November 28, 2012Dr. Jane LubchencoUnder Secretary of Commerce for Oceans andAtmosphere and NOAA AdministratorHerbert Clark Hoover Building14th Street & Constitution Avenue, N.W.Room 5128Washington, DC 20230
Dear Dr. Lubchenco:
We in the sportfishing community were appreciative of the effort you and Eric Schwaab made to improve communication and relationships through the Saltwater Recreational Summit held in Virginia at the beginning of your term as Administrator of NOAA. There were many important commitments made at that meeting, particularly ones made by you. While you have followed through on some of those commitments, there is one very notable exception that is quite concerning to us.
At that meeting in 2010, you noted that the allocation process between sport and commercial fisheries was "rusted shut" and many mixed sector fisheries are operating on outdated allocations based on history rather than optimizing socioeconomic values for the future. You stated that if we are really serious about maximizing jobs and economic value for the future, we have to address this issue regularly and with a standardized, analytical approach.
While we were pleased to have Eric follow up and commission former State Director George Lapointe to survey many of us as to what approaches would be needed, we were concerned that many on the Fishery Management Councils and some NOAA Fisheries Service staff opposed this effort and did not want the issue of allocation systematically reviewed. This pushback was expected, and is symptomatic of the agency culture that has always favored a stable commercial fishery and regarded the sportfish industry as an after-thought. It is this culture that locked in allocations in the first place.
We understand that the report prepared by Mr. Lapointe was submitted to NOAA Fisheries almost a year ago and, as far as we can tell, no meaningful action has been taken on it since submission. We are writing you to express our continuing apprehension that your first term as NOAA Administrator may expire without action on reallocation. There is still time to follow through and complete the development of a systematic framework to regularly review allocation, but it clearly requires your continuing commitment and leadership to unlock the inner workings of NOAA Fisheries that are rusted shut on this issue.
Please review this important situation and ensure that your commitment to us at the Summit has not been lost in process. Good progress on this issue was made initially, but we must guard against defenders of the status quo smothering this initiative with inertia and inaction.
You have asked us to hold you and Eric accountable to these commitments and while we are respectfully doing that, we are also offering our assistance to keep this process moving forward.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Mike Nussman, President
American Sportfishing Association
Pat Murray, President
Coastal Conservation Association
Jeff Angers, President
Center for Coastal Conservation
Jeff Crane, President
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Rob Kramer, President
International Game Fish Association
Thom Dammrich, President
National Marine Manufacturers Association
Jim Martin, President
Berkley Conservation Institute
CCA Applauds FWC for Uncovering Commercial Illegal Wildlife Ring
For immediate release: November 14, 2012
Contact: Katie Purcell
FWC Community Relations Coordinator
Division of Law Enforcement
FWC Investigation Uncovers Illegal Commercial Wildlife Ring
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers completed a comprehensive investigation Wednesday that included more than 200 criminal violations by 21 individuals in Orange, Lake, Osceola, Polk and St. Lucie counties. The 22-month operation targeted individuals who illegally bought fish and wildlife products in Florida and shipped them out of state to be sold to the public.
“The suspects were ultimately working together in a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, head of the FWC’s Investigations section.
Officers determined the suspects were buying products from poachers and unlicensed individuals and shipping them to markets out of state. Today, they shut them down. Those out-of-state markets are still being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This was a large-scale illegal poaching operation with serious implications for the environment, economy and public health,” Brown said.
The suspects made one or two trips a month, transporting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of product each trip to its markets.
“They placed orders that included one for 900 pounds of poached white-tailed deer and another for 500 pounds of illegal snook,” Brown said.
To date, the operation has identified 21 suspects. The criminal charges include 147 misdemeanor violations and 75 felony violations. Ten suspects were arrested and taken to local county jails today; the rest were issued notices to appear.
Undercover officers successfully infiltrated the illegal operations and were able to gather sufficient evidence of the crimes. The species involved include grouper, snapper, trout, redfish, snook, bass, bream, catfish, deer, turkey, ducks and alligator.
“Some of those are restricted species,” Brown said. “Over-harvesting, taking them out of season or taking them by illegal methods harms the resource, undermining conservation efforts.”
The FWC says shutting down illegal operations like this is also important for public health. When game is harvested and sold illegally, it does not go through the same processes or undergo the same food health inspections necessary to protect the public.
“The public has a right to purchase safe, legally harvested products without concern for the safety of their food,” Brown said.
Shutting down this operation also benefits the local economy. Illegal activities can seriously impact legal businesses.
“For example, there are deer farmers and commercial fishermen who harvest and sell their products legally,” Brown said. “Individuals who operate illegally often sell their products cheaper, essentially stealing profits from the law-abiding businesses.”
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWC worked with partner organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Humane Society of the United States and Ducks Unlimited.
“This was a great team effort to support our legal commercial markets, protect Florida’s valuable natural resources and allow the public to safely enjoy them,” Brown said.
The public can help by reporting to the FWC suspected violations of illegally harvesting or selling fish and wildlife. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert hotline (888) 404-FWCC or
October 11, 2012
Re: Gulf of Mexico Gag Grouper Management
We understand that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has asked for the input of the Commission on the management of gag grouper in the Gulf. We view this as a long overdue concession in light of the vast majority of gags being landed from the Gulf of Mexico waters are landed on Florida shores, and an effective way to avoid any inconsistency between state and federal regulations. We would like to share with you our views on the ongoing management of gags in the Gulf.
Perhaps the biggest issue we have had with the management of gags to date (as well as certain other species) has been the lack of an allocation between sectors that is not only fair but also provides the greatest benefit to our state and the nation. All analyses of the relative economic impacts of the recreational and commercial sectors for gags have overwhelmingly shown the greatest impact to come from the recreational sector. We reject as patently unfair the idea that those who exploit a public resource for profit should be able to do so while the public realizes not even a reasonable season or reasonable size or bag limits. We thus urge the Commission to recommend that the Gulf Council promptly re-allocate the allowable catch of gag grouper fairly and to allow for the greatest benefit to our state and our nation before the 2013 management regulations are put in place.
A second problem that exists with the commercial take of gags in the Gulf is the lack of protection of the stock during its spawning aggregations. Like a number of animals, gags are known to be "harem breeders", meaning that a single dominant male attends to a number of females. These large males tend to be the most aggressive feeders during the spawning aggregations and often caught very early in the spawn, which leaves the spawning potential of the stock well below what it would be if no directed effort were permitted for the commercial sector during the spawn, as is the case with the recreational sector.
We also view the new release devices, such as the SeaQualizer, and techniques that have recently come to light as effective ways to reduce release mortality from the "baro-trauma" that often results in fish caught in deeper waters. The Gulf Council should immediately review the studies that have shown the effectiveness of these new devices and techniques and should permit their use unless concerns that we have not seen are shown to exist.
In terms of a bag limit and the open season for the recreational take of gags, CCA Florida urges the longest possible season and strongly advocates in favor of a no less than a 2 fish bag limit. Because reducing the bag limit to 1 fish will not significantly lengthen the season, we would very much like to see the bag limit stay at 2 fish. Although the split season proposals that we have seen would not provide as long an open season as the single season proposals that we have seen, we recognize that a split season may provide the greatest benefit to the most Floridians and our visitors and we are not opposed to a split season that includes equal summer and winter subseasons with the maximum number of allowable days.
We very much appreciate your service on the Commission and our relationship with you is very important to us. We hope that you will consider these comments in the spirit intended and that you will please contact us to discuss any questions or comments.