CCA moves to intervene in red snapper lawsuit
CCA National Executive Board approves legal action
HOUSTON, TX (7-30-13) – The National Executive Board of Coastal Conservation Association has voted to intervene on behalf of recreational anglers in a lawsuit filed by Gulf commercial fishing interests against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce. The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s policy of managing recreational anglers with seasons, size limits and bag limits in the red snapper fishery.
Following the decision, CCA released this statement:
“This lawsuit was filed by a select few commercial fishermen who profit from the sale of this resource, and they are seeking greater restrictions on the recreational angling sector to protect their privileged position,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “It is unfortunate that it is again necessary for us to engage in legal action to prevent recipients of exclusive commercial fishing rights from using the courts to further restrict or potentially eliminate public access to these recreational fisheries. We cannot afford to ignore the threat that this lawsuit poses to all recreational anglers. An elite and privileged class of commercial harvesters cannot be allowed to dictate how recreational fisheries are managed.”
Click HERE to see a recent CCA press release on the lawsuit.
Catch share proponents attack recreational angling
Lawsuit seeks to restrict Gulf recreational red snapper anglers
WASHINGTON DC (7-11-13) – In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., 29 commercial fishermen, seafood processors and trade groups closely associated with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), are seeking to further restrict angling for red snapper. The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s policy of managing recreational fishermen with seasons, size limits and bag limits.
“After the shortest recreational seasons in history, it appears that the goal of EDF is to ultimately keep the fishing public off the water as much as possible and by any means necessary, including litigation,” Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “A lawsuit filed by an elite group of snapper barons to protect their financial interests and further restrict recreational participation is probably the last thing we need along the Gulf Coast right now.”
The Environmental Defense Fund has long promoted the concept of catch shares for the commercial industry, which gives businesses a share of the harvest to manage as its own. Catch shares were originally touted to reduce overcapacity and bycatch in the commercial sector, but in the Gulf snapper fishery the program has created a class of “snapper barons” that have bought out smaller operations and now lease their shares back to other fishers. Many no longer actually fish for red snapper and are instead profiting from the lease and sale of a public natural resource that they obtained originally for free. From a high of around 1,800 commercial license holders, currently about 350 people, including many of the plaintiffs listed on the current lawsuit, now claim they own 51 percent of the entire harvest of Gulf red snapper.
“Seasons, size limits and bag limits have been used for decades with great success by the states in both marine and freshwater fisheries to manage recreational angling. Those tools work,” said Brewer. “What doesn’t work is taking a federal system that is geared almost exclusively to manage commercial fisheries to the pound and trying to apply those same standards to recreational angling. That is the recipe for chaos, and it leads to ridiculous diversions like this lawsuit.”
In contrast to the conditions described in the lawsuit, a red snapper benchmark stock assessment released just a few weeks ago paints a glowing picture of the recovery of Gulf red snapper. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets next week in New Orleans to discuss lengthening the recreational season in 2013 because the assessment allows so much increased harvest.
“This lawsuit is not about conserving the stock or rebuilding a fishery or preserving access for the public to a public resource – it’s about a large environmental organization preserving a flawed catch share system for a few commercial entities and greatly restricting Gulf recreational angling, which is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people,” said Brewer. “There is far more to managing a fishery than counting, weighing and selling every dead fish for profit. We cannot allow successful management of our nation’s wild natural resources to be defined in these terms or be dictated to by deep-pocketed environmental groups.”
Over the past several years, Gulf Coast governors, Congressmen and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus have voiced concern and opposition to privatizing wildlife resources and limiting public access to public resources through catch share programs. In 2009, four Gulf governors wrote to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce stating that, “We are concerned that in the desire to adopt and implement catch share systems NOAA has forgotten its most fundamental responsibility under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—to maximize the net economic value from the use of a public resource. Recreational fishing is an important activity in all of our states, and one that we would like to see continue to grow as a healthy activity for the public. However, we are concerned that NOAA policies could frustrate our ability to do that.”
