President Obama has made it very clear that his "policies are on the ballot" in Tuesday's election - coastal fishermen should understand by now that those policies include blanket marine reserves, privatized fish stock, recreational catch shares, and sector separation.
Despite heavy opposition from individual saltwater anglers, local tackle shops, marinas, most of the for-hire sector captains in the United States, tackle shops, the governors of the coastal states and nearly every standing member of the U.S. Congress, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) voted to divide the recreational fishing community into pieces over the next three years.
In a 10-7 vote, the appointed fisheries managers, led by NOAA Fisheries' regional administrator Dr. Roy Crabtree, approved a proposal to split the Gulf recreational red snapper fishery between charter/for hire anglers and private recreational anglers. The so-called "sector separation" measure approved by the Gulf Council will take the entire recreational quota of red snapper and split it into pieces, with the for-hire sector getting their own share of the quota and private individual anglers getting the rest.
Strangely of course, the recreational for-hire sector caters to individual anglers who book charters or climb aboard head boats to fish for red snapper, making the entire sector separation debate more about divisiveness and less about fixing the problems with federal fisheries management. The new proposal essentially privatizes more of the red snapper stock by stealing open public access away from anglers.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has been rallying opposition to splitting the recreational fishing sector into pieces for the past 5 years while simultaneously lobbying for Congressional action on behalf of coastal anglers who have seen diminished access to rebuilding fish stocks. According to RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, while members of the U.S. House of Representatives have pushed to fix the problems leading to this sector separation effort, the Senate has done nothing in response.
"Members of the House Natural Resources Committee have held multiple hearings over the past several years and they've moved a good piece of legislation out of committee to help fix the problem with red snapper, but nothing's happening on the Senate side until after the election which is why this terrible vote has taken place now," Donofrio said. "It's disgusting to see all of these letters of opposition floating around by members of various congressional caucuses and from legislators themselves, when it's quite apparent the appointees have been given the green light by the agency and the administration to go against the will of the people."
Of the 10 Gulf Council members to vote in favor of sector separation, four are either current or former bureaucrats and government officials, four are representatives of the commercial sector, and just two, Capt. John Greene of Alabama and Capt. Pam Dana of Florida, were supposed to be representative of the recreational sector. Donofrio said the decision to change the way the recreational fishing community has managed fisheries for decades could represent the end of the recreational fishing industry as we know it.
"RFA has spent the past 7 years trying to unite the fishing community behind federal fisheries reform, warning about this impending implosion and fighting the environmental zealots who created this divide, but there's not much more we can do about it until after next week's election," Donofrio said.
"These are the president's policies, and they most certainly are on this Tuesday's ballot," he added.
Pam Anderson, operations manager at Capt. Anderson's Marina in Panama City Beach and an active member of the RFA's Florida Panhandle chapter, attended the recent Gulf Council meeting and said she fears sector separation will lead to catch-share programs for recreational anglers in the future.
"We are concerned because we know the goal of sector separation is to further reduce the number of people that participate in the fishery," Anderson said. "That is what has happened with every catch-share program in the United States. We are hoping and praying that doesn't happen in our area."
As Donofrio and the RFA have frequently pointed out , catch shares in the form of individual fishing quota and limited fish tags are currently in place for the commercial red snapper fishermen, many of whom also have permits to take individual anglers fishing; he sees the concept of sector separation as quickly leading to a program of intersector trading opportunities where private ownership rights of the red snapper stock exists between the commercial sector and this new and as yet unnamed 'commercial recreational' sector.
The RFA office has been deluged this week with phone calls and emails from frustrated Gulf constituents who are unhappy with the Gulf Council's vote and are asking for the removal of council members. Donofrio said only President Obama himself, who personally made most of these ideological selections to the Gulf Council through NOAA Fisheries, can do such a thing.
"Environmental Defense Fund has had a game plan in place that has worked quite well for them during the past 7 years, they own the entire national agenda on fisheries," Donofrio said. "The $85 million that they and their friends have spent on this year's election could ultimately destroy a lot more businesses in the next few years and may take away many more of America's freedoms, unless the fishing communities unite and fight back."
If you'd like to see who actually owns the red snapper stock in the Gulf of Mexico and could potentially reap an economic windfall under the intersector trading of fish shares, click here.
To contact any of the Gulf Council members or to view their conflict of interest statements, click here
If you'd like to go back to some of the national archives starting with 2009 to see what Jim Donofrio and the RFA have warned about 'catch shares' and 'sector separation' plans, click here.