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The move by NMMA to team up with others (the Engine Products Group coalition) in filing a lawsuit in federal court challenging EPA’s recent approval of E15 is as great as Howard Beale’s (Network) exclamation: “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” 

Let’s face it, boating and fishing activities have been hit by lawsuits from activist environmental groups and simple wackos for a long time. In fact, it’s an approach that has worked well for them. And, while our industry normally favors applying reason and negotiation to defend or advance our interests, there comes a time to draw the line. Suing EPA does exactly that in the E15 case, and NMMA is actually not the first, either. Petroleum and food industry groups have filed separate suits as well.

This all brings to mind similar actions being undertaken for recreational fishing rights and access. Briefs are being filed in federal courts by national grassroots political action groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance and its state chapters. RFA’s focus is on protecting access to recreational saltwater angling that is threatened by actions from anti-fishing groups and unfavorable policy decisions by regulators.

One example: In October the RFA- Florida chapter filed suit in federal district court in Jacksonville to overturn a pending ban on fishing for 72 red snapper and grouper species in a 4,800-square-mile area from southern Georgia to Cape Canaveral, Fla. The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced a six-month delay in implementation. However, RFA-FL representative Dave Heil explains the proposed management plan is a clear violation of the Magnuson Stevens Reauthorization Act on a number of counts.

One count is that NMFS has failed to comply with a Congressional mandate to replace, by January 2009, its admittedly flawed sampling program called the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. MRFSS relies on very limited random sampling of recreation catches and there is large error associated with these estimates. Decisions that dictate recreational size, bag limits and closures are being based on this unreliable system which even the National Research Council says is in need of extensive revisions if it’s to properly fulfill its current role in fisheries management.

Among other counts, the RFA lawsuit goes to the very heart of the failed MRFSS system being used to restrict recreational angling access. Fishing is under attack in many areas, from the coast of California to the Gulf of Mexico. For hundreds of boat dealers around the country, whether near fresh or saltwater, good angling opportunities are critical to boat sales. As an industry, we can strive to work together with fisheries management agencies on both federal and state levels, and we certainly recognize and advocate sound science in management to insure the future of fishing.

However, if recreational fishermen are being denied access based on a broken system of management or if millions of boaters face engine and safety problems from ethanol, and reasonable appeals to regulators for relief and fairness are not accommodated and courts are the last resort, then that’s exactly the way we should go!

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