Anglers applaud legislation to let states manage Gulf red snapper
Gulf Senators file Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act of 2013
WASHINGTON DC (6-13-2013) – Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) filed legislation today that seeks to transfer responsibility for the management of Gulf red snapper to the Gulf states. The legislation (S.1161) comes two months after the governors of four Gulf states released a joint letter to the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is “irretrievably broken,” and calling for a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.
“The red snapper fishery is tremendously complicated and has lurched from crisis to crisis under federal management with no end in sight,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of the National Government Relations Committee for Coastal Conservation Association. “We commend Sen. Landrieu for taking the lead to work through the complexity of this issue. She invested a great deal of time to craft a balanced, workable solution that allows the Gulf States to develop a new management approach.”
Federal management of red snapper reached a new low in 2013 when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced the shortest season ever, even though the snapper population is booming. In response, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi announced various actions to join Texas’ long-standing rejection of federal regulations in state waters, prompting federal authorities to implement punitive measures for those states. Using an emergency rule process, the National Marine Fisheries Service reduced the recreational season to nine days off Louisiana and 12 days off Texas. Both states sued and a federal court overturned the action. The recreational season is now set at 28 days Gulf-wide.
“The reality is that federal fisheries management has a credibility problem. Red snapper has been under federal management for decades and our season this year is 28 days. No one should be satisfied with these results,” said Brewer. “We are grateful that Sen. Landrieu, Sen. Wicker and the Gulf governors heard the concerns of their citizens and pledged to find a better way.”
The Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act (S.1161) would establish a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management in which the states would fully comply with a management plan approved and adopted by the Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commission with minimal oversight from the federal government. The partnership would be similar to how striped bass are managed on the East Coast through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
“State-based fishery management has proven to be far more effective, and has engineered some of the greatest marine conservation victories in the country,” said Brewer. “We have faith in the states to be philosophically capable of not only conserving and managing robust fisheries, but also providing greater access to those resources for their citizens.”
A unique opportunity for Gulf red snapper
New stock assessment a chance for Gulf Council to fix mistakes of the past
HOUSTON (6-12-2013) - In a letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Coastal Conservation Association cites the new red snapper stock assessment as an opportunity for federal managers to fix the mistakes of the recent past by allocating the entire available increase in red snapper annual catch limits to the recreational sector.
“Though this action will not account for the harm that federal mismanagement of the red snapper resource has imposed on anglers across the Gulf, it will begin to repair the damage and begins to recognize the needs and potential of the recreational sector,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee.
While the shortest recreational red snapper seasons on record have cost jobs and revenue for Gulf Coast economies, the commercial sector has thrived under its catch share program in which a handful of businesses own the right to harvest 51 percent of the annual quota of red snapper in the Gulf. The greatly expanded catch limits that have been proposed present a unique opportunity for the Gulf Council to also address the outdated allocation of red snapper, which was last set in the mid-1980s. A report by Gentner Consulting Group that looked at the increase in potential economic value and total sales from allocating 75 and 100 percent of the increases available makes an overwhelming case for the recreational sector.
“The Council has shown little willingness to address reallocation of this or any fishery for a variety of reasons, but primarily because reallocating usually means one side wins and the other loses. Allocating increases in annual catch limits (ACL) avoids that scenario,” said Brewer. “In this case, the commercial sector, which is operating under a catch share system that has dramatically decreased the number of participants in the fishery, is not impacted while the recreational sector, which has increased significantly in size and economic significance since the fishery was allocated in the mid-1980s, is given the resources to fulfill its role as an economic engine for the Gulf states in 2013 and beyond.”
The Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee has endorsed an annual catch limit (ACL) of 13.5 million pounds of red snapper for 2013, an 11.9 million pound ACL for 2014 and a 10.6 million pound ACL for 2015. However, CCA is advocating that the Council average the ACL at 12 million pounds for the next three years to avoid the “yo-yo” regulations that have characterized the fishery in the recent past.
