Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The canary in the fish hold: why West Coast fishermen should be coming to D.C.

Whether you’re a commercial fisherman, a processor, a charter boat operator, or you just fish for enjoyment, you know that groundfish seasons, fishing areas and harvest levels on the West Coast aren’t what they used to be. The main reason is that we are required to rebuild fish stocks that have been designated as “overfished,” including species like canary and yelloweye rockfish, bocaccio, and cowcod. No matter the reason for low population levels, we give up our ability to harvest healthy stocks in order to stay within the rebuilding plan requirements.

I think everyone would agree that maintaining a sustainable fishery is important. However, most people involved in fisheries also think that there needs to be a reasonable balance between rebuilding depleted stocks and having access to species that are flourishing. Unfortunately, the law and the court decisions on the West Coast that have interpreted the law don’t allow that balance to be struck. The result is lost harvest opportunities and foregone economic benefits for our coastal communities. What we need is flexibility in the law to make reasoned choices, to be able to give a little here and take a little there so that we keep biologically productive fisheries without putting people out of work.

And that’s why coming to the Keep Fishermen Fishing rally in Washington, D.C., on March 21st is something more West Coast fishermen need to consider. There will be plenty of people in attendance from the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico but we need to have our voices heard too. A cross-country trip isn’t easy but this is one where you can bring the family, tour the cherry blossoms and the museums, and show your kids how democracy in action works. Most important, you will be letting our Congressional representatives know that we, too, have concerns about how our fisheries will be managed.

Submitted by Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association in Portland, Ore. You can check out the WCSPA on Facebook at Facebook.com/WCSPA or its website at WCSPA.com. For more info about the rally, visit keepfishermenfishing.com. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SEnator Scott Brown on NOAA Enforcement's "Party Boat" and "Booze Cruises"

His address is available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIdzt53FKtY&feature=youtu.be

The full IG report is available on the SavingSeafood.org website at http://www.savingseafood.org/images/documents/washington/www.scottbrown.senate.gov-public-index.cfm-files.pdf.


I rise today to inform you and the public of some highly disturbing information that I’ve just learned about a broken agency within our federal government – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

We all know that Washington doesn’t spend our money wisely. But sometimes it is worth highlighting examples of the corruption and waste.

Yesterday morning, I contacted the Commerce Department Inspector General to request a copy of their report on NOAA’s purchase of a $300,000 luxury boat.

It would be bad enough if they had purchased this boat with taxpayer dollars.

But they didn’t. They paid for it with money that should belong to our struggling fishermen. They paid for it out of the fines that fishermen pay into the pot when they mistakenly catch the wrong kind of fish. Those dollars are supposed to stay in fishing communities to help the fishermen.

Here’s the boat. For a government vessel, that’s pretty flashy. Take a look inside. That’s a fully-appointed bar, the latest in on-board entertainment systems, and leather furniture complete with the ice chest and tackle rack.

Furthermore, the fines that fishermen have been paying are putting fishermen out of business. The stories will break your heart.

So let me again describe the situation: NOAA levied totally unreasonable fines against our fishermen. Then they used that money to buy themselves a luxury boat. So what else did the IG investigation find? Mr. President, here are the disturbing headlines.

According to the IG, NOAA had no reasonable official use for this boat. Let’s start there. They didn’t need it. Period. They had some story about needing an “undercover vessel” to sneak up on whale watching vessels. Imagine that – armed federal agents sneaking up on school groups and tourists trying to learn about nature. The IG found this to be as ridiculous. NOAA officials wanted this useless luxury boat, then they invented a reason to buy it with fishermen’s hard-earned dollars.

So why did NOAA go to such lengths to “manipulate” and “violate” the government purchasing rules to get this boat? NOAA already has many boats and more cars than it has agents, so why add this to the inventory? Well, Mr. President, they apparently didn’t need it for official purposes. We know that because the IG says that it was never – I repeat, never – used for official business.

The sad truth is that it was a fishermen-funded party boat for bureaucrats, Mr. President. That’s right, while fishermen in Gloucester and New Bedford are struggling to put off foreclosure or mourning the loss of their livelihood because of NOAA’s overzealous enforcement, the NOAA office was living the good life on their dime.

NOAA officials used the boat for the following: trips to dockside restaurants; hamburger and hotdog BBQs and alcohol-fueled parties and with family and friends; and “pleasure cruises” at high rates of speed, with beer consumed on-board.

Even though federal rules ban non-employees from being on vessels, a NOAA supervisor even told a subordinate that his wife was welcome to “kick back and watch TV” on the boat.

They filed expense reports and reimbursed themselves for these trips.

What excuse did NOAA employees give for this behavior? They needed to do all these things to maintain the recreational appearance of this “undercover” boat that was never even used for the “undercover” work that it was supposedly purchased for.

