes made to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, also known as the Sustainable Fisheries Act. If these changes are not put in place by the time this article is in print, they won’t be until the next Congress.

This whole process brings to mind several things. To start with, the groups supporting this march on Washington all distrust any environmental non-governmental
organization. These fishing organizations are of the opinion that all ENGOs are out to end the consumptive use of our marine resources and must be opposed at all costs.

The simple fact is that all ENGOs are not out to end fishing, commercial or recreational. A number of them want the same thing that all resource users should want: healthy, sustainable, vibrant fisheries. Does that mean that philosophically we all take the same road to this goal? Not likely. Does it mean that recreational and commercial interests will always agree on who gets what share? Not likely. So why does it make sense to continue spending a great deal of energy opposing organizations that could be allies? Yet year after year, many of these fishing organizations do just that. There has to be a reasonable way to move ahead together.

Again, let me state emphatically, I may not agree with every ENGO on every detail, but I know that they have been at the political game for longer than recreational fishing interests and know how to get things done. I’d rather figure out a way to work with them than to spend resources opposing them at every turn. I think that we’d get to our shared goals a lot faster.

 Also, it is also apparent that most of these fishing organizations do not support the recent National Ocean Policy put in place by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama. Many think that it was merely an end run around the rejected Oceans-21 legislation, with good reason. Be that as it may, the concept of regional ocean planning is moving ahead, and in theory, it should be beneficial to coordinate and prioritize all the competing uses of ocean resources. Like many, I have my concerns that without some very tight controls, this process will devolve into a state-by-state fight over large chunks of federal territory. On the other hand, if the process goes well, it should maximize everyone’s benefit derived from our collective ocean resources. In the final analysis, it is the only chance that the fishing industry, both recreational and commercial, has to take a seat at the table where all the choices will be made. Some want the National Ocean Council and its regional planning efforts to disappear. I understand the distrust. However, all the interests competing for a chunk of the federal waters or ocean bottom will not go away. Will fishing interests be able to control the process? Not likely. It is obvious to me that, without some guiding mechanism, energy needs will steamroll fishing interests in a New York minute. It may happen anyway, but at least with the NOC, there is a transparent process, with fisheries a part of that process.
 
So on we go into the heart of another fishing season. Will all these issues be resolved while we are “gone fishing”? Not likely. I still think that we have to find a way for those interested in the long-term health of our marine resources to move ahead together.