Address the crisis

This is a column from Robert Montgomery for ESPN Outdoors. As a Senior Writer for BASS Publications, Montgomery has written about conservation, environment, and access issues for more than two decades. It's part of a series of articles from Montgomery on the issue.

WASHINGTON — Concurrent with the Feb. 24 United We Fish rally, a coalition of fishing industry leaders called on the Obama administration to address "a crisis within the federal fisheries management system."

They elected not to join commercial and recreational anglers on the Capitol steps to protest the closure of fisheries prompted by the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. But they voiced their support for management relief in a letter to Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"There is a great deal of frustration among recreational anglers, much of it attributable to an agency that doesn't have the data, the science, or the will to properly manage us," said Pay Murray of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), a member of the coalition. "Recreational anglers have always been willing to do what is right to maintain healthy marine resources, but it is hard to have faith in many of the management measures we are seeing out of NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) right now. There is a better path than the one they are on now."

Along with CCA, five other organizations sent the three-page letter to NOAA, parent agency for management of ocean fisheries: American Sportfishing Association (ASA), The Billfish Foundation, The Center for Coastal Conservation, International Game Fish Association, and National Marine Manufacturers Association.

"Following decades of inadequate data collection, stock monitoring, and assessment, we believe that the recent closure of the South Atlantic red snapper fishery and the proposed closure of more than 12,000 square miles to all fishing from 98 feet to 300 feet, is the tipping point of what we view as a fisheries management 'train wreck' that calls for immediate administrative and fiscal action," they said.

"At stake are more than 500,000 jobs that depend on recreational saltwater fishing and $250 million a year in excise tax and fishing license revenue, which provide substantial funding for coastal states' fisheries management programs and an outdoor recreational activity supported by 94 percent of the American public."

While RFA and other rally groups lobby for relief through legislation in the form of a "flexibility bill" that will allow for loosening of mandates, the coalition calls upon NOAA to take correction administrative action. Among its recommendations:

• Take decisive, immediate action to improve recreational fisheries data by redirecting existing funds and personnel to focus on real-time management data.

• Collect socio-economic data on recreational fishing in the communities most likely to be impacted by near term or expected fisheries closures.

• Provide federal level direction to the fishery management councils to use common-sense in their management approaches, while the administration collects the requisite data to make sound management decisions.

• Develop a recreational fishing program and staff within NMFS commensurate with the national economic contribution of recreational saltwater fishing.

• Create a multi-pronged program to promote and implement angler catch-and-release techniques that will reduce release mortality; improve fisheries conservation; and expand and improve ethical fishing practices.

• Develop a program within NMFS to assist in the restoration and enhancement of a fishery and its habitat, using techniques such as artificial reefs, hatchery operations, and other proven programs.

• Expand the required economic impact analysis of fishery management measures to include impacts on all associated industries, such as tackle shops, manufacturers, marinas, restaurants, and other affected businesses, and require fishery management councils to adjust management measures to mitigate for these impacts.

"We support healthy fisheries and good fishery management," concluded Mike Nussman of ASA. "It's good for anglers, our business, and our economy.

"We've developed common-sense administrative and appropriations proposals that address the need for timely, accurate data while preserving efforts to rebuild our marine fisheries. We see these as a starting point for actions that must be implemented to address the short- and long-term problems.

"Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is crisis management rather than fisheries management and this must stop before more jobs are lost and more of the nation's recreational anglers are unnecessarily shut out."