Mr. President, let’s be honest. A booze cruise is a booze cruise.

One NOAA officer decided to take his family on a weekend trip to a posh resort. He took the undercover NOAA party boat to get there, but he was untrained in how to operate it and blew out a $30,000 engine. Rather than turn back and write the taxpayers a check, he simply abandoned it and took a marked NOAA law enforcement boat the rest of the way to their resort. Nothing could get between this NOAA employee and a good time. When asked about that incident, the NOAA employee lied to the IG and said there was no family on board. That was just one of many instances of NOAA employees deliberately misleading the IG.

Another NOAA officer used the undercover NOAA boat to take his wife to lunch in Seattle. On this trip, the boat engines stalled in a shipping lane because the boat ran out of fuel due to another operator error. The guy didn’t know how to switch the tanks. So they were stuck drifting in a dangerous shipping lane. The officer and his wife apparently found the situation comical. Well I don’t think that the fishermen in New Bedford are laughing.

Again – the money that belonged to fishermen was paying for all this.

To this day, Mr. President, no one has been held accountable. Let me repeat. No one has been disciplined, fired, or even reprimanded for anything having to do with this boat. As you’ve seen here today, NOAA has a culture of corruption that has created a chasm of distrust between the agency and the fishing industry.

Here is a list of all the problems I have encountered with NOAA since coming to the Senate: abusive treatment of fishermen, resulting in decimation of the fleet; investigations motivated by money; improper fines, leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy; “shredding parties” destroying 75%-80% of OLE documents; lying to Inspector General investigators; discouraging cooperation with the Inspector General; misleading Members of Congress; $300,000 party boat purchased with fishermen’s fines; $12,000 in party boat expenses paid with fishermen’s fines; $30,000 engine destroyed by NOAA employee on weekend vacation while using “undercover” NOAA craft.

This is simply unacceptable. This needs to change, and accountability starts at the top. NOAA’s leadership needs to change.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rally goes out on PR Newswire today


In another historic show of solidarity, U.S. recreational and commercial fishermen will gather at Upper Senate Park in Washington DC on March 21, 2012 starting at noon in an organized demonstration supporting sensible reform of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.

This is a follow-up to a rally in February of 2010 that brought some 5,000 recreational, commercial and party/charter vessel owners, fishermen and people in fisheries dependent businesses from all over the country to Washington. Twenty plus Members of the Senate and House of Representatives spoke regarding efforts to reform Magnuson.

Signed into law in 1976, the 36-year-old law “most notably aided in the development of the domestic fishing industry by phasing out foreign fishing,” according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In recent years however, the act has been transformed from its original intent into a weapon employed by a handful of mega-foundations and the so-called marine conservation organizations they subsidize aimed at reducing overall participation in our nation’s rich fisheries while driving both commercial and recreational fishermen off the water.

Rally organizers are asking legislators for help by amending the law to provide a better balance of marine conservation and coastal commerce, as it was originally intended to do.

The upcoming rally is being billed as Keep Fishermen Fishing, and once again unites the commercial and recreational sectors under one common message; “Fix Magnuson Now.” There were more than 40 chartered buses filled with rally participants in 2010, and efforts are once again underway in many coastal states to transport fishermen to the rally.

“Those who didn’t attend or perhaps chose not to support the original rally are mostly unaware of the strides we’ve taken since 2010,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and one of the rally organizers. “With the support of the two dozen members of Congress who addressed us at Upper Senate Park, leaders from both sides of the aisle have pushed to make Magnuson reform a Congressional priority. As a result, the House Natural Resources Committee is now reviewing eight different pieces of fisheries reform legislation.”

“Our coastal fishermen represent the true spirit of Main Street America, as over-burdensome regulations supported only by organizations and individuals supported by a handful of mega foundations is forcing third and fourth generation fishermen off the water and away from sustainable public resources,” said Nils Stolpe, producer of FishNet USA, representing the interests of U.S. commercial fishermen. “The plight of our coastal fishermen is finally getting the media and legislative attention it deserves, and we hope to keep that momentum moving forward on March 21.”

Keep Fishermen Fishing organizers thus far include Recreational Fishing Alliance, Southeastern Fisheries Association, National Association of Charterboat Operators, Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Association, Garden State Seafood Association, United Boatmen, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Panama City Boatmen, Viking Village Dock, Fishermen’s Dock, Hull’s Seafood Markets, Lund's Fisheries, Westport Charterboat Association, Southern Off Shore Fishing Association, Garibaldi Charters, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association, Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund, New York Sportfishing Federation, Monkfish Defense Fund, Atlantic Capes Seafood, North Carolina Watermen United, Big Game Fishing Journal, West Coast Seafood Processors Association and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

For more information including bus details, visit http://www.keepfishermenfishing.com.
Follow Keep Fishermen Fishing on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-Fishermen-Fishing/282791548442919, through our blog at http://fixmagnusonnow.blogspot.com/, via our Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/#!/FishMarchDC2012 or search for Keep Fishermen Fishing on Google+.

