by Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
The illusion continues for NOAA Fisheries.
Last year the agency boldly announced it had ended overfishing. This week, the agency proudly announced that annual catch limits are now in place
for most federal fisheries. Wonderful news, if either proclamation had
roots in fact or could possibly translate into any good result.
Unable to muster the science to manage to the very high threshold
specified by the Magnuson Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries declared victory
without even running the race. It ended overfishing and put a catch
limit on every stock under management. On paper. And environmentalists
Recreational anglers are not cheering.
What will happen back in the real world now that the agency has
claimed to have ended overfishing and put in annual catch limits without
the science to adequately back it up? The rest of us will eventually
have to pay the piper. The agency has built a house of cards and set
catch limits that are not tethered to reality. When those limits are
exceeded — and we are talking about limits on every single stock under
management, the majority of which the agency knows nothing about — the
agency will be sued. Sued relentlessly by environmental groups. With
no tools to offer any other alternative, NOAA Fisheries will close stock
after stock to comply with illusory catch limits. It is relatively easy
to end overfishing and enforce catch limits if you simply don’t let
anyone fish. And after every closure the environmentalists will cheer
and commend the agency for its proactive stance. Won’t that make a good
Real management is difficult and expensive, but infinitely more
beneficial for the nation’s fisheries and the citizens who use and enjoy
them. But functional management doesn’t seem to be the goal here. NOAA
Fisheries has chosen the easier, but far more unpredictable path. By
implementing everything from unfair catch shares to imaginary catch
limits to archaic allocations, the agency has almost completely
alienated its most valuable constituents — the anglers who actually use
the nation’s marine resources and put back far more than they take out.
Trust and partnership between the agency and the recreational community
are at an all-time low. This community is counting the days until the
Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization again. At this point
it is hard not to believe the agency will eventually reap what it has
sown, and that may not be a welcome outcome for the proper conservation
of our marine resources.
The current and likely future situation is all the more regrettable
when you consider that the Administration could have implemented the
most turbulent provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in about 100
different ways — 99 of which would not have left scorched earth in their
wake. As concerns mount over the strangling effects of over-regulation
on the American economy, it is remarkable that the agency has elected to
subject America’s anglers and all their economic potential to the
singularly most restrictive interpretation of the law possible, never
mind the consequences.
This Administration’s attitude towards fisheries management is
strikingly similar to the one that gave the public Prohibition in the
1920s, and the results are likely to be the same. Prohibition, which
made criminals out of ordinary citizens overnight, didn’t work because
nobody wanted it to work except a small, hardcore group of extremists
who didn’t drink alcohol. The country turned itself inside out, spent
billions of dollars on a misguided campaign and took more than 10 years
to correct its course. The current approach to federal fisheries
management is on the same path.
Whether by choice or by circumstance, the agency has frittered away
the good will of even the most reasonable of its constituents and has
elected to hide behind an illusion of management. This is certainly not
the agency the recreational community deserves or expects, nor is it one
which contains the essentials of good management.
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