“The track record speaks for itself – we don’t believe the federal government has the ability to manage this fishery with any degree of accuracy or reliability. Averaging the increase to 12 million pounds over the next three years presents the best opportunity for stability in this fishery for the first time in a very long time,” said Brewer. “Ironically, the recreational sector has been criticized repeatedly and vigorously for not being ‘accountable.’ The lack of accountability seems to lie with the federal management regime that has forced the most severely limited fishing seasons ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico that we now see were largely not based on good science.”
The new assessment shows the significant increases are the result of fishing mortality rates that have averaged about 56 percent of what would have been a sustainable rate consistent with the rebuilding plan over the past six years.
“The federal management methods of the past – infrequent and inadequate monitoring of stock health and efforts to count every fish caught recreationally to produce an undependable harvest estimate in pounds – have been shown to be unworkable and grossly inaccurate,” said Brewer. “There is no indication that federal management is willing or able to do anything different, which is one of the reasons CCA supports moving management responsibility of red snapper to the individual states as a way to ultimately correct a management process gone awry. Combined with the efficiency and efficacy of state management, this increased allowance for the recreational sector should begin to repair the damage created by past mismanagement of this resource.”
Legislation seeks to keep artificial reefs in the Gulf
Sen. Vitter files bill to streamline process, expand reefing areas for energy structures
WASHINGTON DC (5-31-13) - With the clock ticking towards removal of an ever-increasing number of energy platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has filed legislation that would make it easier for operators to leave those structures in the marine environment and continue serving as artificial reefs.
“A number of bureaucratic obstacles have been created that make it even more difficult for energy companies to elect to keep those structures in the Gulf for habitat purposes rather than removing them for scrap,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “We are grateful for Sen. Vitter for targeting the red tape that has been causing some of these valuable platforms to be removed unnecessarily. As anglers, we share his goal of leaving as much of that structure in the Gulf as possible.”
Due to extraordinary liability issues, it is virtually impossible to leave the platforms standing upright indefinitely, but options do exist for coastal states to assume liability for structures that are cut and placed in designated artificial reefing areas. Sen. Vitter’s bill (S.1079) contains important steps to expedite the application process for new structures to be approved for state-run Rigs to Reefs programs.
“In our extensive dealings in this issue, one of the hurdles often cited by industry is the exorbitant length of time it takes to get a ruling on whether a specific rig can be a candidate for a Rigs to Reef program,” said Murray. “This bill requires a decision not more than 150 days after the application is submitted. That is a key provision because the pace of removals is poised to increase markedly over the next two years and an expedited process will allow far more structures to be reefed rather than removed.”
When weighing the economic benefits of reefing, proximity to reefing sites is a critical component as towing costs are prohibitive. S.1079 requires 20 new artificial reef planning sites to be created in federal waters adjacent to Gulf states – six off both Texas and Louisiana, three each off Mississippi and Alabama, and five off Florida. At least 10 of those sites will have to be located in waters between 100 and 200 feet, and the remainder at a depth not greater than 200 feet. Additionally, current regulations also require a distance of at least five miles between reefed structures; S.1079 would reduce that distance to two miles.
“The more reefing sites in the Gulf, the more likely it is that the reefing option will make economic sense as well as environmental sense,” said Murray. “Sen. Vitter’s bill creates significantly more opportunity to save these structures.”
Over the history of offshore energy development, nearly 6,000 structures have been placed in the Gulf of Mexico and yet there are fewer than 3,000 there today. Requirements to remove those structures have been written into leases since the first offshore well was drilled, and removals have been a part of the regular course of business for many decades. Anglers have only recently felt the removals more acutely as near-shore energy reserves play out, structures are removed and nothing new comes in to replace them. As the energy industry focuses more and more of its efforts in deeper water, anglers and divers are seeing their favorite platforms pulled and not finding any new places to go. CCA has been active in seeking administrative and legislative paths to secure as much of that structure as possible to remain as marine habitat.