Commercial sector contact: Nils Stolpe (386-409-0675)
Recreational sector contact: Jim Donofrio (888-564-6732)

Friday, February 10, 2012

KFF Spotlight: National Association of Charterboat Operators

In our effort to keep you in the loop on which members are participating in this year’s Keep Fishermen Fishing rally, we’re focusing on the National Association of Charterboat Operators today.

NACO, based out of Orange Beach, Alabama, has been around since 1991, representing marine charter companies. Many of these companies provide fishing charters, but a good number also do sailing, diving and eco tours or other excursions. That translates to hundreds or thousands of captains, crew and related businesses across the country who count on NACO for representation. Several of those members likely will be at the rally.

But what does NACO do?

From its website at http://www.nacocharters.org/:  “As the premiere Association that represents charter boat interests, our objective is to improve the professional charter boat operator's bottom line and to provide a strong voice in Washington, D.C.” Board members come from all over as well – so NACO truly represents the majority of charterboat businesses. NACO also helps to ensure its members operate safely and professionally.

Indeed, we are lucky to have NACO folks attending the rally in March!

Just as an aside, one of the best things I like about NACO is the ability to search for and find local charterboat operators by using the directory on its website. I live on the West Coast and the folks I’ve known and respected for years and worked with on fisheries management issues are members. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the other charterboat folks from around the country.

Have questions about how adding flexibility to the Magnuson-Stevens Act will affect NACO members? Drop them an email at info@nacocharters.org or leave us a question in the comments and we'll get back to you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We're rolling!

It’s official! We have the site, we have the times, recreational and commercial fishing groups have signed on and people are arranging buses and transportation – the Keep Fishermen Fishing rally is rolling!

Here are the details:       

Who: Recreational and commercial fishermen and related businesses from across the country
What: Keep Fishermen Fishing rally
When: noon to 3 p.m., Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Where: Upper Senate Park, Washington, D.C.
Why: to support flexibility in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act


Keep Fishermen Fishing website: http://www.keepfishermenfishing.com/index.html

Leading recreational and commercial fishing groups have already signed on to go, so in the days ahead we will highlight a few of them so you can get to know them better. These folks are dedicated, serious, hard-working fishermen and women and seafood workers who believe in the fishing and seafood industries. To us, fishing isn’t always about money; it’s culture, it’s history, it’s camaraderie, it’s a way of life. 

And it’s vanishing.

The changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act we’re asking for are slight – just a little flexibility so that we can keep our fleets on the water, anglers and their families fishing and seafood being delivered to consumers. Fish stocks will not suffer; species that are in trouble will still have legal protections in order to rebuild and become healthy again. But at the same time, our nation’s rich history of fishing and processing will be allowed to maintain its legacy.

To learn more about the people who make up this great legacy, check back here, follow our social media sites and take a look at our website. We’ll keep you up-to-date on all the latest happenings.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Revisionism and Reform - a response to Crockett's and Hogarth's Putting Fish Over Politics

An Op-Ed Response From U.S. Fishermen

A recent national opinion piece jointly written by Lee Crockett of Pew Environment Group and Dr. Bill Hogarth of the Florida Institute of Oceanography is titled Putting Fish Over Politics - had news editors been aware of the history of fisheries management as it relates to these two former federal employees, we’re sure that editors would’ve agreed a better title might’ve been U.S. Revisionist History By Bureaucrats Turned Lobbyists.

First and foremost, it should be disclosed that both Crockett and Hogarth worked extensively in the federal public sector before taking their current posts as lonely friends of the fish; Crockett having spent seven years working inside a Congressional fisheries committee and another four-and-a-half at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), while Hogarth himself is the former head NMFS.

While it’s common knowledge that the philanthropic endowments by Pew have given huge financial support to the Florida Institute of Oceanography over the years, what many media outlets probably aren’t aware of is the vast difference of opinion that Hogarth and Crockett once held when the NMFS chief was asking Congress to stop a law from being manipulated by Crockett’s group of anti-fishing, environmental lobbyists.

In an official 2007 memo NMFS director, Dr. Hogarth said of fishing regulations for a number of coastal species, "Based on the language included in the most recent reauthorization, 2010 will be a train wreck.” Call him prophet or genius, but Dr. Hogarth was absolutely correct; the rigid deadlines and statutory definitions included in the 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson have indeed greased the tracks to the point that the train barreled headlong into the heart of our coastal communities, leaving a wake of denied access and economic devastation for fishing communities including tackle shops, captains earning their livelihoods in the for-hire sector, commercial fishermen and many professionals in our marine communities who rely on sustainable coastal fisheries.

