Well after 10 years of fighting for the public access to our nations fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico we ( professional fishermen and the public who they serve) might have just taken a fatal blow to our previous successes in developing new fishery management plans that benefit the fish and the fishers Using our knowledge of the fishery, MSA as it applied to our industry and working within the law, the council process, and generating industry support ,we were able to developed ideas and changes in management systems to improve the management of recreational and commercial fisheries in the GOM. We have led the charge to improve data collection and fishery science with the passing and soon to be implemented electronic log books for the federally permitted charter for hire fleet. All of this has led to better management, increased access to rebuilding fisheries for the American saltwater angler , stable seasons , end overfishing in our sector and most importantly developed regulations that preserve the historical participation of the charter for hire industry and the fleets that are the heart and soul of many coastal communities.
All that is now in jeopardy and here is why. The MSA had a provision that expired two years ago that required state Governors ( who provide a list of Gulf council member to the Sec of Commerce) to provide candidates for each seat that was a cross section of the stakeholders in Gulf of Mexico fisheries. Each state would have a representative from the recreational sector ( either charter for hire or private angler) , commercial sector and to the states who had a at large candidate someone from the scientific or environmental community. Well since that requirement expired the private angler rights groups began their campaign to end the era of a balanced and varied representation of all sectors and went all out to use their strong political influence they have garnished by paying out abundant amounts of capital and political donations to state fisheries commissions and governors to set the table to rule the council process.
My hats off to the oil Barron’s this time, they got it done and in style. They truly now have a state managed council. Not only did their hand picked council members make the governors list ( money talks and BS walks) as the first choice for the Sec of Commerce to appoint they got two state governors in Florida and Alabama to remove two sitting council members who have served with distinction and fair mindedness because one is a charter boat owner and recreational fisher woman in Florida and the other one was the only fin fish commercial fisherman to ever sit on the Gulf council in over 30 years, he held the commercial seat from Alabama.
In the past most every commercial representative was either a shrimper or fish house owner no actual fisherman has ever been a council member until 3 yrs ago. Now his seat will be held by a retired marine biologist who used to receive grant money from the CCA just like sitting marine biologist from Texas who needless to say votes the party line no matter how detrimental it may be to fisheries he gets paid to study. And the Florida seat will now be held by former Japanese owned Yamaha CEO who made a living selling foreign engines to American saltwater anglers by replacing the owner of a American family run charter boat company who takes thousands of recreational anglers out for a day on the water.
Most contentious issues facing the Gulf council in the past where heavily debated and vetted and explored due to the balance of the council where you must make a very good case to implement new ideas or systems. In some cases it was split right down the middle with only 1 vote making the difference usually by a council member who wasn’t predisposed with a certain agenda due to the seat that they held. But that has now ended and there no longer is any balance left and the fish, consumer and public saltwater anglers who’s only access the federal fisheries were on federally.permitted head boats and charter boats will now be second class citizens once again.
Every action, vote , procedural effort and public media campaign by the private angler fishing rights groups has had one defining agenda. Destroy and put a end to commercial fishing and prevent public access of wild caught red snapper and other reef fish to the consumer and strangle out the historical angling access to the non boat owning angler who catch fish aboard the federally permitted Charter for Hire fleets. Their is no compromise for these groups who will never stop until their remains no professional fishing business in the GOM and entire USA. The end game for these groups has been and will now become apparent that their position on access to all these US fisheries is ” Its a public resource but only if caught on A private boat
The only light at the end of the tunnel and gives us some hope is the fact that the councils have to operate under the confines of the MSA for now. That can also change as the angler rights groups have spent millions trying to buy the Gulf of Mexico out from under the confines of national law at the congressional level by getting this present congress to re write the MSA that has brought back most of our fisheries to sustainable levels and introduce language that allows for the angler rights groups to politically steal our nationals resources to serve a very small but powerful minority to the detriment of the vast majority of US citizens and the small family fishing companies that provide them their access?
Fortunately in this country we have the federal courts and their third party evaluation of issues and the law. So even if these groups are successful in their efforts to buy the states and congress, the final protection against corrupt and harmful legislations and actions by our own government is the federal court system. So far because professional fishermen have played buy the rules, did it the right way , developed plans that support sustainable fisheries and met all the tenants of the 10 national standards as a result, we have faired very well in the past 5 court cases. Looks like more are on the horizon.