For more information on the Idle Iron issue, visit the Idle Iron page at www.JoinCCA.org
Everglades National Park
Attention: Superintendant Dan Kimball
40001 SR 9336
Homestead, FL 33034
Dear Mr. Kimball:
CCA Florida (”CCA”) has reviewed the Proposed Draft General Management Plan Alternatives for Everglades National Park and provides its comments and suggestions. CCA has met with representatives of Everglades National Park and has presented them with a graphic that more fully defines these comments. CCA urges the National Park Service (NPS) and the management of Everglades National Park (ENP) to continue a dialogue on the development and implementation of the General Management Plan. The Park and its users’ interests are best served when the Park engages its anglers and boaters who constitute a majority of the users of the Park’s marine areas. These sportspersons are conservationists who truly value the Park’s unique resources. But to be clear, the Preferred Alternative as proposed is unacceptable to CCA. CCA will address and suggest modification of those unacceptable elements. The suggested modification of those components meets the needs of the Park’s management and allows reasonable access to its boaters and anglers.
CCA's members and sponsors well recognize the need to provide resource protection for the Park's marine resources. CCA also believes that the vast majority of the anglers and boaters who frequent the Park are good stewards of the resource and hold the Park's resources in high regard. These anglers and boaters will favorably respond to better signage and marking of the Park’s channels, access corridors and shallow water areas. CCA believes that additional marking is needed on the eastern boundary of the park to educate boaters on proper navigation, prevailing water levels and areas requiring local knowledge. CCA also strongly believes that the overwhelming majority of the Park’s boaters and anglers will favorably respond to educational and informational programs.
CCA equally believes that the Park needs to stay true to its tradition as being a premier fishing destination. CCA has supported the use of Pole & Troll Zones (PTZ's) in other locations as well as the concept for Snake Bight as they provide for seagrass protection and enhance the angling experience. But, as implemented the Snake Bight PTZ suffers from access issues. Suggested modifications to the Snake Bight Pole and Troll Zones include better access along the shoreline from Porpoise Point to the northern shore of Snake Bight, an expansion to the north of the Jimmy’s Lake idle speed access areas, increased access along Snake Bight Channel onto the flats, to the west and continuing northward towards the northern shore of Florida Bay. (See the attached Graphic).
The PTZs proposed for ENP are too large and, contrary to statements within the planning document, lack reasonable access. Most of the PTZs in the Preferred Alternative are miles long and across. PTZs of that size, without adequate access corridors, effectively exclude most anglers. A functional PTZ requires access corridors similar to those in use in the Pole and Troll Zones of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge with poling or trolling distances of less than 200 yards. The proposed PTZs comprise every shallow water flat in the waters of Florida Bay within the Park’s boundaries. The lack of access to the proposed PTZs essentially places these flats off limits to most anglers! The Park should also recognize that there will be adverse unintended impacts due to these large PTZs; the fishing effort that is now directed to these flats will be transferred to other flats that are outside, but adjacent to, the Park.
The PTZs which are in the bights of northern Florida Bay and in the central and lower portion of the Park's waters in Florida Bay are significantly influenced by tidal flow, winds and seasonal variations in water levels. These PTZs include Nine Mile Bank, Sandy Key Bank and Dildo Key Bank and the Palm-Cormorant-Curley-Buoy Flats. The access corridors requested by CCA and virtually every other organization that represents the users of the Park’s marine waters are largely based on naturally occurring channels, basins and runoffs. As an example, the poling distances into and out of Garfield Bight would exceed 4 miles. These suggested corridors are not only a matter of convenience, but are necessary for boating safety and seagrass protection. Without these access corridors, the PTZs in the Preferred Alternative are de facto exclusionary zones.
