Boycotts and other fishing issues

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You gotta like the Recreational Fishing Alliance – they have no fear and take no prisoners. Recently, RFA opted to take on the Waltons. No, not John boy . . . the other Waltons, as in Wal-Mart and the Walton Family Foundation.

RFA called for the nation’s anglers to boycott Wal-Mart after discovering the WFF has awarded more than $36 million to groups such as the Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund, among others. RFA has deemed these are all anti-access organizations, easily recognized for their anti-fishing agendas as evidenced by their support for restricted fishing areas and catch share programs.

According to RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, the Ocean Conservancy, for example, is pushing hard to complete California's network of exclusionary zones throughout the entire length of coastline. “They've made it very clear that they would like to see the West Coast version of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) extended into other coastal U.S. waters,” Donofrio explained. “Here's an organization which has publicly opposed creation of artificial reefs used by Wal-Mart's tackle buyers, in some cases openly advocating their removal. Yet, the Walton family is handing over tons of money in support. Shopping for fishing equipment at Wal-Mart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport -- it's supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans."

On another front, a serious drop-dead date looms only 60 days away, and one of the most important fishing bills ever to hit Congress is languishing. The deadline refers to a requirement that NOAA’s Federal Fishery Management Councils set annual catch limits and accountability measures on fish stocks by Dec. 31, 2011. This requirement was contained in the 2006 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation & Marine Act. But, predicated on two critical assumptions: (1) NOAA would improve catch data that, heretofore, has been documented as unscientific, if not outright lame; And, (2) any ACL decisions would be based on up-to-date, accurate stock assessments.

However, NOAA has clearly failed to meet the MSA mandate for more accurate data. Moreover, NOAA has interpreted the requirement to apply to every stock of fish under management, leaving the Councils with the conundrum of either deleting stocks from management or applying highly restrictive ACLs based on very poor – and in some cases non-existent – data. NOAA presently has about 528 stocks or complexes of fish under management. Remarkably, they don’t have updated stock assessment data on even half of them! The results: a train wreck of arbitrary closures and unjustifiable limits.

Enter the “Fisheries Science Improvement Act” (H.R. 2304), introduced in the House by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., in June, with a bi-partisan group of 18 co-sponsors. The bill seeks to ensure that NOAA is required to set catch limits based on real data, not on guesstimates. Moreover, it seeks to relieve the situation in which NOAA is compelled by statutory deadlines to make major fishery management decisions in spite of inadequate data and no evidence of overfishing.

Genuine science must be the one and only driver of federal management of our nation’s salt water fisheries. NOAA is moving to set ACLs and AMs for some 500 stocks of fish to meet the deadline. H.R. 2304 extends the 2011 deadline to 2014 for stocks of fish that are not overfished. Its passage will eliminate the current arbitrary and overly-restrictive catch levels being imposed on so many important recreational fisheries.

The bill isn’t moving and needs some attention drawn to it. Dealers, especially those selling salt water fishing boats, as well as anglers are encouraged to send a letter or email asking their Congress person to support moving H.R. 2304. It is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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