Fishermen of course tried warning legislators of this impending “train wreck” during the Magnuson reauthorization debate, bolstered by the scientific analysis of Dr. Hogarth himself. During this time, while Crockett’s group was putting heavy influence on the Senate to pass an extremely restrictive new federal fisheries law to the exclusion of coastal fishermen, Dr. Hogarth was giving contrary testimony in the House which warned of severe socioeconomic impacts given the inflexible nature of some of the newly authored statutory definitions.

In direct questioning from House Natural Resource Committee members in 2006, Hogarth was asked specifically if he thought it made sense to include rigid deadlines for rebuilding fish stocks, or if instead there should be some flexibility for the Secretary of Commerce to adjust timeframes in certain instances. “I think that there should be some flexibility, and I think we have utilized some flexibility,” Hogarth responded, adding “I think the key to this is do we rebuilt these stocks in a reasonable timeframe, and that is the key.”

Asked again if he believed there should be some management flexibility added into the new Magnuson reauthorization, Hogarth said “Yes, I think the Administration in its bill has talked about the rebuilding by the 10-year rebuilding timeframe we think is arbitrary, and there are better ways to deal with rebuilding.” He then added, “I think we need greater flexibility, I mean, so much for those stocks that can be rebuilt.”

Pressed to elaborate further on the statutory deadlines included in the legislation, Dr. Hogarth told Congress, “We think that 10-year is arbitrary. We think it should be based on the life history of the species, and we think we need that flexibility.”

House members continued to discuss various amendments to the Magnuson Stevens Act legislation in an effort to provide some of that limited management flexibility Hogarth favored, however, Pew Environment Group and its allies were ultimately successfully in fighting to keep the rigid and inflexible statutory language in place. In the end, whatever commonsense approach was being discussed, and indeed advocated by Hogarth and fisheries advocates in the House, was ultimately squashed when Pew and its political allies successfully worked over Senate leaders who steamrolled through a reauthorized version of the Magnuson Stevens Act by unanimous consent, summarily ignoring the debate taking place in the House Natural Resource Committee.

Today, we are experiencing a fisheries management “train wreck,” just as Dr. Bill Hogarth once predicted would happen with passage of the Magnuson Stevens Act in Congress. Fishermen have been virtually denied access to economically vital coastal fish stocks like cod, haddock, summer flounder, black sea bass, red snapper, gag grouper and others, even though in most cases these same fisheries have been statistically deemed healthier than in generations of management.

To the exclusion of the fishermen, these former fisheries opponents from the public sector have since buried the hatchet and have found mutual comfort beneath the blanket of Pew Charitable Trusts funding and together have been painting a misleading portrait of joy and contentment within our coastal communities. Nothing could be further from the truth of course, and while these former NMFS staffers are touting to media outlets by trumpeting the fruits of their bureaucratic labor, a coalition of real fishermen, most without the luxury of public sector pension benefits, continues fighting for meaningful fisheries reform at the legislative branch of government.

These fishermen from both the recreational and commercial sector recognize that heavy sacrifice in the name of conservation has been made during the past 36 years of fisheries management, ever since the Magnuson Stevens Act was first established specifically to create a robust and sustainable U.S. coastal fishery, which has led to more robust fish stocks from coast to coast. Regrettably, it’s those with the most to gain and lose, America’s coastal communities and private sector constituents, who are the ones asking Congress not just to “build upon the work of those who came before,” but to correct the inflexible provisions of Magnuson Stevens which has wreaked such damage to fishing families and their communities.

A plethora of lobbyists have helped manipulate the legislative system through the stealthy work of a few pensioned former bureaucrats who apparently don’t understand that Congressional testimony doesn’t actually disappear from public record. While Pew’s Lee Crockett – and probably by default the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Bill Hogarth – don’t want to see flexibility instilled into the federal fisheries law that they each had a hand in seeing dismantled, a coalition of recreational and commercial fishermen will be in Washington DC on March 21, together in a rally against this type of hypocrisy and revisionist history.

Respectfully signed,

Keep Fishermen Fishing

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What do the antis really want?

With most of our fish stocks in better shape than ever - or at least since Magnuson became law in 1976 - the question "what do these people really want?" comes up more often. I put some information together in A Good Fisheries Crisis Is Hard To Find (http://www.fishnet-usa.com/A%20Good%20Crisis.pdf) that answers that question, and most simply written, it's all about the dollars. And it isn't their dollars, it's the dollars that they can charm out of a bunch of billionaires who don't know one end of a fish from the other by providing them with a bogus cause to fix (along, I'm sure, with a bunch of self-serving ulterior motives as well).