Some of the areas within the proposed PTZs are deep enough to allow for normal operation and, depending on the tide, may be too deep for reasonable poling. Examples include: the area between Sid Key and Jim Foote, which provide more than adequate depth for normal vessel operation, as does the area south of Camp Key, east of Pelican and north of Jim Foote. These areas should allow for combustion engine operation. Additionally, many of the areas within proposed PTZs have over two (2) feet of draft, depending upon the tide; these areas will easily and safely accommodate “idle” transit too. In terrestrial parks users are afforded access through the "wilderness" through trails and paths that have been cut from the wilderness and are maintained by the US Park Service- CCA urges the Park to employ a similar philosophy in establishing and marking access corridors and channels into the proposed PTZs.
CCA recommends the Park incrementally establish these PTZs, starting with the areas around Flamingo, which according to the Parks' Vessel Density Analysis experiences the highest usage, and progressing outward as funds become available to mark access corridors and the PTZs. This incremental approach will allow the Park, with the consultation of the Park’s users, to evaluate and assess the PTZs and their effectiveness. Before additional PTZs are put in place, the Park’s users, including angling and boating groups, should be consulted. Incremental implementation will also allow the Park to meet its budgetary constraints. The PTZs should also consider seasonal variations in water depth, variations which can allow for additional access into those areas and bights so affected. For example, the waters of Garfield Bight experience a significant seasonal variation and the Park should consult with the Park’s recreational and professional users to delineate those areas.
While the proposed shoreline zones arguably enhance the experience of anglers and paddlers, many of these areas provide deeper water and have been historically used as channels, these areas are depicted on CCA’s graphic and should be maintained for access and boating safety reasons. These suggested channels include access to Slagle Ditch, House Ditch and East Cape as well as the area along and immediately west of the campground and around islands such as Palm Key. The continued use of these historic corridors, channels, passes and cuts are also necessary due to the type of vessels that are most frequently used to traverse the Bay. These boats are best described as shallow draft boats, many of which sacrifice weight to be able to draw as little water as possible. The use of these shallow draft skiffs has become more prevalent and it is expected that this trend will continue. This means that many more of today's boats are able to get on flat without disrupting the grasses than was the case a mere ten years ago. These boats are also able to trim up their engines so as to allow idle or slow speed operation without disrupting the bottom. These boats are ecologically friendly, but they also experience more difficulty in moderate winds and the sea conditions found on the open waters of the Bay.
The Preferred Alternative unreasonably removes historically used navigation channels. These access corridors or channels include those in Rabbit Key Basin up to Cluett Key, Tin Can to Palm Key, Clive Key west to Rocky Channel, Palm Key leading into Palm Lake as well as the channels/runoffs of Nine Mile Bank, Cluett Key, Rabbit Key and the areas between Barnes and Buchanan. The Snake Bight PTZ should be modified to allow better access through Snake Bight Channel, Christian Point and the natural deep water tidal runoffs along Snake Bight channel. Each of these proposed channels should be marked, indicated as corridors by buoys/stakes and arrows or, if there are concerns regarding navigation, they should be indicated “as local knowledge required”.
CCA supports boater education through programs such as Eco-Mariner, a program that CCA endorsed. CCA is concerned that mandatory education or the establishment of a permit could lead to the imposition of multiple educational and permitting requirements given the several federally and state operated parks, refuges and sanctuaries. Initially the Park should support a boater education program that is readily accessible to the prospective users and internet based.
With regard to the Gulf areas of the Park, the imposition of a PTZ along the western portion of Gopher Creek is not warranted and, when combined with the existing idle speed zone along the eastern portion of Gopher Creek, essentially turns Gopher Creek into a no boating zone. The Cross Bays/Hurdles Creek area should not be restricted as they provide historic access and passage during rough weather. The proposal for Wood River constitutes an exclusionary zone and is not warranted.