If you’re a dealer serving customers that fish the waters of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, you’re under attack. That’s because your customers are engaged in what has become a never-ending fight to protect their opportunities to fish and you need to be engaged with them.
In the latest example, an alert has just gone out from the American Sportfishing Association that the National Marine Fisheries Service is currently looking at a new exempted fishing permit (EFP) application. It’s not hard to figure this EFP has been burped to life by commercial interests with an end game of undoing a successful 16-year-old policy.
Get this: The EFP is being called a “research project.” Really? Its proponents must assume we’re as clueless as Beetle Bailey about fishing management. If this EFP is granted, it would grant one company’s longline boats exclusive permission to make more than 3,000 sets with 750 hooks each (total 2.25 million) within Florida’s East Coast Longline Closed Zone.
“The zone was closed 16 years ago to protect juvenile swordfish and other species like billfish, sea turtles and overfished shark species,” ASA’s “Keep Florida Fishing” manager Gary Jennings said. “The longlines, which produce devastating bycatch, were replaced with buoy gear that take no bycatch and have proven to be both useful in sustaining marine resources and compatible with recreational fishing.”
It is estimated that 5,499 undersized swordfish, 759 billfish and 6,135 sharks would be killed by longlines if this EFP was approved. The closed zone is a conservation success story strongly supported by recreational fishermen. Swordfish have bounced back in strong numbers and fishing for sailfish, yellowfin tuna, marlin and other recreational species has boomed.
Reversing this success by allowing destructive longline gear to return makes absolutely no sense. Moreover, it makes me think back to when the fisheries service created the red snapper individual fishing quota system in the Gulf of Mexico that made some commercial fishermen there “lords of the sea” by putting the largest share of the commercial harvest in the hands of a very few.
Briefly, the fisheries service gave the right to catch 77 percent of the annual red snapper harvest to just 55 people, according to an analysis by AL.com (an Alabama newspapers site). What resulted is a privatization of a public resource. The fisheries service divided up the red snapper harvest like a pie with the largest slices going to the commercial fishermen that caught the most in earlier years.
The result is a system of a few commercial fishermen, called “sea lords” by federal officials, controlling a large portion of the red snapper fishery that leases their shares for big money while never untying their boats. The buyers are the fishermen who didn’t get any shares, now commonly dubbed the “sharecroppers of the sea,” who must lease (the right to catch) an opportunity to pursue their livelihood.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, a body recognized as overloaded with serfs pandering to the commercial interests, along with the fisheries service approved this system. Such a free government handover of a public commodity to private individuals who are allowed to then sell it for a profit is unprecedented. Normally, government auctions are held for the rights to harvest public-owned commodities like oil or minerals. And while many, even including former members of the Gulf council, agree changes are needed, there has been no such action.
Fishing can sometimes win
If you think becoming engaged in fishing issues won’t get it done, you’re wrong. For example, at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s meeting this month, it was announced that the EFP covering six popular sportfish species was withdrawn. Promoted as a catch-share “pilot program,” a strong objection was leveled by the recreational fishing community. It made the difference.
“This was an attempt to crack the door open on catch shares in the South Atlantic,” Jennings said. “Everyone who spoke out and voiced displeasure with this attempt made the difference. There is no doubt this would have likely slipped through if the public had not spoken out against it so strongly.”
Now, it’s time to tell the fisheries service to stop messing with success and unquestionably reject the EFP application that would allow longlining under the guise of a “research project” in Florida’s East Coast Longline Closed Zone. Go to: www.keepfloridafishing.org.